7. Dex determines to come clean about the photographs, only to find Joe has a surprise for him - Book Two - Fog on the Clyde by A.J. Hall
When he woke again, Joe was up and moving around, probably trying to find coffee. Dex, somewhat bleakly, wished him luck; so far on this side of the Atlantic he hadn’t met anyone that didn’t think coffee came as concentrate from a little bottle with a picture of a subservient native bearer on the label. Anyway, Joe gave up after a bit, lit the fire, boiled the kettle and made tea. They were drinking it when Joe said, abruptly,
“We found the traitor, in the end. It was Grogan. He’s dead.”
Dex’s mind whirled. “Did - I mean, did you - ?”
Joe shook his head. “No. His paymasters, presumably. Or someone else from his past. We weren’t the first people he’d betrayed. Not even the third, most probably.”
His face was at once shuttered and vulnerable; his mouth was set in hard lines but his eyes could not conceal how deeply the hurt had gone. Dex cursed himself for having to drop this next blow, but things had gone on too long already. The quicker he used the knife, the shorter the pain would last.
“Joe - there’s something I have to -“
Joe interrupted. “Yes. I know. It’s ok. I managed to get them back. Here.”
From the inside of his flying jacket Joe flipped out an envelope and tossed it to him. He opened it with fingers that shook a little, and not just with the chill which, even with the fire lit, pervaded the bothy.
Dex’s stomach turned over. He stared down at the four prints and the thin strip of negative which had fallen onto the bedcover. Joe, who seemed to be avoiding his eye, caught up the poker and stirred the peat fire into a blaze. He gestured towards the photographs, and then towards the flames.
“Do you want to do the honours, or shall I?”
Dex, momentarily, knew he looked fierce. Without attempting to comment, he looked up at Joe; blazing in his defence of his nature; his choices. Dex’s voice sounded harsh in his own ears as he said,
“Do what you think you should.”
The thin celluloid of the negatives curled in upon itself at the first touch of the flames, like a slug sprinkled with salt. The prints took longer to catch, browning first and then flaring to light, and thereafter to extinction. The last Dex saw of them was his own eyes, looking desperately at him out of the fire as though trying to convey some message or other.
Joe’s voice was hesitant.
“Look - I - I’m sorry - but I need to know. That guy. In the photographs. Who -?”
Dex’s stomach clenched. “I don’t know.”
“That’s right? I mean - look Dex, I’m not trying to pry, but it -” Joe’s voice still sounded uncertain - which was all wrong, of course: Joe was never uncertain, not about anything.
His simmering shame and anger broke through to the surface. “Look - it was just some guy. I never saw him before. I hope never to see him again. OK? Drop it. Just - drop it.”
Joe’s face was a mess of embarrassment - belatedly, it occurred to him that those particular questions could hardly have been easier to ask than to answer - and, improbably, relief.
“Thank god,” Joe said in an uncharacteristically subdued tone. He must have looked his surprise, because Joe went on, “I meant - if it had been someone - you know - that you - cared for, Christ knows I didn’t want to be the one to do that to you; to give you that sort of news. That he’d - betrayed you. That he’d been part of the set-up. From the very beginning, probably.”
He was obviously still not getting it. Joe gestured awkwardly.
“I mean - look Dex, what I mean is that - from what you can actually see in the - um - photographs themselves, and what must have happened for them to get taken at all, he must have known they were being taken. Otherwise - anyone looking at the photographs would have been able to identify something about him.”
A whirl of realisation swept over him.
There was a mordant flickering, even, of black humour.
Not even lusted after for yourself .
And then knowledge rushed in upon him, and fugitive memories; the number of times he’d seen Joe poring over grainy prints taken from reconnaissance planes, straining eyes and ingenuity to make them give up any clues which might be there for the having, and help him on some daring raid.
Only, this time, the photographs sitting on Joe’s blotter must have been of -
Dex started shivering uncontrollably. Joe crossed the bothy, sat on the edge of the bed, took off his flying jacket and wrapped it round Dex’s shoulders. It didn’t help; Dex continued to shake from head to toe. Realising it was shock and not cold he was dealing with here, Joe wrapped an arm round Dex’s shoulders and hugged him. It was a gesture Dex had seen him make dozens of times; to wounded men, dying men, men who’d seen their colleagues torn into bloody ribbons in front of them. He’d never realised how good it would feel; the steady warmth and pressure, the silent confidence, the sense of belonging, of being held into something bigger than you were, something that would hold you up when your own strength failed.
He didn’t belong, though. Not any more. Not after what he’d put Joe through. Not after what he’d put the Legion through.
“I’m resigning,” he said abruptly. Joe’s arm tightened around him.
Joe was so close that his breath as he spoke stirred Dex’s hair. Despite everything, he felt his newly convalescent body responding to Joe’s proximity, and cursed under his breath. He shut his eyes, and said, through gritted teeth, “I’m resigning from the Legion.”
“No you aren’t,” Joe said firmly. “And that’s an order, Dex.”
Despite himself, Dex found himself emitting a small, hopeless giggle.
“Joe; that’s the one order you can’t give.”
Joe’s voice sounded somehow lost and remote. “You’re my right hand, Dex. You can’t expect me to cut off my right hand. Not without fighting like hell, anyway.”
He tried to say something; the lump in his throat rose up and stopped him. Joe sounded as though it was an effort to sound calm and practical, too.
“Get it into perspective, Dex. I - I’ve been thinking about this. A lot. Recently. Look: I wouldn’t bet there’s a man in the Legion who hasn’t risked or done something incredibly stupid if he thought there was a chance of getting laid at the end of it. Including me. Actually, especially me. God, Dex; you know me. You know that’s true.”
There was a pause.
“It’s not the same,” Dex said eventually.
Joe was obviously thinking about that one. Honesty warred with generosity in his expression. Eventually he said, hesitantly,
“No. It isn’t. But perhaps - just perhaps - it should be.” He got up from the bed. “Actually, I know what your problem is. When was the last time you had a solid meal inside you?”
The sheer banality of the question shook Dex’s thoughts out of their gloomy downwards spiral.
“Three - four days?” he hazarded. “I mean, I’ve had beef-tea, and soup and arrowroot - I think - “
Wavering memories of a long parade of tepid liquids - all lovingly presented, all coming with assurances of being the very thing to do him good, all lacking seasoning and any hint of discernable flavour; some greasy, some grainy, some just bland and bewildering - came back to his palate. He shuddered.
“Right,” Joe said decisively. “Get your head down and get some more sleep. I’m going down to the village on the motorbike to forage for some proper food. Oh, and since we’ve fetched up somewhere with less asinine laws than home, it’d be positively rude not to buy some of the wine of the country. You could use a drink, too.”
He gaped, momentarily. “But they don’t make wine in Scotland.”
Joe’s mobile face came alive with mischief, and mock-puzzlement. “They don’t? Oh well, guess I’ll just have to make do with whatever they’ve got.” He ran his hand ruefully over his chin. “And I should see if they can run to a safety razor, too. And some soap. And a toothbrush. I had to leave Glasgow in a bit of a hurry. See you later. And don’t try to get up before I get back. And that is an order.”
He was gone. Dex curled weakly back among the bedclothes. He realised he was still wearing Joe’s jacket, the warm fleece lining imprinted with his memory, with the shape of his body. He ought, of course, to take it off. He oughtn’t to enjoy the feel of it like a caress about his body, like the promise of hope coming out of the blackness of nightmare. He ought - he ought -
Still wearing the jacket, Dex fell asleep.