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Pros Big Bang 2011 - The Riverboat Queen

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Left a good job in the city,

Workin' for the man ev'ry night and day,
And I never lost one minute of sleepin',
Worryin' 'bout the way things might have been.

Big wheel keep on turnin',
Proud Mary keep on burnin',
Rollin', rollin', rollin' on the river.

Part One
Dragged from their beds in the early hours of the morning and faced with a drive through morning traffic to the outskirts of London, CI5 Agents Doyle and Bodie were not happy.  Their humour wasn’t improved by the fact their early start had meant not enough time for breakfast or even a cup of tea to set them on their way.  That Susan met them at the door of the house in Long Ditton holding a steaming mug of coffee in one hand and a sandwich in the other didn’t improve the collective mood any. 
“Got one of those for us?” Bodie asked, eyeing the mug held aloft in delicately manicured fingers and the sandwich. 
“Of course,” Susan assured him.  “Kitchen’s down the end of the passage. Help yourselves, only Cowley’s going to be here soon and he’ll be wanting some results, so you’d better be quick.”
Bodie tried a pleading look, the one he knew women found it hard to resist, but Susan ignored him and headed back inside, munching as she went.
“Bad luck, Sunshine,” Doyle commiserated, but he was grinning too. “C’mon. I’ll put the kettle on anyway.  You never know, we might get finished here in time for lunch.”
But when Cowley came striding through the front door two hours later they had gone through the house and every nuance of its occupant’s lives with a fine tooth comb with very little to show for their efforts.
“Nothing!” Bodie snorted, looking behind the last of the picture frames on the wall of the study before coming to stand behind Doyle, who was sitting at a desk sorting through bills, letters and other odds and ends emptied from a drawer.  Susan had finished in the bathroom and the girl’s bedroom and was currently checking the late Andrew Jamieson’s room.
Bodie picked a photo up from the desk and studied it.  “Nice looking kids,” he said. It was a family portrait, the subjects looking slightly self-conscious and stiff under the penetrating eye of the camera.  But the closeness of the little family was obvious, the man standing with one arm around his wife, the other resting on the shoulder of the good looking boy in front of him while the woman held the little girl close into her side.  The boy was holding his sister’s hand, smiling into the camera.  The little girl was pretty, her long blonde hair sweeping over her shoulders, the fringe accentuating nicely spaced blue eyes that looked out at the world with a startling directness. There was a disconcerting brownness around the edges of the photo and it took Bodie a moment to realise it must have been badly scorched at some stage.  He replaced it on the desk. “Nice looking family. No diamonds though, or guns, or evidence of anything unusual here. The search has been a waste of time.”
“There has to be something!” Cowley fumed.  “Something to indicate what was going on here and where the girl has run to.”
“Why does CI5 need to be involved in smuggled diamonds anyway? The Met could have handled this just as easily as us.  It’s not exactly political or anything to do with the British Government, is it?” Doyle was looking questioningly at his boss but Bodie was the one who answered.
“Siaka Stevens made it very much a political problem in Sierra Leone, props his government up with the illicit diamond trade.  And now the rebels there and in other African countries like Angola are getting into it, mining them to use as collateral for weapons.  Diamonds are big business in terrorist factions these days.”
Cowley took over the conversation. “Bodie’s right.  And The De Beers Diamond Trading Company, the Diamond Corporation, is one of London’s greatest broker services, a huge money earner for Britain.  The illegal trade in rough diamonds has cost the British Government millions over the past decade.  It’s very much a concern to our Government, on more than one front, and your Met has instructions to inform me of any hint of smuggling activities.”
“So, what exactly do you expect us to find here, Sir?” Doyle asked.
“Something of interest, Doyle.” Cowley’s tone was acerbic.  “Andrew Jamieson was a flight attendant whose route covered West Africa.  He has had several scheduled flights through Liberia in the past twelve months.  Diamond smuggling from the Sierra Leone diamond fields via Liberia has become endemic since independence.  It’s a very tempting trade for any would be smuggler, the profits are high and the risks acceptable.”
“Unless you decide to cut out the middleman and go into business for yourself,” Bodie commented.
“Yes, exactly. It must be very tempting to hold back one or two gems from every shipment and easily done.  Diamonds are small enough to hide, easy to get rid of through illegal channels.”
“Until your ‘employer’ catches on.”
“You think that’s what Jamieson was up to?” Doyle asked, ripping open an envelope and studying the contents.
“Almost certainly.  It explains the scatter of stones by the door, the gunfire.” Cowley shook his head. “Whoever shot Jamieson didn’t get what they came for, otherwise those stones wouldn’t have been left behind.  Whether or not the girl knew what her brother was up to isn’t important.  What is important is that whoever he was working for knows that she must have the diamonds now.  She is in very grave danger indeed.”
Doyle looked up from the letter in his hand. “I think I may have found something,” he announced, laying the envelope and the note it contained gravely down on the desk so the others could see it.  “Looks like Jamieson didn’t get time to post it.”
Cowley and Bodie crowded around him, reading the contents of the note, it was brief but all too clear.
Everything’s gone wrong. I’m going to try and get away tonight. Please, look after Roberta for me.
The envelope was stamped and had an address: Riverboat Queen, Nine Elms Pier, Wandsworth, but no name on it
Just as they finished reading Susan appeared in the doorway, a flight bag in her hands and a bright smile on her face.
“Look what I found,” she said, holding the bag up.  She brought it over to the desk and carefully pulled at the stitching on one of the handles.  As she did a small recess was revealed, concealed by virtue of the handle seam being folded over onto itself and loosely restitched.
“Well done, Susan,” Cowley told her.  “Crude but effective.  I think we can safely say this is how Jamieson smuggled the diamonds out of Liberia and into Britain.”
“And why he was killed,” Bodie confirmed.
“Yes.  It’s imperative we find that girl before the dealers do.  Doyle, Bodie, I want you to check out this Riverboat Queen, see what you can find out, set up some observations.  If Jamieson was looking for help for Roberta it’s more than likely that’s where she’s headed.  Be careful though, we don’t want to tip our hands too quickly.  It’s possible “Teri” was working hand in glove with Jamieson, the girl could even be walking into a trap.”
“Well, what are you waiting for?” he queried when his agents still hadn’t moved.
“Yes, Sir.” Doyle jumped up from his chair, grabbing the family photo as he did so; it might come in useful.
“Running all the way, Sir,” Bodie added as they headed for the door.  So much for lunch, he thought.
“That it?” Doyle queried, casting a jaundiced eye over the paddle steamer moored tightly up against the embankment at Nine Elms Pier but set away from the few other vessels at the pier, almost as if it were ostracised from the mainstream of river dwellers residing under the looming towers of Battersea Power Station.  Even from the Capri, which they’d parked down a side lane that gave a view of the pier, it could be seen that the once stately vessel they were staring at had seen better days. Chipped and peeling paintwork was obvious and Doyle had no doubt that a closer inspection would reveal signs of mildew among the cracks and seams. But she would have been impressive in her day, ferrying passengers across the stretch of treacherous water between Hull and New Holland – well, that was according to the records they’d managed to uncover about the vessel – her paddle wheels churning the water, the huge chimney set above the forward deck, standing proud and tall.  Now she just looked a little forlorn.
“Has to be, got Riverboat Queen written on the wheelhouse covering,” Bodie said, eyeing the gangplank connecting the vessel to the edge of the embankment, the openness of the area and the darkness of the alleyways leading to the pier. They would stick out like sore thumbs if they tried to set up an obbo from the car and the surrounding buildings were equally unlikely observation points, all being occupied and part of an industrial estate. “So, what’d we do now?”
Doyle shrugged.  “We do what Cowley told us to do.”
Bodie lifted a questioning eyebrow and Doyle continued in a fair imitation of their boss’ Scottish brogue, “Get in as close as you can, use your imagination, laddie,” nodding towards a sign plastered on a wooden noticeboard set to the side of the gangplank. 
Bartender/bouncer required
Apply within

“You’re joking!”
“Nah, it’s worth a try innit? And you make perfect bouncer material, with a mug like yours.”
Bodie gave him a sour look but opened the car door and followed his partner without complaint.  The gangplank shook alarmingly as they made their way across it to the main deck. Bodie glanced below and shuddered at the nearness of the dark, greasy water.  Safely aboard, Doyle spotted the faded notice across the top of the pilot house doorway that proclaimed it to be the office and headed up the steps, knocking politely on the door, opening it to the shouted “Come in”.
They both entered, Bodie crowding up behind as Doyle strode in first.  Once inside they stopped, taking in the chaos contained within the long, narrow room and the large windows that stretched across the front and sides letting in the bright light and giving them a spectacular, if slightly depressing view of the towers of the Battersea Power Station and Chelsea Bridge.  The interior was crowded, a large desk, stacked with books, folders and loose paper, taking up almost a quarter of the space. A kitchen table, also inundated with papers plus piles of dirty cups and plates, was set at the far end. A man wearing a blue navy jacket and cloth cap sat on one of two rickety looking chairs at the table, reading a newspaper. Overflowing filing cabinets filled the space between desk and table.  The rear wall was bedecked with posters and framed photographs. 
The woman sitting behind the desk, concentrating on the papers in front of her, glanced up as they squeezed inside and Bodie found himself staring into a pair of large brown eyes set in a pretty oval face and framed by short dark hair.
“Yes, what can I do for you, gentlemen?” 
“We’ve come about the notice, down on the dock, for the bartender,” Doyle told her.
“Experienced?” the woman asked.
“Very,” Doyle answered. “Worked in pubs all over.”
“Yeah,” Bodie agreed.  “All over. Done quite a bit of security stuff too.”  He hesitated for a moment. “Got qualifications in bouncing too."
The women didn’t say anything for a moment, she seemed to be taking their measure and Bodie had a distinct feeling of being found wanting. “The job's live-in, which means the pay’s basic wage. That suit you?”
Doyle was the first to respond. “Yeah, that’s fine.  We had to move out of our last digs, need somewhere anyway.”
Bodie  looked around at the posters on the wall and the framed photos of Judy Garland and ABBA.  Something niggled at the back of his mind but he dismissed it.
“And I had one bartender slash bouncer in mind, not a double act.  Which one of you is applying?”
"We come as a pair," Doyle told her.
"Yeah, cheap at half the price," Bodie added.
The women eyed them both.  "Half the price is what you'll get then. And as a pair you won't mind sharing a cabin, we have limited staff accommodation on this boat."
Before Bodie could comment Doyle jumped in “Yeah, that’s okay.  We’ve shared before. And, well, we need the work.” 
The woman seemed to be thinking hard as she continued to examine them both.  Bodie was starting to feel uncomfortable under the intense gaze.  Finally she spoke. 
“Okay, I’ll give you a week’s trial.  See how it works out.”  She pushed her chair back and stood, holding out her hand.  “My name’s Teri and I’m the owner of this,” she hesitated, then continued, “club.”
“Ray Doyle,” Doyle told her as he shook her hand. “This is Bodie.”
She lifted a delicately lined eyebrow at Bodie when it was his turn to shake hands and he felt compelled to clarify, “Yeah, just Bodie.”  Her hand was warm and dry, the handshake firm.
“Okay, Ray Doyle and Just Bodie, welcome aboard.”  She turned to the man seated at the table. “This is Sidney, our head barman and security manager.” Sidney nodded and turned back to his paper, appearing disinterested in proceedings. 
“We open at 10.00pm, close around 2.00 in the morning and have a show on Fridays and Saturdays.  Mondays we’re closed,” Teri continued.  “As you’re both so experienced you can take turns as barman and bouncer.  We’re strict on membership so you’ll need to check everyone coming through the door – that’s the bouncer’s job.  You’ll take orders from Sid about the bar and security.  Otherwise you’ll take orders from me. Any problems with that?”
Receiving no objections Teri continued with more instructions and Bodie’s eyes and attention wandered.  He wished he could work out what it was that was bothering him. 
“Right, you can start tomorrow.  Be back here by 5.00pm and you can settle in before the show starts.” Teri’s words pulled Bodie back and he joined Doyle in uttering their farewells.  
“We’re in.” Doyle muttered as they made their way back down the gangplank and headed to the waiting Capri.
“Yeah, we’re in,” Bodie agreed.  He just wasn’t sure exactly what it was they were actually into.
Cowley was pleased, more than pleased, when they reported in at HQ.
“Good work, lads! That couldn’t have been easy, given the circumstances.”  The tone was magnanimous and the fine malt he handed his operatives equally so.
“What circumstances?” Bodie asked and Ray watched his partner’s face closely as their boss was speaking.
“The circumstances of the ‘entertainment’ aboard the vessel,” Cowley clarified.  Only from Bodie’s expression it wasn’t clarity at all.
“Do you have anything yet on the owner, Teri?” Doyle asked, shifting his attention back to his boss and leaving his partner to stare perplexedly into the smoky depths of his drink before lifting the glass to take a swallow.
“Yes.”  Cowley put his glasses on and opened the file in front of him.  “Terrence Bradley, born 1950. Father a shipping magnate, Sir Joshua Bradley.  Apparently father and son are estranged.  Mother died when Bradley was ten. No known criminal associations and not much else to report on him.” He paused and looked up at Bodie, who was making strange choking sounds. “Something wrong, Bodie?”
Bodie tried to swallow the scotch that was stuck in his throat. “Sh…she’s a he?” he spluttered.
“Yes, Bodie, it seems the cause for the estrangement between father and son was young Terrence’s penchant for dressing in women’s clothing.  I have all the information we’ve acquired on Bradley and the vessel, the Riverboat Queen, here.  I suggest you take this file, and the one I’ve compiled on the Jamiesons – not that we have much on them yet - with you, and study them.”
Bodie had stopped choking by now but he was looking a little pale.  Cowley set the file back down on the desk and looked at each agent in turn.
“You’ll be on your own once you’re inside the club, we can’t risk you taking in radios or any overt contact.  However, an agent will be assigned to liaise with you. I’ll give you the details tomorrow.”
“How long do you think we’ll need to be under cover?” Bodie asked.
“For as long as it takes, Bodie.  I expect you both back here first thing in the morning and we’ll go over the details of the operation,” Cowley’s dismissal was final.
As soon as they were out of the office and out of earshot of their boss Bodie rounded on his partner. 
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Tell you what?”
“Don’t get cute with me, Raymond.  You knew didn’t you?” 
Doyle shrugged.  “About it being a drag club, yeah.  The Judy Garland and ABBA posters were a dead giveaway – I thought you’d notice.  About Teri being a transvestite, no, not at first.  She’s good.”
“He, not she, Raymond. You could have warned me, you know.” 
Doyle stopped in his tracks.  “What’s wrong with you, Bodie?  What’s the problem? Are you scared it’s catching, that I’ll suddenly start singing soprano and wearing a skirt?  Or worse, that I’ll ask you to wear the skirt? We haven’t been cornered into doing a drag act you know. And anyway, what have you got against trannies”
“Keep your voice down!”  Bodie took a hasty look up and down the passage, but it was deserted then he sighed.  “I don’t have anything against trannies, as such, Ray. It’s just too close to home.  I don’t like it. I don’t like having to play at being gay.”
Doyle raised an eyebrow.
“You know what I mean! Working undercover is one thing, being undercover in a drag club is something else.  What if they … Teri, catches on?”
“She’s probably already decided we’re queer.  What does it matter, mate?”
“Only that Cowley might work it out. Then we’re for it.  I like my job, I don’t want to lose it because some trannie’s let the cat out of the bag about us.”
Doyle shook his head and reached out a conciliatory hand. “You’re jumping way too far ahead, Sunshine.  C’mon, I’ll drive you home, cook you dinner then we can settle on the couch and watch the game.”
“Just watch?” Bodie asked, inching a little closer to his partner.
“Play your cards right and there may be a cuddle involved,” Doyle told him, herding him down the passage.
Doyle knew it would take time to convince Bodie that his fears were groundless, that working
undercover in a gay club wouldn’t compromise them, no matter what anyone in the club thought or believed.  But Doyle considered it would be time well spent.
By unspoken mutual consent they left all discussion until after their meal.  Doyle, true to his promise hunted in the fridge and discovered he’d be able to make a sauce for spaghetti and there was enough cheese that hadn’t gone mouldy to sprinkle on top.   They ate sitting on the couch, plates balanced on knees, watching the lead up to the game. When they’d finished and he’d scoffed the last of the swiss roll Doyle had also found, Bodie cleared the plates and washed while Doyle dried. 
Finally they settled again on the couch close, comfortable and at peace, watching Liverpool and Arsenal proceed to a goalless draw.  Bodie draped his arm along the back of the couch and began playing with strands of curly hair and rubbing gently at the back of Doyle’s head.  Doyle relaxed into it, letting Bodie’s skilful fingers play havoc with his senses.
“It’s just a job, you know.” he said, closing his eyes and sighing at the exquisite feelings running down his back.
Bodie knew what he was referring to straight away, like he always did.  “Yeah, but it’s what I’m good at, what we’re both good at.  Can’t imagine doing anything else. Can’t imagine you wanting to do anything else either. Dunno, it’s just a bad feeling I’ve got about this job.”
Doyle knew he was right. Although he sometimes hated what they did, were forced to do, he believed it was necessary, that they made a difference, that the words  Cowley had used in a court of law not so very long ago were true – they brushed away the dirt, not all of it but some it. The thought of doing anything else with his life was unthinkable.
“This job is not going to be any different from any other undercover op. And it’s not as if we’re totally inexperienced at being gay, is it?”
“Which is precisely the point!”
“Hmm, it would make a change though, not having to pretend.”
“How far would the pretence have to go?  It’s not as if we can act the part for a few hours and go home, we’ll be living it, living there.  They’ll be watching.  Sure we can convince them it’s for real.  It’s when it’s all over and questions start being asked.”
“Then we’ll answer the questions.  Honestly, Bodie, it isn’t going to be a problem.  We’re undercover with Cowley’s full approval.  He knows we have to act the part, even be the part while the op’s on. It’s like you pretending to be a drug addict or me selling fruit and veg off a barrow in the market. No difference in it, mate.”
Bodie looked unconvinced.  So Doyle used distraction.  Turning, he leaned into Bodie’s shoulder and started playing with the buttons on his shirt, undoing and doing them up again, his fingers sliding across the solid chest, scraping over nipples.  When he knew he had his partner’s full attention he looked up into the blue eyes, licked his lips and smiled. It worked, Bodie laughed and bent forward, accepting the invitation. The kiss was sweet to start then hungry and needy.  Clothes were pulled and pushed, disarrayed with determination until access gained.  Naked at last they ran their hands and lips over each other and Doyle made sure that Bodie’s thoughts were on things other than their latest assignment.
They were at HQ early the next morning, after a detour to Bodie’s flat so he could pack some gear. Cowley had no further information for them but plenty of advice.
“I know this will be awkward for you both,” he told them, “but I expect you to carry it through as you would any other operation.  There is no difference, after all, in working undercover in a gay club to a so-called straight club.”
Doyle grinned at the echo of his own words.  Bodie just rolled his eyes.
 “And as you will be going in as a couple you should have no problems on that score.” Cowley’s choice of wording did make Doyle pause, and wonder. Bodie did a distinct double take.   But their boss seemed unaware of any double meaning in his words or undercurrent in the room and continued. “Maintain contact as best you can in the meantime.  With any luck we can wrap this whole mess up quickly.  However your prime concern must be the girl.  Any questions?”
There were none.  Well, none they could safely ask.


On to Part Two      

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