It wasn’t a safe house, or rather; it wasn’t one of the many CI5 safe houses Bodie knew about. He was sure Ray didn’t either, judging by his expression.
“Should’ve stopped off at my place, could’ve picked up my tuxedo,” Bodie muttered, gazing in awe at the structure of gothic elegance in front of them; at the towers and too many windows and the trailing creepers growing wildly over the house from bottom to top.
“Or your lab coat and Igor,” Doyle responded, equally as impressed.
Cowley’s directions had led them off the M4 and down a side road several miles past Windsor and its dominating castle until finally they found the right gates and gravel driveway. Now they could only stare in wonder at the splendour that was no ordinary bolthole.
Staring back at them from its large ornate windows was a Victorian Gothic mansion of at least four stories, if you counted the attics set in the three towers. Like something out of a Hammer horror movie, the grey stone building loomed at them from the top of a slight rise. Dark, brooding and far too big. Bodie wondered what Cowley was thinking to bring his charges to such a security officer’s nightmare.
The driveway curved around to an open garage, also covered with rampant creepers, set at the side of the house and after Doyle parked the Escort they alighted to survey the almost jungle like state of the grounds. Trees, vines and bushes grew in unkempt profusion and Bodie doubted a gardener had touched the place in years.
“There’ll be two men in the grounds at all times,” Cowley told them as they unpacked the arsenal of weapons they’d collected from the HQ armoury. “You two will be responsible for security inside the house. The attics and top story are sealed off, the connecting doors made of reinforced steel so there is no access to or from those levels.”
“Handy,” Bodie murmured. “Especially if they decide to come in by helicopter.”
Doyle hid his smile and Cowley frowned but obviously decided a reprimand wasn’t worth the effort. “Familiarise yourselves with the first two levels,” he said instead. “The windows and doors have all been security checked but it won’t hurt for you to carry out your own checks.”
“Do you think there will be another attempt, Sir?” Doyle asked.
“I don’t know, Doyle. But, no one outside CI5 and the owner of this house knows we are using it and that owner is the Minister,” Cowley said, and added. “Someone wants either Johnny Nkosi or Nicole dead. I want us to be ready if they do try again.”
“Any word on who planted the bomb, Sir?” Bodie asked.
“No one has claimed responsibility and if, as I suspect, BOSS has a hand in it then no one will. The South African Government won’t want to admit its illegal activities on foreign soil, or give any fuel to the anti-apartheid movements.” Cowley told them before leaving them to their own preparations.
They brought in the armaments and they checked every window and every door in the house. It was surprisingly modern inside, the front door opening onto a large entrance hall with a comfortably furnished drawing room and library on one side and dining room and study on the other. A curved staircase leading to the upper floors was set at the end of the entrance hall. The spacious kitchen area at the rear of the house was fitted out with the latest in cooking equipment, a walk in pantry and short staircase leading down to the cellar. There seemed to be doors everywhere, all giving various accesses to the rooms.
What surprised Bodie the most was the degree of security within the house itself. Every window, even those in the bathrooms, was a security window, fixed with thin but strong bars and locks. All the windows were draped with heavy brocade curtains. The doors secured with deadlocks.
The upper floor was given over to five bedrooms and two bathrooms and they had a bedroom to share, two single beds, a wardrobe - complete with a full set of clothing for both of them - and a bureau. Bodie thought it was a shame they wouldn’t be using it much.
“He’s crazy you know,” he muttered as he stood by the window watching Anson strut through the trees at the rear of the house, cigar smoking trailing behind him in a dense cloud. He wondered if he smoked the damn things in bed, he seemed to everywhere else, and if he did, if his bird minded.
“Who?” Ray was sorting through the clothes in the wardrobe, finally pulling something out before coming to stand next to Bodie at the window.
“Cowley, of course! Told you before he’s sell out his own mother if necessary, for CI5’s benefit.”
“Cowley hasn’t got a mother.”
“Course he has. Everyone has a mother.”
“Not him! Didn’t need one, did he. And he definitely hasn’t got a father,” Ray grinned, then his face became thoughtful. “You think he’s using Nicole and Johnny as bait, don’t you?”
Bodie paused, choosing his words carefully, “I think he wants to know for sure if someone is slipping an incautious word out to our South African friends.”
Ray nodded, “Yeah, ‘use any method’, as the old bastard would say. It might just work too.”
Bodie agreed. “What’ve you got there?” he asked, looking down at Ray’s hands.
The grin was back as Ray held up the polo necked jumper for Bodie to admire. “At least Cowley’s done us proud with the wardrobe! You can get rid of the tie now.”
Bodie returned the grin and accepted the jumper. The marks on his neck were a constant irritant and he was hard pressed not to keep trying to run his finger under his tie-tightened collar to relieve the itch. He doubted the polo neck would be much better, but he’d come to like the reminder of how the itch had got there. He quickly stripped off the tie and shirt, all the time watching Ray watching him, loving the heat in Ray’s eyes and the way they lingered, loving Ray.
Finally redressed he reached for his partner and pulled him close. “Now, if you close your eyes, I’ll kiss you,” he told him, wriggling his eyebrows suggestively, trying for provocative.
It seemed to work because Ray laughed, but did as he was bid. Bodie kept the kiss light and teasing, just tasting a little of what his partner had to give – no point getting too worked up. It was Ray who pushed to deepen the kiss, pulling Bodie closer. And it was Ray who finally, reluctantly, broke it, drawing back a little breathless.
“We’d better …”
“Yeah, we’d better,” Bodie agreed, lifting Ray’s chin and rubbing his thumb against the damp lower lip before leaning his forehead against Ray’s for a moment. Turning abruptly he headed towards the door, dragging Ray behind him by a firmly gripped wrist. “Next thing you know the Cow will be up here looking for us.”
Ray’s filthy laugh was music to Bodie’s ears as they headed downstairs.
George Cowley had been busy and Johnny Nkosi had suddenly found himself caught in a whirlwind not of his making. When Cowley questioned Johnny after the bomb explosion Johnny hadn’t bothered reminding him of their past acquaintance - it had seemed so long ago and irrelevant to the current situation. It was obvious Cowley didn’t remember him in any case. When Cowley had taken Nicole back to his CI5 headquarters Johnny thought he’d heard and seen the last of him. Sending his staff home he’d packed up what was left of his belongings in his now wrecked office and started to head for home, wondering if he would have a chance to see Nicole again before she left for Johannesburg. That was when one of Cowley’s men had told him he was to escort him to a safe house, where Nicole would be waiting for him.
So, now here he was, watching as Bodie worked with the supply of rifles and handguns he and his partner had brought into the house hours earlier. Stripping, cleaning, oiling, checking; the man was methodical, efficient and detached, a highly trained professional. They were all professionals, these men who had become entrusted with Nicole’s, and by default his, safety - he was under no illusion George Cowley’s extravagant care and protection was for Nicole’s benefit more than his own. In fact he wasn’t even sure why he had agreed to come to this safe house in the first place, just that Nicole wanted him to. But there was something about this man and his partner, a closeness that set them apart from the others, and something about Bodie himself he just couldn’t quite put his finger on. A feeling of vague familiarity and tenseness radiating from the man whenever he was in Bodie’s presence, and a feeling the hard exterior he displayed to the world hid more than it gave away. Yes, Bodie was a puzzle and Johnny couldn’t help but wonder where all the pieces fit.
He’d been on his way past the library when he noticed Bodie seated on the floor in the midst of the impressive array of weaponry, almost like a child playing with his toys gathered around him. Fascinated, he’d leant against the doorframe to watch, drawn to the sight of those large capable hands as they worked. If Bodie was aware of his silent regard he gave no indication, the dark head remaining bent to his task.
It was that bent dark head and the concentration which finally triggered the hazy memory that had been bothering Johnny. Dust, smoke, flame and violent noise in a place far away from England and a young man on the ground, clutching desperately onto a fallen comrade, crying so softly yet the sound seemed to penetrate into the subconscious of his silent watcher.
“Angola,” Johnny said quietly, coming further into the room. Bodie’s busy hands stilled for a heartbeat. Then the cloth he held moved again, gliding over the magnum .357 but the head remained bent.
“It was Angola,” Johnny repeated. “Or more precisely, northern Angola. About seven years ago. San Antonio do Zaire, a steamy little ghost town in a slightly strategic position. You were there.”
Finally Bodie looked up from his task, his face still unreadable. “Yes. So were you,” he said at last. “There were lots of steamy little ghost towns though. Wouldn’t have thought you’d remember that one in particular.”
“It was the first one for me. I was sent as an observer, part of the mutual support between the ANC and MPLA. I’ve never forgotten! You were captured, weren’t you?”
Bodie nodded. “We didn’t stand a chance, not really. The MPLA were over us like flies. Our ammo ran out, never seemed to have enough of it anyway, and the Afs ... Africans we were supposed to be training hadn’t a clue. I was lucky, I got away, eventually. Away from Africa, away from it all. A lot of us didn’t. ”
It was Johnny’s turn to nod as he remembered the still figure in Bodie’s arms. “War, that mad game the world so loves to play,” he quoted quietly.
Bodie’s left eyebrow rose slightly. “And for it does so dearly pay,” he finished. “Jonathan Swift. Not exactly a sentiment I’d associate with the ANC.”
“Or a mercenary,” Johnny countered.
Ray Doyle’s sudden appearance at the doorway prevented Bodie’s immediate response, if he was going to give one. The two partners exchanged looks and Doyle’s attention briefly focussed on Johnny before returning to his partner.
“Everything all right?”
“Yeah,” Bodie answered him and the ghost of a smile played on his lips. “Mr Nkosi and I were just having a philosophical discussion on the nature of war.”
“Oh, yeah?” Doyle returned. “Old soldiers with old memories. Thought it was only Cowley dragged up the glory days.”
“Wasn’t only Cowley in a war was it? And there wasn’t much glory friggin’ about in a jungle either,” Bodie retorted, his voice a little snappish, causing Doyle to give him an odd look.
“I’m afraid it’s my fault. I brought the subject up,” Johnny explained ruefully. “And it’s Johnny,” he added.
Bodie finally stopped his compulsive rubbing of the magnum and lay the cloth down. “I don’t know about you, Johnny, but there’s a lot I would prefer to forget about those days.” Looking up he smiled openly at them both. “Never was much for glory anyway.”
Doyle laughed “Which is a good thing, seeing as how you’re not likely to get any!”
“Too true, old son,” Bodie responded.
.“Old memories are probably best left as that, memories,” Johnny said. “I was just on my way to the kitchen. Nicole promised to make bobotie; would you gentlemen care to join me?”
”Mention food to Bodie and he’s yours,” Doyle told him, holding out a hand to help his partner up off the floor.
“I’m a growing boy, need my nourishment,” Bodie answered him.
“Yeah, keep on eating the way you do and you’ll be growing into Sumo the Wrestler,” Doyle told him, causing his partner to put on a pained expression.
“Haven’t had much chance of that lately, have I?” he complained.
They both gave him a look when Johnny started laughing. “Do you two always go on like this?”
“Yep. Regular comedy act we are,” Bodie told him as they moved to the doorway.
“Ta da!” Doyle added, laughing at his own joke as Bodie playfully shoved him out of the room.
Johnny was still grinning as he led them to the kitchen, the men’s antics continuing as they headed down the passageway. But he wasn’t fooled. Their words were caustic, the banter casual but he’d no sooner want to get between these two than he would between a lioness and her cubs.
“What’s bobotie?” Doyle whispered as they followed Johnny.
“A kind of curry made with lamb, sort of a cross between moussaka and a bread pudding. Got dried fruit in it too.”
“Sounds wonderful!” Doyle’s sarcasm was obvious.
“It is,” Bodie assured him, quite seriously.
The kitchen was warm and the smells enticing. Nicole was dishing food out onto plates while George Cowley examined something in a saucepan. He was wearing an apron. Bodie had never thought, in his wildest dreams, he would ever see his cantankerous, irascible boss in such a domesticated scene and wearing an apron. True it was a very plain apron, with just the hint of a frill as an edging, but still …
Bodie dared a glance at Doyle, who was biting at his lower lip, and considered just leaving it. But that wasn’t in his nature.
“Didn’t know you were such a dab hand in the kitchen, Sir,” he said.
Cowley turned a jaundiced eye on his subordinate. “Which just shows that, contrary to your own opinion, Bodie, you don’t know everything,” he told him, adding. “And, of course, as you’re so interested you’ll want to try some of this haggis, won’t you? It should be ready to serve in about half an hour.”
The question had been phrased more as a statement and Bodie realised too late the trap that had been set and neatly sprung on him.
“Um, yes. Of course, Sir. Wouldn’t miss sampling your culinary excellence.” Bodie returned hastily.
Doyle was openly grinning at him now and Cowley immediately turned his attention in his direction. “And you, Doyle?”
“I’d love to try your haggis, Sir,” he replied, straightening his face. “Only, I have to go check in on Anson and Benny before the new shift comes on.”
“Ah, yes. Murphy and the new man, Mitchell, isn’t it, coming on at 8.00.”
“You’ve time for some bobotie though haven’t you?” Nicole asked as she placed filled, steaming plates of food on the table in front of them. Doyle nodded, grabbing up a fork.
“I’m still not convinced all this is necessary, Uncle George,” she continued. “Especially now that Gerald Starling has backed out.”
“What? He’s not giving you the documented proof he said he had?” Doyle asked her, through a mouthful of food.
“No. The bird has definitely flown. In fact his secretary said he’d gone off to the Bahamas on holiday.”
“Nice for some,” muttered Bodie.
“Yes, so my trip to England has virtually come to nothing.” Nicole sounded despondent and Johnny reached out to touch her lightly on the arm, then brushed a finger down her brow. “It seems all I’ve achieved here is to put both Johnny and me in danger.”
“I’m not sure that’s true, Nicole,” Johnny told her. “I think danger may have been here already, whether you turned up or not.”
Bodie watched the look they exchanged and wondered if Cowley knew just how involved these two were. The wonder became certainty because of course Cowley knew, he wasn’t blind and he certainly wasn’t stupid. Which brought him to the next obvious conclusion – their all-seeing boss might very well have sussed their little secret as well. Startled, he glanced at Doyle and met the amused green eyes. Ray shrugged and Bodie got the message. If Cowley had guessed about them there wasn’t much they could do about it, other than wait the old man out and see if he broached the subject.
Paying his two agents no attention, Cowley took up where Johnny had left off. “Johnny’s right. Whatever train of events has been set in motion was started long before you came on the scene, Nicole. But by now BOSS will be well aware of your newspaper’s investigations and I’m sure they won’t like what you are trying to do.”
“I can’t leave it, Uncle George. You should know that, you and my father fought a war to make things better. I can’t do any less for my own country.”
Cowley looked resigned and Johnny concerned.
“Oh, both of you stop worrying so much. It’s going to be a long process before my paper has enough evidence to publish any kind of indictment against the Department of Information and the Government. It’s not like the UK you know. We can’t just suggest corruption, we have to have irrefutable proof, otherwise the Government will just clamp down and close the paper. That kind of proof is going to be a long time coming.”
“Which doesn’t mean the danger is any less for you.” Cowley was adamant, but held up his hand to forestall Nicole when she started to speak again. “I know you’re not going to be dissuaded so I won’t try. Let’s just enjoy this excellent bobotie shall we?”
The food was, indeed, excellent. Bodie couldn’t remember the last time he’d actually had a proper meal but it must have been at least a couple of days ago, and he wasn’t counting the bacon sarnie they had grabbed on the way to the safe house or the vaguely remembered chips snatched hurriedly some time yesterday. Something had always seemed to get in the way of eating properly – having to tail Nicole, Doyle leaving Headquarters without him, the bomb – which of course led to pleasant thoughts of exactly why eating hadn’t seemed so important the night before. Bodie enjoyed watching his partner clear his plate and ask for seconds. He always considered Ray didn’t eat nearly enough of the good things, too much organic stuff … couldn’t be good for a man.
True to his word, Cowley didn’t push the subject of Nicole’s investigations. Instead the conversation drifted to Nicole’s family farm in Northern Transvaal and the holidays Cowley had spent there. It was strange for Bodie and Doyle to have snatches of Cowley’s life that didn’t directly relate to CI5 and for a short space in time their boss was a surprisingly amusing raconteur and they were an interested audience.
“Isn’t it nearly time for you two to get on with whatever it is you need to be getting on with?” Cowley said, finally calling a halt to his reminiscences and returning his mind to the business at hand.
“Yes, Sir.” Bodie responded with alacrity, hoping to get away before Cowley could remember the proffered haggis.
Doyle was already on his feet but Cowley halted him. “You’ve got time for a wee piece of haggis though, haven’t you?”
“Er, no, Sir,” Doyle told him. “Gotta check Anson, remember?”
“No, that’s right … Anson … and Benny too,” Bodie echoed.
“Well, Doyle’s quite capable of doing that himself. Come on Bodie, I know you enjoy your food.” Cowley was already at the stove, pulling the bag out of the boiling water. “Johnny, you’ll have some too of course. You’ll never find a more appetising haggis than this. And I’ve got just a wee dram of whisky to pour over it for you.”
Bodie and Johnny exchanged looks, both at a loss for an excuse to leave the table. Nicole was unashamedly grinning at them. Apparently oblivious to the undercurrent surrounding him Cowley continued dishing up portions of the precious haggis. Bodie and Johnny accepted defeat.
Before he made his escape Doyle bent over to whisper in Bodie’s ear, “I’ll just leave you to it, shall I? Enjoy.”
“I’ll save you some,” Bodie told him, smiling sweetly, making a mental note to make sure, one way or another, there would be enough left over for his partner.