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Transients


by Helen Raven


Mrs Frenchís shoulder-muscles were more tense than he’d ever known them, so it was a good five minutes before he could respond to the paging-light and call Reception.

“Lucy, itís Ray.”

“Can you do a twelve oíclock today?”

“Not if I can avoid it. I want to get to the bank, and Iím solid all afternoon. Thursday would be better.”

“OK. Iíll call him back, then.”

“Who is it?”

“Heís new, I think. A Mister Bodie. Said something about an injury. I wondered if he was from the sports-centre.”

Doyle paused. It wasnít a name he recognised. New clients did not appear every day, and you shouldnít put them off if you could help it. It wasnít as if he was the only massage therapist in the area.

“No, OK, book the twelve oíclock. And if anyoneís going out could you ask them to get me a sandwich? Cheese salad, or something.” He put the Ďphone down and turned back to the table. “Sorry about that. How long díyou think itíll be until work calms down?”

* * *

Neither Mr. Bodie nor the sandwich had arrived by ten past twelve. Doyle sat in his chair glowering and thinking about his overdraft. Another five minutes and heíd get Lucy to -

“No. I can manage. Thank you.” Even through the closed door it was obviously “Thank you” as in “Get the fuck away from me”. Doyle groaned and let his head drop to his chest. Professionalism, he thought. Vocation, he thought. Twenty pounds for an hourís session. He levered himself to his feet and went to open the door, preparing his new-client smile.

Mr. Bodie was leaning heavily on his stick as he reached across his body for the handle. He was obviously in some pain. Lucy was hovering anxiously at the end of the corridor.

“Mister Bodie? Come in.” The left knee did not bend, and it looked as if all of the muscles in the body were locked in combat. Doyle quickly stepped back to pull the clientís chair from out behind the screen, reducing the distance the man would have to walk, then hoisted himself up to sit on the edge of the massage table.

“If youíd like to sit down. We should talk about what you want before I start work.” The chair had no arms, and Doyle found himself frowning in involuntary sympathy. I should do something about that, I suppose. Mr. Bodie was breathing audibly.

When the breathing had steadied, Doyle said, “Itís not always this bad, is it?”

“Uhuh. Just the last couple of days.” A flick of the eyes towards Doyle, then away and down.

“Youíve seen a physiotherapist?”

“Heís on holiday. Looked in the Ďphone book and this place was nearest.”

“And they didnít arrange a replacement while heís away?”

“Sheís useless. Look, are you gonna get started, or is this some new technique? Iím not paying for an hour of mouth massage.” Fierce blue eyes, narrowed slightly in pain.

Doyle didnít react. “I have to know what Iím dealing with. So whatís happened in the last couple of days?”

A brief quirk of the eyebrows. “Stairs. Seems like everyone I visitís suddenly moved to the third floor.”

Youíve been overdoing it, you mean. He nodded. “Uh. You got tired and everything started to tense up.”

“I thought after a nightís sleep ... But it kept spreading. Even been an effort to breathe today.”

“OK. Iíll start on your legs, and then do as much of the rest as I have time for. After that, you should have more luck relaxing on your own. If you can keep away from those stairs.” He levered himself easily off the table, then reached underneath it to pull out the broad wooden step. “Could you please get undressed completely and put on the towel that youíll find on the rack behind the screen. Is there anything I can do to help?” The manís head was lowered as he bore down on the stick and there was no reply. Doyle decided not to repeat the question.

He kept silent even through the gasping effort of the climb onto the table, simply holding out his hand for the stick. However, he took his time propping it against the wall by the screen, waiting until the breathing eased before he turned back to your table. “Can you lie on your front first, please.” Long seconds of further effort. “Now can you lift up a bit so I can loosen the towel. Iím going to use it to cover your back—stop you getting chilled.” With the ease of practice he lifted the large towel, turned it lengthwise, and lowered it carefully. Twisted lines of scars on the back of the knee stood out lividly against the white material.

The first exploratory touch found bunchings of aggressively knotted muscles, much as heíd expected though stronger and healthier. And they must be pulling at that knee from all directions—a very vicious circle. “This is going to hurt. I wonít pretend any different. But you must tell me if itís too much.” No acknowledgement, exactly as heíd expected.

He earned his money with Mr. Bodie, more and more so as he moved up from calves to thighs. Acres of big, angry muscles, it seemed, fighting him for every millimetre of pliability.

The tone in the left leg was astonishingly good, after ... well, it must be a year, at least. The firmly-closed eyes and the stifled grunts discouraged Doyle from asking the question. Must take his physio seriously. Hoping to get better? Really better? Poor bastard.

What had he done for a living? Doyle had several body-builders as clients, and knew the patterns. The muscles under his hands were different. Working muscles. Not for show. Unusual.

“Could you turn over, please. Iíll deal with the towel.”

Doyle blinked when he got his first full view of the knee—or what was left of it—but otherwise thought he hid his reaction well. Heíd seen worse, but not in a while, and not on this table. He went to get more oil, and when he turned back the watchful eyes were closed again.

Well, it made a change from stressed executives and wrenched squash-players. The quiet buzz from the paging system took him by surprise. One oíclock. Mr. Henderson. He realised he was hungry.

“Iíd like another half-hour, really, but you should feel some benefit.” The breathing seemed easier now, as did movement as he sat up. Doyle placed the stick next to him on the table. “If youíll be OK getting dressed, Iíll clean up.” He heard the towel fall to the ground before heíd taken four paces towards the sink, but he didnít turn around.

The process of dressing was slow, and Doyle, watching the screen from the far side of the table, could hear that his hard work was being undone. But what could you do?

He was carrying a clean towel over when his client emerged. “How much do I ...” A battered but plump wallet.

“Itís twenty for the hour. Lucy at Reception deals with all that.”

“Right. Thanks.” A brief nod and briefer smile, and he was out of the room and making his uneven way down the corridor. Doyle stood watching for a few paces, then shrugged, and reached for the Ďphone to ask Lucy about his sandwich.

* * *

”Didnít think Iíd be seeing you again.” It was five days later. “More problems with stairs?”

“Not so bad. But it helped, and Andyís still away.” Mr. Bodie was already shrugging out of his jacket. Doyle wondered what heíd been like when fully mobile. Even more cocky, probably. He knew it was disgraceful, but he was briefly glad that he hadnít got around to switching his chair—which had arms—with the clientís chair. However, the first impersonal sensation of flesh under his hands extinguished any remaining spark of malice.

“This is much better. Iíll have time to work on your feet today.”

Silence. Maybe he was falling asleep. Doyle got that several times a day.

Longer, smoother strokes today. Not so much kneading and coaxing. A few deep, sighing breaths, but none of those pained grunts. He must have been taking it easy. Learned his lesson. For a while.

Really, an impressive body. Such a shame. Angry scars. Angry man, most of the time. Patchouli should calm the scars. Or galbanum. Doyle made no claims to be an aromatherapist, but you pick these things up. If I thought he was going to come back ...

“Thereís nothing wrong with my feet.”

Doyle smiled. “I know. But it does more good than youíd expect. Youíll see. Youíll feel the effect all over your body.”

“Yeah, right.”

“Money back if you donít. No - stay still.” You prat, Doyle! Or is it charity?

He did fall asleep while Doyle was working on his back. It looked like utter exhaustion. Maybe he was getting a lot of pain.

Well, he was certainly a light sleeper. Awake like the flick of a switch, and a hand hitting Doyle in the stomach as it seemed to search for something. Doyle stepped back out of range then returned almost immediately to take hold of the towel.

“Itís time to turn over.”

A much smoother process this time. Youíd think heíd been practising.

Doyle started on the left thigh, continuing to adjust his techniques for a leg that did not bend. He was used to the knee now. It was ugly, but it was mostly the evidence of pain that was disturbing. Keeping his hands moving, he looked up. “How long ago was the accident?”

Mr. Bodie had been gazing at the ceiling. It was a few seconds before he met Doyleís eyes, expressionless. “Year ... thirteen months.”

“Uh. Not long. Really.”

A flickering grimace—or sneer. “ítíseemed long enough to me, mate.”

“The bodyís quite sluggish about some things. Seems to have a sort of three-year cycle. Iíve heard ...” The ceiling held greater interest. Doyleís jaw-muscles bunched once, then he counted to ten, thinking carefully of nothing except the resilience of the flesh under his hands. Self-employment had forced him to control his temper—and sometimes he missed the old days fiercely.

At five minutes to the hour he stopped. “Thatís it for today, Mister Bodie.”

“What about this amazing foot thing you promised me?”

Eyes as cold as his clientís, Doyle said, “That was ten minutes ago.”

“Well, it didnít work.” Sitting up, and holding his hand out in the direction of the stick.

“Then you donít pay.” Doyle placed the stick on the table without looking at his client, and was unusually brisk and noisy in washing his hands.

He accompanied Mr. Bodie to Reception. “Lucy, thereís no charge to Mister Bodie for this session. Iím off to the Post Office.” And he was gone. Mr. Bodie could open the door himself—would insist on it, even.

* * *

At the end of that day, he spent a few minutes with Lucy updating his appointment book.

“Oh, he came back, you know. While you were with your three oíclock.”

“Whatíre you talking about?”

“That Bodie man. ĎSmilerí I call him. Because he doesnít. He said ... um ... it had worked. But he hadnít realised till he was on his feet and moving around. And he paid.”

“Oh.” Doyle frowned. “He didnít make another appointment, did he?”

Lucy shook her head.

A broad smile. “Perfect.”

* * *

A week later, over the same task, and Doyle was even more puzzled. “But his physiotherapist must be back by now.”

“Is he that rude?”

“Uncomfortable. To be around.” A sigh. “I didnít think weíd see him again.”

“Maybe he likes you.”

“I donít think so.”

* * *

”Long holiday your physiotherapistís taking.”

“No, heís back. Saw him on Tuesday.”

“So whatíre you doing here?”

Doyle saw the back-muscles bunch in a shrug. “It helps. Andy thought it was a good idea.”

Probably amazed you went for help. Unless he sees a different side of you.

Later, when Mr. Bodie had turned over and Doyle was working on the right thigh: “So, youíll be coming regularly, will you?”

“Yeah. Suppose so.”

“Well, I think I can help with the scars a bit.” The body rocked once under a strong twitch. “There are some oils that are good with injuries. I was thinking of starting with patchouli. Youíd probably see the effects in about a month. Sooner if you use it yourself as well.”

“Sounds like some sort of hippy crap to me.”

“OK, forget it. Saves me getting the oil in.”

Later still, while he was stroking between the tendons of the left foot: “Doesnít Andy do any of this? Ďdíave thought heíd be able to refer you to someone in the NHS, at least.”

“Didnít rate her. Worth twenty quid to have a choice.”

A compliment. I suppose. And, at the end, a genuine smile. Doyle rearranged his list of “worst clients” and then—after Mr. Bodie had left the room—rearranged his furniture so the client got the chair with arms.

* * *

”Howíd you get into this, then?” A spontaneous question. A sign of interest. Doyleís eyebrows rose, unseen.

“Strained something in my back about four years ago. Nothing too bad, but the pain hung around for days. Finally mentioned it to a friend, and she told me to get my shirt off and lie down on her living-room floor. And when I got up the pain was gone. Before that Iíd always thought it was just a dirty joke. And I was casting around for something to do, so ...”

“Oh. So youíve not been at it for long.”

“Only a couple of years here. Before that I did home-visits. Put cards in hundreds of health-food shops. Adverts in ĎTime Outí. This is like a holiday.”

“And before that?”

“All sorts. Cook. Waiter—usually got fired after a couple of weeks. House-painting. Teaching.”

“Yeah? What?”

“Just evening classes. Karate. But they -”

“Yeah? I -” The first real animation Doyle had heard in his voice.

He waited. “You were saying?”

“Had a few bouts myself. A while back.” Dead. Talking about another lifetime. Doyle was surprised now that heíd even given that much of an answer. But how could you avoid stumbling across something like that...?

They were silent for the rest of the hour. But Mr. Bodie didnít seem to be shutting him out, just thinking. Or feeling. Theyíd meet again in another week.

* * *

”How much did you say that oil would be? That patch stuff.”

“Patchouli. Couple of quid, I should think. And, um ... I think you should buy it yourself and bring it in. I should have said before that Iím not a qualified aromatherapist. I donít claim to offer proper aromatherapy, and Iím really not supposed to charge anyone for it. But if you brought the oil in yourself ...”

“Worried Iíll report you to the Therapistsí Police? God, they must be tough bastards.” The tone was bone-dry. Doyle grinned at the nape of his clientís neck, trying to think of a worthy response. “Whereíd you buy that sort of stuff?”

“Oh, hippy shops, where else? The nearest oneís just around the corner from Rymans.”

A grunt. The topic was clearly closed.

* * *

Doyle wasnít surprised to be handed a small bottle at the beginning of the next session and he put it on the shelf by the sink without comment. By the time he came to pick it up again, though, his air of confidence required some input of effort. The back of the knee was no problem, but what about the front? How firmly could you rub when there were bits missing?

“You must tell me if Iím hurting you. I donít have any direct experience of this sort of injury. As youíve probably guessed.”

“Youíll be OK. Itís just a knock sets it off these days.”

It was different, working with the sharply-scented oil. More direct and personal, somehow. His fingers started to memorise the ridges and the hollows.

“What happened?” It was a surprise to hear himself say it. He didnít look up.

“I was knee-capped.” Even more of a surprise to get an immediate response.

And then he absorbed the information, and couldnít hide his reaction. He stopped work. “As in ...”

“Yer actual gangster movie, yeah.” Weary, but maybe relieved. “I was one of the lads with a badge. If youíre wondering.”

Immediately and urgently: “Which part of the force were you in?” Ah, so it was true—you never really left.

“Not me, Mister Doyle. I was CI5. Army before that. And yourself?”

“Never got beyond constable in South London. Had big plans, but -”

“Didnít work out, yeah. Yídidnít mention the force the other week.”

Doyle felt his caution-circuits disengage. “Might have got round to it. But you went all quiet around karate.”

He counted four inhalations while their gazes held.

“Well. I do that sometimes. Donít let it bother you.”

Doyle smiled at him genuinely and openly for the first time. “I wonít. Now, I havenít been hurting you so far, right?”

* * *

The session was just over, and Mr. Bodie was sitting up and examining his knee. “It does look better. A month like you said. Still fucking ugly, though.”

“You get used to it,” Doyle said mildly.

You might. I keep dreaming that -” He swallowed.

“Díthey catch the bastard who did it?”

“Dunno. There were four in the house and we shot one of them. Mightíve been him. Restíre probably getting a good tan in Spain, or something. God, what a cock-up. Neighbourís dog gets its stitches out at evening-surgery, spends its first night out in the garden in weeks. And barks its head off when these strange men start creeping around next door.” Mockingly: “They were ever so apologetic!” Then, on a sigh: “They were, actually. Kids sent me a hand-made get-well card. Wanted to come and see me.” He shuddered. “I wrote them a note with some ... bouncy crap. ĎOh, donít worry about meí. Had to wait for one of my good days for that.”

“Why didnít you evacuate the neighbours?”

“Good question, Mister Doyle. We didnít think we had time ... we thought theyíd notice ... we thought itíd all be over in a couple of minutes.”

“Was anyone else hurt?”

“Mate of mine died. Ben. We worked together a lot. Would have been difficult doing the job after that, so I suppose ...”

“Mate of mine died in the force, too. Part of the reason I left.”

“Yeah?”

“Sid Parker. We were out on patrol. Stopped to check on something suspicious. Sid went into the house while I stayed in the car.” He shrugged.

“How longíd you been partners?”

“Doesnít work like that. But he showed me the ropes. Gave me a lot of his time.”

“You mustíve been pretty cut-up. If you left.”

Doyle looked at him, down at the floor, and then back. “Not really. Look, you still think Iím a nice bloke. Iíll tell you more about Sid when thatís worn off.”

A start of surprise, then a snort of laughter. “I think youíre a two-faced, sulky toad. Thatís why I keep coming back.”

Now why should that be so welcome? “You serious?”

“Course. I come out in a rash if I meet Ďniceí people.”

“Well. I think youíre a bit of a shit, yourself.”

Nodding gravely: “Thank you, Mister Doyle.”

“Ray. Itís Ray.”

“Bodie. Without the Mister.”

Doyle felt a breath of disappointment, followed by curiosity. He smiled, and stepped forward for a ceremonial handshake. Bodieís palm was rough and callused. From the stick, Doyle thought at first. But that was the wrong hand. A gun, then. And years of hard physical work.

The Ďphone rang. Doyle glanced up at the clock and their hands fell apart. “God, itís five past. And itís Ballantyne in his precious lunch-hour.” Hurriedly, he fetched the stick.

“I know, Lucy. Weíre just finishing up. Two minutes.” By the time heíd dried his hands, Bodie had only just disappeared behind the screen. Doyle hesitated for about ten seconds, then crossed the room. “Will you let me help? Please.” He waited just around the edge of the screen.

The pause seemed to be about twenty seconds. “Yes. Alright.” Bodie was sitting with his briefs hauled up to mid-thigh and with the right leg of his trousers half-on. “Deal with this. And my shoes and socks. Iíll get my shirt on. Ballantyne trouble, is he?”

Doyle had never before dressed anyone else, beyond helping a girlfriend on with a coat. He was enjoying it more than he would have imagined—it felt like a hard-won privilege. “Ummm. Iím just not in the mood for him at the moment. Look, can you make evening appointments? Like six or six-thirty?”

“Sure.” Bodie hauled himself to his feet, keeping his trousers up with his right hand. “Hold me steady, will you?” He let the stick drop to free his left hand, and pulled his briefs and trousers up while Doyle helped support him. “Eveningís are fine. Ďs not as if Iím working or anything.”

“Well, why not book my last hour next time? Then I wonít have to worry about over-running, and we can go to the pub, or something.”

“OK. Iíll do that.” His jacket was on the back of the chair and he reached for it without looking. “Cín you get my stick? Thanks. See you next week, Ray.”

Doyle was still smiling when Mr. Ballantyne walked in without knocking.

* * *

Doyle had been looking forward to this all week. It had made him impatient with his other clients. Not openly, he hoped, but God it would be nice if theyíd all just fall asleep on him.

“What pub díyou want to go to? The Drumís OK.”

Bodie pulled a face. “Could do without the pub. Whatís wrong with this place?”

Doyle was surprised. “Thought youíd be sick of it.”

“ís OK. Quiet. Or díyou have to be out by now?”

“No, Iíve got the keys. Díyou want a beer, then? Thereís some in the kitchen from our Christmas party.”

A shake of the head. “Iím off booze at the moment. You got any coffee? Or is it all herb tea?”

“Sure. Howídíyou take it?”

“White, no sugar.”

“OK. I wonít be long.”

When Doyle returned, he pulled the screen back so heíd be able to see the clientís chair from the table, and hauled himself up to sit cross-legged, his coffee beside him on a piece of paper towel. “Are you an alcoholic?” he asked mildly.

Equally mildly: “No, but I really overdid it a while ago. When I was just out of hospital. After the third blackout I decided to leave it alone for a few months.”

“Good for you.” Doyle had a baffled admiration for that kind of self-control.

A shrug. “Pride. Ďs what gets me up every morning, too.”

“Mmm. I canít imagine -”

“Neither could I. Never bothered trying. Always thought the bastards would make a clean job of it. Like they did with Ben. And Turner and Tony and Jackson and all the rest. Yíknow, thereís only five of us pensioned off like this at the moment.”

“Good pension?”

“Great. No complaints. Leaves me with loads of time to wonder what the fuck Iím gonna do with the rest of my life.”

“But thereís - I mean youíre not -”

“Not that badly crippled.” A sigh. “I know, Ray. I served in Northern Ireland. I know what a real kneecapping looks like. Iím not in a wheelchair, so what am I moaning about?”

“Thatís not what I -”

“But you didnít know me before. There were files this thick on what this body could do. Now they just say what it canít.”

“A year isnít a long time, you know. Not with something like this. Hasnít Andy talked to you? And moan as much as you like.”

“He just tells me how well Iím doing. ĎStar-pupilí. Doesnít feel like that.”

Doyle just nodded, and then frowned down into his coffee, having run out of helpful remarks. Itís still a good body, you know. A pleasure to work on. But that was probably against the rules of the profession. And heíd feel stupid saying it.

Bodie asked about the clinic and the other staff, and they talked for nearly an hour, until Maddy, Doyleís girlfriend, called to suggest a meal and the late film.

* * *

”Maddyís booked us a holiday in Switzerland.” It was patchouli-time for the back of the left knee.

“Just like that? Generous with your money, isnít she?”

“Well, weíd talked about it at Christmas. Some sort of mountain holiday. Sheís fed up with beaches.” An action holiday, with hang-gliding and white-water rafting and glacier-trails, but heíd decided not to give Bodie those details. “But Iíd forgotten about it until she called me on Monday and asked for the cheque.”

“When you going?”

“May. For a couple of weeks.”

“Sounds good.”

“My mate Paulís going to cover for me. We were in the same class. Heís good—youíll like him.”

“Umm. I can wait a couple of weeks.”

“Youíll get all knotted up. Like the first time.”

“Iíll cope. Andyís around.”

“Well. Heíll be here, anyway.”

* * *

Bodie held out the packet of ginger nuts. “Why did you leave the force when Sid died? If you werenít that bothered about it?”

“I was but not the way everyone thought. I liked Sid—you had to—but he was a bit of a bore. Hell of a bore. Born middle-aged. Born married. Slippers and cocoa. Looked a bit like Tony Hancock.”

“Yeah. Know the type.”

“He did the father thing with the new lads—not that he was that much older than us—and heíd always try and see the best in you. It was exhausting. He must have spent ... hundreds of hours with me, and he never picked up on what I was really about.”

“The two-faced, sulky stuff?”

“For a start. But it was him being so boring and clueless that got to me when he was killed. Made me stop thinking it was all just a game for young hot-heads like me. I mean, Iíd even been thinking of trying for CI5 ...”

“Can see it.”

“It wasnít that I got scared. Iím sure it wasnít. But I didnít want people like Sid getting hurt in my game. Needed some time away to think things through. Always thought Iíd go back after a year or so, but somehow ...

“And my girlfriend at the time threw a fit when Sid died. Worried sick for me. We were pretty serious—talking about thinking about getting married, sort of thing—and she went on and on at me to get out, so -” He shrugged.

“She wouldnít have been keen on CI5.”

A grimace. “Never told her. Anyway, I was sure itíd all work out.”

“So what happened? You didnít get married?”

“We split up. Ďbout six months later. Christ, it was messy. Does that make sense about Sid?”

“For you, yeah. Surprised you havenít found another hot-head job, though.”

“I get some of it in my spare time. Race my bike. The karate. You.”

A pleased grin. “Yeah?”

“And I wonít be here forever. Something elseíll turn up that I have to try. It always does.”

“But all that training? Seems a waste.”

“It doesnít just disappear down the plughole. It all helps.”

Bodie was still frowning, gazing towards the door.

Doyle waited.

“Youíre thinking of that file an inch thick, arenít you?”

Slowly, the eyes returned to him. “Something like that.”

“Thereís stuff you can still use. Bound to be. Give me a few minutes and Iíll come up with ... fifty ideas. Somethingís got to click.”

“Yeah. But not now, OK.” Once in a while heíd get that subdued look. More and more, Doyle wanted to touch him at these times. Words were no good; it wasnít as if Bodie was waiting for the perfect reason. The slow healing was of his body and spirit, not his intellect. A touch on the shoulder. A silent message that he wasnít alone, wasnít a prisoner. It would be the most natural thing to do.

But Doyle had never touched him outside of their hourís session. And it seemed as if the session had walls around it. They never talked about it, about the fact that Doyle could have written his own file on the subject of Bodieís body. Just what youíd expect from two British men.

Doyle had never got this close with a client before, never had any guidance. There was the professional side to worry about, and there was also Bodieís. If he put holes through those walls, would Bodie get nervous, awkward? Doyle could imagine it very easily.

He sat and waited patiently for Bodie to raise his head and choose the next topic.

* * *

Bodie had arrived looking tired and acting irritable. After a few minutes, Doyle had got him to admit that heíd knocked his bad leg over the weekend, and that the pain had been keeping him awake, and was still nagging at him. So it was a real compliment when he started to snore quietly.

He woke easily when Doyle wanted him to turn over, unlike the last time, and was soon snoring again. Doyle left the knee well alone, though he suspected Bodie would feel the neglect later.

It was while he was taking firm strokes along the length of the right foot that he heard the breathing change, becoming deeper and rougher, sighing. He looked up curiously, and saw an unmistakeable erection lifting the towel. His hands stilled, and he blushed. Something else they didnít teach you about. He shook his head sharply, and carried on. None of his business. The towel lifted higher. Doyle had a momentís impression of startlingly black pubic hair before he stepped away from the table.

A few minutes later the erection had subsided, but Doyle didnít go back to work. Instead, he washed his hands and sat in his chair, and waited for Bodie to wake up in his own time.

Just a dream. Thatís all. Nothing to fuss about.

But what if he hadnít stopped? Doyle blushed again, fiercely, as he imagined the scene. Should I tell him? So we can laugh it off? After all, it was perfectly natural. Nothing to be ashamed of.

But so many people were. And Bodie might be one of them. You couldnít guess how someone really felt about sex until you were past the point of no return. It wasnít worth the risk.

Bodie was still now, breathing quietly and evenly, head turned slightly towards Doyle. A strong, handsome man. A body that was still worth documenting.

What if Iíd been working on his thighs? What if the towel had been pushed right up? Doyle shook his head sharply, disowning the thought, banishing also month-old memories of dressing the man. But his heartbeat had quickened, and there was heat between his legs.

He was appalled at himself. Heís a friend, for Christís sake! A client! His cock didnít care. He looked away from the table, but the images were firmly in his mind.

Time for a coffee. Definitely. He shut the door very carefully.

The kitchen was just a cupboard with a sink, a fridge, a kettle, and a coffee-maker. He started a fresh pot, partly for something to do.

Maybe he shouldnít be so surprised by this reaction. When he went for men—and it wasnít often—they tended to be dark and hard and difficult. Exciting, for an hour or a night. If heíd seen Bodie in the street two years ago, heíd have turned to look and lust, and maybe done something about it, if the signals had been right.

Oh, God, donít think about it! They wouldnít have been right—they werenít now. There were no signals. Get yourself under control. Heís a friend.

A client.

And heís sleeping in there with the door unlocked. Trusting me.

Control.

Control. It must be within reach.

He leaned against the wall, eyes closed and head tilted back, breathing deliberately and with concentration. Slowly, his mind calmed and emptied.

The coffee-maker stopped hissing and gurgling. He washed a mug, then one for Bodie for when he woke. It was just an accident, a one-off. After all, heíd worked on him for four months without a flicker. Itíd be OK. He needed a holiday. Some exercise. Time with Maddy. Itíd be OK.

“Still here, Ray?” It was Christine, one of the doctors, car-keys in hand. “Oh, itís Tuesday. You have a late appointment, donít you?”

“Yeah. Just finishing. Iíll lock up.”

Better get back in case heíd woken up and was about to come searching the corridors in nothing but a precariously-fixed towel. Christine would not be amused. Neither would Bodie. Maybe two years ago, but not now.

Doyle felt the steadying weight of Bodieís trust and his own responsibility. Bodie needed a friend—without complications. Someone to moan to. He wouldnít let him down.

Bodie was still asleep, still in the same position. Doyle sat and gazed at the amateurish watercolour on the opposite wall, prepared to let him sleep for hours, if that was what he needed.

* * *

Bodie was ten minutes late. This had never happened since the first time, when heíd over-estimated his reserves of energy and under-estimated the route to the clinic. Doyle was worried, and disappointed, and guilty. He wouldnít have forgotten. No way. So why hadnít he called? Probably something simple. Probably.

But heíd been so surprised that Doyle had let him sleep so long. Maybe a bit embarrassed. Had he done some thinking? Had Doyle let something slip? Doyle told himself heíd behaved perfectly, but ... He had been wondering how heíd cope today. Thereíd been a few unwelcome thoughts during the past week. Nothing out of hand, no. Just when he saw a dark, hard man in the street, or on TV. Just for a second. He wasnít worried. But he wanted to get it over with, get back to normal.

Twenty minutes late. He picked up the Ďphone to call Lucy, then remembered sheíd gone home.

Bodieís card was in Doyleís section of the filing-system, exactly where it should have been. The list of appointments covered the front, and half-filled the back. No address, but a Ďphone number.

There was no reply. Twenty rings. Thirty. He gave up.

Maybe he was on his way. Got held up by ... not traffic—he walked ... boring neighbour ... couldnít find his keys.

Doyle waited the full hour, then went home. It was a long and restless evening.

* * *

Doyle got back to Lucy three minutes after the paging-light went on. “Mister Bodie called. He wanted to speak to you, but I told him to call back during your lunch break.”

“What? But I told you -” No, he hadnít told her anything—in case this was strictly between Bodie and himself. “OK, Lucy. Put him straight through. You told him between one and two?”

In the break before his eleven oíclock, he called Bodieís number, but there was no reply.

By 1.40, when Bodie finally rang, Doyle was so tense he was in need of his own services.

“Where did you get to? Where are you?”

“St. Hughís. Hope you havenít been waiting. Theyíre stingy with the Ďphone in here. Sorry.” St. Hughís was a local hospital.

“God, whatís happened? Are you OK?”

“Bit hazy right now. Took me most of this morning to remember your number.”

“But whatís happened?”

“Oh.” A pause. “Tripped in the street yesterday afternoon. Not sure how. Fell on my leg. Knocked myself out. Theyíre keeping me in till I can put some weight on it again.”

“How long?”

“Few days, Andy reckons.”

“Whenís visiting hours?”

“Oh, donít, Ray. Please. I hate being visited. Worse than seeing someone off at the station. Just wanted to say sorry about yesterday.”

“Then will you let me know how things are going? Iíll give you my home number.”

“Hang on.” A shout: “Anyone got a pen?”

“Whyíre you hazy? Is it the knock on the head?”

“No, itís the dope. The old jointís a bit unhappy. Ex-joint. Thanks, love. No, I wonít be long. Go ahead, Ray.”

”Ex-joint”? He must be high as a kite. He gave his number, and asked Bodie to repeat it, just to be on the safe side. “You sure I canít send you anything? Something to read?”

“No, Iím fine. Thereís a Readerís Digest I didnít finish last time I was here.”

Doyle decided he wasnít serious. “Well, give me a call if you change your mind.”

“Will do. Sorry again, Ray.”

“Itís alright. Glad to hear from you.”

“Have to go. Billy wants to call his bookmaker.” Was that a giggle? Must be the nurse. They said their goodbyes.

Doyle sat looking at the Ďphone, bemused. Not what he would have expected from Bodie in hospital, especially not after falling over in the street. Must be good dope. And bad pain.

Probably best not to visit. Bodie was right. An open ward. Families with grapes and flowers and cards. Very different from his small, windowless and private room. Could be very awkward. Would be a long few days, though.

His worry about last weekís jolt of lust seemed very far away and irrelevant. Bodie was alright (sort of). Bodie had called.

* * *

”I bought us some sandwiches since itís your lunch hour. And Iím hungry.” It was Monday. Bodie had called on Sunday night to say that he was home. “Prawn salad or cheese and pickle? I got some orange juice, too.”

Bodie was in the chair, Doyle sitting on the table. Although Doyle had insisted on the Ďphone that Bodie would be needing a massage, they were showing no signs of getting started.

“How are you feeling? You been walking much today?” Doyle pierced the carton with the straw and took a sip.

“Out to get a paper and some milk. Over here. Iíve felt worse. I know the ropes by now.”

“How did it happen?”

“Still donít know. It all went with the concussion. Couldíve been a paving stone. I had a look at the road today, but thereís nothing obvious.”

“You seem quite cheerful about it.”

“Suppose I do. People were OK—from what I can remember. No further damage done. Andy said he was expecting to see me back sometime. Everyone just treated it as normal. Oh, and they were very impressed with what youíd done with the scars, by the way. You might get some business out of it. Unless the Therapistsí Police haul you away first, of course.” He started to eat his sandwich as if it was his first food in a week, losing grated cheese down his shirt.

Doyle sat with his arms crossed, and watched, his own sandwich unopened. “Sounds to me like youíre too cheerful. You still up to your eyes in painkillers? Or they do a personality transplant while you were in there?”

“Nice to see you again, too. Itís spring. I can walk again and itís been less than a week. I got bored with self-pity, OK?”

“It wonít last. Itís too sudden. You still canít go back to karate.”

“Jesus! You get a tax demand this morning? Or are you pissed off about missing your twenty quid last week?” He had his stick, and was getting to his feet. “No, I didnít cancel properly, did I? Iíll pay Lucy on the way out.”

Doyle scrambled off the table and blocked the way to the door. “Donít! Iím sorry. I donít know why I - Iíve been worried. Keyed up. Iím sorry. Donít go.”

Bodie looked wary, but sat down after only a brief hesitation. “Thought youíd be relieved. God knows, youíve heard enough of me moaning.”

“Iíd got used to it.” Thought I was the only one who got to hear it. A tentative smile: “Bound to be a shock.” Thought I was the only one who was really helping. “Iím sorry. Iím glad youíre OK.” He was, but it should have been different.

“Well. Iím sorry you were worried. Had a few moments there myself. Think it was a dog, you know. Some yappy little rat on a leash, ran out in front of me. Hope I squashed it.”

Doyle smiled, reassured by the familiar dark tone, settled himself on the table and reached for the sandwich. “What was the ward like? Same one as before?”

At half past, Doyle said, “Díyou want a quick half hour? Iíd like to see what state youíre in. Just for the sake of comparison.”

“OK.” He started to strip. “The usual hour tomorrow, though?”

“Course.”

The left knee was slightly hotter than the right. Maybe it was more swollen than usual, but Doyle couldnít be sure by looking, and wasnít about to probe. He thought he could feel the effects of the week of physiotherapy—a slight difference in tone and proportions in the arms and right leg—and spent most of his time on the shoulders and back.

“I think youíve lost some weight.”

“Wouldnít be surprised. Andy had me working hard, and the food hadnít got any more exciting.”

“Iíve been meaning to invite you to my place for a meal some time. Itís on the third floor, though.”

“Iíll cope. Sounds great.”

“Weíll set something up when I get back from holiday.”

“Oh yeah. Youíre off next week, arenít you?”

They overran again, and Lucy had to Ďphone about his two oíclock. This time Doyle didnít hesitate before offering help with dressing, nor Bodie before accepting. It felt like a routine, as soothing as the massage itself.

* * *

”You sleeping OK? Is it keeping you awake?”

“They gave me some pills. Shouldnít pass out on you today.” And he didnít. They talked when they felt like it, comfortable with the intervening silences.

Doyle usually finished with the feet so theyíd feel the full benefit when they were put on the ground again. Today he started with the right.

Halfway through, Bodie started to twitch. Doyle carried on, confident it couldnít be anything to do with him. The foot twisted to the side, sliding out of his grip.

“Uh ... Ray ...” Desperately embarrassed.

Doyle looked up. He saw another erection, not as advanced as the last time. Beyond it, Bodieís face was tinged with pink, which deepened when their eyes met.

“Iím sorry. I donít know why ... Iím really sorry.” He raised his knee, trying to cover himself, and fumbled with the towel.

Doyle was calm, as ever in an emergency. “Donít worry about it. Thereís lots of nerve-endings there. Some of the signals get routed through the groin. I obviously hit that bunch today. Itís my fault.”

“Does it happen often, then?” Relief.

“Well, not all that often.” Just twice, now. “This room doesnít see that many virile young men with sensitive feet.”

A grin, and visible relaxation, though the knee was still raised. “Frustrated, you mean.”

“Yeah? Thought youíd be reeling them in.”

A grimace. “I donít go for the Florence Nightingale types. And I canít kneel.”

“Theyíre not all like that. Are they? And whatís it hurt for a one-night stand?”

“Oh.” He sighed and let the leg slide flat. The erection had subsided. “Havenít felt like it, to be honest. Itís ugly, Ray. Itís fucking ugly. Dunno if Iíd want any bird whoíd put up with it. Or me.”

“Have you tried to find out?”

“Couple of times. Wasnít good. Thought the last one was going to be sick over it. Iíve stayed away from them since that.”

Andyís holiday-cover had been a woman. And the massage therapist theyíd offered him. That first day heíd probably Ďphoned round looking for a man. Doyle had never thought about that aspect of Bodieís injury before; he himself had long got used to the knee, and he was well aware of the manís physical virtues. “So what díyou do?”

“Whaídíyou think?”

“For nearly a year and a half?”

“Well, when the kneeís bad, I sort of lose interest. So itís not really been that long.”

“It canít be bad today, then. You are recovering quickly.”

“It helps if Iím feeling ... well ... cheerful. Itís been building for a few weeks. Sípose I shouldnít be surprised. Iím still sorry, though. Iím not paying you enough to put up with that.”

Doyle waved a hand in dismissal. “Iíll take it as a compliment. My work must take some of the credit, I reckon. I wonít carry on today, though.”

Bodie got dressed while Doyle went to make the coffee. The clinic was already empty.

“How longíve you been going out with Maddy?”

Doyle frowned at the ceiling. “Um ... ten months, I think.”

“You living together?”

“When sheís in London. Sheís got a house in Bristol. Goes back at the weekends.”

“Is it serious?”

“No! I donít get serious. Not like that.”

“Determined bachelor, eh? Thatís what Iíd guessed.”

“No, not really. Wish I did get serious. Save a lot of hassle. I just ... lose interest after a while. Someone else comes along and I -” He shrugged. “Just have to go for it. Canít help myself.”

“That what happened with the bird who made you leave the force?”

“Yeah. That was the worst. Thought Iíd changed. Grown up a bit, but - Started an art class. Met Suzy.” He clicked his fingers. “All over. Just like that. Lynne went bonkers. Shouting outside the flat in the middle of the night. Turning up at work—I had to leave in the end. Taught me a lesson.”

“Iíll bet. Howís Maddy going to take it? How longís she got?”

A shrug. “Depends who turns up. Itís fine now. Iím looking forward to the holiday. But it wonít last.”

“Youíre cold, Ray.” A simple statement.

“Iím realistic. I donít lie. I suppose youíre a romantic.”

“Given the chance.”

“But youíve never been married?”

“Never worked out. Iím probably not sorry now. Cut me up at the time, though.”

Doyle nodded, accepting the difference between them, and changed the subject.

As they were about to leave, Bodie said, “Whatíre we going to do about my feet?”

“I could leave them alone. Or we could work out what does it, and I could just avoid that. Or you could always have a good wank beforehand.”

“Um.” Heíd gone pink again. “Iíll see how it goes while youíre away.”

“Yeah. Try it out with Paul. Iíll warn him.”

“You bloody will not! Iíll -” Doyleís laughter escaped from confinement. “Bastard.”

* * *

Doyle sent Bodie a postcard from Switzerland. It said: “Having fun. Bit of a busmanís holiday, though. Everyone in the chalet knows Iím in massage (thanks a lot, Maddy), and Iím spending my evenings rubbing out the aches theyíve all got from the dayís walking. Iíd think of setting up here permanently if I could persuade them to pay me in hard cash! See you on the 23rd.”

Bodie was the last person he wrote to, using all the others as practice for that breezy zone. Bodie must have no hint of the real state of Doyleís mind.

It seemed by the end of the fortnight that there hadnít been a moment when Bodie was completely absent from his thoughts. Bodie was always there—at some level and in some form. Heíd close his eyes in bed at night and see the dayís mountain path still etched on his overloaded retina, and know that the presence just behind him on the path was Bodie—an unseen Bodie somehow walking easily and without a stick, and as content as he was with their companionable silence.

Not what youíd say on a postcard or even in person, but harmless enough. But then heíd start to drift asleep and somehow the path would take them to his room at the clinic, and Bodie would be on the table, all pliant muscle and half-covered cock, flushed excitement and surprised delight. He didnít often remember exactly what happened next, but he was certainly having a lot of wet dreams, and by the end of the first week Maddy had clearly decided that they were not connected with her.

And then during the day—and especially during the eveningís massage-sessions—these heated images of Bodie would surface from his subconscious like bubbles, and his pulse always reacted whenever one burst into his conscious mind. He never let the images linger—not even after one of his near-arguments with Maddy—never let himself elaborate on them with movement and dialogue. He was refusing to play even the simplest game of erotic fantasy-building. The effort of this self-control was exhausting.

“Having fun.” Anything but. He had longed for it to be over, except that he was frightened that coming home would not be the end.

* * *

Bodie had decided to do without the feet. “Thought you might,” said Doyle. “Youíre obviously still feeling cheerful.”

He was talking too much about the holiday. Chattering. He knew it. Bodie must surely be about to ask him what he was so nervous about. Heíd shut up, then Bodie would ask him a question, and heíd be off again. Just half an hour ago heíd been thinking smugly about his powers of self-control, oblivious to the possibility that the reality of Bodie under his hands might be rather harder to resist than a phantom conjured at a distance of five hundred miles.

He couldnít understand how he could have been indifferent to this body for so long. Now its every inch and every action enthraled him. The complex, well-tended landscape of the powerful arm-muscles. The lift of his ribs as he breathed. The firm mounds of the buttocks: Doyle closed his eyes as he worked on them, not trusting himself with the sight of his tanned hands on those pale, inviting curves.

The cock was still today but made a distinct bulk under the thick white cloth. Doyle managed not to look at it while Bodie was watching him, but carried with him a vivid image of the line of black hairs leading downwards from the navel. The line seemed to him an unmistakeable invitation to slide his hand just under the towel, push the towel down ...

”No.” He heard his own voice clearly in his head. No, he was not allowed to play that game: not in Switzerland, and definitely not here.

But just look at the way the hairs lie against the skin there. As if they know exactly what they look like. Incredible that in all these months heíd never assessed that wicked temptation.

Even without games his cock rose in jolts. When he leaned forward it pressed against the edge of the table with the rhythm of his work. However, the idea that the worst might truly happen—in this ordinary room, with this unsuspecting man—was too large and close for him to focus on, and he maintained a unexamined faith that something would intervene to save him.

He possibly had two minutes to spare when he finally faced the fact that “something” would have to be himself.

He staggered away from the table, then turned so that Bodie would not be able to see his groin. His breathing was ragged.

“Iím sorry, I -”

“Ray? Whatís the matter?”

He took the few steps to the wall behind Bodieís head, and leaned his forehead and a raised arm against its cool hardness. His eyes were closed, and he was concentrating fiercely on the tidal rush of his breath.

“Ray?”

He couldnít reply. He knew he was still far from safe, but he couldnít reply. He had no strategy at all.

There was the sound of Bodie clambering off the table, the sound of the towel falling to the floor, and then the sounds of Bodieís unsteady journey to the wall. Doyleís thoughts—such as they were—had reverted to the idea of the miraculous rescue.

“Ray? Are you ill? Whatís wrong?” A hand on his shoulder. A warm pressure along his side. Apart from that ceremonial handshake, he was sure it was the first time Bodie had touched him. Pressed against the wall, his cock seemed to double in size. Sweat broke out on his face.

“Iím ... uh ... Some kind of bug.” He swallowed, still facing the wall, and felt the grip of Bodieís hand tighten, gathering him, trying to turn him.

A few simple flexings of muscles would bring him around to face Bodie, would end it all one way or another. Behind him Bodie was standing naked.

A shudder, then, “Felt ... weird all of a sudden. Iím sorry.”

“Youíd better lie down. Come on, Ray. Lie down for a bit and then weíll get you home.” A firmer grip, prising him away from the wall. Could he lie on his front? Keep it hidden?

No, it wouldnít work. “I - I think Iíll sit.” Yes! He could escape round the head of the table to his chair. Without the stick, Bodie would take a while to catch up with him.

He pulled away, making a great show of needing the support of the wall, the table, and then the chair-back. Once seated, he let his head fall back and just panted with his eyes closed for a while. Then Bodie was moving towards him again. He rolled his head to the side and met Bodieís worried eyes with a shaky smile, careful not to let his gaze drop lower. “Donít worry. Iíll be OK in a while. Just giddy there. Thought I was over it. You might as well go home yourself.”

“Iím not letting you drive like that. Iíll get you a cab.”

Doyle knew the effort of balance it must be taking him to bend and get his stick. And then dragging his clothes on in half his normal time. Doyleís erection retreated in shame, giving his brain a chance to do some work in the time before Bodie emerged with his socks stuffed in the pocket of his jacket.

“No. Donít bother with a cab. Iíll call Maddy. Sheíll come and pick me up.” He reached over for the Ďphone and dialled his own number, knowing that Maddy wouldnít be home for at least an hour. “Hi. Iím still at the clinic. Could you come and collect me? Iíve had another bout of that bug.” Pause. “Yes, so did I. Anyway, Iím not safe to drive.” Pause. “Yeah, OK. Thanks. No, itís not locked. See you.”

He replaced the receiver and looked up. “Sheíll be over in about fifteen minutes. Thereís no need to stick around—sheíll let herself in.”

Bodie was frowning, indignant. “I thought Switzerland was supposed to be really clean and healthy.”

Doyle smiled. “Must have got it off a tourist. Go on, go home. Donít want you getting it too. Iíll be OK. Feeling better already.”

“Well ... Youíll be OK for next week?”

“Bound to be. Iíll call you.”

Bodie went home, after a long look from the doorway.

As soon as the door was shut, Doyle let his head fall back, and gazed at the ceiling, wide-eyed and panting again. OK next week? Impossible. It was worse now than ever, now that Bodie had touched him, held him—he groaned as his entire body remembered how it had felt.

He would allow himself one game. Just one game. Easier to phrase it as a favour to himself that to admit total defeat. He parted his legs and opened his trousers, and imagined turning from the wall and finding Bodie as hard and desperate as himself.

He sat sprawled, eyes closed, hand heavy and damp between his legs. For a while, his mind was empty.

“What am I going to do?” Less than a whisper. Oh, but that was obvious. Lose his friend. Lose his job. Maddy would probably move out by the end of the week.

This ravenous desire was nothing new; for him, it was the traditional beginning. But for a friend ... He felt it immediately or not at all—that was how it was supposed to be. And for a client ... And a straight, straight man ... Heíd break my jaw. But it wasnít an explosion of anger that he was really frightened of—it was the dawning of contempt in Bodieís face.

Would the feeling fade? Suffocate in its own frustration?

Well, it might. But he didnít know much about frustrated desire, about what happened to it. Maybe a couple of weeks would see it through. This was just an oddity, a mutant combination of physical contact and affection—it couldnít possibly survive for long.

And if it didnít disappear of its own accord, then it would be chased away when he met someone else. Someone normal and safe. That was the most likely ending. And of course he couldnít say how long that might take, but his experience was that the supply of desirable women was, if anything, inconveniently large.

His sense of perspective had come back. He opened his eyes, sat up, and wasted no time in cleaning and rearranging himself.

Itíd be OK. He wasnít worried any more. Except about how to tell Maddy it was over. She had loads of friends in London she could stay with. Tonight, even. Not his problem. Heíd brush up his usual speech on the way home.

* * *

By the weekend, he knew he had to find some way of getting through Tuesday without coming in his pants. Maddy had moved out, but he felt distinctly crowded in the flat, and he was remembering his wet dreams now.

Well, he could call Bodie and cancel, blaming the bug yet again. But that lie was too-easily discovered. And what about the weeks after that?

On Monday morning he did call, putting back the appointment by half an hour. That would give him time to lock himself in the gents and calm his cock down. He felt some grim amusement at the idea of following the suggestion heíd given to Bodie. It just had to work.

* * *

It wasnít perfect, but it saved him from a repeat of the week before. He was still troubled by a succession of images from his dreams and his uncontrolled waking moments, which produced a low-level, simmering excitement.

He was not working well—too jerky and distracted, not paying proper attention to the messages from his kneading hands. There was so much more he wanted to do to this body. Part of his brain was convinced he had already fucked it. Right here. Towel slipping away smooth as silk. His fingers already oiled. Bodie surprised but so, so eager.

Not in a million years. He squeezed his eyes tight-closed, and ordered himself to think of nothing but the current muscle-group. And then the group after that. And after that. Until the hour was up.

While he was in the kitchen he slid a handful of ice-cubes over his face and chest until he was sure he could get by without a detour to the gents. Itíll get better. It has to. Iíve never been one for hopeless causes.

“You thought any more about that meal? No, I can see youíve forgotten. You remember before you went on holiday you said youíd -”

“I hadnít forgotten. Even figured out what Iíll cook. But ...” It was out of the question. He couldnít risk it or bear it. “... Maddyís sisterís staying at the moment. Iíd rather leave it till sheís gone.”

“Whatís she like?”

He described Maddy with a few additional irritating habits. Heíd always lied easily, and had regarded it simply as a skill, until now. He trusts me. And Iíve already betrayed him a hundred times over. With every lie, and every pulse of blood that lifted his cock. If itís no better next week, Iíll finish it. Somehow.

* * *

It was no better the next week. The week after that he greeted Bodie with: “Could you sit down? Thereís something I have to say.” Bodie looked no more than curious.

Doyle sat on the edge of the table, near its foot. He was at least three feet from Bodie, but Bodie was closer to the door and he was far from confident of making a clean escape. “The thing is ... youíll have to find another therapist. I can make some recommendations. Blokes I did the course with.”

“Eh? You packing it in? Bit sudden.” Concerned: “Youíre not in trouble here, are you?”

Doyle dropped his gaze to Bodieís hands. He couldnít bear to watch the change of expression, and they should give him sufficient warning of an attack. His voice was very quiet. “I could be if I carried on working with you. Iíve already let it go much too far.”

“Oh, they donít like me hanging round here? Well, we could always -”

“No, Bodie. Listen. The problemís me. I find you ... very, very attractive.” The hands twitched, but were then still. Doyle breathed again, and swallowed jerkily. “Itís out of control. I keep thinking - Well, obviously it canít go on. Iím sorry. Iím so sorry. Youíve every right to be disgusted. And to make a complaint.”

“Ray.”

“But it - It hasnít been all the time, honestly. Just in the last few sessions. I know I should have stopped things straight away, but I kept thinking it would get better. Iím so sorry, I -”

“Ray. Calm down. Look at me.”

Doyle shook his head.

“Iím not disgusted. Iím not going to complain. Doesnít bother me at all.”

Doyle jerked his head up. He felt strongly about lies when he was on the receiving end, and he also felt strangely let down after his weeks of heat and guilt. “It has to. Youíre just so straight you donít understand what it is Iím talking about. Itís not just a matter of admiring your long eyelashes. Iím spending half the session fantasising about shoving my fingers up your arse!”

Bodie shrugged. “Well, I didnít think youíd get into this state over anything less. Look, I spent the peak of my adolescence in the African bush with the nearest woman a hundred miles away. Youíre not telling me anything new.”

That was a complete surprise. They studied one another in silence.

“But you donít fancy me, do you?”

“I hadnít thought about it. At first you were just a pair of hands. And then you were a mate. Itís years since I made a habit of eyeing men up.”

“Think about it.”

Bodieís mouth opened slightly, but he said nothing. He looked tense.

Savagely: “OK. Forget it.” He hadnít really been hoping, anyway. Not really.

“Iím sorry. I can see ... all the things about you that are ... sexy. Wouldnít be any hardship at all. But it doesnít connect here.” He cupped his groin briefly. “Not the way you want.”

“Well, thatís that, then.” He wanted to go home. Never see Bodie again.

“I bet it will go away. Soon. Youíve just got in a state.” He brightened. “Look. Why donít you just have a wank before the session? Like you -”

Doyle forgot there were other people in the building. “What díyou think Iíve been doing, for Christís sake?” He remembered. “Ever since three weeks ago when I nearly came all over you.”

Bodieís eyes widened. “So thatís what ... It wasnít a bug. You poor sod.” He grinned in recognition, but suppressed it quickly.

“You see? It has to finish. You have to find another therapist. Iíve already ... If anyone knew ...” He shook his head.

“No oneís going to. But -” He shrugged. “I look forward to this a lot. Tuesdays. We can still be mates, canít we? Itís bound to get easier if I stop stripping off for you every week.”

“Right now ...” A deep sigh. “... I canít face it. Iím sorry. Thatís why I put you off about the meal. You wouldnítíve been safe.” A digression: “Itís finished with Maddy. Sheís been gone for over a fortnight. And she hasnít got a sister.” Bodie looked alert, then frowned. “I wish to God none of this was happening. Youíre probably my best mate, and I donít - Iím sorry.”

“Not your fault, is it? You mustíve thought I was gonna thump you when you told me.”

“Something like that.”

“The worstís over, Ray. Itíll be fine.”

“Yeah. Eventually. But youíd better go now.”

“Canít we just have a coffee?”

“Iím a wreck. I want to go home. I canít face the effort of searching for safe subjects.”

Bodie got to his feet. “OK. But you will be in touch, wonít you? Let me know how you are? Iíll be thinking about you.”

Not like Iíll be thinking about you, though. “Course I will.”

Bodie paused in front of him, looking awkward, then reached out to give his upper arm a quick squeeze. “Take care, Ray.” He didnít look back on his way to the door.

* * *

Ten days later, during his lunch-break, Doyle called Paul.

“Hi, itís Ray. How you doing?” Without waiting for a reply: “Can you do me a big favour?”

“Like what?”

“Can you cover for me again? I really need to take a break.”

“Youíve just had one!”

“I lied about it on the postcard. Maddy moved out the week after we got back.”

“Oh. No wonder youíre low. You do sound tired. When? And for how long?”

“As soon as you can. For a week. A fortnight if possible.”

“Well. Letís see.” The sound of pages flicking. “I suppose I could make the week after next—give you about eighty percent cover—but the fortnightís ...” More flicking pages. “August at the earliest.”

“Iíll take the week, thanks. Iíd go mad if I had to wait till August.”

“I thought it was sort of casual between you two. Though I sípose it always takes you by surprise.”

Doyle hesitated. But Paul would understand (at least some of it). Might even be able to help. “Thatís. Not. Really what itís about.”

“No?”

“Itís hard to - I had the hots for a client.”

“Aaaah. I see. But youíre not still seeing her as a client? And you didnít try anything ...”

“Iím not and I didnít. We had a talk and ...” Deep sigh. “Itís hopeless. But I had it bad. Still have. And workís not the same. I havenít any sympathy left over for anyone elseís problems. Theyíre all pissing me off.” And I can find something in nearly every one that reminds me of Bodie.

His sex drive was still running at the same intolerable level, still fuelled by thoughts of Bodie. But with Bodie gone it had lost its sense of direction, and was now careering about aimlessly. Doyle was frightened, and thinking of leaving the clinic. The break seemed his only chance.

“Sounds like you dealt with it pretty well.”

“Maybe. Has it ever happened to you?”

“Well. Not that bad. Glimmerings. I managed to nip them in the bud.”

“How?”

“Just said to myself, ĎIím the therapist. Iím in control of what happens in this room. And Iím not letting this happen.í And it would go away.”

Doyle was no longer sure he was a therapist. “Iíll bear that in mind for next time.”

“And I used to imagine I was just a pair of hands.” ”You were just a pair of hands.” Doyle winced, and felt cold in the pit of his stomach. “No personality connected to them, and especially no genitalia. Of course, you canít work like that forever, but itís useful in the short term. Whatíre you going to do in your week off?”

“Stay home. I canít afford to go away.”

“You should keep busy. Give yourself something to concentrate on, something physical. I know itís an effort when youíre low, but if you spend the week lying around the house youíll be back where you started from. You mustnít think about her. It wonít do any good.”

“Certainly hasnít so far.”

“Park your head in a kennel for a week.”

Doyle blinked. “What did you say?”

“Your brain fucks you up at times like this. Send it off on its own holiday. Spend the week a couple of feet south of your neck. You remember those classes with Anita. What she -”

“The couple of feet south is the whole problem!”

“No, it isnít. Itís just a symptom. A victim. Your brainís been making up stories and sending them down to it. Put that big lump of jelly in its place.”

Doyle smiled despite himself. “Iíll look in the Yellow Pages under ĎBrain Kennelsí.”

“You donít get turned down often, do you?”

“Nope.”

“Well, all this advice has been tried and tested through my copious experience. Hope it helps.”

“Iíll send you a postcard from glamorous Benjamin Gardens letting you know.”

“Donít let your brain write it—itís a compulsive liar.”

“Yes, but my pancreas canít spell for shit.”

“Have you told them youíre planning a break?”

“Not yet. Iíll see Neil straight away.”

“And Iíll call Lucy and let her know which slots Iíve already got booked. Weíll probably have to do some shuffling.”

Neil, the clinicís manager, was in his office. Doyle invented an illness in the family as an excuse for the short notice. In his lower moments he wondered why he was bothering to maintain his image with these people—nothing was ever going to improve, and soon heíd be forced out of the job. It had helped to talk to Paul, though; he was reserving his judgement about the advice, but he felt less alone, less trapped.

* * *

That afternoon, after his pulse had been raised by the blackness of the hairs dusting Mr. Parryís lower abdomen, he became just a pair of hands. It worked while he was allowed to be silent, but Mr. Parry expected comments on his third retelling of the complete history of his back-problem. Doyle knew he must be sounding distracted and disappointing his client, but at the moment treating “the whole person” was a low priority.

“Being open”. Heíd used to nod sagely and confidently at that like everyone else in the room. Didnít seem the same now. Open like a sieve. Open like a gutted fish. That was how he felt after three years. Even when he got over this sex problem, it was going to be hard to recover from this realisation that every one of his clients was selfishly, greedily draining him dry.

* * *

The pair of hands had finished their work for the day. It had been better than the day before, even though it was a Friday, the day when the clients were most tense and talkative.

Heíd had no plans for the weekend—beyond lying around the flat feeling painfully empty in his guts and painfully full between his legs.

A Brain Kennel. Well, Paul had been right about the hands. Physical activity. A run. Richmond Park would make a change. And then cook something complicated.

Yes. He could imagine the evening now. He could face going home.

* * *

During the working hours of the next two weeks, he was a pair of hands fascinated by the details of their own movements. During the other waking hours, he was a running, swimming body, with a head as clear of thoughts as a still mountain pool, and directed from some self-contained, pivotal point far down his torso. Or that was his aim, anyway, and he succeeded more and more each day.

During the nights ... They got easier. It seemed that his detachment and his preoccupation with self-control gradually sank deeper and deeper in his mind. Bodie would still be stretched out on the table, cock huge and hard, and Doyle, leaning over him, would also be naked and erect. But the passion started to become irrelevant: Doyle found himself more interested in what his hands knew about the layers of muscle on the back, and he and Bodie were as relaxed with one another as if their erections had been casually-donned articles of clothing. There was one dream in which Maddy came into the room and asked about train-times: seconds after waking, Doyle had forgotten what happened next, but the next day he could still recall the feeling of naturalness, the complete absence of embarrassment or panic or guilt.

Yes, he was still having wet dreams, and yes, the cause could only be Bodie. But being strict with himself and his imagination gave him self-respect as well as this gradual recovery, and he knew it could have been a lot worse—one day he would be left simply with a sadness at knowing that there was something he wanted and could never have.

He did want to return to their earlier, simple days. He did want to see him again, even to be able to take him back as a client. But not yet. He might think himself recovered, in control, but faced with him in that small, bare room ... Once was enough for that mistake. This was going to take time and hard work.

Of course, there would be someone else eventually. Maybe soon. Heíd see what difference that made. He didnít think it would spare him the sadness.

* * *

It was his first Tuesday back, and the middle of his lunch-hour. The Ďphone rang.

“Mr Bodie for you, Ray.”

“Wait! Donít -” But the call was already through.

“Hi, Ray. Good holiday? Lucy said youíd gone up north.”

Doyle said nothing, working hard, very hard, just to be sad.

“You there, Ray? Hello?”

“Yes, I - Iím not ready for this, Bodie. Iím sorry.”

“I just wanted to talk to you. Thatís all. See how you were doing. Itís not been the same, you know.” A throat-clearing. “Iíve been missing ... our Tuesday evenings and everything.”

“I know, but - Please. I will call you when itís over, but I just donít know how long itís going to be.”

As soon as heíd put the Ďphone down, he headed out for a brisk walk, inhabiting for that time only the joints of his feet. And in the afternoon, he was the pair of hands.

* * *

By the end of Thursday he felt more confident about keeping his job. Some of his clients had noticed his distraction and subdued responses, and commented, concerned. Heíd said that there were problems in his family, and apologized because he hadnít been feeling like talking for a while. To his surprise they were not offended—instead they were very understanding. “This must be such a difficult job when youíre not feeling one hundred percent. Iíll stop chattering, shall I?” They werenít leeching monsters, after all. It was going to be alright.

He was clearing up when there was a knock on the door.

“Come in.”

Bodie stepped into the room, which suddenly seemed very small indeed.

“No! I said Iíd call you. Itís only been two days, for Godís sake.”

Bodie shut the door. “I know. I know how long itís been. Thatís why I -”

“Please go.”

“Just five minutes, Ray. I want to say something.”

“Stay over there and say it. And then go.”

“Iíve changed my mind. I do fancy you. I want you to come home with me. To bed.”

A bark of unamused laughter. “What are you playing at, Bodie? ĎIíve changed my mind.í Sounds like someone choosing a shirt. What the hell do you think youíre doing here?” Doyle had retreated behind the table: for the increased separation and for concealment.

“Iíve missed you. Something rotten. Itís been a lousy month.” Quickly: “Not as bad as yours, but -” He took two steps away from the door. “We donít have to be this miserable, Ray. I think we could make a go of it. I think it would be good.”

“How could it be when you donít fancy me? And you donít, do you? You explained it very well the last time. You were very convincing.”

“Youíre ten times more attractive than any of the men I ended up having sex with. A hundred times.”

“When you were fifteen and desperate. I remember what thatís like. Anything thatís warm and has a grip. It doesnít count.”

“It wasnít always like that. With some of them ... We had some good times.” His voice was quiet, and deep with nostalgia—more intimate than Doyle had ever heard or imagined it. Doyle closed his eyes briefly, then clasped his hands on the table, concentrating on the hardness of the interlocking knuckles. It helped, but not enough. “OK, it might take me a while to warm up. But I can still make it good for you. Right from the start. Itíll work, Ray. And it has to be better than this, doesnít it?”

Doyle closed his eyes again, and bowed his head. “You must go away. Please.” But he heard the uneven, dragging sound as Bodie came closer, then felt the padding on the table shift under his hands.

“Let me show you. Let me touch you. I want to. Iíve been thinking about it for days. I want to undress you. I want to find out what makes you come. Whatís the point in putting yourself through this? Whatís the point when you can have what you want right now?”

Doyle looked up. Bodie was two feet away at the foot of the table, and leaning on it for support. Doyleís cock pushed urgently against his clothes, as if being drawn by a magnet.

“Because this is nothing compared to what I went through in the first weeks. That was - I couldnít think. At all. I was getting over it, but itís taken all my time. All my energy. I canít face ... letting myself think about you that way again.”

“But thinking about me wonít be a problem, will it? Not when youíll be fucking me. Or whatever you want.” Doyleís mouth had gone painfully dry, and his head was buzzing. “Thatíll make all the difference, Ray. You know it will. Iím sorry itís been so difficult for you. I wish Iíd thought it through like this straight away. So I could have said yes right then and there. But - I admit it was a surprise, and I thought ... Well, youíd told me yourself how it works for you. Seeing someone new. Losing interest. And so on. Well, you know itís not like that with me, and when I realised I was the latest -”

For an instant, Doyle met his eyes. “I donít blame you. Iím not proud of it, but -”

“No! No. Itís perfect. We both know what to expect. And this way you know youíll get it out of your system easily. And when itís over we can go back to being mates, same as before. And maybe by that time Iíll feel up to dealing with birds again. Itís perfect.”

Doyle studied the smiling, confident face, his panic fading. “You have been thinking, havenít you?”

“Whatíve we got to lose, eh?”

After a few seconds, Doyle said, “My reputation as an irresistible stud, for one thing. Iíd feel ... I wish it wasnít so cold-blooded for you. I wish -” The stick clattered to the ground, and Bodieís left hand closed around his arm and drew him close.

“How cold-blooded is this, Ray?” Despite himself, his mouth was opening even as Bodieís right hand curved around the base of his skull. Bodieís mouth was hot and salty, crammed with textures and edges. It was like nothing Doyle had let himself imagine. But then his fantasies had been devised by himself alone, and this was the reality of Bodie: a separate person. The idea of Bodieís independent existence hit him like a revelation, seeming at that instant an utterly original and shocking thought. Separate. Unknowable. Mysterious. But here and pressed close and thirsty for the taste of Raymond Doyleís mouth.

Doyle sighed when Bodieís left hand moved down to his waist, feeling the heat and shape so vividly it was as if he was already naked. He wrapped his arms more tightly around his loverís back.

It was Bodie who finally broke the kiss. He was breathless as he murmured against Doyleís lips, “You need more than this. You know you do. I want to suck you off.” Doyle made a high, pained sound as a wave of heat passed through his entire body, just under the skin, leaving his hips thrusting and rubbing of their own accord. He seized Bodieís head between both hands and pulled him into a ravenous kiss.

More breathless still, and with lips glistening and bruised: “Please, Ray. Just calm down enough so we can - I canít kneel, remember. And I canít lift you onto the table.”

“Ohhh.” Doyleís head dropped forward and he stood with his cheek resting against Bodieís, concentrating on keeping his hips still. “I donít want to move. You feel so good.”

“I can feel even better if you give me the chance. Lie down on the table.” Hands on Doyleís arms, pushing their bodies apart. “Please.”

Doyle glanced at the table, considering, then suddenly remembered where they were. “Not here. This is mad. We canít -”

“I locked the door. And thereís no one around. You know there isnít.”

A quick look at Bodie, then Doyle nodded—to himself, really—and clambered onto the table, his jeans kneading him wickedly in the process so that it took him long, panting seconds to recover. When he opened his eyes, it was to find that Bodie was still near the foot of the table, moving slowly backwards by leaning on the edge of the table with his left hand. Of course—the stick was on the floor. This time there was no sensible help he could offer.

He started undoing his flies, and Bodieís head twisted round at the sound. “Donít. Please, Ray. Be patient.”

Doyle reached down to place his hand lightly on top of Bodieís. “Iím just easing the pressure. Youíll be surprised how patient I can be.”

By the time Bodie reached Doyleís groin and had turned to face the table, Doyle had freed his cock from his Y-fronts and undone the bottom three buttons of his shirt. They gazed at one another, expressions identically flushed and intent, and were still gazing when Bodieís hand, scalding hot, closed around Doyleís balls.

When Doyle was still and eye-contact regained: “Open your shirt. Properly. I want to see more of you.” A lop-sided smile. “Start catching up.”

Doyle undid the remaining buttons by feel. “Oh, youíve just caught up and more, I reckon. I was very good. I never even looked under the towel when you were asleep.”

“No?” The weight of a hot hand on his stomach. “Not even once?” A quick, sure pinch of his right nipple, then the pad of a thumb circling. “A man might think you werenít really interested.”

Doyle started laughing with relief and delight and sheer amusement, and carried on laughing—though with a marked change of tone and pace—for some time after Bodieís mouth had taken him in. He locked his fingers in the short, feathery hair—The first time Iíve done this. The first time Iíve touched his hair.—and tugged and stroked in rhythm with the rise and fall of his hips.

As soon as he could afterwards, and with as much coordination as he could muster, he got to his knees in the middle of the table and pulled Bodie into an exhausted, sweaty kiss.

“Oh, God. Youíve convinced me. Christ, youíve convinced me. Now what can I ...?”

“Oh.” Bodie closed his eyes for a few seconds—he seemed to be thinking. A rueful smile: “Get me to a bed first, I think. My kneeís just over-ruled my cock.”

Doyle drew back. “Oh, God. I forgot. How bad is it?”

“Come on. You were supposed to.”

“Can you make it to my chair?”

A quick assessment of the distance. “Not worth it.” He started buttoning Doyleís shirt. “Letís hurry up and get home to that bed. God, you smell wonderful.”

Doyle couldnít remember if heíd ever felt this happy before. “Whose home?”

“Yours if youíve got any food in. Iím halfway to working up a hell of an appetite.”

Bodie in his home. In his bed. Lying next to him when he woke the next morning. Head whirling at the way his life had just changed, at all the possibilities now before him, Doyle shuffled to his knees so he could deal with his jeans. “Well, the stairs will help with that. You havenít forgotten Iím on the third floor?” As soon as he was off the table, he knelt to retrieve Bodieís stick.

“Forgotten? Thatís what I was thinking of. Youíve got a one-track mind, Ray.”

They grinned at one another, then Doyle reached under the chair for his case and led the way to the door. He paused with his hand on the bolt, waiting for Bodie to catch up. They stood inches apart, looking at one another, serious now.

Doyle said, “This is going to be good. Very good.”

“While it lasts. How long díyou give us?” Simple curiosity.

A shrug. “Could be three months. My recordís two years.” He slid the bolt across and opened the door.

“Hmm. Could look at it as a challenge, I suppose. Or we could take bets.”

Slowly, side by side, they walked out of the building, and across the car-park to Doyleís car.


Helen Raven’s Slash Fiction Site

kelper@talk21.com