10. An unwelcome intrusion — - Book Two - Fog on the Clyde by A.J. Hall
Inwardly, Joe spat fury. He wouldn’t necessarily have chosen to confess this to Father Nolan (even if the good priest hadn’t gone to a well-deserved rest two decades or more ago) but if circumstances in the next few minutes allowed him to shoot someone with a clear conscience, then he knew he’d feel the better for it. And no recriminations, either.
So close - so bleeding close -! And for someone to put their oar in then, of all inopportune times. When Dex had been so near, and sweet, and wanting -
When there was nothing both heart and dick had desired more than - what he had had within his grasp a scant thirty seconds ago.
More, and much more than he could possibly have dreamt of or deserved. Not in the wildest fantasies he might have entertained over the last few years.
In which he had always assumed Dex off-limits. So far off-limits, indeed, with his comic books and gum, and naiveté (briefly, Joe paused to wonder how far that was a conscious poise to avoid trouble, and how far it was instinct; Dex, he now realised, was infinitely smarter than he had ever chosen to acknowledge) that it had actually never occurred to him to think of him as a piece in play at all, in that sense.
Until the events of the last few weeks, of course.
Back at the base, once the initial storm of disbelief at Davies’ revelations had subsided, Joe had been startled (and, to tell truth, more than a little horrified) to find that once his scattered thoughts had had a chance to settle that they had crystallised into a sentiment that sounded remarkably like;
“And if Dex had to go off and have meaningless strings-free sex with someone he didn’t care about, why couldn’t he have meaningless strings-free sex with me, dammit?”
Which was not, all things considered, a thought he wanted to confide to Franky. And he supposed her pet physician came to the same thing.
And then Joe had let himself explore little deeper, and started to examine why he had jumped to the conclusion that he - the other man - the shadow in the photographs - had been someone who meant nothing to Dex beyond a little short-term relief, and was someone whom he could have no possible long-term connection with.
And the answer which he eventually dredged up to that one - “Because you couldn’t bear that someone else to be someone who actually mattered to him” - had been good for another couple of sleepless nights, at least.
Oh God. He wanted Dex: his whole body was aching for his touch. And some idiot had chosen to interrupt, when he was on the brink of getting everything he’d ever wanted. And if he could find an excuse to kill whoever it was now, well, the bastard deserved it.
He kicked the bothy door open a fraction, and slid through it and out into the weeping dark. The noise had come from the back of the bothy, so logically that meant -
He dodged round the corner, straight into the blaze of a flashlight aimed straight and deliberately into his eyes. Despite the fact that, dazzled as he was, he had scarcely a hope in hell of getting a shot off that counted for anything, he barked out “Hands up,” and aimed his gun two-handed towards the centre of the glare.
“Well,” a wholly familiar voice drawled, “that’s no sort of welcome for a girl, Joe. Especially not when I’ve come thousands of miles to find you. And you don’t seem a bit pleased to see me.”
Joe exhaled. “Polly.”
He flicked the safety-catch on, and holstered the gun. “You blithering imbecile. I nearly shot you. And what the hell are you doing here, anyway?”
She, in turn, lowered the flashlight; in its glow Joe caught a glimpse of golden hair under an incongruous and streaming black sou-wester.
“Looking for you, of course. Not that you’ve been all that difficult to find.”
Her voice had the purr of a cat that had got into the cream. Joe gritted his teeth. She waved the hand holding the flashlight. “Once one of my contacts told me which aerodrome you’d left your plane, that is. It didn’t take me long to find the guy you’d borrowed the motor-cycle from. And he was able to tell me what maps he’d lent you, too. Which narrowed things down nicely, as well. And then - you don’t seem to have been any too discreet in those quaint little villages you passed through -“
“I was in a hurry.”
She shrugged. “Whatever. Terribly helpful, the local people, anyway. And frightfully sympathetic.” Her voice acquired a faintly malicious tinge. “I think, you know, that they thought I was a distraught wife in search of an absconding husband.”
“Well, I can certainly see why they might leap to the conclusion that any husband you had would take care to get far, far away,” Joe said. Polly’s voice had a faint, hurt edge; that had got through, evidently.
“Oh, Joe! You aren’t still sore about that last time in New York?”
He raised an eyebrow, irrespective of whether she could see the gesture in the dim light or not. “Sore? Me? Of course not. What’s a completely uncalled-for split lip between friends, after all? However, I do recollect that for your own no-doubt perfectly valid reasons with which, I’d like to make it clear, I have no quarrel whatsoever your last words to me did rather emphasise that if you ever saw me again in this lifetime it’d be too soon.”
He dropped his voice for emphasis.
“That being so, Polly, why the hell have you been chasing me halfway round Scotland?”
She was, blast her, wholly unfazed by his ferocity.
“Because I’ve got some information about what’s been going on that I need to share with you. Pool our resources. Deal, Joe? Like old times?”
He shut his eyes, and counted to ten. Very slowly. While simultaneously repressing a deeply self-destructive urge to tell her, in the crudest of the terms he had learned from the Shanghai waterfront and elsewhere, of how he, personally, remembered “old times”. And about how the events of the last hour or so had in any event put an impenetrable barrier even between her sanitised, edited-for-public-consumption, rose-tinted view of their past together and anything that could possibly amount to a future.
Instead, he coughed, and said, “I could use good intelligence, that’s true. And I suppose - like always - you could use an exclusive. So; yes, there’s the potential for a deal. But - Polly? Get this straight. Don’t go cherishing any daydreams. This is strictly business. OK?”
Her voice was honeyed, almost caressing.
“Yes Joe. Understood.”
In the glow of the flashlight, and with the benefit of his own excellent night vision he could see her assenting nod. But he could also see her half-closed, indifferent eyes, and the shallow lines about her mouth, and realised that whatever he might have said would never really register at all. She was too wrapped up in her own eternal moving picture, in which she was, for ever and always, the star.
There never was a man I couldn’t get, once I set my mind to it.
I will go back to Tara. After all, tomorrow is another day.
He swallowed further commentary as futile.
She looked up at him; the rim of her absurd hat dripping rain into her eyes.
“Anyway, Joe,” she said, “do we have to keep discussing it out here? Now we’re agreed?”
He drew a deep breath.
“Well,” he said, “I suppose you’ better come inside. The weather isn’t getting any better.”
She looked gratefully up at him. And put her head on one side.
“Joe - is Dex with you?”
He gulped. But there was no point in prevaricating. “Yes,” he said. And then, cautiously, “Why do you ask?”
She brought her hands together in a gesture that was, he supposed, intended to be disarmingly winsome.
“Because I owe him an apology.”
And you have absolutely no idea of just how true that is at this precise moment, Joe thought, unstoppably.
He gulped. “Well,” he said, “then perhaps you’d better deliver it in person.”
Together they walked round to the front of the bothy. He pushed the door open and waited, gentlemanlike, for her to precede him into the building.
While crossing both sets of fingers and some toes that Dex had managed to use the intervening few minutes to the best possible advantage.