Sandra Markham was twenty-seven, possessed a beautiful face and figure, and was a neophyte telepath. As yet her talent was a fifty-fifty thing; she had very little control over it; it came and went. But where Harry Keogh was concerned, that might be just as well. Sometimes, in Harry's mind, she'd read things she was sure had no right to be there - or in any sane mind, for that matter.

She and Harry had made love only an hour ago, and afterwards he had at once fallen asleep. Sandra had come to know Harry's habits well enough: he'd stay asleep for three or four hours, which for him would serve as a full night's rest. As for Sandra: she would have to sleep tomorrow, at her own place in Edinburgh, making up the night's deficiency.

Staring right into Harry's pale, relaxed, almost little-boyish face, she saw no sign as yet of the rapid eye movements which would tell her that he was dreaming. So for now she too could relax. It was Harry's dreams which most interested her. That was what she tried to keep telling herself, anyway.

She worked for E-Branch. Sometimes she wished she didn't, but she did. That was how she earned her daily bread (the meat and gravy, too), so she really shouldn't complain. And in fact there hadn't been too much to complain about, until Harry came along. At first he'd been just another job - a new friend to get close to, learn about and try to understand - but then she'd got in deeper. It had 'just happened', and afterwards she'd wanted it to happen again, and again. Until in a little while he wasn't just a job but more a way of life, not only 'on her mind', as it were, but under her skin as well. And finally she'd started to suppose, and still did, that she was in love with him.

Certainly working on Harry's case (she hated thinking of it like that, but it was the truth however she dressed it up) had been more interesting than being a human divining rod on cases the police couldn't solve. That was how E-Branch used her, usually: to eavesdrop criminal minds - the minds of prisoners in their cells, too tough for the law to crack - looking for those damning clues which more orthodox methods couldn't turn up. Which would be satisfying enough work in itself, if only she didn't actually have to go in there. Because minds like those were often cesspools, which frequently left her knowing how sewers smell. And sometimes, especially if it was a brutal murder or rape, the smell could linger for a long, long time.

Which was probably the reason she'd fallen in love with Harry Keogh. Because his mind was a field of daisies... most of the time. In fact he had the gentlest mind she'd ever come across: not soft, no way! Not even naive, though there was something of that in him too, but just ... just gentle. Harry wouldn't much like hurting anything, or anybody.

With Sandra's looks it would be strange if there had been no men. There had been men, a few. But her talent wasn't something she could just switch on and off. Indeed that was its one big drawback: without so much as a by your leave, it came and went. Tonight a man would wine and dine you, take you home and kiss your hand on your doorstep, and ask to see you again. And as you were about to say yes his mind would open like a book and you would see him in there like some great rutting satyr - and you'd be in there with him. Not all men, no, but enough.

But that wasn't all; there was also the deceit; the fact that people lie. Like the neighbour in the flat next door who smiles and says, 'Good morning,' to you on the stairs, when she's actually thinking: Piss off and die, you ugly bitch! Or the hairdresser who makes small talk while he does your hair, and you suddenly hear him thinking: God, they pay me nine pounds an hour for this! She must have more money than sense, the stupid cow!

Oh, there had been men, all right. The good-looking ones who only worried how they looked. And the not-so-good lookers whose minds seethed with jealousy if anyone else even smiled at you. And then, having got safely through an entire week of evenings with a 'perfect' companion, to have him make love to you and lie there beside you in your bed, wondering if he'll have time for another and still catch the last bus home.

-- Advertisement --

It was life and Sandra knew it, and she'd learned to live with it ever since her middle teens when the thing had first started to develop in her. But it hadn't left much room for 'love'. Not until Harry, anyway.

He was such ... an anomaly.

She'd read his file, as well as his mind. He had killed men, a great many. That's what it said in his file. But it didn't say he remembered and regretted almost every one of them, or how every now and then he'd get the urge to go back and tell them he was sorry, but really he'd had no choice. It didn't say he still had nightmares about some of the things he'd seen and done. And anyway, Sandra really couldn't believe half of the things credited (credited? Or better perhaps, ascribed?) to him. Her own talent was paranormal, yes, but what Harry could do - what he'd used to do - was supernatural. And he'd used his powers the best way he knew how. He had killed many men with them, but he'd never murdered a one.

Sandra knew how murderers thought, and they didn't think like Harry Keogh. Their thoughts were deep and dark as red wine, but tumbled as a rough sea, and full of shoals and eddies; while his were clear spring water over rounded pebbles. Oh, his mind could be sharp, too; there were plenty of daggers in there, if you gave him cause to whet them; but they were clearly visible at all times, not hidden away, neither afraid of themselves nor of detection. No, there were no dark corners or mean streets in Harry's mind. Or if there were, he wasn't the one to dwell on or in them.

And in that same moment, lying there beside him, Sandra knew how she'd defined him. He was, could only be, one of two things: either completely amoral, or naturally innocent. And since she knew there was no lack of morality, that made him an innocent. A bloody innocent, but nevertheless blameless. A child with blood on his hands and on his conscience and in his nightmares, which he had chosen to keep to himself except when they were unbearable, when he went to Bettley. Well, she wasn't sure what that made Bettley - a Judas-priest? A father confessor who told? - but she couldn't be happy with what it made her. And the most terrible thing of all, she believed he half-suspected. Which would explain why he was never completely at his ease with her, and why he couldn't seem to enjoy her the way she wanted him to, the way she enjoyed him. Christ, to have found a man like Harry, only to discover that of all men he was the one she probably couldn't have! Not the way she wanted him, anyway.

Suddenly angry with herself - wanting to throw off all the covers and leap out of bed, but caring enough that she wouldn't disturb him - she carefully removed his hand from where it lay draped diagonally across her and slid sideways out from between the sheets. And naked she went to the bathroom.

She was neither warm nor cold nor thirsty, but she felt she had to do something. Something ordinary, to herself, to change herself physically. And that way perhaps to change her mood, too. In the daytime it would be the simplest thing: she would walk to the park and watch the smallest children at play, and know that something of their worlds of faerie would soon find its way into her own far less Elysian existence. And when that thought came, she knew for certain that for someone who was usually so positive, she must now be feeling pretty damned negative. That she should need someone else's innocence to balance the weight of her own guilt.

She drank a glass of water, splashed cold water up under her arms and breasts where their lovemaking had made her perspire, towelled her flesh dry and examined herself critically in the long bathroom mirror.

Unlike Harry, there was little or no naivet�� in Sandra. There might be, except for her telepathy. But it's hard to be naive or innocent in a world where people's minds are wont to flutter open like pages in a book, and you don't have the power to look away but must read what's written there. The other E-Branch telepaths - people like Trevor Jordan - were luckier in this respect; they were obliged to apply, channel their talent; it didn't just come and go for them, like a badly-tuned radio station.

Angry again, Sandra shook her head. There she went again: great waves of self-pity! What? Pity for herself? For this beautiful creature in the mirror? And how often had she heard it broadcast, from so many of those stations out there: God, but what I'd give to be like her!

Ah, if only they knew!

But how much worse if she'd been ugly... ?

She had large, greeny-blue, penetrating eyes over a small, tilted nose; a mouth she'd trained to be soft and uncynical; small ears almost lost in the burnish of copper hair, and high cheek-bones curving down delicately to a rounded, rather self-conscious chin. Of course she was conscious of herself. Other people were, and so she had to be.

Her right eyebrow, a slightly upward-tilted line of bronze, was questioning, almost challenging. As if she were saying: 'Go on - think it!' And sometimes she was.

Her smile was bright, rewarding, involuntary on those occasions when she detected complimentary thoughts. Or she might darken her high brow and narrow her eyes to knife-point at some of the other things she 'heard'. At a glance, then, Sandra's face might well be mistaken for the face on the cover of any number of glossy, popular ladies' magazines. But on closer inspection it would be seen that there were boundless tracts of character there, too. Her twenty-seven years had not left her unblemished; there were laughter lines in the corners of her eyes, yes, but other faint lines lay parallel and horizontal on her brow, speaking volumes for the number of times she'd frowned. She was grateful that the latter didn't detract from her looks overall.

As for the rest of her:

But for two personal criticisms, Sandra's body would be near-perfect, or as close as she would wish it to be. She was too large 'up top', which gave her a bouncing elasticity she was afraid might type-cast her, and her legs were far too long.

'Well, you might find those things a disadvantage,' Harry's voice came back to her from a previous time, 'but I'm all for it!' He liked it when, in their lovemaking, she'd wrap her legs right round him; or when she let her breasts dangle in his face, inviting his attentions. Her large nipples, asymmetrical as most nipples are, seemed a constant fascination to him, at least on those occasions when he was all there. But far too often he'd be somewhere else entirely. And now another truth dawned on her: too often she'd used her sex to trap him in the here and now, as if she were afraid that if she released him he'd fly ... somewhere else.

Suddenly cold, she put out the bathroom light and went back to the bedroom.

Harry lay just as she'd left him, on his side, facing left, his right arm draped in the hollow she'd occupied. And still his breathing was deep and steady, his eyelids unmoving. A brief telepathic glimpse, unbidden, denned endless, empty vaults of dream, through which he drifted looking for a door. It came and went, and Sandra sighed. There were always doors in Harry's dreams, revenant perhaps of the Möbius doors he'd once called up mathematically out of thin air.

He'd once told her: 'Now that it's over I sometimes get this feeling it was all a dream, or a story read in a book of fantasy. Unreal, something I made up, or maybe an out-of-body experience. But that brings back all too clearly what it was really like to be incorporeal, and I know that it happened for a fact. How can I explain it? Have you ever dreamed you could fly? That you actually knew how to fly?'

'Yes,' she'd answered, in her mildly Edinburghian Scottish accent. 'Often, and very vividly. I used to run down a steeply sloping field to take off, and soar up over the Pentland hills, over the village where I was born. It was sometimes frightening, but I remember knowing exactly how it was done!'

Harry had been excited. 'That's right! And waking up you tried to hang on to it, you were reluctant to let the secret vanish with the dream. And it vexed you when you were completely awake to learn that you were earthbound again. Well,' (and he'd sighed as his excitement ebbed), 'that's pretty much how it sometimes is for me. Like something I had in a long series of childhood dreams, but burned out of me now and gone forever.'

Better for you, Harry, she'd thought. That world was a dangerous place. You're safe now.

But not much good for E-Branch, and definitely not why she was here. On the contrary, they wanted his powers restored and didn't much care how. And she was supposed to be part of the restoration team.

She slipped into bed with him, as much for his warmth as for anything, and his free hand automatically cupped her breast. His body was lean and hard, well-trained. He insisted on keeping it that way. 'It's years older than me,' he'd once told her, without an ounce of humour, 'and so I have to look after it.' As if it wasn't his but something he was care-taking. Hard to believe there'd been a time when it really wasn't his. But she hadn't known him - or it - then, and was glad for that.

'Ummm?' he murmured now, as she moulded herself to him.

'Nothing,' she whispered in the darkness of the room. 'Shh!'

'Ummm...' he said again, and instinctively drew her closer.

He was warm and he was Harry. She'd never felt so safe with anyone before. Him with all his hangups, and yet when she was with him like this it was like clinging to a rock. She stroked his chest, but gently so as not to awaken or arouse him, and tried to will him into deeper sleep -

- And like a fool willed herself there instead.

Haaarry... ! Harry's Ma, Mary Keogh, called to him from her watery grave, and couldn't get through to him. She never could these days, and knew why, but it didn't stop her from trying. Harry, there's someone who's trying very hard to talk to you. He says you were friends, and that what he has to say is very important.

Harry could hear her, but he couldn't answer. He knew that he must not answer, for talking to the dead had been forbidden to him. If he should try it, or ever consider trying it, then once more he'd hear that irresistible voice in his mind, reinforcing those commands by means of which his Necroscope powers had been made worthless:

Under penalty of pain, you may not, Harry! Aye, great pain. Such torture that the voices of the teeming dead would be distorted beyond recognition. Such mental agony that you would never dare try again. I've no desire to be cruel, father, but it's for your own protection - as well as mine. Faethor Ferenczy, Thibor, and Yulian Bodescu, they might well have been the last - or they might not. The Wamphyri have powers, father! And if there are more of them hidden in your world, how long before they seek you out and find you... before you can find them? But they will only seek you out if they have reason to fear you. Which is why I now remove such reason utterly! Do you understand?

To which Harry had answered: 'You do it for yourself. Not because you fear for me, but for you. You fear that I'll come back one day, discover you in your aerie and destroy you. I've told you I could never do that. Obviously my word isn't good enough.'

People change, Harry. You could change, too. I'm your son, but I'm also a vampire. I can't chance it that you'll not come looking for me one day with sword and stake and fire. I've said it before: as a Necroscope you're dangerous, but without the dead you're impotent. Without them, no more Möbius Continuum. You can't come back here, nor seek me in the other places. And yes, this is another reason why I place these strictures upon you.

'Then you doom me to torture. It's inescapable. The dead love me. They will talk to me!'

They may try, but you will neither hear nor answer them. Not consciously. I hereby deny you that talent.

'But I'm a Necroscope! I talk to the dead out of habit! And what about when I grow old? If I ramble to the dead when I'm an old man, what then? Am I still bound to suffer? All my days?'

Habits are for breaking, Harry. I say it one last time, and then if you doubt me you may try it for yourself: you may not consciously speak to the dead, and if they speak to you, you must strike their words immediately from memory or - suffer the consequences. So be it.

'And all the maths Möbius taught me, am I to forget that, too?'

You have already forgotten it! That is my most immediate stricture, for I won't be invaded in my own territory! Now be done with arguing, for it's over, it ... is ... done!

At which Harry had felt a terrible wrenching in his mind, which made him cry out; followed by darkness; followed by ...

... His return to consciousness in London, at E-Branch HQ.

That had been four years ago. He had told E-Branch all he could, helped them complete and close their files on him and all his works. He was no longer a Necroscope; he could no longer impose his metaphysical will on the physical universe; the branch should have no further use for him now. But even after they'd tried and discarded every means at their disposal to return his paranormal powers to him, still he'd been certain they wouldn't let it rest there. As a Necroscope he'd been too great an asset. They'd never forget him, and if they could get him back they would. And so would his millions of friends, the teeming dead. Oh, Harry's actual friends - his real comrades among the Great Majority - numbered around one hundred only. But the rest knew of him. To them he would always be the one light in their eternal darkness.

And now one of them, by far the most important one to Harry, was trying to speak to him again:

Harry, oh my poor little Harry! Why won't you answer me, son? He had always been her little Harry.

'Because I can't,' he wanted to tell her - but dare not, not even asleep and dreaming. For he'd tried once before, down at the riverbank, and now remembered it only too well:

He'd gone there within the hour of his return to his home near Bonnyrig, the house which she had owned before him, and Viktor Shukshin in between. Shukshin had drowned her under the ice, and left her body to float to this bight in the frozen river. There she'd settled to the bottom, to become one with the mud, the weeds and the silt. And there she'd stayed - until the night Harry called her up again to take her revenge! Since when she'd lain here in peace, or been gradually washed away in pieces. But her spirit was here still.

And it had been here when, like so many times before, he'd gone to sit on the riverbank and look down at the water where it was untroubled and deep and dark in that slowly swirling backwater of reeds and crumbling clay bank. It had been daylight; brambles and weeds growing across the old, disused paths by the river; birdsong in the shady willows and spiky blackthorns.

There were three other houses there beside his own, two of them detached and standing well apart, in large walled gardens extending almost to the river. These two were empty and rapidly falling into disrepair; the third, next door, had been up for sale for several years now. Every so often people would come to look at it, and go away shaking their heads. These were not 'desirable' residences. No, it was a lonely place, which was why Harry liked it. He and his Ma had used to talk in private here, and he'd never had to fear that someone might see him sitting here on his own, apparently mouthing nonsense to himself.

He hadn't known what to expect that time; he only knew that conversation was forbidden, and that there'd be a penalty to pay if he tried to break the strictures placed on his esper's mind. The acid test was the one thing E-Branch hadn't attempted, mainly because he'd refused to go so far. Darcy Clarke had been in charge then, and Darcy's talent had warned him away from pushing Harry, and Harry's friends, too far.

But there on the river Harry's mother, the spirit of the innocent girl she had been, had not been able to resist talking to her son again.

At first there had been only the solitude, the slow gurgle of the river, the birdsong. But in a little while Harry's singular presence had been noted. And: Harry? she had come breathlessly awake in his mind. Harry, is that you, son? Oh, I know it is! You've come home again, Harry!

That was all she'd said to him - but it had been enough.

'Ma - don't!' he'd cried out, staggering to his feet and running, as someone ignited a Roman candle in his skull to shoot off its fireballs into the soft tissues of his brain! And only then had he known what The Dweller, Harry Jnr, had really done to him.

Such mental agony that you will never dare try again! That was what his vampire son had promised, and it was what he'd delivered. Not The Dweller himself, but the post-hypnotic commands he'd left behind, sealed in Harry's mind.

And nightfall had found Harry in the long grasses by the river's edge, painfully regaining consciousness in a world where he now knew beyond any doubt that he was a Necroscope no more. He could no longer communicate with the dead. Or at least, not consciously.

But asleep and dreaming... ?

Haaarry ... his mother's voice called to him again, echoing through the endlessly labyrinthine vaults of his otherwise empty dream. I'm here, Harry, here. And before he knew it he'd turned off and passed through a door, and stood once again on the riverbank, this time in streaming moonlight. And: Is that you, Harry? Her hushed mental voice told him that she scarcely dared to believe it. Have you really come to me?

'I can't answer you, Ma!' he wanted to say, but could only remain silent.

But you have answered me, Harry, was her reply. And he knew it was so. For the dead don't require the spoken word; sufficient to think at them, if you have the talent.

Harry crumpled to the riverbank, adopted a foetal position, hugged his head with his arms and hands and waited for the pain - which didn't come!

Oh, Harry, Harry! she said at once. Did you think that after that first time, I'd deliberately hurt you or cause you to hurt yourself?

'Ma, I - ' (he tried it again, wincing expectantly as he got to his feet),' -1 don't understand!'

Yes, you do, son, she tut-tutted. Of course you do! It's just that you've forgotten. You forget every time, Harry.

'Forgotten? Forgotten what, Ma? What do I forget every time?'

You forget that you've been here before, in dreams, and that what my grandson did to you doesn't count here. That's what you've forgotten, and you do it every time! Now call me up, Harry, so that I can talk to you properly and walk with you a little way.

Was that right, that he could talk to her in dreams? He had used to in the old days - waking and dreaming alike - but it wasn't like that now.

But it is like it now, son. It's just that you need reminding each time!

And then another voice, not his mother's, echoing more in the caverns of his memory than his sleeping mind proper:

... You may not consciously speak to the dead. And if they speak to you, then you must strike their words immediately from memory or - suffer the consequences.

'My son's voice,' he sighed, as understanding came at last. 'So, how many times have we talked, Ma? I mean, since it started to hurt me ... in the last four years, say?' And even as she began to answer him he called her up, so that she rose from the water, reached out and took his hand, and was drawn up onto the bank - a young woman again, as she'd been on the day she died.

A dozen, twenty, fifty times (a mental shrug). It's hard to say, Harry. For always it's more difficult to get through to you. And oh, how we've missed you, Harry.

'We?' He took her hand and they walked along the dark river path together, under a full moon riding high through a cloud-wispy sky.

Me and all your friends, the teeming dead. A hundred there are all eager to hear your gentle voice again, son; a million more who would ask what you said; and all the rest to inquire how you're doing and what's become of you. And as for me: why, I'm like an oracle! For they know that I'm the one you speak to most of all. Or used to ...

'You make me feel like I've forsaken some olden trust,' he told her. 'But there never was one. And anyway, it isn't so! I can't help it that I can no longer talk to you. Or that I can't remember the times when I do. And how has it become difficult to get through to me? You called me and I came. Was that so difficult?'

But you don't always come, Harry. Sometimes I can feel you there, and I call out to you, and you shy away. And each time the waiting grows longer between visits, as if you no longer cared, or had forgotten us. Or as if, perhaps, we'd become a habit? Which you now desire... to break?

'None of that is true!' Harry burst out. But he knew that it was. Not a habit which he would break, no, but one which was being broken for him - by his fear. By his terror of the mental torture which talking to the dead would bring down on him. 'Or if it is true,' he said, more quietly now, 'then it's not my fault. My mind would be no good to you burned out, Ma. And that's what will happen if I push my luck.'

Well, (and suddenly he was aware of a new resolve in her voice, and of the strengthening of her cold fingers where they gripped his hand), then something must be done about it! About your situation, I mean - for there's trouble brewing, son, and the dead lie uneasy in their graves. Do you remember I told you, Harry, there was someone who wanted to talk to you? And how what he had to say was important?

'Yes, I remember. Who is he, Ma, and what is it that's so important?'

He wouldn't say, and his voice came from far, far away. But it's strange when the dead feel pain, Harry, for death usually puts them beyond it.

Harry felt his blood run cold. He remembered only too well how the dead, in certain circumstances, felt pain. Sir Keenan Gormley, murdered by Soviet mindspies, had been 'examined' by Boris Dragosani, a necromancer. And dead as he had been, he had felt the pain. 'Is it ... like that?' he asked his mother now, holding his breath until she answered.

I don't know how it is, she turned to him and looked him straight in the eye, for this is something I've never known before. But Harry, I fear for you! And before he could even attempt to reassure her: Oh, son, son, my poor little Harry - I fear so very, very much for you! Is it like that, you ask? And I say: will it be - can it ever be -like that again? And how, if you're no longer a Necroscope? And then I pray that it can't be. So you see, son, how I'm torn two ways. I miss you, and all the dead miss you, but if it puts you in danger then we can do without it.

He sensed that she was avoiding something. 'Ma, are you sure you don't know who he is, this one who tried to contact me? Are you sure you don't know where he is, right now?'

She let go his hand, turned away, avoided his eyes. Who he is, no, she said. But his voice, his mental voice, Harry, crying out like that. Oh, yes, I know where he is. And all the dead know it, too. He's in hell!

Frowning, he took her shoulders, gently turned her until she faced him again, and said, 'In hell?'

She looked at him, opened her mouth - and nothing but a gurgle came out! She coughed chokingly, spat blood... then straightened up, swelled out, wrenched herself free of his suddenly feeble grasp. He saw something in her mouth, forked and flickering, which wasn't a human tongue! Her skin sagged and grew old, becoming wormy as centuried parchment in a moment! Flesh sloughed from her bones, revealed her skull, smoked into dust as it fell from her like a rotting shroud! She cried out her horror, turned and fled away from him along the riverbank, paused a moment over the bight and looked back. A rancid, disintegrating skeleton, she laughed at him even as she toppled into the water - and he saw that her eyes glowed crimson in the moonlight, and that the teeth in her skull were sharp, curving fangs!

Nailed to the spot - fear-frozen there - Harry could only cry out after her: 'Ma-aaa!' But it wasn't his mother who heard and answered him:

Haaarry! the voice came from a long way away, but still Harry whirled on the riverbank, staring this way and that in the moon-silvered night. There was no one there. Haaarry! it came again, but clearer in his mind. Haaarry Keeeooogh! And it was just as his mother had described it: a voice full of hell's own torment.

Still stunned by his mother's metamorphosis - which he knew could only be some sort of dire warning, for it was nothing she would ever deliberately engineer - Harry was at first unable to answer. But he recognized the voice's despair, its anguish, its hopelessness, as it continued to call to him:

Harry, for God's sake! If you're out there please answer me. I know you shouldn't, I know you daren't - but you must! It's happening again, Harry, it's happening again!

The voice was fading, its signal weakening, its telepathic potency waning. If Harry was ever to get to the bottom of this he must do so now. 'Who are you?' he said. 'What do you want of me?'

Haaarry! Harry Keogh! Help us! Its owner hadn't heard him; the voice was tailing away, beginning to merge with a wind sprung up along the riverbank.

'How?' he shouted back. 'How can I help you? I don't even know who you are!' But he suspected that he did. It was a rare thing for the dead to speak to him without rapport first being established by some form of introduction. Usually he had sought them out, following which they would normally be able to find him again. Which made him suspect that he'd known this one (or these ones?) before, probably in life.

Haaarry -for God's sake find us and make an end of it!

'How can I find you?' Harry shouted into the night, wanting to cry from the sheer frustration of it. 'And what's the point of it? I won't even remember, not when I'm awake.'

And then - the merest whisper fading into nothing, and yet powerful enough to call up a wind that howled along the riverbank and snatched at Harry, causing him to lean into it - there came that final exhortation which chilled the ex-Necroscope's blood to ice-water, sent gooseflesh creeping on his spine and wrenched him back into the waking world:

Find us and put us down! the unknown voice implored. Put an end to these scarlet threads right now, before they can grow. You know the way, Harry: sharp steel, the wooden stake, the cleansing fire. Do it, Harry. Please... do... it!

Harry sprang awake. Sandra was clinging to him, trying to hold him down. He was drenched in cold sweat, shaking like a leaf; and she was frightened, too, her eyes wide from it, her mouth forming a frozen 'O'.

'Harry, Harry!' she lay sprawled half across him. She let go his shoulders, hugged his neck, felt his heart pounding against her breast. 'It's all right, it's all right. It was a bad dream, a nightmare, that's all.'

Eyes wide and darting, shivering and panting for breath, he stared all around the room and let its familiarity wash over him. Sandra had put on the light the moment his shouting had brought her awake. 'What?' he said, his hands trembling where they clutched her. 'What?'

'It's all right,' she insisted. 'A dream, that's all.'

'A dream?' Her words sank in and something of the gaunt vacancy went out of his eyes. He gently pushed her away, began to sit up - then drew air in a gasp and started bolt upright! 'No,' he blurted, 'it was more than just a dream - much more. And Christ, I have to remember!'

But too late; already it was receding, draining back to the roots of his subconsciousness. 'It was about... about - ' he desperately shook his head and sent a spray of sweat flying, ' - my mother! No, not about her but... she was in it! It was ... a warning? Yes, a warning, and... something else.'

But that was all. It was gone, driven out against his will by the will of some other - the will, or legacy, of his son -by the post-hypnotic commands he'd planted there in Harry's mind.

'Shit!' Harry whispered, damp and shivering where he sat on the edge of the bed.

That had been at 4:05 a.m.

Harry had had maybe three and a half hours' sleep, Sandra an hour less. When he'd finally calmed down and put on his dressing-gown, then she had made a pot of coffee. And as he sat there shivering and sipping at his drink, so she had tried to bring his dream back to mind, had urged him to remember it ... all the while cursing herself inside that she'd slept right through it! For if she had stayed awake she might just have caught a glimpse of the terrible thing he'd experienced, whatever it had been. That was her job: help him sort out his mind and get back what he'd lost. Whether he wanted it or not, and whether or not it was good for him.

But: 'No use,' he'd shaken his head after long minutes of patient questioning, 'it's gone. And probably best that it's gone. I have to be ... careful.'

Sandra had been tired. She hadn't asked why he must be careful because she knew. But she should have asked because she wasn't supposed to know. And when she'd looked at him again his soulful eyes had been steady on her, his tousled head tilted a little on one side, perhaps questioningly. 'What's your interest, anyway?' he'd wanted to know.

'Only that if you get it off your chest you'll feel better about it.' At least her lie had the ring of logic to it. 'Once a nightmare is told, it's not so frightening.'

'Oh? And that's your understanding of nightmares, is it?'

'I was trying to be helpful.'

'But I keep telling you I can't remember, and you keep prodding away at me. It was just a dream, and no one tries that hard to winkle someone else's dreams out of them! Not without a damn good reason, anyway. There's something not right here, Sandra, and I think I've known it for some time. Old Bettley says it's my fault that what we have isn't exactly right for me, but now I'm not so sure.'

There was no answer to that and so she'd kept quiet, acted hurt, drawn apart from him. But in fact she'd known that he was the one who was hurt, and that was the last thing she wanted. And when he finally got back into bed and she joined him there, then it had become obvious how cold he was, how stiff and silent and thoughtful where he lay with his back to her...

A little over an hour later she was awake again, a call of nature. Harry slept on, heavy in the bed, dead to the world. That thought made her shiver a little as she rejoined him; but of course he wasn't dead, just exhausted, mentally if not physically. His limbs were leaden, his eyes still, his breathing deep, slow and regular. No more dreams. Dawn was maybe three-quarters of an hour away.

Lying beside him, still Sandra felt distanced from him. Their relationship, she felt, was like fancy knitting, which was something she'd never been any good at. One slip of the needle and the whole thing comes undone. And that was a shame. Their lovemaking last night had been very, very good. For both of them, she knew.

To reinforce delicious, liquid memories of him inside her, she reached across him and down, taking him in her hand. And a moment later she was rewarded when he stiffened and pulsed in the tube of her fingers. An animal reaction, she knew, but she was grateful for it anyway.

Her loyalties were rapidly breaking down, splitting apart, and she knew that, too. E-Branch paid the bills, but there had to be more to life than fat pay cheques. Harry was what she wanted. He wasn't just a job any more, hadn't been for a long time. And the time was ever drawing closer when she must make the break, say to hell with the Branch and tell him the whole thing; damn it, he'd probably guessed it by now anyway.

Drifting, her thoughts began to run in pointless circles.

Before falling asleep again she was aware of noises in the garden where the property fronted the river. Slow noises, shuffling, sluggish. A badger? She wasn't sure if there were any badgers up here. Hedgehogs, then... Not burglars, anyway... Not in a district as rundown as this ... No money here... Badgers... Hedgehogs... A grating of stones on the gravel of the garden paths... Something doggedly busy in the garden...

Sandra slept in a fashion, but the noises were still on her mind. Conscious of them, she hovered on the verge of true sleep and wouldn't let herself be drawn down. But as dawn began to filter its first feeble rays of pale light through the blinds of Harry's room, the garden sounds gradually faded away. She heard the familiar creak of the old arched-over gate at the bottom of the garden, and what might have been a slow series of shuffling footsteps, and then no more.

Shortly after that the birds were singing, and Harry came up the stairs in his dressing-gown with a steaming pot of coffee and biscuits on a tray. 'Breakfast,' he said, simply. And: 'We had a rough night.'

'Did we?' she sat up.

'Up and down a bit,' he shrugged. He was still pale but less weary-looking now. And she thought she detected a new look in his eyes. Wariness? Reluctant realization? Resolution? Hard to tell with Harry. But resolution? What had he resolved to do, to say? She must get to him before he got to her.

'I love you,' she said, putting down her cup on a small bedside table. 'Forget anything else and just remember that. I can't help it and don't want to, but I just love you.'

'I ... I don't know,' he said. But looking at her -sitting up in his bed like that, still pink from sleep and with her nipples achingly stiff - it was hard not to want her. She knew the look in his eyes, reached out and tugged at the cord of his dressing-gown; and he was hard under there and moving with a life of his own.

Then they were clinging and she curled herself onto him; and her breasts were warm, soft and pliant against him; and he touched her in those places where he knew she liked him to, and stroked her at the wet, mobile junction of their flesh. It was the best it had ever been, and their coffee went cold...

Later, downstairs, with a fresh pot beginning to bubble, he said: 'And now I could face a decent breakfast!'

'Eggs and bacon? Out on the patio?' She thought that maybe the worst was over. She'd be able to break it to him now without fearing it would destroy everything. 'Will it be warm enough out there?'

'Middle of May?' Harry shrugged. 'Maybe it's not so hot at that. But the sun's up and the sky is clear, so ... let's call it invigorating rather than chilly.'

'All right.' She turned towards the fridge but he caught her arm.

'I'll do it, if you like,' he said. 'I think I'd enjoy making breakfast for you.'

'Fine', she smiled and went through the old house to the front. It was the back, really, but facing the river like that she always thought of it as 'the front'.

Opening large patio windows where they overlooked the high-walled garden, the first thing she noticed was the gate under its stone archway, hanging ajar on rusting scroll hinges. And she remembered hearing it creaking just as dawn was breaking. A puff of wind, maybe, though she couldn't remember the night as being especially breezy.

She walked down across the crazy-paving patio with its weathered garden furniture. The garden was a suntrap, seeming to gather all of the early-morning May sunlight right into itself. Already the wall of the house was warm, basking in the glow. It wouldn't at all be a bad place to live, she thought, if Harry would only get it fixed up.

He had, in fact, done a little work on the house and grounds in the last four or five years. He'd had the central heating put in, for one thing, and had at least made an effort to sort out the garden. She crossed the patio to the lawn and made her way down the gravel path which divided it centrally. The grass was longer than it should be but still manageable, barely. At the bottom of the lawned area the garden had been terraced on one side, with a shallow dry-stone wall holding back the soil. This was the alleged 'vegetable garden', though the only vegetation here now consisted of large areas of stinging nettles, brambles run wild, and a huge patch of rhubarb!

She saw that several of the stones were missing from the top tier of the wall, and at once remembered the grating sounds she'd heard when she lay half-asleep. If a section of the wall had simply fallen, perhaps pushed over by an expansion of dew- or rain-sodden soil, then its debris would be lying here at the foot of the wall. But there was nothing, just a missing top tier; and for her life she couldn't see someone sneaking in here just to steal stones! Perhaps Harry would know something about it.

She carried on down to the gate and looked out across the reedy bank to the river, whose surface was inches deep in undulating mist. It was a calm scene but very eerie: the mist lying there like cream on milk, turning the river to a twining white ribbon for as far as the eye could see. She'd never seen anything quite like it before. But maybe it augured well for a warm day.

Then, closing the gate and wedging it with a half-brick, she paused and sniffed at the morning air. Just for a moment then she had thought to smell something... gone off? Yes, gone entirely off, in fact. But just as quickly the smell had disappeared.

So maybe that was what last night's snuffling and shuffling had been about: local nocturnal creatures sniffing at the body of some poor dead thing or other where it lay in the reeds there at the river's rim. Which might also explain the maggots squirming in a tangle on the overgrown path just outside the gate!

Maggots! Ugh! Loathsome things!

And there were robins on the high garden wall, too, watching her and the maggots both - speculatively, she thought. If she went away the redbreasts would likely make short work of the horrid things. Bon appetit! She wasn't a bit envious.

And then, frowning, turning back from the gate and looking up the path towards the house, at last she saw where the stones from the wall had gone. Obviously it had been Harry's doing after all. He'd been laying them out as stepping stones on the gentle slope of the lawned area. And on some whim or other, he'd caused them to form letters.

Before she could connect the letters up to see if they had any meaning, Harry appeared at the patio windows with a steaming jug of coffee, cups, milk and sugar on a tray. 'Breakfast in five minutes,' he called down to her. 'By the time you've poured I'll be back with the eats.' And so she forgot the business with the stones and went back up the path to where he'd left the coffee on the garden table.

But half-way through breakfast she remembered and asked: 'What's this thing with the stones?'

'Hmm?' Harry raised an eyebrow. 'Stones?'

'In the garden, on the lawn.'

'Yes,' he agreed, nodding, 'there are stones surrounding the lawn. What about it?'

'No,' she insisted, 'on the lawn! Stones forming letters.' She smiled and teased: 'What is this, Harry? Are you sending secret messages to the jumbo pilots flying into Edinburgh Airport or something?'

'On the lawn?' He paused with a forkful of food halfway to his mouth. 'Messages to the - ?' He put his fork down and, frowning now, asked, 'Where on the lawn?'

'Why, just there!' she pointed. 'Go and see for yourself.'

He did, and she could see from the expression on his face that he knew nothing about it. She got up and joined him there, and together they stared at the peculiar stony legend. It was simple enough, looked unfinished, made no sense whatsoever:




And: 'Messages?' Harry said again, thoughtfully, almost to himself. For a moment longer he stared, then nervously licked his lips and glanced quickly all around the garden, peering intently here and there. Sandra wondered what he was looking for. He was suddenly quiet, very pale again, obviously seriously concerned about something.

'Harry?' she said. 'Is there something...?'

He sensed more than heard her worried tone of voice. 'Eh?' he looked at her. 'No, nothing. Some kids must have been in. So they moved a few stones around - so what?' He laughed but there was no life in it.

'Harry,' she began again, 'I - '

'Anyway, you were right,' he abruptly cut her short. 'It's too damned cold out here! Let's get inside.'

But as they gathered up the breakfast things she saw him sniff at the air, saw fresh lines of concern, of realization - even of understanding? - gather on his brow.

'Something dead,' she said, and he actually started.


'In the reeds, down by the river, Some dead thing. There are maggots on the path. The birds are eating them.' Her words were innocent enough in themselves, but now Harry looked positively haggard.

'Eating them...' he repeated her. And now he couldn't wait to be out of the garden and into the house.

She took the breakfast things from him and carried them through to the kitchen, then returned to his study. He was pacing the floor, pausing every now and then to look out of the patio windows and into the garden. But as she entered he came to some decision or other and tried to adopt a less hag-ridden look. 'So what's your schedule for today?' he inquired. 'Will you be drawing? What have you got on the board right now, eh?'

Just a few words, but they told her a lot.

Sandra was a fashion designer - ostensibly. In fact she did design fashionable women's clothes and had enjoyed several small successes, but mainly it was a front for her work within E-Branch. Last night she had told Harry that she wasn't doing anything today. She had thought they might spend it together. But now, for reasons of his own, he obviously wanted her out of here. 'You want me to go?' She couldn't keep the disappointment out of her voice.

'Sandra,' he gave up his weak attempt at subterfuge, sighed and looked away, 'I need to be alone to do some thinking. Can you understand that?'

'And I'll be in the way? Yes, I can understand that.' But her tone said she couldn't. And before he could answer: 'Harry, this thing about the stones in the garden. I-'

'Look,' he grated, 'I don't know about the stones! For all I know they're only a small part ... of ... of ... oh, whatever!'

'Part of what, Harry?' Surely he must hear how concerned she was?

But it seemed he didn't. 'I don't know,' his voice was still harsh. He shook his head, then shot her an inquiring, almost vindictive glance. 'Maybe I should ask you, eh? I mean, maybe it's possible you know more about what's going on here than I do, right?'

She made no answer but began to collect up her things. When this - whatever it was - had blown over, then there'd be time enough to try to explain about her connections with E-Branch. And it would be a good time, too, to quit the Branch entirely and make a clean start. With Harry, if he'd have her.

He threw some clothes on and was waiting for her in the car when she was ready. They drove along the service road from the old houses, crossed the stone bridge and joined the major road into Bonnyrig. From the village she could get a bus into Edinburgh. She'd done it before and it was no great chore.

She hadn't meant to speak to him again right now, but getting out of the car she found herself saying, 'Will I see you tonight? Should I come up here?'

'No,' he shook his head. And as she turned away: 'Sandra!' She looked back into his pale, troubled face. But he could only shrug helplessly and say: 'I don't know. I mean I really don't.'

'Will you call me?'

'Yes,' he nodded, and even managed a smile. 'And Sandra... it's OK. I mean, I know you're OK.'

That took a big lead weight off her heart. Something only Harry Keogh could do as easily as that. 'Yes,' she leaned down and kissed him through the open car window, 'we're OK, Harry. I know we're OK.'

In Edinburgh, Darcy Clarke and Norman Wellesley were waiting in the road outside the sweeping terraced facade of Georgian houses where Sandra had her flat. They were in the back of Wellesley's car, parked up, with two other Branch men; but as she came into view round a corner they got out of the car and met her at the door of the house. She had the ground-floor flat; without speaking she ushered them inside.

'Nice to see you again, Miss Markham,' Wellesley nodded, taking a seat.

Clarke was less formal. 'How are things, Sandra?' He forced a smile.

She caught a brief glimpse of his mind and it was all worry and uncertainty. But nothing specific. Harry was in it somewhere, though, be sure. Of course he was; why else would these two be here? She said: 'Coffee?' and without waiting for their answer went into her kitchen alcove. Let them do the talking.

'We have time for a coffee, yes,' said Wellesley, in that oh-very-well, I-suppose-I-shall-have-to-accept way of his, as if it were his damned right! 'But actually we're pretty busy and won't prolong our visit too much. So if we can get right to it: did you have plans to see Keogh tonight?'

Just like that... and 'Keogh', not Harry. Will you be in his bed, or he in yours? Wellesley was asking. Humping again tonight, are you?

There was something about this man that got Sandra's back up. And the fact that his mind was a complete blank - not even radiating the faintest glow - was only a small part of it. She glanced back at him from the alcove with eyes that were cold where they met his. 'He said he might call me,' she answered, unemotionally.

'It's just that we'd prefer it if you don't see him tonight, Sandra,' Clarke hurriedly put in, before Wellesley could use that blunt instrument he called a tongue again. 'I mean, we plan on seeing him ourselves. And we'd like to avoid, you know, any embarrassing confrontations?'

She didn't know, really. But she brought them their coffee anyway and gave Darcy a smile. She'd always liked him. She didn't like to see him uncomfortable in the presence of his boss. Their boss, though not for much longer. Not if things worked out as she hoped they would. 'I see,' she said. 'So what's happening?'

'No need for you to concern yourself,' Wellesley was quick off the mark. 'Just routine stuff. And, I'm afraid, confidential.'

And suddenly she was afraid, too ... for Harry. More complications? Something to interfere with her own plans, which she hoped would be the best for him? It was on the tip of her tongue to tell them about the new developments, what she knew of them, but she held it back.

There was that in their attitude - Wellesley's anyway -which warned that now wasn't a good time. And anyway, it would all go in her end-of-month report, along with her resignation.

They all three finished their coffees in silence. And finally: 'That's it, then,' said Wellesley, standing up. 'We won't be seeing you!' - his idea of a smart remark! He nodded, offered her a twitchy half-smile and headed for the door. She saw them out, and Wellesley's parting shot was: 'So if he does, er, call you, do put him off, won't you?'

She might have answered him in kind right there and then, but Clarke gave her arm a reassuring squeeze just above the elbow, as if saying: 'It's OK, I'll be there.'

But why should Darcy be acting so concerned? She'd rarely seen him looking so on edge...


-- Advertisement --