It was early evening by the time Nicole Goossens returned to her hotel. Bodie had started to think she wasn’t going to return at all until the taxi pulled up in front of the building and the reporter alighted.
He nudged Doyle, who was scrunched up against the passenger side window of the car snoring softly. “Wakey wakey, Sleeping Beauty, she’s here.”
Doyle sat upright, rubbing at an eye and looking out the window. “’bout time!” he said, reaching for the car’s RT. Cowley answered immediately and told them to maintain surveillance. Doyle replaced the RT thoughtfully while Bodie smouldered.
“Cowley’s definitely up to something,” Doyle pronounced.
“Yeah, he’s got us sitting around like spare pricks at a wedding. And I’m famished. Haven’t eaten since breakfast!”
“You’ll be fading away soon, you will.”
“Too true, I’m already becoming a mere shadow of my former self,” he griped and Doyle grinned at him.
They bickered good-naturedly for a while longer, taking casual note of the comings and goings from the hotel. Most people were leaving, obviously out for a night’s entertainment, so the African who entered the hotel some time later was an oddity in more ways than one. It was with some surprise they saw him ten minutes later leaving the hotel in company with Nicole Goossens.
“Who’s he?” queried Doyle watching as the pair flagged down a taxi.
Bodie, eying the tall, well dressed black man, hesitated for a moment before saying, “I know him. I’m sure I know him.”
“Yeah? Where from?”
“Don’t know. It’ll come back to me though.”
“Reckon Cowley wants us to follow them?”
“Let’s ask, shall we?” Bodie responded as he started the car, Doyle duly reaching for the RT again.
To their surprise Cowley instructed them to cease surveillance and return to base immediately.
“Told you, the bastard’s up to something,” Doyle repeated and Bodie had to agree, it wasn’t the first time Cowley had his secrets and it certainly wouldn’t be the last.
It was late when Bodie made his way to the rest room. Apart from the shuffle of papers and tick of the wall clock the room was in silence. He stood leaning on the doorframe for a few minutes, watching Doyle thumbing through paperwork at the desk, so engrossed in his work he hadn’t noticed Bodie’s arrival. Making the most of the opportunity Bodie let his sight drift over his friend’s slim body encased in tight jeans and dark blue shirt, buttons open half way down his chest, the silver chain around his neck reflecting light from the overhead globe. Doyle’s head was bent slightly, the curls disordered as though he’d been running his hand through them. A small frown of concentration spoilt the line between his eyebrows. Bodie watched, silent and appreciative. It was rare to see his lover so physically still. Such stillness was usual only when he slept; awake Doyle was raw energy challenging everything and everyone in his path.
Finally Doyle glanced up and saw him, a smile instantly transforming his features and wiping away the frown line. “Where’d you get to?”
Bodie pushed off from the door and headed towards the kettle and cups, “Been checking the files. Knew I recognised that African we saw with the reporter, he’s Johannes Nkosi.” When Doyle still looked at him with a puzzled expression he continued, “Highly placed executive with the African National Council here in London.”
Doyle whistled silently. “What’s Nicole Goossens doing hanging out with an exiled South African dissident?”
Bodie shrugged, “No accounting for taste I suppose.
“What, you know something about him?”
Bodie hesitated for a moment before picking up two cups and turning on the kettle. “I’ve never actually met the man.”
“That’s hasn’t stopped you judging a book by its cover before,” Doyle said, his voice teasing but with a knowing edge. “You told Cowley about this yet?”
“No, not yet. Couldn’t get in to see him. What’s he got you doing?
Doyle rubbed at his neck. “Checking out all recent arrivals at Heathrow and Gatwick with South African passports, including diplomatic arrivals! And getting me to do a background check into this Gerald Starling character Nicole met up with.”
“What’s his story then?”
“He’s an ex judge, seems to have connections to a group of apartheid supporters and South African officials. Acts as a press agent and general spokesman for them,” Doyle told him as he rolled his head back and from side to side, trying to get the kinks out of his neck.
“Cowley could be right about Nicole being in danger, if she’s convinced him to talk about his connections?” Bodie said as he placed a cup of tea in front of Doyle.
“Looks like it. The Nkosi link complicates things and I’d still like to know why we’re getting so involved. Hmm...” - the last as Bodie moved around to the back of his chair and started massaging his shoulders. “That’s good,” he almost purred as Bodie moved expert hands over him, attacking the tightness of Doyle’s neck and shoulders.
Bodie kept it up for a few minutes, gradually feeling the muscles relax, then bending slightly he nuzzled into the side Doyle’s neck, kissing and nipping gently. Doyle’s murmurs of appreciation grew and Bodie slid his hands down, under the open neck of the shirt to stroke over chest and nipples, running his fingers through the hair there while keeping up the assault on Doyle’s neck with his mouth, nibbling on an ear lobe until Doyle was in danger of slowly melting off the chair. Bodie was feeling decidedly hot and constrained himself.
“Oh, god, Bodie …you’d better stop.”
“Do you want me to?”
“No. But …”
Doyle’s words were suddenly interrupted by the sounds of footsteps and raucous voices disturbing the quiet atmosphere of the rest room.
“Shit,” Bodie muttered, jerking his hands away as Doyle quickly pulled himself upright. Bodie just managed some necessary adjustments to himself when the door to the rest room was opened and Murphy, Jax and Mitchell crowded into the room in a loud untidy knot. Jax headed for the shower while Murphy and Mitchell threw themselves down on the couches. Murphy, rubbing his hands together, looked at Bodie standing now by the bench.
“Got the kettle on have you, Bodie, good lad! How’s about a cuppa?” he said, mouth gaping in surprise when Bodie obligingly turned towards the cups and the tea. Mitchell, not paying much attention to the chatter, settled a paper bag on the coffee table in front of him and started unpacking food containers.
“So, what have you two been up to?” Murphy enquired.
Bodie just managed to stop the kettle falling from suddenly nerveless fingers. Doyle’s head came up so fast he nearly put his neck out.
“No-noth-thing,” Bodie stuttered at the same time as Doyle’s “Um, just some, er, obs.”
“Yeah,” Bodie managed, grabbing hold of Doyle’s lifeline. “Just obs on some, um, South African bird.”
“Yeah, a South African … reporter,” Doyle supplied. “Nice looking.” Bodie made the mistake of looking at his partner. He was rumpled, flushed and sexy as hell.
“A right raver,” Bodie agreed as Doyle looked back and their eyes met, making Bodie’s heat rise again.
Murphy gave them both an odd look and Bodie tried distracting him by handing him his tea, to no avail.
“So what’s this nice looking raver of a reporter been doing to gain the attention of CI5?” he wanted to know.
“Um, not sure,” Bodie told him. “Something to do with South African politics.”
“Yeah, Cowley’s got us involved. Didn’t tell us why.” Doyle’s head was down again and he was scribbling furiously.
“You two got odds going on who can score with her, then?”
“No,” they both said at once, too loudly, and Bodie knew they needed to shift Murphy’s attention, and his inquisitive eye, away from them, fast. Desperate, he looked for a likely distraction and found Mitchell, a new recruit still unused to the ways of CI5 and Agent 3.7 in particular.
“Nice bit of curry you’ve got there, mate. Where’d you get it?”
Mitchell, a forkful of the contents of his container poised in front of his lips, swallowed the last of what was already in his mouth and looked across at Bodie. “The take away just down the road from here, the New Delhi.”
“Oh,” was all Bodie said.
“Just wondering.” Bodie turned back to Doyle. “Reckon he’s up to his old tricks again?”
“Who, Raj? Could be,” Doyle’s face was deadpan
“What? Who? What tricks?” The fork was still in Mitchell’s hand but his attention was focused on the two agents. They both ignored him.
“Not a lot of moggies around lately.”
“I noticed. In fact Anson was just saying the other day that pair that used to hang out by the Delhi had disappeared.”
“Hey … who’s Raj? You saying something’s up with the meat they use in the Delhi?” Mitchell’s voice had gone up an octave and the fork was wavering slightly.
“Not saying a thing, mate,” Bodie informed him. “And it’s all just rumours anyway.”
“Yeah, despite that incident last week,” Doyle added.
“What incident?” Mitchell demanded, turning to Murphy for enlightenment.
“Don’t worry. The lab never proved anything, even with the analysis,” Murphy supplied, adding, “Not enough left apparently.”
Mitchell stared at his fully laden fork for a moment, before carefully depositing it back in the container. “You are not saying this curry is made from cat meat are you?” he asked slowly, stirring the fork around in the curry obviously seeking evidence. His face was slightly pale.
“Nah! I wouldn’t say anything like that, would I, Doyle?
“’Course not,” Doyle confirmed. “That’s libel that is.”
“Think you mean slander,” Murphy corrected.
Just then Jax came out from the shower, towel around his waist, rubbing at his hair. “You get that lot from the Delhi belly did you, Mitchell? Takin’ a chance aren’t you?”
Bodie began to sing quietly, slightly off key,
“Pussy cat, pussy cat you’re delicious,”
“And so nutritious,” added Doyle.
Mitchell bolted and the agents collapsed, helpless with laughter. Jax, looking perplexed, regarded them for a moment before asking, “What’d I say?”
“’s all right Jax, just Bodie being an arse as usual,” said Doyle, his eyes shining.
Hey, you and Murphy helped!” Bodie was all injured innocence.
At that moment the door to the rest room opened and Mary popped her head in. “Bodie. Mr Cowley’s ready to see you.”
“Yes, right now.”
Grudgingly Bodie got to his feet and, leaving the other two to enlighten Jax, headed towards Cowley’s office with his report. When he’d finished Cowley looked at him questioningly.
“And you’re sure it was Johannes Nkosi?”
“Yeah, first saw him a long time ago, in Angola. He was on the other side. I’m not likely to forget.” Bodie’s tone was laconic, his previously buoyant mood buried slightly now in memories.
“You must both have been very young.” Cowley’s voice was surprisingly gentle.
“I suppose we were,” Bodie agreed then, moving away from the subject, continued, “Do you want us to carry on with the surveillance tomorrow?”
“No.” Cowley accepted Bodie’s reticence. “Go on home laddie. It’s been a long day.”
“It has indeed,” Bodie agreed.
Returning to the rec room he found it deserted, apart from Murphy who was contentedly chowing out on the curry.
“Finished off the work Cowley wanted, said he was knackered and headed off home. Said to tell you he’d see you in the morning.” Holding up a near empty container he added, “Want some?”
“Nah, lost me appetite.” And feeling deserted, slightly melancholy and wishing Doyle had waited for him, wishing they were more to each other than the casual fuck his partner seemed to consider they were, Bodie headed for home himself.
Dinner was in a quiet restaurant in Soho specialising in South African cuisine, because that’s what Johnny thought would make Nicole feel at home. They dined on imported ostrich meat fillets served with mielie pap and rich, thick gravy, followed by malva pudding washed down with Van Der Hum liqueur and coffee. Nicole was laughing in the carefree manner she always had, recalling childhood incidents and the scrapes they had got into.
“Remember the time we decided we were going to build a raft and float down the Limpopo? Just like Huckleberry Finn on the Mississippi?”
“Ah, yes. At the expense of the main supports for Tannie Lucile’s chicken coop, if I remember correctly.”
Nicole laughed again, “Ja, I’ll never forget her chasing after us, waving her knobkerrie, chickens running in circles around her feet, shouting she was going to donner us good.”
“Your parents weren’t happy. The hens didn’t lay for days after that.”
“Neither was your father,” Nicole grinned
Johnny returned the grin. “No, he wasn’t. It was a while before I could sit down again, and I was herding cattle for a week after as well. ” It all came back, in a flood of memories. The farm they had both grown up on in Northern Transvaal, owned by her parents and where his own father was their trusted and respected headman. And Tannie Lucile who came from KwaZulu to help look after him when his mother had died and ended up looking after both of them more often than not, because they were inseparable. Or maybe because that was the nature of things inside the small enclave where black and white didn’t have the same meaning it did on the outside.
Watching her now in the glow of candlelight he could almost believe they were back in time, to the days when two children played together in innocence, unaware of any concepts of separateness. Later when reality intruded they still believed youthful idealism could win out against decades of ingrained superiority. He wasn’t sure what fates had conspired to bring them together again now, even if it was only for a brief time, but he was grateful for these few precious minutes and memories.
“He misses you, Johnny. We all miss you.” Nicole said, catching his thoughts perhaps, as she had always done.
“I miss them and home,” he told her. “I miss the warmth and beauty, the endless sky. It’s been so long.”
They were both silent for a moment. “Do you really think what you and your newspaper are delving into will change anything there?” he asked.
“Maybe not now. But the Government has to be held accountable, Johnny. The Info Department is misusing funds at the very least and they’re using those funds to try and misrepresent apartheid to the world. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. We’re convinced the corruption goes as high as Vorster. If we can bring all this out, show the South African people and the world what they are doing, then perhaps the time of change will come sooner.”
“And in the meantime? Nicole, you know the chances of getting anything like this published in South Africa are minimal at best, the paper would be shut down before the Government would allow it. And how many publishers have been banned or imprisoned for less than what you’re planning to expose?”
“Too many,” Nicole admitted. “But we can’t let it stop us, Johnny. You see that, don’t you?”
Johnny shook his head. Nicole had always been passionate in her beliefs, thrown herself into things wholeheartedly without fear of the consequences. He hoped she knew what she was getting into this time and that it would be worth it.
“I don’t like it, Nicole. The risks are too great and the benefits probably too small. But, I’ve never been able to talk you out of anything, have I?”
“No,” she grinned. “Don’t worry so! I’m perfectly safe. This is London, not Johannesburg. Nothing will happen to me here.”
But Johnny wasn’t so sure. The restaurant hadn’t been full when they arrived but conversation had momentarily ceased as they took their table and Johnny guessed the clientele was mainly South African expatriates or holidaymakers. The service had been impeccable, the waiters professional but distant. He was used to being invisible in such white society; being highly visible was a little more uncomfortable and he wondered if the same white society would ever be prepared for the time of change they were both fighting for.
Fanie Van Rensburg ate his boerewors with relish, watched the couple sitting at the corner table with distaste and wished he were back in South Africa, where kaffirs knew their place. He didn’t mind being in London, or Brussels or any of the other myriad of places he’d been sent by his boss, it was nice to travel, good to see how other people lived. And he didn’t mind the jobs he was sent to do; it was all for the good of his country after all. He did resent watching an uppity black with his white hoer. Still, the food was good.
While the couple he was watching enjoyed their coffees and liqueur, Fanie made his way to the back of the restaurant. The public phone he needed was in sight of the main eating area; he could make his call and still keep his watch on the couple. The call was brief and to the point.
“I’m at Sadie’s in Soho. The reporter’s having dinner. Got the bladdy kaffir, Nkosi, with her!”
“Of course she has. No other contacts made?”
“Good. Is everything set for tomorrow?
“Ja, Nico was working on it when I left. You want me to keep watching the girl?”
“No. I doubt she’s going far. Head back to base, it’s more important you oversee the operation and make sure it goes ahead as scheduled. Keep me posted.”
Anxious to leave and get back to his men, Fanie wasted no time paying his bill and leaving the restaurant, throwing a last slightly contemptuous look towards Nkosi and the reporter as he walked out. He doubted they even noticed him.
It seemed natural that Johnny should accompany Nicole back to her hotel room after dinner and even more natural she should invite him in. When she took his hands and said the simple word “stay” he knew that was inevitable too. But it didn’t make it right, or wise.
Nicole knew what he was thinking, as she had always done. Drawing his hand to her lips she kissed the knuckles. “Johnny, I love you. This was always meant for us.”
“And where is it going to lead, Nicole? Where can it lead? Us … together is illegal in our own country.”
“But this is England, Johnny. It’s not illegal here.”
Johnny drew his hand away and turned to look through the window of the room, at the bright lights of a London night. “Here, now is a differnt world, Nicole. But it’s not our world. What happens afterwards, when you go home? What then? We’ll be apart not just by the colour of our skins but continents and Governments too.”
“It will change, Johnny, I know it will. South Africa has a future, we have a future. I truly believe that.”
“Your idealism is showing. We’re not children any more, living in a fantasy world. This is our reality - laws against us and unacceptance.”
Nicole moved to stand beside him “What happened to you, Johnny? You had as much hope as I did once.”
How to explain to her the changes wrought by blood, death and outright war, the years of exile?
“I don’t know, Nicole. Too much to explain in one night, or perhaps even one lifetime. I do know I want more for us than just what we can steal for ourselves now,” He turned suddenly and pulled her to him, holding her close and feeling her soft hair on his face. “I do want us to have a future together, be together. It’s what has helped me stay sane at times, thinking about you and home. But somehow that seems unreal, too much for us to dare. So, I’m afraid to.”
“Then today we will dare to take what we can get, make it ours. We deserve that much. Tomorrow can take care of itself.”
She slid her hand to the back of his head and Johnny allowed her to pull his head down so their lips met. He deepened the kiss and she responded. He was so afraid for her, for them both, but she was right, they deserved this much.
Much later Johnny was again looking out of the hotel window, smoking a cigarette and watching London slowly coming to life again in the early morning light. Behind him Nicole slept on in the hotel room’s double bed.
His thoughts were chaotic, confused. He wanted so much to believe in Nicole’s vision of the future but he was at heart a pragmatist. Change in their country would come, it was what he was fighting for after all, but it might not come in their lifetime. Even if he asked Nicole to stay in London with him, in exile, in their narrow world a union between them would be looked on with as much disfavour by his people as by hers. And he would never ask her to give up so much for him.
“I didn’t know you smoked.”
The sudden interruption to his thoughts made Johnny start. Nicole was standing beside him, the sunrise casting strange shadows over her face and figure. She seemed ethereal for a moment, otherworldly. Then she moved closer, into the emerging sunlight and the mirage dissipated leaving her his Nicole again.
“I don’t very often,” he said. “Sometimes it helps though.”
“It does?” She took the cigarette from his fingers and drew deeply on the filter tip before handing it back again. “I’ve been thinking. Maybe, after this investigation, when we have enough against the ringleaders in the Department of Information and can publish – when it’s all over – I can get a job on one of the papers here in London.”
“You’d do that, for me?”
Nicole smiled. “Of course. And it wouldn’t be forever, just until we can both go back home.”
Johnny laughed and throwing the cigarette out of the open window, pulled her into his arms. “You won’t ever give up will you?”“No. And neither will you,” she told him. “Come on, let’s go back to bed.”