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Reluctant Partners

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Reluctant Partners

Doyle swallowed hard, trying to ignore the queasiness that kept threatening him. The helicopter left a patch of turbulence, and Doyle almost breathed a sigh of relief. It wasn’t that he couldn’t handle flying, though he’d never been in a ’copter before. It might have had something to do with the fact that he’d had one too many beers the previous night on learning that he’d passed the CI5 training program. It certainly had a lot to do with being blindfolded, and stifled, and cramped into a passenger’s seat that had been built with someone smaller in mind than the man sitting close beside him. But his feeling of sick frustration was mostly to do with the fact that, not ten minutes ago, Cowley had told him who his partner was going to be. And the fact that the Scot had coolly added that if they didn’t successfully complete this last training exercise as a team neither of them would be permanently appointed as CI5 operatives. Doyle swallowed hard against the angry bile.

Bodie. He was to be partnered with a man who had spent his formative years as a mercenary; who had no respect for anything in this world or the next except, possibly, Cowley; who thought dumdum bullets were a good idea. And who was as displeased about the proposed partnership as Doyle was.

Neither of them had said anything to Cowley – not that there had been much chance in the moment he’d given them under the beat of the helicopter’s blades. Bodie had looked startled and then disgusted. Doyle had simply let the growing anger within him rise unchecked. This man, who Cowley wanted him to spend the majority of his waking life with, had been systematically getting up Doyle’s nose at every opportunity since the training program began. If that was Cowley’s idea of what made a partnership, Doyle would just as soon go back to the Met.

Beside him, Bodie was silent. Every now and then, as the ’copter’s choppy ride, their hindered equilibrium, and the cramped seating brought them into contact, Doyle could feel a tension in the man as great as his own. The only thing in the entire situation that Doyle was thankful for was that Bodie’s blindfold meant he couldn’t see and mischievously misinterpret Doyle’s queasiness.

After what seemed an eternity, the helicopter landed, and Doyle’s blindfold was removed. Moments later he was left standing alone with Bodie in a forest clearing miles from anywhere. The beat of the ’copter faded into the distance and the sun was casting the last long shadows across the ground.

“This way,” Bodie said tersely.

“What?”

“Up to that ridge.” He took a few paces and turned with a sigh, realising that Doyle hadn’t moved. “Or maybe you want to throw up now and get it over with.”

“We’re not expected to trek through all this overnight,” Doyle pointed out, ignoring the last comment.

“Get my bearings. Before the last of the light.”

Doyle shrugged, and settled the weight of his pack evenly across his shoulders. “If you want to set up camp in pitch dark.” But he followed the man. When Doyle reached the top, Bodie was scanning the horizon, compass in hand. “So where are we, hotshot?”

“Damned if I know.”

Doyle took a look around. “That’s Stafford’s Peak.” He pointed to a jagged mountain just discernible in the dusk. “Climbed that once.”

“Three miles away,” Bodie judged.

“If you say so.”

“Any other landmarks?” Doyle identified a twist of river to the west, and Bodie pulled a notepad from one pocket and scrawled a quick triangle in proportion. “This is us,” he said, indicating one point. “You show me that mountain of yours on the map.”

Doyle pointed it out, finding his torch as Bodie marked a rough circle. “That’s where we are?” Doyle asked.

“As near as makes no difference.”

“Come on, then. Let’s set up camp.” Doyle turned away. “There’s a –”

“I’m sure you’d love to toast marshmallows,” Bodie cut in, “and have a singalong around the campfire.”

“You just –”

“But this isn’t a fucking Boy Scout expedition.”

“I know that, you idiot. But if we spend all night walking and get ourselves lost, we’ll never make it through the rest of the exercise.”

“Speak for yourself.”

Doyle took a deep breath. “I’m being realistic. If you think you can cover thirty miles of unknown country in the middle of the night, find this damn house, and get the bloody hostage out against the likes of Macklin, you’re stupider than I thought.”

“I could do it on my own.”

“Don’t make me laugh.”

“What do you think the SAS does, for chrissake? This is a Sunday school picnic compared to what I’ve been through.”

“Don’t know about the rest of the SAS. But what do I think you do?” Doyle mused. “Kill people. It’s probably a talent you’re inordinately proud of.”

Bodie could just make out the man’s face in the gathering darkness. “What the hell would you know? Bloody cop with a cop’s sensibilities.”

“Look, I don’t have the first idea what Cowley’s playing at, but –”

“Are you coming? We should head north-west.”

Doyle considered him. “Under protest.”

“Just don’t slow me down.”

Glowering, Doyle fell in behind Bodie, stretching his legs to match the man. He had to admit to himself that, throughout the training program, Bodie’s doubts about his abilities had consistently made Doyle try for and succeed in going the distance. It had done his self-confidence, which at the best of times used to see-saw wildly between despair and arrogance, one hell of a lot of good. What would Macklin have called it? Make or break. Make or break.

What’s Cowley playing at? Bodie pondered this as he strode along the ridge, Doyle in tow. He’d told Cowley all along that he worked best on his own, that he wouldn’t brook a partner. And it seemed that all along Cowley had had this little surprise planned. If Bodie didn’t owe the canny old bastard, he would have quit then and there. Bodie had tasted betrayal in stronger doses, but rarely had it been so bitter.

No… there had to be a reason. Cowley always had a reason, sometimes obvious but usually obscure, and Bodie had only to figure it out. But what point was there, for instance, in dragging him down to a cop’s level? An ex-mercenary, ex-SAS sergeant deserved better, despite that for some crazy reason Doyle had always been threatening Bodie’s rightful place at the top of the class. He couldn’t make out what Cowley and Macklin saw in Doyle, or why they’d even want to recruit from the police in the first place when there were all the Armed Forces to draw from.

Bodie paused to check his compass as the moon rose from behind clouds. Doyle was at his shoulder, breath deep but even, despite the pace that Bodie had set. He’d already learnt, though, that Doyle’s deceptively lean frame was possessed of a whipcord strength and certainly had the edge on Bodie when it came to speed and limberness. The results of their one-to-one fights and wrestling matches had so far been even. Physically, at least, the ex-cop was tough enough for CI5, though you’d never know it to look at him.

They made twenty miles in just under three hours. Bodie allowed Doyle a wry smile when he stopped. “Time for a break.”

“I can go on,” Doyle said, with a touch of defiance.

“Of course you can,” Bodie replied, “but I need my dinner.”

“Of course you do. When aren’t you hungry?” Doyle eased his pack off, settled down against a tree, and accepted the rations Bodie handed him. They ate in silence for a while.

Bodie finally said, “We find this place, and go in at dawn.”

“With only a couple of hours’ sleep between now and then?”

“Trained to go days without sleep in the SAS.”

“I had to as a cop, the shifts we used to work – but that doesn’t change the fact that it impairs performance.”

“If you can’t keep up with me –”

“Give it a bloody rest – I can keep up with you, OK? But there has to be a reason for all this camping equipment they gave us. We’re not expected to do this overnight.”

“The exercise is part endurance march. So the luggage is to prove you can endure.”

“No, there’s more to it than that. Each team was given a different type of exercise. Why did Cowley want us alone out here?”

“Look, if you’re right and they’re expecting us at midday, we’ll have the element of surprise at dawn, yeah? That’s what matters.”

“They’ll expect you at dawn – that’s a tradition for the army, isn’t it? Attack at dawn? If we’re going to do this, we should go in an hour before.”

Bodie nodded appreciatively. “I like the way you think.” That was one thing Doyle was good at: double-think, out-smarting the enemy. Almost as good as Cowley, except that the old man, of course, seemed to be forever in a state of triple-think.

Doyle ran his hands back through his unruly hair. “I don’t know what CI5 means to you, but I don’t intend to cock this up. You heard Cowley – we’re out on our ears if we don’t come through this.”

“I know. Told you – I could do this exercise with my eyes closed.”

“So maybe that’s not what’s important. Maybe he sent us out here to resolve our differences.”

Bodie glowered at him. “We can ask for a re-assignment of partners when we get back.”

“I don’t like your chances. No, he reckons putting you and me together is a good idea. We just have to work out why.”

“Yeah.” Bodie sighed. “Used to be able to figure out what Cowley thought he was doing, but this one’s beyond me.”

“He has a worse sense of humour than you do, that’s the answer. Making us partners is just his little joke.”

Bodie pulled a longsuffering face. “Yeah, and at our expense.”

Doyle leant his head back, closed his eyes. “So who do you want as a partner?”

“Don’t want anyone. I do just fine on my own. A partner is like an albatross around your neck.” The closest thing Bodie had ever had to a partner was Keller, one of the men he’d served in the SAS with. The man who’d saved his life. Bodie wouldn’t have taken that bullet for anyone. Except maybe for Cowley. Over the past three months Bodie had begun to truly appreciate the dry old Scot’s directness, his lack of fear, the fact that the man was single-mindedly doing something about what he believed worth fighting against. Plus, Cowley had saved him from a lot of trouble. That was one of the few debts Bodie had that he was resolved to work off. Although, now the man had landed him with Doyle… “Well, at least we have one thing in common as of tonight,” Bodie observed.

“What’s that?” Doyle asked.

“Cowley dumped on us both.” He grinned, genuinely amused. “It’s a start.”

“You know what Cowley thinks,” Doyle came back with: “Teams are our edge over the opposition.”

Bodie chuckled and quoted the CI5 Controller in a passable accent: “Honour among thieves died with Raffles, lad.”

“I’m used to working with a partner.”

“Yeah, cops always come in pairs.”

“Cared too much, especially when one of them got killed. But that’s not likely to be a problem here.” And he lifted his head, looked directly across at Bodie.

“Don’t pull any punches, Doyle,” Bodie said sarcastically. “Never mind my finer feelings.”

“You wouldn’t know a finer feeling if it planted a bomb under you.”

Bodie ignored this. “So, if you had a choice, who would you want as a partner?”

Doyle shrugged. “Jax. Or maybe Allen.”

“Ex-cops,” Bodie observed disparagingly. “They’d really help you lift your game.”

“Need it lifted, do I?” Doyle bit back.

“I bet you’ve never even killed a man before.”

Doyle stared at him. “No. I haven’t.”

“How do you know you’ll be able to? I don’t want to be looking down the wrong end of someone’s gun waiting for you to consider the moral dilemmas involved.”

“And you’d just shoot without thinking?”

“In that situation, if it was us or them. Yes.”

“And you’d shoot to kill?”

“Stops them every time.” Bodie grinned again, though this time his eyes remained cold.

“That’s the point – all you have to do is stop them. Wing them in an arm or a leg. All you need.”

“Sure, if you have the time. Don’t usually get the luxury with the sort of guys we’ll be dealing with. For that matter, nine times out of ten, it’ll take more than a bullet in the arm to stop them. If they’ve still got hold of a gun or a knife, you can be sure they’ll use it.” After a moment Bodie asked again, “So, can you do it?”

“Cowley wouldn’t have let me through the training program if he didn’t think I could.”

Bodie nodded. Cowley had to know what he was doing, in this matter at least. And, Bodie admitted, if it was simply a question of skill, Doyle could out-shoot him every time with a hand-gun. Rifles were where Bodie shone, but there wasn’t going to be much call for them in CI5 Operations. The important issue, though, was whether Doyle could fire at a living target. “I still want to hear it from you.”

Doyle sighed, closed his eyes wearily. “I joined up because something needs to be done, something more than the police can do. If that means killing the bad guys on occasion, I’ll do it. But not in cold blood. And I don’t have to enjoy it.”

“All right.”

“So why did you join up?” Doyle looked up again, and asked nastily, “Because it’s the most fun you can have legally?”

Bodie just stared at the man that Cowley wanted him to partner. For a moment he’d almost started believing it was possible. Almost. “Let’s get moving again.”

“There’s a guard round the north side of the house, the front entrance,” Doyle whispered once he’d reached Bodie.

“Did you kill him?”

“Her. Of course not. No need to announce we’re here just yet.”

Bodie nodded. “Good. There’s a window on the east side at ground level that’s open, with an empty room beyond.”

“Bit obvious, isn’t it?”

“You’re not wrong. That means there’s probably booby traps. One of us could climb that trellis to the first floor, and get in that way.”

“Yeah. Other than the guard, they seem to all be in those two rooms on the west.”

“OK,” said Bodie. “I go up the trellis. You take care of the guard, and I’ll let you in at the front door. Then we take one of those rooms each.”

Doyle shrugged. “Can’t think of anything better.”

“We’re a couple of hours ahead of schedule. We could go in now, or you could take the chance for a snooze.”

“Me snooze? What about you?”

“I’ll keep watch.”

“To be honest, I was out on the tiles last night. Could do with forty winks.”

“Come on, then. We’ll put a little more distance between us and them.” Bodie led the way, retracing their steps for half a mile. He found the spot he’d noticed before, safe within the cover of an old-fashioned hedgerow where the forest was encroaching on old fields. Doyle seemed restless. “You were extolling the virtues of having a kip,” Bodie pointed out as he settled back against a tree, rifle held loosely across his knees.

“Yeah.” Doyle unrolled his sleeping bag and lay down along it. Still wearing his holster and gun, it took him a while to find a comfortable position, but even then he remained awake.

“Develop the knack of sleeping when you have the chance in the SAS,” Bodie said after a while.

“Developed that when I joined the Met,” Doyle said irritably.

“What’s the problem, then?”

Doyle sighed. “I should know better than to listen to rumours,” he observed to himself before looking across at Bodie. “Allen said they use real bullets on exercises like this.”

“Sounds just like one of Macklin’s stunts,” Bodie laughed. “That mad bastard.”

“But all we’ve got is blanks,” Doyle protested.

“You can take someone’s eye out with a blank if you try hard enough.”

“Great,” Doyle said flatly.

Bodie studied the man’s face for a moment. “They would have warned us beforehand if they were going to use live ammo.”

“Wouldn’t put anything past Macklin.”

“Even Macklin doesn’t fool around like that. He might not know what fair play is, but he’s got some common sense.”

“I suppose.”

“They base these exercises on SAS stuff, you know.”

“Factor in Cowley and Macklin, and God knows what you end up with.”

“True,” Bodie admitted. Seeing that Doyle was still unsure, he repeated, “They’ll only be using blanks. Trust me.”

Doyle eyed him. “Just this once.”

Bodie nodded knowingly, and said with an edge of humour, “You’ll soon learn – I’m a very trustworthy character.”

“We’ll see.” Doyle lay in silence for a while before asking, “How many of those tales you tell about Africa are true?”

“Go to sleep, Doyle,” Bodie said wearily.

“No, if we’re going to be working together, I want to know.”

“Put it this way,” Bodie drawled, “I could count the good memories on one hand.”

“Not the way you tell it over a beer.”

“So I can spin a good yarn about it, impress the locals. That’s one of the two things it did for me.”

“And the other?”

“Fine-tuned my survival instincts. You had to be quick, and very careful, and very very good at what you did, just to get out of there.”

“What were you very very good at? Killing people, maybe?” Doyle didn’t get a reply, so he added, “Figured it was hell. Or should have been.”

“It was hell,” Bodie agreed flatly. “So where did you grow up? Streets of London?”

“Yeah. It was a barrel of laughs.”

“Used to dream of walking down them. Civilisation!”

“They were quite unsavoury enough for me, thank you.”

Bodie shook his head. “These types of stories don’t get told sober. For the last time, Doyle, go to sleep!”

“All right, all right.” But Doyle’s grudging tone was belied by a genuine smile.

Doyle waited, crouched by the front door of the house they were infiltrating. Bodie should have been there to let him in at least three minutes ago. Doyle decided that something had gone wrong.

He drew out his skeleton keys and began to work on the lock. Within moments he was in, and suspiciously checking for alarms and booby traps. Then he began to make his way up the main staircase, keeping low against the wall and carefully treading on the very edge of each step to avoid any noise.

Creeping along the corridor on the first floor, Doyle passed the two rooms that Macklin’s mock terrorists had been using. There was still no sign of his partner, so Doyle continued on to the room that Bodie should have climbed into.

He found Bodie bent over the task of tying someone up. The man had dropped to kneel across the inert form and drawn his Browning before his senses recognised Doyle. “Ran into a spot of bother,” Bodie murmured, holstering the gun. “And couldn’t make a noise about it.”

“So I see.”

“Front door wasn’t locked after all?” Bodie asked.

“I brought my keys.”

“And the guard?”

“Gagged and handcuffed out of harm’s way.” Doyle didn’t add that it would have been easier to pretend to slit the guard’s throat. No point in asking for criticism when the situation was under control anyway.

“Well done,” Bodie said.

Doyle had been about to ask ifBodie had really knocked out one of Macklin’s people, and what he figured Macklin would think of it if he had, when Doyle caught the barest whisper of sound from the corridor. Bodie hadn’t heard it, so Doyle placed himself by the door. As soon as the terrorist appeared, Doyle had his right arm twisted behind his back, and a hand clamped over his mouth. “Not a word,” Doyle advised his prisoner flatly.

Bodie looked up, startled, then came to take the terrorist’s gun, and help tie and gag him. “I owe you one,” he said to Doyle.

“Do you now?” Doyle met his gaze for a long moment. “Must feel pretty bad, owing an ex-copper.”

“I’ll live,” Bodie muttered. “There should be only two or three others to deal with, including the hostage. They wouldn’t have used any more than that on this sort of exercise.”

“Just remember who we’re dealing with,” Doyle said. “Can’t take anything for granted.”

“I remember.” Bodie followed his partner out to the corridor, shutting the door behind them. They each positioned themselves outside one of the two doors where the terrorists had been, listened for movement inside, then, after a silent count of three, burst in.

Doyle was, for a moment, glad that there was only one person inthe room he’d taken. Then he saw who it was. “Macklin!”

“So they were successful?” Cowley was asking Macklin in the growing light. “They disabled or eliminated all the terrorists?”

“Yes, sir.”

Doyle thought he could detect a disgruntled note in Macklin’s reply.

“Even you?” Cowley continued.

“Even me, sir,” Macklin said flatly. “I almost had Doyle, but then Bodie appeared from the next room and shot me dead.”

Cowley just nodded, then beckoned Bodie and Doyle over. “If you’ll continue to work as a team, then I’ll offer you both a place in CI5,” he said with no preamble.

Doyle waited silently, arms crossed and head bowed, expecting Bodie to argue.

“It’s all right with me, sir.”

The three other men stared at Bodie for a long moment, before Doyle added, “Count me in, too.”

“All right, then.” Cowley and Macklin walked away, heading for the helicopter that would take them all back to London.

“Thought you wouldn’t brook a partner,” Doyle observed after a moment.

“Cowley thought so, too. I’ll tell you a secret,” Bodie said with a grin. “He thinks he knows me – and I like disappointing him.”

“You’re a terrible disappointment,” Doyle agreed.

“So, what’s your excuse for the change of heart?”

Doyle shrugged. “Do almost anything to join this mob.”

Bodie nodded sagely. “Still, it might even work, us being partners.”

“It might,” Doyle allowed.

“Once I get you pulled into shape…” Bodie continued, though he was beginning to realise that would be time well spent.

Doyle snorted. “Once I get you cut down to size!” Then he turned thoughtful. “Be interesting to know what odds they’re giving us.”

“I imagine very long against us, mate. But we’re both used to challenges.”

“You’re not wrong there.” And they shared a mischievous smile before they turned to follow Cowley.