CAN LIFE GO ON
There is a difference between living and being alive. Doyle once made Bodie a promise. He feels he had honoured it, but will Bodie finally let him break it? And will Murphy help or hinder his friend?
An established relationship story.
Warning: Major character death.
Written: May 2003. Word count: 13,230.
Originally appeared in A Little B&D published by No Name No City Press in October 2003.
"Earth to earth. Ashes to Ashes. Dust to Dust. In the sure and certain…" the voice of the Vicar droned on, but Ray Doyle, newly appointed Controller of CI5, heard no more. He stood - leaning heavily on a pair of crutches, tears streaming unchecked down his cheeks – along with all of the other CI5 employees by a graveside.
He felt the solid and comforting presence of Murphy hovering by his side and knew that Murphy was watching him; he also knew that in Murphy's, and most other people's opinions, he shouldn't even be here. However, Doyle had given the hospital doctors and Murphy a simple choice: either they allow him out of hospital to attend the funeral, or he'd discharge himself – permanently. Faced with that choice, plus a belligerent and determined Doyle, the doctor had capitulated, on the condition that Doyle was not left alone, and that he be collected from, and returned, to the hospital. Murphy had appointed himself in the role of carer and was doing his job very diligently.
Doyle felt the moisture start at the top of his nose and moved slightly to try and brush the back of his hand across it. He didn't even bother hunting for a handkerchief - that had been soaked in the church. He felt a slight nudge and the solicitous Murphy pushed a white cloth into his hand. That simple gesture almost broke Doyle anew – it was so symbolic of Bodie's actions on previous occasions. Doyle slumped and found a strong arm encircle his shoulders; with a sigh he allowed his weight to fall backwards and sideways and he rested in the safety and security of the arm that belonged to the taller, dark haired agent: his good friend Thomas Murphy.
As he rested there, Doyle allowed his gaze to wander around the rest of the graveside contingent. He wasn't the only person to be crying, in fact he had even glimpsed tears shining in Murphy's eyes, but most were simply damp eyed, or sniffing – even the women present weren't showing as much grief as Ray was. But then even the women present weren't burying a best friend, a partner, a confidante and a lover – as well as a man who had become a substitute father to the enigmatic Ray Doyle.
The funeral in one way was like any other CI5 funeral: every current and past employee was present – whether he or she was a particular friend of the dead agent or not. But in many ways it was totally different. This time the dead were George Cowley – founder and Controller of CI5 – and William Andrew Philip Bodie – Doyle's partner and lover. They'd gone out together in an operation that had caused the deaths of all the criminals, the severe injury to Doyle, and minor injuries to several other agents. Doyle's one regret was that his own life had been spared, and that was only down to the fast thinking of Bodie, who had pushed Ray out of the way at the last second, choosing to save his lover rather than himself or his boss.
A double funeral had seemed the best answer for two famililess men; only they weren't exactly famililess: they had CI5, and Bodie had Doyle; but still Doyle had deemed it the better way. They weren't to be buried together, but in separate plots. The burial of Bodie had still to take place and Doyle wasn't sure how much more he could physically or emotionally undertake.
FIVE YEARS LATER
Doyle eased his way slowly out of the black Rover, using the door and passenger headrest to help him. Even that small effort brought a flash of perspiration to the back of his neck, upper lip and forehead. No matter how many hours he put in at the gym, working with Macklin and Towser on specially designed exercises that were aimed to make him fitter without putting undue strain on his damaged leg; every time he got in and out of a car, or up from his desk, or out of bed, he struggled and felt like a limp lettuce leaf for a few moments. He leant head, momentarily, on the roof of the car and took some long, deep breaths until his heart rate returned to normal – normal for him. He sometimes wondered why he was allowed to be the Controller of CI5. Yes, George Cowley had had leg problems of his own, but he hadn't needed a stick, and wasn't as incapacitated as Ray. But Ray had what Cowley had never had: a deputy – Thomas Murphy. Murphy looked after the physical side and Ray did the thinking, the planning, the organising and the managing; it hadn't taken him, (or anyone else), long to realise that he was remarkably able at all of those tasks. He had advanced not only to, but also past, triple think and he owed all that to his predecessor. That and so much more.
He wiped his hand across his lip and turned to where Ruth was standing, in silence, holding his walking stick, briefcase and two bouquets of roses.
"Thank, Ruth," he flashed a quick smile in her direction, no less heart-felt because of its brevity.
She nodded, her blonde hair shining in the last rays of sunlight that glinted off her glasses. "Shall I wait for you?" She would already know the answer, but inevitably she asked anyway. In a perverse way, Ray was pleased that she did, it meant that she still cared, and God knows he didn't deserve anyone to care about him.
"No, thanks." Again he gave her the brief, flat smile – the one he had perfected over the last five years. There was no need for her to wait, there never was. She, like everyone else at CI5, knew the timetable of this day almost as well as Ray himself did. "Goodnight, Ruth," he added as she turned and slid elegantly back into the car.
"Goodnight, sir." He watched as she closed the door, eased the big car into gear, indicated, (although there was no need because there was no other vehicle in sight), and pulled out; the large engine sleek and almost silent.
For a few moments Ray watched the car as it glided down the road. The dipping sun momentarily made the road look like water, and the black Rover could easily have been a ship sailing on it. Ray shook his head, casting away the image. This was no time for fantasies; reality was waiting for him inside the iron gates.
As he manoeuvred, (with some difficulty), the gate, his stick, his briefcase and the flowers, he listened to the various sounds: birds chirruping in some kind of early evening chorus; the wind softly blowing through the trees, rustling the leaves and brushing them to the ground; apart from these two interruptions the strongest sound of all was that of a closed silence. Damp, dusky, deep, grey, heavy and confining; it wove itself around Ray, snuggling inside his overcoat and forcing its heaviness down on him. Its pressure made it even harder to walk up the long, winding path made of time-cracked and moss covered paving slabs.
He adjusted briefcase and flowers that were held in his right hand, and took a tighter grip on his stick. As he did he breathed in, tasting and smelling the silence. He could also smell the scent of freshly cut grass, decaying chrysanthemums, new – too new – lilies, (the flower of death), the mixed aroma of wild and cultured flowers and finally the combined, yet separate, perfumes of his own two bouquets.
By the time he reached his destination his back and forehead were damp with perspiration and his breathing was harsh and heavy. With a sense of relief he sank down onto the stone bench that he had obtained permission to place next to his two graves. On either side of the bench were bushes of rosemary and lavender, green and mostly unscented now, but at other times the combined rich scent and mauve-blue flowers would lift the air and lighten the drabness, at least that is what Ray had been told. He closed his eyes, allowed his head to bow slightly and concentrated on returning his breathing to normal, and forcing away the ringing in his ears and the blurred darkness that had cut across his vision.
After a few moments, he opened his eyes and looked around him. A red squirrel bounced across the grass towards the wooded area and disappeared, its bushy tail upright and quivering. The oppressiveness of the silence had reduced, it no longer pressed down hard on Ray's shoulders. He let out a long sigh and turned his attention to his task.
Pushing himself to his feet and standing for a few seconds to get his balance, he made his way slowly to the farther grave. Dark grey marble, with old gold lettering; it stood stately and unblemished by time and birds. To either side stood bushes of heather producing a mass of pinks, mauves and whites. The bushes were well tended; the regular trimming kept them round and bouncy. The grass over the grave was lush and green, and this too was regularly mowed. There was no container for flowers, nothing that would fill with water and become stagnant and repugnant. Instead Ray placed the first bouquet of roses, (the Old Man had always liked roses), a mixture of yellow, orange and white, on the horizontal step of the stone. As always he read the simple inscription:
GEORGE CAMERON COWLEY
1923 – 1985
The Lord is my Shepherd
His eyes blurred, as they always did, and he allowed a tear to slip from each eye and fall unchecked down his cheeks. It wasn't enough, this silent, annual tribute, but it was all that Ray could offer; even this small gesture drained his emotional strength.
He stood and allowed the wind to play with his curls. He still wore them long – too long really for his position, but the Minister had never said anything, at least not in words – but these days they were more grey than auburn and the shine had long gone from them. He wore them the length he did because of one person: Bodie. The ex-mercenary had loved them and had taken every opportune, and often the inopportune, moment to play with them. As the breeze's fingers picked them up from his head and shoulders and brushed them forward onto his face, his memory played tricks on him and he imagined other, more loving fingers. He squeezed his eyes shut and forced those thoughts away. It wasn't time yet; he still hadn't completed his first obligation. The scent of the roses, the heathers and other nearby flowers were picked up and carried to him on the wings of the air. Around him silence gathered once again, only to be interrupted by a single cry of a dove. When had he started to notice birdsong to the extent that he could name them? When had he started to put names to the perfume of flowers? That was easy: five years ago, almost to the day.
Ray completed his silent vigil to his former boss; then stretched his neck, back and right leg and moved, somewhat hesitantly, towards the grave on Cowley's left. This too had a simple stone; again marble, but a light grey with black writing. Two heather bushes also flanked it, but these were on the bluer side of lilac, more the colour of lavender. There were also two forget-me-not bushes standing guard outside Bodie's heather bushes. Like Cowley's grave, the heather bushes, grass and stone were well cared for, and again there was no container for the flowers.
The care of the two graves was not carried out by Ray, or by any member of CI5; nor was it left to the graveyard attendant. Instead, Doyle paid out a sum per week to someone he didn't know who came and looked after the graves as if they were his or her own. Only Geronimo, who upon hearing of the deaths had come to Ray to offer both his condolences and his service, knew the person. He was Ray's best snitch now, more friend and almost-employee than snitch; in fact the man spent time each week at CI5 HQ. When Ray had told the black man of his desire to keep the graves well looked after, but that he could not undertake the task himself, Geronimo had offered his help. Whether he did the actual work himself, Ray neither knew nor worried about; all that mattered was that on a weekly basis someone came and cared.
As with Cowley's grave, Ray carefully placed his bouquet of roses, a mixture of reds, pinks and white, on the horizontal step. With tears blinding his eyes he took a step back to the side of the grave and looked down at the stone. As with Cowley's, he knew its slightly-higher-than-centre inscription off-by-heart; but it was part of the ritual to look, read and digest. He also found himself checking the blank space above ‘waiting' hadn't somehow been filled in during his annual absences.
WILLIAM ANDREW PHILIP BODIE
1946 – 1985
Death joins. It does not part
As Ray stood silent and still, the breeze became a wind, whipping his curls around his head and flapping his coat around his legs. The sun slipped further into the horizon, creating a golden-red glow in the light grey sky. Tears flowed from his eyes, down his cheeks and dropped onto his collar, dampening the ends of the locks that got in the way. His throat ached and his nose twitched; he fumbled in his coat pocket, pulled out a pristine white handkerchief with a ‘B' in the corner and held it to his nose. He did not blow, that was not part of the ritual, nor did he wipe his eyes. Once again silence swirled around him, creating a black cloak, invaded once again by the lone cry of a nearby dove. On the periphery of his vision nothing, save leaves and grass, moved; even the squirrel had vanished leaving Ray alone: that was how it should be. That was how it always was.
After a longer silent tribute, Ray moved with great care, feeling the sharp shooting sensation that told him he had stood motionless for too long. He made his way, leaning heavily on his stick, back to the stone seat and cautiously lowered himself onto it. After placing the stick on the ground and turning up his collar, he massaged his right thigh; the pain was greater today than it usually was on a daily basis – that too was just and proper.
Now he sat in silence, thinking back over his years as Controller. He was a good Controller, he knew that; he was respected and liked by Ministers, CI5 staff and other miscellaneous people he dealt with on a daily basis. And if he was slightly sharp with any of them, those that knew the truth made allowances, and those that didn't put his sharpness down to the strains of the job and his leg. Not even his annual psych evaluation unravelled the truth.
In his daily activities he seemed to be wrapped in a numbing blanket; able to function and act, to be efficient, forthright, determined, tolerant, understanding even; but it was a surface act. Deep within the blanket he was unable to feel either emotionally or physically, outside of his leg that - as well as the pain - tingled all the time. He had suffered severe damage to his sciatic and other nerves and, the doctors told him, nerve damage does not heal. Sometimes the leg burnt and throbbed, other times it was like a bad attack of pins and needles - he could stick a pin in parts of his leg and not feel it. That was how he felt inside.
Upon becoming Controller he had terminated Kate Ross' employment. He had told her that she was wrong for the morale of the men and women under his command; that she had little, or no, respect for the work they did. Most of the time he persuaded himself that they were the reasons CI5 had parted company with her. Some days, however, he admitted the truth; the truth she had thrown at him the day he'd called her into the office of the Controller of CI5, (at the time he still couldn't call it ‘his' office, it was Cowley's, even five years on he thought of it as belonging more to the dour Scot, than him) and told her of his decision.
He saw her once, a few months ago, and her words still burnt him. She suggested that he should have moved on by now; he still had no idea how she knew that he hadn't, he thought he was able at hiding the real Ray Doyle. His reply had not been gentlemanly, but then her counter-comments had not been ladylike. Maybe other people did know the truth: that he had neither moved on, nor could move on. Moving on, whatever that might mean, was for other people, not him. He'd read several books on bereavement and the healing process, but none had helped – most had just made his angry. So he had stopped reading them and went back to handling things in his way; the only way he knew how: long hours at work, few holidays and grieving once a year.
Ray shifted slightly as his gun began to dig into his side. He still carried a handgun – the last one Bodie had held – at all times and he could still out-shoot any and every CI5 employee, even Jack Crane. He took the gun out and turned it over in his hand. It had taken some getting used to; a couple of years before he'd died, Bodie had started to use a magnum .44 as his preferred weapon and it was both heavier and had more shooting power than the Browning that Ray had preferred over the years. However, after Bodie's demise, he had taken the big gun that Bodie had been holding in his hands at the time of his death, and had used it ever since. He held it, heavy and welcoming in his lap.
The time for silence had passed; it was moment for the next stage of the ritual.
"Hello, Bodie love; I'm here again. Five years now and the pain is still as raw as if it had happened yesterday. I've kept my promise to you, my love, over and above what we'd agreed and I'll continue to keep it, if that's what you want. But, Bodie, isn't it time that you finally freed me?" He paused and listened to the breeze as it rustled the leaves, tossing several to the ground, the scuffling of some small animal in the undergrowth, and the consciousness that had started to envelope him. He waited as the breeze fell silent and the undergrowth stood still. The scent of the roses and the hint of lilac and rosemary blended together to produce a far better perfume than any shop brought one. The silence was absolute now; Ray sighed as more tears slipped down his face.
"Please, sunshine. I can't do this any longer. It's no good me trying. Every day that goes by wears me down; every night becomes less endurable. I can't do it, Bodie. I can't, my love. I've tried; I really have; you know I have. Please, Bodie. Please free me, my love." Bowing his head he let the grief, pain and agony overtake him. He no longer cried silently, instead shattering sobs shook his entire body.
Suddenly his head jerked up, his hand dragged the gun into a shooting position and his full eyes looked around him. The envelope drew in upon itself, wrapping him in warmth: a dusky, soft, gentle lavender warmth that surrounded, caressed and quieted him. The racking sobs ceased, the tears continued to fall but they were no longer tears of sadness. A smile twitched Ray's lips; a real smile, the old Doyle smile; no longer the official, distant, not-reaching-the-eyes smile. He looked into the warmth, saw his future and reached out to touch it. His hand was shaking, but his long fingers moved on, finding, sweeping and caressing; they held on, never again to let go. He sighed and felt his whole body relax; muscles used to being held taut and tense screamed as they took on a new, long-forgotten feeling. Still the rivers ran, but Ray did not try to stop them; he didn't need to stop them, even his tears were warm and caring. He heard the warmth and his ears reached out inviting the intimacy, just as his nose smelt, his tongue tasted, his eyes saw, and his fingers touched it. It was his for the taking.
"Oh, Bodie. Thank you. Thank you, my love. Thank you." Finally the envelope began to fade away, seeping and winding up into the air; but Ray did not feel bereft. Rather he felt whole, real, true, an honest being for the first time in five years. He was complete; his pain and suffering were over. Now he could move on. He re-holstered the gun.
Thomas Murphy made his way slowly and silently along the rickety path to where his friend and boss sat. He'd been taking this trip for the past five years and each year Ray had been almost inconsolable on the way home. Not that he ever said as much, but his red eyes, and blank and distant stare; the way he held his body; the way he kept one hand on Bodie's gun; his limp and the increased need for the stick; the even flatter-and-duller-than-usual curls; and the hurt and despondency that was Doyle's whole personae, told Murphy all he needed to know.
He glanced at his watch before he went any closer. It had gone 6:00 p.m., time for him to make Ray aware of his presence and take his friend home. Each year he'd offered to go up to the flat with Ray, each year he received a polite, but firm, refusal. To be honest, Murphy did not believe Ray's continued living death, because that was what the green-eyed man's life was, was either healthy or logical. However, he would never admit that he had such thoughts, such doubts; instead he went on day-by-day giving the Controller his full support, loyalty and assistance. He alone knew how much Ray depended on him, relied on him and trusted him; it was a trust that he would never betray – not even to his own lover.
He stood still for a few moments and watched Ray – he'd lost even more weight in the last year, weight he could ill afford to lose – as CI5's Controller simply sat, head bowed, fingers still and empty. Murphy's senses suddenly went into over-drive; where was Bodie's gun? Why hadn't Ray got it clutched in his hand? If Murphy had been a cat his tail would be lashing, his ears twitching and his hackles raised. Something was wrong; something had to be wrong. And yet at the same time there appeared to be a cloud of peace, serenity even, around Ray. The wind suddenly wiped the over-long curls, the last rays of sunlight settled around his head, picking out the auburn strands and hiding the grey.
Murphy cleared his throat and Ray swivelled his head to look at him. As always the ghost of a smile touched Ray's lips, a smile that was belied by the steady stream that dropped from the green eyes. "'Lo, Tommy. Is it that time already?" It was the same greeting as always, and the same question.
As always Murphy gave the same answer, "It's after, six, mate; but I can come back if you need more time."
"No, that's all right, Tommy. I'm ready now." Ray tried to push himself to his feet, clearly stiff and in pain, as Murphy moved swiftly to help him. They stood together, with Murphy's long arm wrapped around Ray's slender body, and silently stared at the two graves.
After two or three minutes Murphy squeezed Ray's shoulder and spoke, trying to push the harshness that always crept into his voice, away. "They look good."
"Yeh. They do. Geronimo's mate always does a good job. But…."
Murphy knew what he was thinking. Carefully, he turned Ray within his arms until he could hold him at arms length, supporting him so that Ray did not over-balance. "Look at me, Ray." Slowly the curly head was raised and Murphy looked deep into the once talkative eyes, the eyes that had fallen silent just over five years ago. "And listen to me. It's better this way; you know it is. You couldn't cope; you know you couldn't. This one visit almost destroys you each year." And that was usually the end of it. Usually Doyle would nod, move back into Murphy's embrace and allow himself to be led to Murphy's car. But this year it wasn't the end, and again Murphy's antennae changed channels.
"But I should be able to, shouldn't I, Tommy? Other people cope: men, women, children even; people whose loss is greater than mine. They all cope, but why can't I?" Then before Murphy could even begin to gather together a semblance of a reply, Ray asked another utterly damning question. "Do you think I should be able to cope by now, Tommy?" The final question was so soft that Murphy struggled to hear. Dear God what did he say? How could he answer? Was there even an answer?
"Tommy?" still the soft voice, but this time an intense, cold green stare attacked him. Beneath his hands Murphy felt Doyle's overly thin body begin to become taut. He had to find an answer from somewhere.
He hunted deep within himself for something to say to the man he regarded as his best friend; the man he…. He owed it to Bodie to find the right words to comfort and reassure; he owed it to Ray to try to be honest.
He licked his lips, briefly closed his eyes, offered a silent, quick begging prayer and spoke. "Grief is different for all of us, Ray. It has its own time-scale for each and every one of us. What's right, if there is such a term, and what works for one person doesn't work for another. I've known people literally prostrate with grief, or so weighed down with it they cannot function on a daily basis; people who could not do what you do and run CI5. And I've known people who, on the surface at least, get on with their lives the day after the funeral." He paused and looked deep into the jade gaze; he was wet with perspiration, his heart was racing and his head felt as if a steel band had been wrapped round it and was being tightened inch by inch.
The watching gaze had lost its cold exterior and under Murphy's hands Ray became more pliant and heavy. The tall agent surreptitiously changed his grip so that he was supporting his friend. "And you, Tommy, could you cope if it were you?"
Murphy gave a careful shrug. "I don't know, Ray. And that's the honest truth. None of us can truly know until it happens to us. But I do know one thing," he paused and Ray raised his eyebrows in an enquiring manner. "You have enough grief to contend with; you're fighting every single day in ways I'll never know; you have pressure, pain and so much more to deal with; don't go adding to it. Don't berate yourself because you feel you are handling Bodie's death incorrectly; it'll only hurt you more." The eyes that had stopped flowing, began to leak again. Murphy pulled the now totally pliant body into his arms and held Ray tightly, murmuring into the sweet-smelling, lemon-scented curls. "Come on, sunshine, I'm taking you home."
The journey back to Ray's flat was silent, as it always was, but still Murphy could not shake off the feeling that something was ever so slightly out of kilter. He put it down to what Ray had asked him back at the graveyard and tried to ignore the fact that he'd already felt strange even before Doyle had spoken to him.
They pulled up outside Ray's apartment building, and after turning off the engine Murphy got out of the car and hurried round to help Ray climb out. Just as he was retrieving Ray's briefcase from the back seat something happened to make the edgy feeling quadruple.
"Do you want to come up for a drink, Tommy?"
Murphy felt his mouth fall open and he was glad that his back was still towards Doyle. He turned round slowly, fighting the urge to throw the briefcase to the ground, jump in the car and squeal off down the street. He looked at Ray and was astonished to see a look of faint bemusement on the still pale and damp face.
"Well?" Once again Ray's voice was soft and gentle, like a feather floating in a light breeze.
Murphy hastened to speak. "Yes, Ray. That'd be great. Thanks."
"Good. Well come on then." Ray limped, leaning heavily on his stick, towards the bottom of the outside flight of steps. As he paused, clearly waiting for Murphy to help him, the tall agent wondered – for at least the thousandth time – why his friend had chosen to remain in this accommodation: a third-floor flat, whose lift it seemed only worked four days out of seven, that had six steps, (with no railing), up to the front door. The accommodation he'd been living in for a total of five-and-a-half years now. Doyle had fought – and won – everybody, (including the Minister) over his insistence that he remain here, just as he fought all the other agents who had to move every nine months.
Murphy was pleased to see that at least Ray had been sensible when it came to security: a deadbolt, a Yale lock and a security pad, plus a solid, reinforced door stood between Ray's home and the outside world. For a moment, Murphy compared the door and its locks to his friend; each was remarkably able at repelling entrants, both friendly and unfriendly.
Still limping and leaning heavily on his stick, Ray led the way through the dim hall into the sitting room. As the over-head light filled the room, harsh and intrusive, Murphy gasped and instantly tried to turn it into a cough. Ray was making his way past the sofa and deep-seated armchair to another switch that turned on three table lamps, and turned off the over-head. All at once the room became cosy, warm and private: a cocoon into which Ray could vanish.
Murphy was still standing by the door, his hand on the frame to give him some support, staring around the room and recalling the last time he had seen it. Just over five years ago, to be exact, when he had come here to fetch washing kit, pyjamas and a few paperback books for Doyle's lengthy hospital stay, again when he had fetched Ray's funeral garb, and finally when he was told that he could collect his friend from hospital.
Once more he'd broached the walls and had collected clothes for Ray. He'd also organised cleaners, filled the fridge and freezer, turned the heating up and generally tided up as far as he dare. After careful consideration, he'd taken down two cards that stood either side of a vase of dead and decaying roses on the mantelpiece. They had been Anniversary cards: one from Ray to Bodie and one from Bodie to Ray. As he'd removed them and left them on the coffee table, Murphy had finally shed the tears he'd kept locked up; tears not only for his dead friend and his Controller, but also for his living friend. If he'd dared, Murphy would have taken the cards away, but that he felt was too much of an intrusion. He had removed the roses, and then hurried out to buy replacements. It was he who had helped Ray into the flat, he who had supported his friend as he'd stared around the room, he who had finally persuaded Ray that he should go to bed, and he who had removed a third of the roses when Doyle had said in a toneless, distant voice, "Bodie doesn't like yellow roses." Murphy had never been inside the flat again, until now.
Ray had moved to switch on some music, which Murphy couldn't quite identify but thought was Mozart. Then he heard the clinking of glasses and saw that Ray was trying to juggle a whisky bottle, two cut-glass tumblers and his stick. Freed from his statue-like state, Murphy hurried to take them from his friend. Still neither man had spoken.
Finally Ray lowered himself carefully into an armchair, using the two arms to help his descent. Murphy waited until he'd sat down, before sinking his lanky frame into the comfortable sofa. Ray poured two extremely generous measures of whisky and pushed one in Murphy's direction.
He stared at Murphy, his gaze hard and unblinking and his face pale and drawn. He swallowed some whisky, placed the glass on the arm of the chair and held it there. Finally he spoke. "Why don't you say what you're thinking?" His voice was low, flat and seemed almost self-mocking.
Murphy quickly gulped some whisky and thought frantically. "I'm not thinking anything, Ray," he responded, keeping his own voice gentle and his body language non-confrontational.
Doyle narrowed his eyes and spat out some words. "Don't lie to me, Tommy." He looked angry now, angrier than Murphy had seen him in all the years since Bodie's death. In fact, he recalled, Ray was more emotive now than at any time other time during the past five years. The use of his forename gave Murphy a semblance of hope that this drink wouldn't end before it had really begun.
He spread his hands. "What do you want me to say, Ray?"
The green gaze held him for a moment; then Doyle lowered his eyes, dragged a hand through his hair, winching as he caught his fingers on a particularly errant curl and sighed. When he looked up again Murphy was distressed to see that the eyes had once more become liquid. "Ray." Without pausing for thought, he set his glass down with a resounding click, pushed himself to his feet and crossed to where Ray had seemed to almost shrink. He took the slender hand and squeezed it, pushing back the feelings the simple touch engendered. "Don't, Ray. Don't punish yourself. Don't make it any harder." To his surprise Ray not only allowed the touch, but he gripped Murphy's hand in return.
"I couldn't bear to change anything, not in here nor anywhere else." Ray's voice was harsh and broken. "When you brought me home and I saw that you'd taken down our cards and replaced the roses, do you know what I felt?" He went straight on, not waiting for Murphy's answer. "I hated you. Oh, God, Tommy, I hated you for what you'd done. You'd also tidied up the bathroom and bedroom, hadn't you?" Murphy nodded slowly. "I hated you for that, too. When you'd gone, Christ, I could hardly get you out of the flat quickly enough, I got back up, put the cards up – I left the rest of the roses in the end, it seemed right somehow – and put things back as they'd been, before he left me. They've been that way ever since. Pathetic, isn't it?"
"Oh, Ray," was all Murphy could say and he squeezed the damp hand more tightly. Ray was right: everything was the same. Bodie's leather jacket was thrown over the other armchair, the cards, yellowed and somewhat out-of-shape now, were back on the mantelpiece standing like sentries either side of the vase of roses. A newspaper showing October 1985's date lay on the coffee-table, a book was lying open and face down on another table and a dusty glass stood on the drinks table, next to an empty bottle, (also thick with dust), of Tamdhu whisky. He knew that he didn't need to go into the bedroom or bathroom in order to find all of Bodie's other stuff, left just as it had been on the day of Bodie's death.
"Don't get me wrong, I do clean and stuff, well another friend of Geronimo's does, he also replaces the roses in here ever week, just the same as at the graveyard. He knows what he can touch and what to leave alone. He also takes my laundry and does it and the ironing; I'm well looked after, Tommy." Murphy noticed a slightly sardonic, almost guilty tone in Ray's voice. "It's just that I keep the flat exactly how it was the day… the day Bodie went away. Bleedin' pitiable as I said."
"No, it's not, Ray. It's not," Murphy added as he caught the sneer on Ray's face. "I promise." Finally he received a weak smile and another hand squeeze.
"Anyway," Ray suddenly said, his voice firm and decisive. His body language changed completely and his stature seemed to grow: all at once he was the efficient Controller that Murphy saw on a daily basis, albeit with a slight difference; a difference that Murphy could not explain and did not like. Once again his hackles rose and his nose twitched, even Ray's scent changed subtly and his eyes shone, but not with tears. Contradictory Murphy did not like it, he became wary like he did on the street, and he felt the same itch as when someone he could not see was watching him. "I shouldn't be sad tonight," Ray finished. Now Murphy was really on edge, his long-buried animal instinct, the instinct every human has but most do not use, screeched into being.
He released Ray's hand and sat back on his heels. "Really?" he chose his words carefully, never once letting Ray look away. "Why not?" As he asked the question, he knew that he didn't really want the answer, yet he also knew that he had to ask.
"Because, Tommy, my dear, dear friend. Bodie had finally freed me. After five long, desolate years he's given in and said yes."
The throbbing in Murphy's head grew to gigantean proportions; perspiration broke out all over his body; his stomach churned; the animal wariness hissed inside him and the combined senses of being watched and dread hit him so hard that he fell to his knees, banging his head on the edge of Doyle's chair.
Cold and dry hands caught him and held him as Murphy felt quakes take over his body. "Tommy," Ray's voice was full of concern as he placed a hand on Murphy's brow. Murphy fought the urge to croon and lean into the unexpected gentleness. Using every ouch of the strength - mental, emotional and physical – that got him through operations he raised his head and met Ray's concerned gaze.
He was cold now, like ice, yet sweating; a feeling he hadn't felt since the day he'd been shot whilst following one of Bodie's dare-devil stunts, climbing up a high chimney to try and intervene between a mad-man who held Cowley and the Government to ransom, and the hospital the mad-man had under his ‘control'. The shot had thrown Murphy backwards, and for a brief moment he'd forgotten the harness he'd been wearing, and had expected to fall the hundred plus feet to the ground. Once again digging deep within himself, reaching the part of him that allowed him to pass the gun to Bodie, the part of him that made him Assistant Controller, the part of him that stood up to the Minister on occasions, he spoke. He barely recognised his own voice, and again knew before asking that he didn't want to hear the answer.
"And what exactly does that mean, Ray?"
A sunny smile, the Ray Doyle smile that he'd only ever directed at Bodie, crossed Ray's face as, for the first time in five years, he smiled with his eyes as well as his mouth. Murphy hated that smile, wanted to strike it from Doyle's face, wanted to clamp his hand over the full lips, the open mouth and stop the words from escaping. He did not. "It means, Tommy, that I finally get to join Bodie."
Murphy was speechless and frozen to the spot. Part of him wasn't surprised by the words, it was as if he'd been expecting them ever since he'd gone to the graveyard to pick Doyle up; part of him was stunned: suicidal was a label he'd never thought of applying to Ray; and yet even that wasn't true. Deep down in the most distant and hidden corner of his soul, the corner he never visited, never allowed anyone to touch, he'd been expecting Ray's death ever since the day Bodie had died.
He realised that Ray was watching him carefully, the jade pierced him and scrutinised his face: Ray was clearly awaiting a comment. But Murphy didn't have one; he couldn't speak, couldn't get past the lump as large as a piece of coal, and as dark, that had lodged itself in the back of his throat. He heard a deep sigh and felt a hand on his head, smoothing his hair; the warmth of the touch and the tenderness began to thaw Murphy, but still he could not speak. He wanted to, even though he was uncertain what to say, but he couldn't. For the first time in over ten years he could think of nothing to say to the man he'd called friend, the man from whom he'd always wanted something more.
Suddenly he felt soft, warm lips brush his forehead and his heart began to pound, bells chimed in his ears, and darkness encased his eyes. "I'm so sorry, Tommy." Ray's words were no more than a whisper and they seemed to come from a great distance. Murphy felt himself begin to sink into the shroud of darkness as it moved from his eyes to encompass his entire body. He was drowning in darkness, the bells turned to the death knoll, a single deep, lost bell as it chimed over and over again. He reached out, desperate to find solidity before he was lost, and found a hand. It was warm, human, real and yet it seemed to lack substance.
Finally with a gulp of breath and a force he never realised he had, Murphy came to the surface. After shaking his head and blinking several times, he finally focussed enough to see Ray watching him, his look a mixture of concern, wariness and friendship. "I'm so sorry, Tommy." The gentle voice repeated the words and Murphy knew they weren't referring to Ray's impending suicide; still he did not like to associate that word with the old Ray Doyle.
He forced himself to move away from the caress, finding safety in the deep sofa; but his eyes would not rest or hide, they kept watching Ray. "How long have you known?" Murphy's voice was harsh, his throat raw, as if he'd already shed the tears he knew he'd soon let fall. He reached out blindly and found his glass and emptied its contents; then he reached for the bottle and poured himself another large measure.
"It seems like forever, Tommy. As if I've always known you and your secret."
"Did Bodie know?"
Ray shrugged, the curls that still tumbled onto his shoulders moved in time. "I don't know. He never mentioned it. But then he had no reason to. Does Robbie know?"
Murphy had finally pushed the lump away and his heartbeat was returning to normal. "I don't know, Ray. Sometimes I think so. You see, I've never once told him that I love him. I can't. It hurts him, I know and I hate myself for not saying it. I hate myself for not being able to lie to him. But I respect him enough, care about him enough, like him enough not to lie. I'm sorry, Ray." He felt his hand begin to tremble and he hid it below the arm of the sofa.
"For loving me?" Doyle's tone was serious, still gentle and full of regret. "Don't be, Tommy. Don't blame or hate yourself for that. I'm just sorry that…" he broke off and Murphy watched as pearls filled his eyes and spilled over onto the mis-matched cheeks. He gave a miniscule shrug. "There was never anyone else, never could be. I loved him so much, Tommy, so very much. I still do; every day, every hour, every minute, every second. Not one of them goes by without me remembering him and loving him." Ray slumped back into the chair, winched and rubbed his leg. His eyes were still cloudy and although they were turned in Murphy's direction, the tall agent knew that they weren't seeing him.
The dreamy, hypnotic voice continued. "For a while, after the first few months had gone by, after the total numbness that marked my daily existence had began to lift, I even hated him. I hated him for leaving me. I blamed myself for his death, I kept re-playing the scene over and over again: could I have saved him? I should have done. He was my partner; I'd have died for him – he knew that. But instead he died for me. The bastard died in my place and left me to face the world alone. I wasn't equipped for that, Tommy. Not after all our years together."
"But you run CI5 so well," Murphy heard himself say.
A frown creased Ray's forehead. "Maybe. But that's all I run well. Look at this place, Tommy," he waved his arm around the room. "Nothing's changed since the last time he was here. Damn it, I shouldn't even be living here. I wouldn't stand for that sort of behaviour in anyone else. But I guess that rank does have its privileges. He always looked after me, you see. I know that sounds bloody stupid; Ray Doyle the independent, irritable, irascible little bugger was looked after. But I was and I grew to depend on it. It was the first time in my life that anyone had done that. Another?" he waved the whisky bottle in Murphy's direction and when the glass was held out, poured a large measure into it. Murphy watched as the amber liquid flowed down the sides of the crystal and pooled into the bottom and up the sides.
"Bodie was the first person to love me for me, did you know that, Tommy? No one else ever did. Not my foster parents, my schoolmates, girl friends, even – especially – the lovely Ann Holly. None of them loved me for me; but Bodie did. He let me – no made me – rely on him, trust him, care about him, believe in him; he made me dependent on him, and then he went and left me. And I hated him for it. Didn't last long, the hate, how could it? But when it left me I felt almost empty, bereft even, as though I'd lost something important." Ray sighed and as Murphy watched he saw a cloak of weariness fold itself around Ray's body, forcing its heaviness and gloom around the lithe form.
"I am sorry I couldn't love you, Tommy. I want you to know that. I want you to know that if I ever could have loved again, it would have been you. I don't imagine that's much consolation, but if it's worth anything to you: remember it."
Ray levered himself to his feet, swaying slightly; whether it was the drink, the pain, the exhaustion or all three, Murphy wasn't certain. "I have a huge favour to ask you, Tommy, probably the biggest thing you'll ever be asked. Please feel free to say no; I'll understand if you do. Really. In fact you should say no." Ray broke off and Murphy watched the uneven white teeth begin to nibble Ray's lower lip. He saw uncertainty race across the now pale face, he saw Ray battle between asking and leaving the issue.
"Ask me, Ray. Please." Again, somehow he knew what the favour would be, and he began his own battle over what to answer. The scent of roses grew stronger and sweeter as the warmth from the room began to increase. Mozart, (or whoever it was) was still playing, but the music had now become mournful, and had its own shadows, shadows that seemed to be matched with those hiding in the corner of the room. Suddenly a light breeze seemed to rustle Ray's curls, swirl around the lamps and return to the dimness. Murphy suppressed a shudder; concealed the desire to run, and fought the yearning to grab Ray and either kiss him, hit him or simply hold him.
Jade met his own gaze and held it. Suddenly it seemed as there was nothing else in the room, no one else in the building, that all of London, maybe even the planet, was empty. The only two people present were in this small room: Raymond Doyle and Thomas Murphy. Time seemed to stand still; the senses became - with the exception of sight, and even that was limited to seeing Ray – deprived; the need for oxygen vanished and gravity appeared not to need to exist.
"Stay with me." The words were spoken so softly that they almost deafened Murphy. He suddenly realised with a shock the cliché, ‘my blood ran cold', could happen. The three words swirled around in his mind, hounding him, following him whenever he tried to think about something else. They were three very simple words: one syllable each, two words of four letters, one of two, almost as simple as three other words; the three words Murphy had longed to hear Ray say. Slowly his vision, that until that second he hadn't realised had gone black, cleared; his teeth, that he hadn't realised had started to chatter, became still; his body, that he had thought didn't belong to him, registered the fact that a slender arm was around his back and another one was gripping his arm; his ears that had only been hearing those words was freed. He saw two green eyes wide and large in an ashen face; felt the warmth of the half hug and the tightness of the grip; heard his name being repeated over and over again. "Tommy, Tommy, Tommy, Tommy, Tommy." The words were a chant, a benediction; the voice that spoken them was high and shaky, the panic and concern tangible.
"I'm all right," he finally managed to say: another three words. And as he spoke them, he realised that they were the truth. "I'm all right," he repeated. "Really, Ray. I am all right." Turning the three words into four absurdly enough made him feel better. "Sorry, mate," he placed his hand over the one that was gripping his arm and redistributed his weight so not as to lean too heavily on the slighter man.
Ray was shaking his head curls flying quickly enough to cause the illusion of a curtain been flapped in the breeze. "I'm the one who should be sorry, Tommy. Who is sorry," he added quickly. "Christ, I'm a bleedin' moron sometimes. I often wonder… well it doesn't matter. Let's just say, thank God you're my deputy. What the fuck was I thinking about? Forget it, okay, Tommy? Please, just forget it."
But Murphy shook his head and said firmly, "No, Ray. I won't forget it. What you were doing was asking a friend, a close friend, I think I've got the right to call myself that," he paused slightly and looked down into those beautiful, suddenly vocal jade eyes. "Haven't I, Ray?" It was a whisper and Murphy almost regretted his need to ask it. But the fear was vanished as the curly head began to nod up and down.
"Yes, Tommy, you have that right and more; much more. I'm not that certain after my revelation and stupid question that I've got the same right." Ray moved and Murphy saw the look of pain chase across his face. Ray had been standing in one position, without the support of his stick, for too long. Murphy slid his arm around Ray and helped him sit down, noting as he did the sigh of relief.
He crouched down in front of his friend, captured Ray's hands in one of his and put his other hand under Doyle's chin and held the pale face up. "Now listen to me, Raymond Doyle, I'm only going to say this once, okay?" he released his tight grip just enough for Ray to nod. The green eyes were open wide and Ray's mouth had fallen slightly apart; Murphy pushed away his desire to claim it in a searing kiss. "You are my closest friend," he chose his words carefully, deliberately avoiding the prefix ‘best'. "I love you and I have done for years; and I guess in my own way I'll always love you. No, take that look off your face. It isn't your fault that you can't offer me the love I want; I've never expected it. Wanted it, yes, expected, no. You're Bodie's, you always have been and you always will be. I was with you both when he died, and I'm going to be right here with you when you," he paused and swallowed hard. "Join him," he finished. "So we'll have no more stupidity about being sorry and telling me to forget it. I. Am. Staying. Here. Have you got that clear? Well have you?" He shook Ray slightly and frowned when he got no reply. Then he took in the frantic eye gestures and the noises coming from Doyle's mouth and realised that he'd been holding onto Ray's chin so tightly that the slighter man couldn't answer in words or movements. "Oh, sorry," he said, hastily let loosening his tight grip.
Ray rubbed his chin and his look became rueful. "You know, Tommy, I'm glad you love me, I wouldn't like to be around if you disliked me." Amazingly some genuine emotion crossed his face and he smiled, a gentle, caring, honest smile that touched his eyes and made them alive. Absurdly, Tommy wanted to cry.
Ray reached out and stroked Murphy's face. "Don't, Tommy, don't grieve for me, please. Be pleased for me. You know it's the only thing I can do. You, especially you, have seen what my life has been over the last few years. I can't live without him. For me life can't go on because my life stopped the second Bodie's heart stopped beating; all I've been doing all these years is living on borrowed time. No, that's wrong; I haven't been living; I've been existing. No more, no less. And I'm tired, Tommy, so very, very tired."
The room seemed warmer and the shadows that had been hiding in the corners vanished only to be replaced by a sense of happiness, a completeness that was tinged with just a splash of sorrow. The happiness was damask velvet, soft and alluring, deep and unceasing. It engulfed everyone in its midst and left them feeling more content and at peace. Its sound was as sweet as a nightingale, as soft as a dove's wing, and as rich as an orchestra. Its scent was rose-petals, pink, red, cream and white, the perfect perfume: a mixture no lab could ever capture. Suddenly Ray's curls perked up, the shine came back to them together with the bounce, the grey looked like highlights. The jade sparkled with hints of diamonds, the pale skin became alive and healthy with a flush of colour appearing on the mis-matched cheeks, and the smile that had long vanished, played across the deep pink lips. The tension and despair lifted from the over-slender body, and the stature became uplifted. Five years vanished from Ray, whipped away like a sheet in the wind, gone in less than a heartbeat. Sitting before Murphy was his friend as he'd been on that fatal morning when he had perched on the arm of Bodie's restroom chair, slurping tea, swinging one leg and leaning against his lover's solid body; the love was shooting and shining out of the sparkling jade eyes as they looked into Bodie's sapphire ones. Two men in love, happy, relaxed, laughing, at peace with each other and the world; not knowing that by the end of the day only one of them would still be living.
Murphy pushed himself to his feet and looked around him. On the periphery of his vision he was certain that the damask mist was still in the room, providing shelter, love, hope and reassurance. He stretched his back and flexed his legs, then bent to pick up his abandoned glass of whisky and knocked it back in one swig, noticing, as he did so, that his hand was shaking. He moved back to the sofa and sank down into its comforting softness, composing his face and body. He looked across at Ray, the change he'd noticed moments before was still present, and for the first time in all those lonely years Ray looked alive. The irony of this did not escape Murphy. He poured another whisky for both of them, not entirely certain when Ray had emptied his glass, and sipped it slowly letting its amber warmth warm and sooth him.
When he felt under control he moistened his lips and began to speak, jumping at the sound of his own voice that seemed abnormally loud. "May I ask how you're going to…" he paused trying to find a suitable euphemism. Failing he gave a minute shrug and added, "You know?"
Ray gave him a gentle half smile. "Don't worry, Tommy, I'm not going to use Bodie's gun, if that's what your thinking. When you've worked for the drug squad you know a few things, and besides…" he lowered his eyes and began to pleat his trouser leg.
Murphy knew. "Geronimo?" he stated, keeping his voice neutral. Part of him, a small part of him, felt a pang of jealousy. It seemed that Geronimo played a large part in Ray's life; everything Ray wanted it appeared he turned to Barry Martin's old snitch for. The man had turned his allegiances to Bodie and Doyle, and in particular Ray, after Barry had been shot, and ever since Bodie had died the man almost seemed part of CI5. Chastising himself for his jealousy, Murphy buried the feeling and returned his attention to Doyle. "What is it exactly?"
Ray shrugged. "I'm not entirely sure; but Geronimo said that it'd kill an elephant and that it's very peaceful. I'll just go to sleep. Are you sure you want to stay, Tommy?"
No Murphy wasn't sure, but he had no intention of failing this man in this his moment of greatest need. "I'm staying," he spoke firmly in a tone that brooked no argument. "Ray?"
"Why now? I mean… well, you said it yourself; you've only been existing all these years. What did you mean when you said that Bodie had freed you?" Doyle was silent for a moment and Murphy cursed his inquisitive nature. He hastened to speak. "I'm sorry, Ray, forget it. I'm just a bit…. Forget it, okay?"
"No. No, I don't mind. You have a right to know, and," he said holding up a hand as Murphy was about to speak, "I want to tell you." He closed his eyes for a moment and took a small sip of his drink, Murphy watched him and let the soft strains of the music sink into, help relax, him. Ray slowly opened his eyes. "It was seven years ago when we finally plucked up the courage to tell the Old Man about our relationship and asked if we could share a flat. And although we'd been lovers, or at least having sex, since the first day we met, we chose the moving in date as our Anniversary. Hence the cards," he nodded towards the mantelpiece, "you saw when you tidied up." Again he broke off and wriggled further back into the chair, stretching and flexing his leg and rubbing the thigh. Finally he propped his leg up on the coffee table.
Another sip of whisky and he spoke again. "We'd been given seventy-two hours to move in. We celebrated that first night and, under the influence of too much champagne and too many brandy nightcaps, we got on to the subject of dying." Murphy noticed the damp cloud filter across the green and black eyes, and saw drops stand on the reddened eyelids. "We reckoned that we'd go out together, it seemed logical somehow and right. But then Bodie started going on about what if one goes first, what then? I told him straight that if he died before me that I couldn't live without him. God, I sound wet," his tone was self-defacing.
Again he closed his eyes and leant his head on the back of the chair. "Bodie made me promise that I'd try, and after another couple of brandies we agreed that if there was one survivor then he'd try and get on with his life for two years. After that he could seek permission to join the other one." He dragged a hand through his curls. "It sounds stupid now, Tommy, telling you when we're reasonably sober, and I don't want to get into the afterlife etc., etc., but somehow we knew that…. It doesn't matter. The simple thing is that a promise was made that we'd wait for the other to free the living one. I've been asking Bodie for three years now, and finally today he said yes." He licked his lips and wiped the back of his hand across first one cheek and then the other and frowned at the liquid that was present.
"Bodie isn't over happy, I know that he hoped that I'd be able to make a new life for myself and carry on. He loved me that much; but he knows how unhappy I've been and what my life isn't." With a sudden flowing movement he drained his glass, replaced it on the table and stood up, pausing to get his balance. Picking up his stick he began to limp across the room. "I'm going to have a shower and whatever now and then…. I'll give you a call." He left the room; the cloud seemed to leave with him. Murphy shivered. He reached for the phone and rang his home number, leaving a message on the answer-phone telling Robbie that he wouldn't be home that night; telling him simply that Ray needed him.
Murphy walked into the bedroom and found Ray standing by the side of the bed. He was dressed very simply in a white silk shirt, charcoal trousers and black socks. Silver glittered at his neck and right wrist, and the simple gold band he always wore sat on the third finger of his left hand. His curls had been washed and freshly dried and they cradled his face and bounced on his shoulders. They looked fluffy, and in the pale light of the bedside lamps they shone, creating a halo around the pale, clear face. The pupils were large and Murphy wondered briefly if Ray had already taken something.
He froze in the doorway as he felt the deep-set ache of desire and love begin to tremble in his body. He had wanted Ray from the second he'd set eyes on him, but knew that it was an impossible dream because Ray belonged – there was no other word for it – to Bodie and vice versa. The partners were proprietorial about one another in a way Murphy sometimes thought must be constricting, but mostly longed to feel that way about someone, and to have someone care for him that much. The latter half of that longing had been true for three years now. Robert "Robbie" Davidson, a barrister and Murphy's live-in lover, adored Murphy and cared for him in the way that Murphy had seen Bodie and Ray treat one another. All too often Murphy felt guilty because he had not only never told Robbie that he loved him, but had not shown him such devotedness. Maybe now….
"Come here, Tommy." Ray reached out a hand and Murphy glided towards it, enchanted by the glow that surrounded Ray. Now that he was closer he was able to drink in Ray's warm scent. Jasmine, lemons, apples and roses, together with Ray's own, natural smell, blended together to produce an intoxicating perfume. "Hold me." It was a whisper and a plea, and Murphy heard the sound of the walking stick hitting the ground.
Murphy gathered Ray into his arms, pulling him close and guiding the soft, curl-covered head onto his shoulder. As Ray's whippet like arms wrapped around Murphy's torso, the taller man fought back a whimper and silently urged his body not to react. He held Ray more like he'd hold a child than a lover, and began to rock him back and forth, whispering words that he couldn't remember and was certain Ray couldn't hear.
How long they remained thus, Murphy did not know, except he did know that how ever long it was, it wasn't long enough. It was Ray who gently broke the embrace and smiled up at Murphy, his head tilted back to look into Murphy's eyes. "Don't cry, Tommy," he whispered as he reached up and wiped a tear from Murphy's cheeks. "Please don't cry for me."
Murphy swallowed the lump that was threatening to choke him and, because he couldn't help it, lowered his lips and placed a chaste kiss on the soft curls. "I'll miss you, Ray. I really will."
Ray captured both of Murphy's hands and the taller agent was somewhat surprised to see just how small the hands of CI5 Controller's were when compared to his own. Ray's face was damp, although he was still smiling. "Listen to me, Tommy." His voice was gentle yet firm and determination shone from his eyes. Murphy matched the handclasp and listened.
"I want you to promise that you won't grieve for me. I know you'll miss me and I reckon you'll shed the odd tear or two, but keep it brief, Tommy. Remember it's what I want. I'm finally going back to Bodie. I'm happy, really happy for the first time since the day he died." Tears shimmered down Ray's cheeks and Murphy felt the warm, dampness on his own cheeks.
"There's something else. Let me go, Tommy. You've got Robbie and he's a good man; he loves you dearly. Try and love him back, Tommy. Try, please. For me. Will you promise those two things?" The green gaze was intent and as much as Murphy wanted to pull the man back into his arms, to plunder those full lips, to sweep his hands over the firm back and to whisper words of love and passion into the curl covered ears, he knew he couldn't. Ray was right; he knew that. He'd always known it. Ray was, always had been, and always would be, Bodie's; just as Bodie was Ray's.
"There's one more thing. Here, this is for you." Ray dug in his trouser pocket and pulled out a thin silver chain. "It's my original one, the one we thought got lost during the Parsali affair. It finally turned up, but by then Bodie had bought me a new one. I'd you to have this." He held it out and it shimmered into Murphy's hand. The tall agent closed his hand around it, feeling the warmth reverberate through the silver links.
Murphy closed his eyes briefly, thought of his own lover, remembered Ray and Bodie together laughing, smiling, and messing about; clearly and obviously in love, and he paid them a silent, final benediction. "I promise." His voice was gruff, but solid.
"Good, because there's one more thing." Ray paused and Murphy began to twitch again, even though he couldn't imagine what could be causing the look of hesitation, embarrassment even, on Ray's face.
"Yes, Ray?" he kept his voice neutral.
Still Ray seemed tentative; he was twisting the silver bracelet around and around his wrist, gnawing his lower lip, and wouldn't meet Murphy's eyes.
"Ray?" Murphy reached out and gently touched the thin arm and felt the tension, which had hitherto begun to seep away, return. Doyle raised his head and looked at Murphy. Then he began to speak, his tone matter-of-fact.
"You're going to find out soon enough, so…" he took a deep swallow and went on. "You see, Tommy, my will names you as my executor. I hope you don't mind?" Before Murphy could respond, Ray hurried on. "Not that's its complicated. I'm to be buried with Bodie, of course and… well it's all written down really. As to the headstone, keep the one that's there but ‘no longer' is to be added in the space above ‘waiting', and then…." He shrugged his shoulders and flicked his eyes from left to right before continuing. As Murphy watched the slim fingers were busy. "As I said, it's all in the will. I tried to make it as easy as possible for you," Ray gave a half-smile; he still seemed hesitant. All sorts of possible scenarios flitted through Murphy's frantic mind. He didn't want to speak and break Ray's concentration, so simply stood trying to make himself as welcoming and trustable as possible. It seemed to work.
"It'll be even easier because," another loud swallow, another twist of the bracelet and intense green eyes looked at Murphy. "Apart from a bequest to Geronimo and a fund to keep the graves cared for, you're my only beneficiary."
Murphy blinked. "Ray?" he spluttered, not knowing what else to say.
Ray held his hands up, palms facing Murphy. "Don't, Tommy. You've been my friend for ten years, and my closest friend these past five; you've put up with a lot. No, don't deny it, you have. Please, Tommy, just accept what I've left and don't thank me. I want you to have it. And one more thing," he broke off, caught Murphy's hands and again met his gaze. As Murphy watched he saw resolution settle on Doyle's slightly coloured-heightened face.
"There's a fair bit; Bodie invested the money from his years in the mercs well, in fact we'd planned to retire at fifty, maybe even forty-five, but…" he shook the auburn curtain, and stilled his trembling lower lip. "Plus I've spent very little of my Controller's salary, and..." this time he lowered his gaze, although he still held Murphy's hands. When he spoke again his voice was low and a slight tremble resonated through it. "The Old Man left everything to Bodie and me." Again he looked up and met Murphy's gaze. The taller man's mouth dropped open, and he found that he couldn't utter a single word.
Doyle let one of Murphy's hands drop and placed a quiet finger under his jaw; then he gently pushed his mouth shut. "The money could make a huge difference to you, Tommy. To you and Robbie. I know you'll use it wisely." Again Murphy opened his mouth to speak; again Ray prevented it. "No, Tommy, no words; none are needed. There's no one who deserves it more." Murphy obeyed his friend, just as he would do on the occasions Ray pulled rank on the job; the obeying was done with exactly the same amount of love, friendship and understanding as it always was.
"Okay," he whispered and brought one of Ray's hands to his mouth and softly kissed it.
Once again the sweet smile played on Ray's lips and then he moved closer to Murphy, stood up on his toes and planted a soft, dry, chaste, yet caring kiss on Murphy's lips. For three, maybe four seconds they held the kiss before letting it slip away into a hug of friendship. Murphy let his tears be buried in the curls that were once more resting on his shoulder.
THE NEXT DAY
Murphy stiffly pushed himself to his feet. He'd spent the night sitting on the edge of the bed, holding Ray's hand as he watched the breathing slow and become more shallow, until finally Ray' chest stopped moving; Murphy had slipped his fingers to Ray's neck and waited until the pulse had ceased to beat. At three minutes to midnight, Raymond Doyle had departed from the world. At that moment the damask cloud had covered the bed, engulfing the body and shimmering around. It wrapped itself along Ray's still form, and when it departed the colour had increased in depth and warmth, and a second, yet entwined blanket could be seen. As one it left the room, pausing only to brush Murphy's hair and whisper, "Goodbye, Tommy. Thank you. Take care." At that moment the warmth, colour, peace, love, and sound had left the room; only Murphy remained sitting still holding Ray's hand, tears falling from his eyes. He stayed that way until the dawn chorus awoke the world.
His first call was to the ambulance service to advise them of a dead body; the second was to the Minister asking him if he would meet Murphy at CI5 HQ at 9:00 a.m. His hand hovered over the phone and he considered making a third call; but Ray's death was still too close. He'd make it later, from HQ.
The Minister arrived promptly at 9:00 a.m. to find a freshly showered and shaved Murphy. (All agents, even Deputy Controllers kept a change of clothes in their lockers).
"Sir." They exchanged handshakes.
"You said that it was important and urgent. I postponed a meeting with the Treasury Department; my opposite number was less than pleased."
"Sir. I apologise, but I believe you will agree that this meeting was merited." Murphy was standing to attention, as he always did in the Minister's presence. He knew that he'd also resorted to stiff, formal speech that was not his usual style.
The Minister twitched his lips. "Relax, Thomas. If you say it's important, I would not doubt you. So what is it? And where is Raymond today? His office is still in darkness.
The moment had arrived and Murphy had to explain. The backs of his eyes burnt and his throat felt like sandpaper. For a second he closed his eyes, then opened them and looked down at his, now, direct boss. "I regret to have to inform you, sir, that Ray," he paused imperceptibly, swallowed and went on. "That Ray died last night, sir."
"Died?" The Minister's eyes were wide and a look of disbelief was on his face.
"Yes, sir." Still Murphy stood to attention, his limbs locked and painful.
Murphy paused. Forced back the tears and spoke, his voice flat. "There will be an autopsy, sir."
"Yes, but…." Suddenly the Minister broke off and looked hard at Murphy. "Oh," the syllable was soft ,and the brown eyes that had been watching Murphy closed. When they opened again, they looked dull. The Minister nodded slowly. "I see. I had hoped…."
"As had I, sir."
"Very well. Right, Thomas, callous as it may seem, life does have to go on. I know this department will want to mourn their leader, and clearly an appropriate funeral will need to be organised. I assume that I may leave that to you?"
"Yes, sir." Murphy allowed his taut shoulders to begin to relax.
"Good. And as for CI5, I assume that for the moment I may also leave that in your capable hands?"
"Yes, sir. Sir," Murphy swallowed, paused and heard Ray's final words.
"Yes, Thomas?" the Minister glanced at the clock above Murphy's head. Outside in the corridor were the sounds of agents about to go off duty greeting those about to come on duty. Twice each day everyone met for ten minutes (sometimes more sometimes less) to hand over any vital information, or simple just to give people a change to see their fellow agents. There were less than five minutes to the morning meeting.
"Sir, I am more than happy to take charge of CI5 on a temporary basis, but I have no desire to become its next Controller; even if you wanted me to."
The Minister was nodding. "Think about it, Thomas. I believe that you would be the best person to have at the helm."
"I have a family, sir. I cannot do what first Mr. Cowley, and then Ray did. I cannot make CI5 my entire life. Please, sir. Look elsewhere."
"Just think about it, Thomas. Please."
"Very well, sir." Murphy knew when he was beaten; now was not the time and place to argue that matter. "I should be obliged if you would make the announcement to the men and women."
"Very well. I need to make a quick call to my Private Secretary, may I use your phone?"
Murphy nodded and left the office. Outside, in Betty's office, he picked up her phone and dialled a number he knew well. "Robbie? It's me, Tom," for a brief second he allowed himself to mourn the fact that he'd never hear himself be called Tommy again; Ray was the only person who used that name.
He swallowed hard and went on. "I'm sorry about last night…. Yes, it was important…. Ray's dead…. Yes, I was…. Thank you, Robbie…. I'll try not to be too late," he broke off, recalled the second promise that Ray had extracted from him, remembered too what he had told the Minister just a few moments ago, and began to speak again. "In fact I won't be too late, I'll be home by eight o'clock.... I have to go now; the Minister is here to make the announcement…. Bye then. Oh, and, Robbie…. I love you."
He replaced the phone on the stunned silence that emanated from the other end. Tears were falling freely down his cheeks, but his load felt lighter. His heart seemed to beat in a different rhythm. He felt new, fresh, awake, alive, and free.
Pulling out his handkerchief he dried his eyes. The door to his office opened and the Minister hurried out, sweeping Murphy up as he went. As he left Betty's office, Murphy held the silver chain in his hand; it was still warm and soft.
"Goodbye, Ray and thank you. I will keep my promises." He felt/saw/heard/smelt, all or none of those, the deep double damask hue as it briefly ruffled his hair, touched his hands and momentarily engulfed him.
"Take care of each other. May love keep you together," he whispered and felt two soft touches, like the wings of a butterfly, one on either cheek.
Then it was gone – forever.
With a final wipe of his eye, he straightened his shoulders and strode after the Minister.
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