It was cold. It was damp. It was nearly midnight...
Murphy swore, very quietly, to himself. Bloody stakeouts. Who needs 'em...
It had been one of his own informers, a fast-ageing young lad who paid for his habit by flogging 'stuff off the back of a lorry' down at one of the Saturday street-markets. Harmless enough kid - at the moment. Though that would probably change... He hadn't been very precise, only that some kind of deal was going down in one of three adjoining warehouses on the dockside, one night next week. Something big. Cocaine, heroin, he wasn't sure, but whatever it was, there was a lot of it. Street value of tens of thousands. Not to mention the cost in human misery, Murphy had thought to himself, seeing the hunger in his informer's eyes...
Cowley had not been best pleased.
"And he didn't know when? Or which of the three?"
"So I'm supposed to tie up three teams for a whole week, on this laddie's say so?"
"He's always been reliable before, sir."
"Aye, I know." The controller frowned. "How long does it take to move between the warehouses?"
Murphy had been expecting the question, and already checked out the location. "About thirty seconds, sir. They're side by side and not all that big."
Cowley tapped his pen irritably on his desk.
"Right. You'll take one end, Anson and Williams the other. I'll have Bodie and Doyle in the middle - that way you can all assist each other, as needed. I suppose we'd better have surveillance during the day, too..."
He called a briefing....
That had been last Thursday. It was now Wednesday - well, nearly Thursday - and so far, sweet F.A. He was beginning to wonder if his informer had been wrong, after all. The dockside at night was clammy, and smelt of rotting vegetables and other less savoury things. It was a miserable wait, and they were all thoroughly fed up with the assignment - as Doyle had let everyone know in no uncertain terms at the end of each shift. But at least the others had partners to keep them company through the long, dreary nights. There were times Murphy regretted being a loner...
As a distant clock struck midnight, Murphy's head jerked down as he caught sight of something out of the corner of his eye. A small form, pale in the gloom - probably a cat, but best to make sure.... He moved silently from his post on the warehouse gantry, keeping low. At the head of the metal steps he paused and peered down. For a moment there was nothing, then he gripped the rail, his eyes widening.
A child. There was a small child down there. In pyjamas...
Murphy was down the steps in seconds flat, sweeping the child into his arms and around a pile of rotting crates before the youngster had time to cry out. Putting a gentle hand over the child's mouth, he whispered, "It's alright. I'm not going to hurt you. But you need to be very quiet. Do you think you can be very quiet? And very brave?"
The child nodded, and Murphy took his hand away cautiously. In the faint light filtering through the grimy windows two big eyes looked up at him, dark in a pale face under a fringe of shining dark hair. It was a little boy, about five or six years old, he noted almost absently, in shabby pale blue pyjamas, barefoot, one hand holding tightly to the tail of a tatty toy cat - black with one white front paw and mismatched glass button eyes. Murphy wrapped his jacket around the skinny frame, then caught his breath as the child regarded him gravely for a moment - and took his hand with absolute trust.
"Help who, bonny lad?"
"My friend. He's hurt. There's blood coming out. Help him. Please."
Murphy raised his eyes heavenward. Why me? Why now? But the child was tugging his hand.
"Please. He's next door."
Murphy sighed and, keeping the child as closely shielded as possible, followed him from the warehouse.
The middle warehouse seemed even chillier than the one they had just left. A single light swung and flickered high overhead, dappling the floor with an uncertain radiance. Murphy slipped through the half-open side door and hustled the child into an alcove just inside. He whispered, his mouth close to the boy's ear.
"Where is he? Can you point him out?"
The child grabbed his hand and pulled with extraordinary strength - Murphy either had to go with him or let him cross that dangerous, echoing space alone. But before they'd left the shelter of the shadows, chaos erupted...
Murphy had a confused impression of four figures appearing almost simultaneously from the dimness: he recognised Doyle's curly head, but not the two men he was covering. Nor the one, unseen by Doyle, who was aiming at his back. At his heart...
Without thinking Murphy drew and fired at the threat behind his colleague, a deadly shot but not quite fast enough. With a choked cry Doyle collapsed. Murphy was racing for him before he hit the ground.
As Bodie's rifle cracked twice, unerringly, from his position on the gantry, Murphy reached Doyle and dropped to his knees, frantically checking for a pulse. It was erratic, but strong. The bullet had passed clean through Doyle's body: as far as Murphy could tell, it hadn't punctured anything major...
Hearing Bodie charging down the steps at the far end of the warehouse as he reached for his R/T to call in the medical emergency, Murphy suddenly realised the child was kneeling beside Doyle, his hand resting gently on the man's shoulder.
"Lad, you shouldn't be here..."
The child looked up - and Murphy gasped, silently. The eyes were Bodie's.
"He's my friend. Where else would I be?"
As Bodie approached, eyes fixed on his partner's still form and fear etched clearly on his pale face, Murphy heard the distant clock strike midnight - for a second time. The child gave a dazzling smile, then his outline suddenly blurred and flickered. Murphy blinked rapidly, wondering if the light was playing tricks, and shook his head slightly. But the child was gone.
His chest a mass of bandages, pillows plumped up by the pretty nurse hovering at his hospital bedside, Doyle smiled tiredly - pale, weak, in pain, but out of danger.
"Thanks Murph. 'F you hadn't been there, I wouldn't be here..."
Bodie stopped eyeing up the nurse for a moment and grinned at Murphy. "Sloppy though, Murph. A bit slow. I'm nominating you for a refresher..."
"Oi." Doyle scowled at his partner. "Leave off. The man saved me life. Which reminds me - where were you, mate? S'posed to watch me back..."
"I think he did."
Bodie frowned at Murphy's pensive expression.
"Eh? What're you on about?"
"Tell me," said Murphy, "did you ever have a toy cat when you were a kid?"
Bodie looked slightly embarrassed.
"Yeah, I did."
"Black, with a white front paw? One blue eye, one green?"
Bodie's face blanched.
"How the hell did you know that? I lost that cat when I was six..."
Murphy smiled, and held his peace. Some friendships know no bounds, not of space, nor of time...
© 2000 WordWrights.
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