He'd seen his operatives in sweeter condition, thought Malone as a distinctly ragged looking Backus, a pallid Curtis, and a Keel who looked as though he had been chewing nails trailed into the controller's office behind Bodie. A Bodie who looked cool and fresh and serene. It had obviously not been the easiest of journeys...
Bodie's car wasn't quite what she'd expected....
So just what did you expect? said the little voice, as she stared at the 4x4, an Aston Martin? Tatty, battered, dull grey in colour with the odd spot of rust... this was a car that whispered, ignore me...
She realised that Bodie was watching her with the amused half-smile that she was rapidly coming to recognise as his normal expression, and closed her mouth.
"Don't let it fool you. Appearances are usually deceptive."
She nodded, watching as he flipped open a hidden panel in the driver's door and laid his hand flat on the scanner that lay beneath. Less than a second later, with a muted 'click', the door opened. Bodie threw his small bag into the back, slid into the seat, leaned across and unlocked the passenger door from within. As Backus climbed somewhat gingerly into the car, Bodie pressed his palm firmly to the centre of the steering wheel. Almost silently the car came to life, engine purring quietly: the fascia looked about as complicated as a jet's cockpit, and she found, to her delight, that a couple of small levers at the side allowed her to adjust the height and camber of the seat to her own personal preference.
"Very." But Bodie spared her only a quick glance before pulling away from the house.
Outside, the rain had eased a little, but the wind was blustery and cold, low dark clouds veiling the sky. As they drove through the estate's somewhat battered gateway, Bodie briefly used the car's transmitter to send what sounded like some sort of code, then they were speeding into the night.
Bodie drove with the same quiet confidence and competence he seemed to give to everything, and Backus found herself wishing that the drive could be longer - but just ten minutes later they pulled up outside the pub, and she hurried into the bar to collect her colleagues.
Curtis saw her first.
Keel twisted sharply in his seat, an expression of relief on his face when he saw that she was - apparently - unharmed. Both men hastened to join her.
"Anything we should know? Any subjects we should avoid?"
Keel glared at his partner.
"You could at least say hullo, first!" He regarded Backus a little anxiously. "Are you really OK?"
"I'm fine, really. And I haven't been able to find out much. Just don't be rude to him, OK?"
Keel was silent. Curtis answered for both of them, fixing his partner with a somewhat doubtful look. "We'll be good. After all," he said pointedly to Keel, "we'd hate to undo all your hard work..."
But apparently Keel had decided to be difficult. And his taking an instant dislike to Bodie didn't help - quite how they got back to London without Bodie dumping Keel by the side of the road Backus would never know. Ignoring Curtis's attempts to shut him up, Keel did everything short of accusing Bodie of supporting the Northern Ireland peace talks in what appeared to be a suicidal bid to annoy him. But the ex-operative simply smiled and let the ever more thinly-veiled insults wash over him. Backus watched him anxiously - the last thing they needed was for him to change his mind. Bodie noticed; very little escaped him. He patted her thigh.
"Don't let it worry you, love. Doyle was an aggravating sod too. Occasionally. Perhaps it goes with the number..."
Backus bit her lip, trying to still the quiver his touch had evoked and not give way to hysterical laughter, as Keel bristled furiously in the back seat. If nothing else, it shut him up for a few minutes...
The car's suspension was excellent, and the interior almost luxurious: had the atmosphere in the vehicle not been so tense, Backus would have thoroughly enjoyed the ride. They sped swiftly through the wind-tossed night, along rutted short-cut lanes and across open land as often as formal roads. To Backus's regret, the GPS stayed dark and silent: Bodie obviously knew where he was going, but she was completely lost.
Well past midnight they arrived at a dark and silent village nestling in a nameless cove, and drove down to the harbour. Moments later Bodie had manoeuvred the car up a ramp and into the hold of what appeared to be a fishing trawler. He cut the engine and swivelled in his seat.
Curtis frowned slightly.
"Where are we?"
Bodie smiled. "That, I'm afraid, must remain my secret." He unlocked the doors and slid out of the car, stretching slightly and smiling at the two men, warmly clad in fisherman's gear, who had appeared at the entrance to the hold. They saluted silently, one reaching to take the bag Bodie held out to him, while the other held open the passenger door and gestured to Curtis and Keel to climb out. Bodie himself opened Backus's door, offering a hand to assist her. As she took it, blushing slightly and fortunately unnoticed in the muted light, a low roar reached their ears, the deck jolted slightly and then vibrated steadily as the trawler pulled away from the wharf.
"If you want to sleep for the crossing, you're welcome to do so. I imagine you haven't had much rest just lately. Padraig here will show you to the cabins."
Curtis and Keel glanced at each other, then at Backus.
"It might be a good idea." Curtis admitted. "Backup?"
Backus nodded, and Padraig ushered them out of the hold.
As the seaman's footsteps faded, Backus swiftly left the cabin she'd been given and tapped on the door of the double allocated to Curtis and Keel, entering without waiting for an answer. Curtis impassively watched her walk in from his place on the upper bunk, then glanced at his partner. Keel was peering out of the porthole into the dark.
"Just as well we weren't doing anything." Curtis's tone was dry. Backus raised an eyebrow.
"Why? D'you think you could do anything I haven't seen before?"
Keel grinned over his shoulder. Curtis's jaw dropped fractionally, but he recovered fast and winked at Keel.
"And she always looks so sweet and innocent, too."
"Get over it, Sam. We need to talk."
Keel perched on the lower bunk, leaving the cabin's single chair for Backus. "I'm all ears."
"Stating the obvious again." Curtis smirked.
"Will you two get serious?"
"Sorry." Curtis rolled off his bunk and sat beside Keel, and both men leaned forwards attentively.
"OK. What was happening back at base before you left? Has there been any contact? Richards or Spencer come up with anything?"
Keel shook his head. "Not a thing. No demands, no calls, no further breakins. Malone's in a sweat."
"Which is hardly surprising." added Curtis. "It's a nasty situation."
Backus nodded. "So, either of you thought about what we're gonna do? If we can't get this thing fixed, I mean."
"I hadn't, no."
"Of course we're gonna fix it!" Keel burst out angrily. "We're CI5, for god's sake! The best."
"Obviously not quite the best." said Curtis quietly. "Not any more, anyway. I don't like the idea of any hostile knowing everything about me any more than you do, Chris, but it's happened. We ought to give some thought to the future."
Keel wrenched himself upright, narrowly missing bashing his head on the underside of the upper bunk, and moved restlessly to the porthole again.
"It might not come to that. They've had - what? - about 36 hours so far. That's not really all that long. And Malone seems to think that Bodie, and Doyle, if we can get to him, may be able to help." Backus tried to sound confident. Keel rounded on her.
"I don't wanna have to rely on two old guys - not when one of them's Bodie! He doesn't care which side wins as long as he gets his cut! And we don't even know what Doyle's up to, these days! He could be into something even worse!"
"Worse than arms dealing? What would you suggest?"
"Cut the sarcasm Sam. I heard you 'sir'-ing him. I'm surprised you didn't tug your fetlock."
"It's forelock. And I was only being polite. Not like you... We're not supposed to get emotionally involved, remember? What the hell did you think you were playing at?"
Keel glared at his partner, his hold on his temper precarious. "Guys like him supplied the guns that killed my wife."
There was a moment of startled, shocked silence. Curtis recovered first.
"You've never talked about it. But you have nightmares, don't you?"
Keel nodded. Backus went to him, hugged him tightly.
"I'm sorry, Chris. I didn't know."
"No reason for you to know."
"So I guess you can't not be emotionally involved. You wanna talk about it?"
"Not now. Maybe later." He gently extricated himself from Backus's grasp and slumped down on the bunk. Curtis laid a hand on his arm.
"Does Malone know about this?"
"Yeah, of course he does."
"And he still gave you this assignment?"
"I guess he forgot."
"That's not like him."
"Yeah, well, he was tired..."
"OK, once we get back to HQ we'll ask to be taken off the case..."
"I'm a professional, Sam. And we're Malone's top team - like Bodie and Doyle were Cowley's. It's not gonna look good if we give in, is it? Not on those terms." He glowered in the direction of the door. "And I don't wanna give that bastard the satisfaction of thinking he's got us beat. Got me beat." He raised his head, expression set. "I'll behave. Just don't expect me to get pally with him."
Curtis patted his shoulder wordlessly, relieved and oddly proud of him. Backus smiled - then surprised herself by suddenly yawning. It eased the tense atmosphere somewhat, and Curtis grinned.
"Time for bed. We all need the rest. See you later, Backup."
"Sure. I'll catch you guys in the morning. Sleep well!"
As Backus closed the door, Curtis pulled a hip flask from his bag.
"Get this down you."
Keel took the flask, regarding it suspiciously. "What is it?"
"Just brandy. It'll help you sleep."
"I'll sleep just fine."
Curtis sighed. "OK, then - it'll help me sleep. It's no fun being woken up by you crying out in your sleep, you know."
Keel looked disbelieving. "I do that?"
"Sometimes. And given the sort of day we've had, I wouldn't be at all surprised if it happened again tonight. So will you please drink."
Keel hesitated for a moment, then drained the flask. Curtis took it back, shaking it dolefully.
"I didn't mean drink all of it!"
"Should've said, then." Keel stripped and waited for Curtis to move so he could climb into the bunk. His partner took the hint and shifted.
"Y'know, I think it might work." Keel mumbled as his eyes slowly closed. "I sure feel warm and snug..."
"Oh good for you..." muttered Curtis sourly, sliding into the top bunk. Within minutes they were both asleep.
Backus had thought briefly about searching out Bodie - but admitted to herself she was pretty much exhausted, and would be better off for a rest. Feel better in the morning. Look better, too. He'd be around for a while. Now there's something to look forward to, said the little inner voice. She fell asleep smiling...
In his own cabin, Bodie gazed at a nineteen-year-old photograph, a snap of himself and his partner taken that summer. Doyle in washed-out collarless shirt open nearly to his waist, sleeves shoved up to the elbow, silver chain glinting in the sun. And himself, in black even then, despite the heat, his arm around Doyle's shoulder. God, they both looked so absurdly young! Bodie sighed, almost regretfully, and propped the photo against the eggcup with the jade worry egg. Not much of a peace offering, but Doyle could be sentimental at times. At least, he could in the old days. Going by his recent work, that could have changed...
No point in worrying about it right now. Time enough for that when they were together again. Bodie stroked the egg gently, then turned to his laptop and called up the Italian file...
The drive to London had been accomplished in record time (one of Bodie's 'toys' showed him the locations of all the speed traps - and the police - along the motorway, and he'd cruised along at something considerably over 100mph for a large part of the journey) and with the minimum of conversation: instead, Bodie had filled the car with music. An eclectic selection of music, too, taking in Schubert's 'Unfinished Symphony', some Status Quo, Palestrina and Tull (amongst others less immediately recognisable) and culminating in The Pogues as they crossed the M25.
"Sad to say I must be on me way, So buy me beer and whiskey 'cos I'm goin' far away. I'd like to think I'll be returnin' when I can, To the greatest little boozer..." It wasn't quite singing along with the track, more a muted mumble under the breath, but it certainly wasn't the sort of thing Backus had come to expect from Bodie. Was there no end to the complexity of the man?
And then, finally, they were home...
Malone stood to welcome his guest.
"Mr Bodie. So good of you to agree to help us."
Bodie took the offered hand.
"It's just Bodie. And I don't know whether I'll be able to help you. All I can promise is that I'll try. The rest is up to Doyle."
"I appreciate that." He glanced at his three wearied operatives. "Miss Backus, Mr Curtis, Mr Keel, well done. I suggest you all get some rest. Your reports can wait until tomorrow."
It was a dismissal. They left the office, closing the door quietly behind them.
"So what now?" Keel rubbed the back of his neck, trying to ease the tension in his shoulders.
"I don't know about you, but I'm going home. I need a shower and a sleep in something that stays still." Unlike Keel, Curtis hadn't slept well on the trawler. It showed.
"Come for a beer first?"
Curtis started to refuse, then reconsidered. It would be a good way to unwind.
"I think I'll stay here for a while. Get my report done. See if there's any news."
Curtis grinned. "Why don't you just marry that bloody computer and make it official?"
"Get outta here!" She swatted his rump, earning herself a surprised glare, and grinned. His eyes wide and mischievous, his good temper returning now he was out of Bodie's vicinity, Keel gestured to the door.
"I think we'd better get while the getting's good!"
Backus glanced up from scrutinising the new information on her own terminal to see Spencer beckoning to her from where he was hunched over Richards' desk. She joined the pair.
"While you were away, Richards and I have been discussing the problem of our mysterious hacker. The one who somehow deleted Doyle's files."
Backus nodded. "And?"
"We think we might have an idea as to who it was. Have you ever heard of Ghost?"
Backus frowned. It sounded vaguely familiar...
Spencer inclined his head. "Ghost is only one nick. He's also used DNuke, Apocalypse and GodBlak - at least, we think they're his. There are probably more we don't know."
"And you think Ghost may be our hacker? Why?"
Spencer looked a little embarrassed. "Actually, it was Richards' idea. He won't tell me the details - I gather he was doing something definitely illegal at the time - but he ran up against Ghost. Who then proceeded to run rings around him! He says he's never met anyone so talented."
"So why haven't we heard of him?"
"Because he's so talented!"
"Makes sense. But what would Ghost have to do with Doyle?"
"If we knew who Ghost was, we might be able to find that out."
Backus considered this for a moment. It could hardly be reckoned genuine CI5 business, in the normal course of events - or could it? asked the little voice. Everything's CI5 business - and if he's as good as Richards seems to think he is, he may pose some sort of threat...In the future...And it's not like you're doing anything urgent right now, is it? Anyone can monitor the mundane stuff...You're worth more than that... Thus justified, even if only on the flimsiest of terms, Backus nodded.
"Any idea how we find out?"
Richards coughed and avoided her eyes; he looked decidedly furtive.
"Well, I've got these friends..."
"Oh no." Backus shook her head firmly. "We don't get outsiders involved."
"I wasn't goin' to suggest we do. Not from here, anyway."
"So what are you suggesting?"
"Well, we daren't try and track 'im down from here, he's too bloody tricky. Security's been compromised enough already. And I sure as hell ain't tryin' to get hold of 'im from my home machine: I've got stuff on my hard drive I don't want anyone else knowin' about." His glance switched between Spencer and Backus. "You?"
"No way, Richards!" Backus was scandalised. "I don't want a hacker getting access to my system. I've just got it running right."
Spencer was also shaking his head. "You aren't the only one who respects his personal privacy, you know."
Richards nodded. "Thought you'd say that. So's I see it, we've only got one option. We got to be anonymous - and I only know one way to do that."
He grinned at their expectant expressions.
"Where's the nearest cybercaff?"
© 2000 WordWrights.
Seeds Index and Intro