Doyle felt as if he was living in a cine film, the sort that his mother used to make, dragging out the big reels and loading them into the projector. Scene followed scene, out of context, jumping unpredictably. At one point the film seemed to be running in black and white, but then he realized it was only the stark white walls of his hospital room that gave him that impression.
Here again? This isn’t good.
A smiling nurse took his blood, but when he blinked she’d morphed into a serious doctor making notes on a clipboard. Bodie showed up, but for some reason the sound cut out at that point, and Doyle missed what he was trying to say. And he was gone before Doyle could think of anything to say himself.
When he opened his eyes again, both Cowley and Bodie were in the room, and the nurse was just leaving. Reality appeared to be running smoothly for a change, though Doyle had little confidence that it would last.
Cowley was giving Bodie a hard time over something. Doyle caught the word, “carelessness,” followed by the phrases, “criminal lack of attention,” and, “treated your assignment like a primary school outing!”
Vague memories filtered back. The zoo. A simple pick-up. Go, find Croft the anarchist-cum-zoo-guide, deliver him back to Cowley’s tender mercies, nice and civilized, no frog-marching him through the gates in front of shocked kiddies and their mums, and – this last order being directed explicitly at Bodie –alive.
Doyle licked his lips, suddenly aware that his mouth felt like something had crawled in, died and started rotting while he was asleep. He tried to say, “Hey,” but the sound that emerged from his throat bore little resemblance to human speech.
Cowley and Bodie turned together to look at him.
Bodie’s face broke into a wide grin. “About time you woke up, lazybones.”
Cowley retrieved a cup of water from the side table and brought it over. “Drink this.”
Doyle struggled to sit up. He felt as if ten stone weights had been attached to his limbs while he wasn’t looking. There was no pain, nothing he could directly identify as the cause of his most recent incarceration in hospital, and yet he felt like absolute shit.
Obviously, it had something to do with the Croft pick-up. Doyle tried to reorganize his scattered memories as Bodie stuffed a pillow behind his back, and Cowley helped him with the water.
“Did we get him?” asked Doyle, finally. His voice was marginally better. At least he could understand himself.
Cowley was checking his watch. “Yes, laddie, we got him. Though I’d chalk it up to pure luck.” He frowned at Bodie who was grinning unabashedly. “Two days. You have two days, and then, Doyle, I’ll expect to see a proper report on my desk. Bodie, you’ve already handed yours in, so I expect you to use that time to evaluate your actions and the alternatives. You’ll both go over the scenario with Jack Crane when you get back.”
Bodie’s grin faded. “Yes, sir.”
Doyle waited until Cowley had left before turning to Bodie. “Luck?”
Bodie sat on the foot of Doyle’s bed, a brown paper bag in his hand. He reached in and popped a grape into his mouth. “While I was trying to keep you breathing…,” he mumbled, chewing.
Bodie swallowed and helped himself to another grape. “Yeah, you lazy sod. You couldn’t even be bothered to breathe. Made me do all the work.”
Doyle remembered a stinging pain in his right calf. The memory was sharp enough that he reached down to rub the spot.
“Ow,” said Doyle, surprised. He stumbled and fell, rolling behind the low wall as a second dart clattered off the stones by his foot. There was no time to think about it, not then, not with Bodie needing covering fire.
It wasn’t until the third time he stumbled, on limbs that were growing increasingly leaden, that it occurred to him he might be in trouble. Bodie grabbed the back of his jacket and hauled him behind the cover of a wall.
He had a confused impression of Bodie’s hand on his face, and a harsh demand, “Where are you hit?”
Doyle had laughed, then. They were so close, noses nearly touching, Bodie pressing him up against the wall…
Bodie shook him, and then began patting him down, his hands searching through Doyle’s clothes. “Where, damn it!”
His anger focused Doyle. “Trank dart,” he said. “Thought it’d take longer. Mus’ be a big dose.” Doyle heard something clatter on the concrete at his feet and looked down to realize that he’d just dropped his gun. “Oops.”
But useful as that memory was, it told Doyle nothing about what had happened after. “It was a big dose, wasn’t it?”
“Enough to knock out an elephant,” said Bodie, his expression dark. “Almost knocked you out permanently.”
Bodie began neatly peeling a grape with his teeth. “Him? Oh, he tried to cut across the lion enclosure.”
“Lions?” A vague memory of Bodie bellowing something about lions, and a lingering sense of dread curled up tight in his gut. It was primitive emotion, the monkey part of his brain shrieking as the big cats slaughtered another member of the tribe.
“They didn’t tear him to bits or eat him or anything,” said Bodie, finishing off half a naked grape. “A big male decided he liked him, and grabbed him – the way a cat grabs a toy, you know. Had him down and was humping him. Apparently they had some difficulty getting him away.” He smirked. “Looks like he’s going to lose his gun arm, assuming he lives.”
“Mind if I have some of these grapes?” asked Doyle.
Bodie gallantly handed over the paper bag. “Go ahead,” he said generously.
Doyle helped himself to a grape, but it was more a matter of making a point, than of any actual desire for food. He was bone tired, yawning helplessly.
“You know,” said Bodie. “We never really got to see the zoo.”
“What do you mean?” Even chewing felt like too much work.
“We were looking for someone, weren’t we? We were on the job.” Bodie gave him a hopeful look. “All these years in London, and I’ve never been to the zoo.”
“You want to round up a couple dates? Make it a proper outing?” Doyle felt a distinct lack of enthusiasm for the project, but when Bodie looked at him like that he didn't have the heart to say no.
There was something else in Bodie’s expression now. A flicker of disappointment, before he was nodding, his smile back on his face. “Leave it all up to me, my son. I know this lovely girl, blonde, got a sister…”
“Not the gymnast!”
“Didn’t I tell you? Natalya’s gone back to West Germany. No, these two are dancers. Respectable dancers. Modern ballet or some such thing. Trust me!”
Doyle struggled to identify the undercurrent of emotion. Something had happened, between them. Something he’d said, or done…
Before he could work it out, however, a nurse bustled into the room. “Ah, Mr Doyle! Awake, are we?”
“Passably,” said Doyle, watching the shutters close tightly on Bodie’s face. He was all charm now, business as usual.
And Doyle was entirely too tired to bother with trying to ferret his secrets out of him. It would keep.
Doyle slept most of the drive home, and went straight to bed once he was there, content in the knowledge that Bodie would let himself out.
The night passed dreamlessly, and consciousness returned slowly in the morning. He stayed in bed longer than he needed to, drifting uneasily between sleep and waking. When he finally dragged himself out of bed, it was with a wretched feeling of having overslept.
The doorbell was ringing when he got out of the shower, and by the time he got to the buzzer, Bodie was already letting himself in with his own key. With dismay, Doyle remembered the zoo date. The last thing he wanted to do today was spend hours entertaining whatever birds Bodie had managed to produce on short notice.
The door opened and Doyle ducked for cover. “Bodie! I’m not dressed!”
“No worries, it’s just us lads here today.”
Doyle stuck his head around the corner to look at Bodie, who had draped himself over his sofa. “What happened to the girls?”
“Busy,” said Bodie, succinctly. “Not enough notice and one won’t go without the other.” He didn’t sound at all put out.
Doyle wondered if he’d even tried to track them down, and then found himself wondering why he’d wonder such a thing.
Bodie had him pressed up against the wall. He was trying to tell him something, but Doyle kept getting distracted by the shape of his mouth, only a few inches away. Finally it dawned on Doyle that Bodie wanted to leave him behind, while he pursued Croft on his own.
Doyle grabbed his arms. “Backup!”
“Need backup. You’ll get yoursel’ killed withou’ me.” Doyle felt as if he was talking with a stranger’s face, his lips thick and unresponsive.
“Christ, Ray! He’s getting away!”
Doyle didn’t like seeing Bodie upset. He patted his cheek, clumsily, still hanging on to Bodie’s shirt with his other hand. “Don’ worry. We’ll get him.”
Bodie groaned despairingly.
Doyle looped his arm around Bodie’s neck and pulled him closer. “S’okay.” Those lips were very near now. Just another inch, and…
Bodie jerked back, unbalancing them both. “Ray mate, you’ve been drugged. You don’t know what you’re doing.”
“I do!” protested Doyle, looking up at Bodie as he slid down the wall.
Bodie knelt in front of him. “Croft. Remember him?”
“The job,” said Doyle, nodding. Then he grinned. “I watch your arse.” He couldn’t seem to stop himself from tipping sideways. It didn’t worry him, though. The ground was looking quite inviting at the moment.
“Uh, yeah.” Bodie grabbed him by his jacket and dragged him back up into a sitting position. “That’s one way to put it.”
Doyle yawned. It was getting hard to breathe, for some reason. Felt like a ten ton weight on his chest. “S’nice arse,” he said, reflectively. “Worth watching.”
Doyle sat down abruptly on the edge of his bed.
He rubbed his face with both hands. The rest of his rambling could have been attributed to the tranquilizer, but then he’d come right out and told his partner that he liked his arse!
Embarrassment, shame, and a feeling of dread dogged Doyle all the way through dressing. It was compounded when he caught himself picking a pair of jeans on the basis that the patch on the rear showed off his own assets to considerable advantage.
How many mornings lately had he dressed for his partner, rather than for the benefit of the ladies? More often than not, if he was going to be perfectly honest.
Doyle dropped the patched jeans and deliberately picked a newer, less-flattering, pair.
He found Bodie downstairs with his head in the fridge. “Don’t you ever shop?”
“Don’t you ever make your own breakfast?” returned Doyle. At least Bodie sounded normal. And if that was the way he wanted to play it, then Doyle could, too.
Though that still left the question of why were they going to the zoo today, and why didn’t they have dates. What was Bodie up to now?
Four hours later, Doyle was no closer to an answer than when he’d started.
“Elephants don’t like squishy things between their toes.”
Doyle gave Bodie a sideways glance. “You can’t be serious.”
Bodie met his dubious frown with a bright smile. “Deadly serious, my son. Elephant stampedes are no laughing matter.” The animal on the other side of the fence twitched its ears meditatively. It looked half asleep, chewing slowly. A sign nearby cheerfully announced it as a tapir, a close relation to the elephant. To Doyle’s eyes it looked like a pig with a deformed nose.
“Because England has such an overabundance of the creatures.” Doyle scowled at the tapir. Ridiculous conversation.
In fact the whole situation was ridiculous. What were they doing here?
“Considering the dangerous animals roaming London Zoo, you should be grateful you’ve got a man of my vast experience along,” said Bodie, smugly.
“Not when you’re telling me to lie down in front of a load of stampeding pachyderms!”
The tapir wandered forward a few steps, eyes closed. Bodie watched with all the eagerness of an overgrown seven year old waiting to be entertained. When the animal went back to chewing its cud, he lost interest. “’S the best way to survive,” he said, turning back to Doyle. “If you lie down, they’ll step over you, not on you.”
“Look, mate,” said Doyle. “I think your African friends were having you on.”
Bodie gave him a tolerant smile. “Hannibal lost because the Romans discovered that all they had to do was hold their line. The elephants wouldn’t run over them. Soldiers are squishy, see, and...”
“Elephants don’t like squishy bits between their toes. Trust you to know that.” Doyle scanned the crowd, feeling conspicuous. Tired mothers, nannies, roving packs of cranky kids, the occasional harried father. Bodie and himself were the only unattached adult males in sight.
Adding to Doyle’s irritation was the fact that Bodie seemed to consider the entire outing a vastly amusing treat, and had been regaling him non-stop with dubious trivia and outrageous lies about African animals. His normally sober, level-headed – professional– partner was literally bouncing on his toes, and rubbing his hands with glee.
And then there were the elephants. Of which there were actually none in the zoo. At all. Though there was an elephant house, and tapirs, which Bodie seemed to consider a close enough relative for the purposes of regaling Doyle with elephant trivia.
Doyle eyed the tapir’s dainty hooves and wondered if they were as fastidious as their larger cousins.
“Rhinos,” said Bodie, right into Doyle’s ear.
Doyle jumped. “Hey!”
“You’re going to have to wake up, sunshine. How are we going to tour this place properly with you half asleep on your feet, close cousin to the sloth?” asked Bodie, still standing far too close. “Been having too many late nights, have we? I hear powdered rhino horn’s an excellent aphrodisiac, if you need that kind of thing.”
“Gerroff!” Doyle straight-armed him back to a more respectable distance. A woman turned to stare at the two of them.
“Course you’ve got an excuse today,” said Bodie, kindly. “And as I was saying, about rhinos.”
“There’s no rhinos here,” said Doyle. “If there were, we’d have seen them the first time through.” He nearly tripped over a toddling infant, saving himself at the last moment with a quick hop to the side. The mother scooped the child out of harm’s way and glared at him.
“Rhinos,” continued Bodie. “Are a bit trickier. If a rhino’s charging you want to climb a tree or run into thick scrub. It probably won’t follow you.”
“The wild Scottish rhino is a fearsome beast,” said Doyle. “With a tartan hide and an unquenchable thirst for pure malt scotch.”
“Not bad,” said Bodie, admiringly. “But you want to roll your r’s a bit more, when you do that.”
“So now I know how to survive attacks by two animals, not actually present in this zoo. What’s your advice on sea lions?” They had made their way over to the tank, where one of the keepers was in the process of heaving buckets of fish over the side, to the entertainment of a crowd of children. Doyle stopped to watch.
“I could tell you about gorillas,” said Bodie.
“What’s the point? It’s never been the same since Guy died.” Losing interest in the sea lions, Doyle wandered further down the path, away from the crowds.
“Fond of the old fellow, were you?”
“Never met him.” Doyle yawned expansively. It was warm, and he was tired. His recent tranquilizer overdose aside, Bodie had a point. Too many late nights, too many different women, and all of it going nowhere.
“Then I’ll tell you about lions,” offered Bodie.
Doyle shuddered. “No thanks.” He’d deliberately avoided the lion enclosure on this visit. The large tawny animals gave him an uneasy feeling, one part memories of Croft’s screams, and one part anticipation of when Bodie would finally come around to mentioning his sloppy attempts at seducing him while drugged.
Much better to stare at sloths, and wonder what life would be like if all you had to do was hang out and eat. When he’d commented aloud on that subject, Bodie had sniggered and ruffled his hair, saying he’d look a fair treat with green moss in his curls.
“Wolves,” said Bodie suddenly.
Doyle glanced over his shoulder. Sure enough there was a gray animal drowsing in the late afternoon sun. He felt vaguely envious. It would be nice to lie in the sun and sleep the day away for a change. “I know you never had to deal with those in Africa!”
“Nope, haven’t a clue how to deal with them,” said Bodie cheerfully. “Except the way you’d deal with a pack of dogs, I suppose. A cricket bat works a treat.” He mimed a two-handed stroke.
Doyle gave him a disgusted look. Pointedly ignoring Bodie, he turned to take a closer look at the wolves. There were four in the enclosure. Three were sleeping and the last was pacing the length of his cage in a monotonous, unvarying figure of eight.
“Shouldn’t be caged,” said Doyle. But Bodie had taken off in pursuit of an ice cream kiosk. Doyle leant against the fence and waited until Bodie came back, smiling, and bearing two vanilla sandwiches.
Disarmed, Doyle took one. They were alone for the moment, the crowd having moved off in another direction.
“Wolves mate for life,” said Bodie reflectively.
“Bodie, why are we here?” Doyle asked, before Bodie could go off on another trivia tangent. Observation had told him nothing. And if this was some kind of plan to get him alone so Bodie could tell him to keep his eyes off his arse, well, Bodie wasn’t really going about it in anything resembling a timely manner, was he?
“Wanted to see the zoo,” said Bodie. His tone was right, but he was looking at the wolves instead of at Doyle.
“With me,” said Doyle, flatly. He looked down at his half-eaten ice cream sandwich, and found he wasn’t hungry. Bodie was just finishing his own, so Doyle handed him the rest of his. “And you’re buying me treats. If I didn’t know better, I’d think this was a date.” There, right out in the open for Bodie to deny.
“Seemed like a better choice than roses and wine,” said Bodie, lightly.
“If I was seven years old, yes!”
Bodie blinked at him. “Do you want roses and wine?”
“I want to know what’s going on!” None of Bodie’s reactions made sense. Where was the outrage? The offended masculinity?
“I’d say that’s up to you.”
“You’re straight, Bodie.” Why Doyle felt the need to remind him, he wasn’t sure. His private late night fantasies all appeared to be coming to fruition, and it was making him very nervous.
“Not as much as all that, it seems.” Bodie swallowed the last bit of ice cream and licked his fingers. “I’m nearly as bent as a certain copper I know.”
“I thought you didn’t like bent coppers.” That was the crux of it, wasn’t it? Only a guy confident in his heterosexuality could camp as outrageously as Bodie, or get as stiffly offended when someone else questioned it. Doyle had concluded years ago that Bodie was off limits. He’d come to terms with it.
And now he was supposed to believe he’d been wrong? All this time?
“Well, there’s bent and there’s bent, right? It’s all in which way it bends.” Bodie was working on a sticky patch on the base of his palm.
Doyle could feel himself hardening, imagining that tongue working on parts of his own body. “I hope it doesn’t bend too much. They have surgery for that kind of thing, you know.” Of course, there were worse things to be wrong about.
Bodie gave him a delighted grin. “Why don’t we go back to my place and you can see for yourself?”
“Oh, darling,” said Doyle. He meant to sound ironic, but managed breathlessly sincere instead.
Bodie laughed and grabbed his arm, steering him towards the exit.
And quite suddenly Doyle realized that he wasn’t tired at all anymore.
Much later that evening, Doyle looked down at a panting, sweaty Bodie and asked, “So… How do you survive a lion attack?”
Bodie gave him an amused glance. “Carry a big gun. And pray.”