A PICTURE OF THE MIND, A PHOTOGRAPH OF THE FUTURE
In case her place was under observation, Bonnie Jean rode the taxi to within a quarter mile of 'B.J. 's,' paid her fare, then walked or was blown the rest of the way. It was a little after midday, raining, and blowing a gale. Buffeted along the slippery pavements, she thought: The windy fucking city, indeed!
Furious by the time she arrived at the bar - mainly with herself, but also with the way things were or were not working out - she had to call one of her girls down from her bedroom, from where she was supposed to be watching the street outside, to let her in!
- 'Didn't you see me arrive?'
'I... I was using your toilet,' the girl told her.
Two other girls, who were in the vicinity and witnessed B.J. 's arrival, reported to her in the bar as she was towelling her hair and trying to dry out.
'Any luck?' She glared at them. 'What of the watcher? Has he been back? And Harry Keogh? Have you found him?' But seeing the negative look on their faces: 'Let's get this place tidied up, sorted out. We open tonight. If we stay closed any longer, it will only attract attention. I'll make adjustments to your duties as soon as I get the chance.' And finally, as she made to head upstairs: 'Any calls?'
'A few,' the girl from her bedroom told her. They're on your answering machine. I didn't monitor them. You didn't tell me to . .
B.J. rushed through the bar and up the stairs to her bedroom. There were three calls from regulars wanting to know when the bar would be open again, and two more from someone or ones who said nothing, but the next and last -
- Was from Harry:
'B.J.?' (He sounded unsure of himself, tinny, distant). 'I said I would call you before I went off. So, I'm calling. Tried to get you twice already - nothing doing. Too early, I suppose. Sorry about that. So, I'll be away
maybe a month, I'm not sure. About a month, yes. I don't know why I'm bothering you, really. That's it, then ... " But after a long pause:
'Oh, and by the way, that Greek wine of yours is ... good stuff? Well, let's say it's an "acquired taste," eh? But a damn good way to get to sleep nights, when your mind just can't stop ticking over! Know what I mean? No, I don't suppose you do ...'
(Another pause, then):
Til be in touch ... " And. again a long silence before the 'phone went dead.
And: 'Damn!' B.J. said under her breath, expelling all of her air in a heavy sigh before taking her first deep breath for what seemed like the first time that day.
She breathed in ... and held it. Now what in all - ?
Aftershave? Old Spice? Harry's aftershave? It must be. But lingering on, all this time since he'd been here? Except... he hadn't been here, not 'up' here, not in her bedroom! Or was it just his voice that had set it off? But damn it all, she could smell him - him, and not just his aftershave! He was that real, that vivid, tantalizing, in her mind ... And in her room?
B.J.'s eyes were suddenly feral in the gloomy quiet of her room, with the curtains drawn and the rain pattering on the window panes. Her nostrils gaped; she turned her head sharply this way and that! She sniffed, as she tracked the essence of a man, his scent, his odour. But here, in her bedroom ... where he had never been.
She flew down one flight to her living-room. Nothing! His scent wasn't here - or if it was, it was just the merest trace.
He may have been here, but he hadn't lingered here. He'd gone ... up to her bedroom!
She bounded back up the stairs. And there it was again ... like a familiar perfume, hanging on the air. His scent, and the sweet human smell of her girl. Hers, and his.
B.J. called for her, screamed for her, down the stairwell. 'Moreen! Come up here! Come now!'
She came, looking confused, frightened, astonished. B.J. took her by the shoulders and shook her. 'He was here! He was here - with you!'
'He what? Who?' Moreen was a stunning redhead, twenty-two or twenty-three years old. Her green eyes were wide, amazed, disbelieving. Finally she broke free. 'B.J., no one was here. Not while I was here, anyway!' And she shrank away from the other, especially from her looks. 'You look like ... like a wild thing!'
And B.J. knew that she did, that she was. But at least it was controllable. She pulled herself together, willed the thing hiding within her to subservience, then slumped on her bed. 'He was here,' she said, mainly to herself. 'Maybe not with you, if you say so. But here, certainly.'
The watcher?' Moreen was genuinely mystified. 'You think I would invite - ?'
B.J. shook her head. 'Not the watcher, no. Damn, we don't even know if the watcher exists, not for sure! I'm just taking Harry Keogh's word for it. He's the one I'm talking about. Him, Harry Keogh himself, who tossed Big Jimmy about like a sack of coal that night!'
'The one we're looking for?'
B.J. bared her teeth. 'I can smell him, right here.'
Then you're mistaken.' The girl tossed her head almost defiantly, and sat down beside the bed on a chair.
B.J. sat up, took hold of Moreen's shoulders again, more gently this time. 'Look, this is important. Were you here all the time?'
'Why, no, of course not. How could I be?' the other said, and gave a defensive shrug. 'I mean I had to eat, sleep, attend to various other things. But when it was important to be here, then I was here.'
'When it was important? When, exactly?'
'I sat at that window,' the girl pointed, 'oh, until two or half-past two each morning, just watching the road outside. And you have no idea how boring that can get to be, B.J. But I did it anyway, for you.'
'And then you slept? Where, and how long?'
'Wrapped in a spare blanket, in the barroom beside one of the big radiators.'
'Downstairs, you're sure?'
'And if someone had got in?'
'But that's why I slept down there!' Moreen was close to tears. 'Any burglar or intruder would have had to get past me. I'm usually a light sleeper and would hear him. But I was up each morning by six-thirty, so as to come up here and check if anyone was watching us in the early mornings - this morning especially ... "
B.J. was quick to catch that one. 'Why? What was so special about this morning?'
There were two calls. I heard the 'phone ring before your answer machine took over. I seem to remember checking the time; the first call was, oh, about five-thirty I think, and the second maybe fifteen minutes later. That one woke me up more yet. I tossed and turned a bit, then must have dozed for a few minutes. But about six o'clock, I thought I heard something.'
'What did you hear?' B.J. tightened her grip.
'I heard the boards creak, somewhere up here. But it was windy and raining; it was just the old house protesting.'
B.J. thought about it. Harry could have called from any telephone. A telephone box in the street, even. He'd called twice, got no answer,
given up and come here personally. But how had he got in past Moreen? And more importantly, what did he want? Suddenly the answer was clear in her mind.
As clear as his voice on her answering machine ...
'Go down and help the others,' she said, standing up. 'I... I'm sorry I was so excited, sorry I shouted. Things could be working out better, that's all. You understand?'
The girl looked worried now. 'B.J., are we in trouble?'
'Not if I can help it,' she shook her head. 'Do as I say, and don't worry about it.'
But as soon as the girl was gone she turned to her bed, stooped and reached underneath, and drew out a three-by-four cardboard wine crate. There were three bottles of her 'Greek' wine sitting neatly in their sockets in the last row. Three, yes. But B.J. knew there should be four!
Oh, she'd weaned him on, all right, this oh-so-talented Harry Keogh, this 'mysterious' Mr Keogh! And the longer she knew him the more talented and mysterious he got to be ...
It wasn't quite a month before Harry was back; in fact, it was twenty-five days. And B.J. needn't have worried about weaning him off her wine - Radu's wine, actually - for Harry had been doing that, or trying to do it for himself, and fairly successfully. A single shot on a night, before sleeping, was all he'd allowed himself. And he'd tried tempering the stuff with other brews. Jack Daniel's Old No. 7 had been one such: a top-quality liquor whose potency should leave any mere wine standing at the post. But that stuff of B.J.'s was definitely ... oh, something else! It was very much to Harry's taste - or Alec Kyle's taste, whichever. Its only drawback was what it did to him: his stinging eyes, dry throat, fluffy head; all the symptoms of a heavy cold, for which it seemed to be the only cure! There was a word for it: addiction, which Harry realized well enough. It was why he would only take it on a night, and then only one small shot.
Even so, it interfered with his search. Except (as he had come to realize by the end of his three weeks and four days in Seattle, Washington, USA), his 'search' was a joke. And a joke that he was playing on himself.
Of course, with the Mobius Continuum at his fingertips - his to command - he hadn't needed to stay in Seattle. He could come and go as he wished; spend every night at home in Bonnyrig if he so desired. But he hadn't desired.
Truth to tell, the old house where his beloved Ma had died and his murdering black-hearted bastard of a stepfather, Viktor Shukshin, had continued to live - until his past and Harry had caught up with him, at least - was a cheerless sort of place, ominous and full of evil memories.
It would be a long time, if ever, before the Necroscope could think of it as 'home' in the truest sense of the word.
Which was why he'd hired a so-called 'house'-boat down on the waterfront in Seattle, paying a month's rent in advance for far less comfort and only half the space he'd been used to even in his and Brenda's tiny garret flat in Hartlepool, in the ... in the old days. But the flat had worse memories than the house in Bonnyrig, which was one of the reasons he had got rid of it. He'd thought about taking a hotel room, or a suite. Why not? He could easily stay at the city's finest, if he fancied; and just as easily skip out without paying the bill when it was time to Mobius on. Except hotels weren't him.
But, 'the old days?' Funny, that it seemed so long ago! Funny, yes ... for a man whose incorporeal, metaphysical mind had once had access to all of the past, and all of the future, and as much of space as he or any man could live in or explore even in an eternity of lifetimes!
And the funniest thing of all - or the most ironic - was that he still had it but couldn't use it. Not to its, or his, best advantage. Not until he'd found Brenda and the baby.
The past? That was over and done. There was nothing there to help him now, even if he had access to it. Which he didn't; and that, too, was funny. Incorporeal, he'd been able to 'immaterialize' in the past. But now if he went there, he'd be like a toy man on a toy train that went in a circle - or figure-of-eight loop? - and never stopped; with all the stations passing him by, but never able to get off.
And as for space - which in this case meant the total of all the places, the geographic locations, in the world - well, he had access to those, certainly. But there were millions of them, and Brenda and the baby were only in one of them.
Which one was anybody's guess. The Great Majority couldn't help him, because they had no contact with the living except Harry himself. And the living ... ?
Of all living people, the E-Branch specialists - Darcy Clarke's espers - should have been able to tell him something.
Yet they'd told him nothing. And he believed them; they simply didn't know. So where did that leave Harry? What chance did he stand? A very slim one, at best.
Yet there he'd been in Seattle, Washington, USA (why, he couldn't say), allegedly 'searching' for two people who were, or should be, very dear to him. And he wasn't even sure about that last part, either! Love Brenda? But she didn't love him, didn't even know the him he was now! And love the baby? What, little Harry, who knew more than he did about everything that made him what he was?
And yet Harry must search, if only to find out why they'd left him. No, not even that, for he knew why: because he wasn't him, and because the things he'd done - and others he might yet do - were dangerous. The baby loved his Ma, that was all, just as Harry loved his Ma. Except this baby wasn't about to let anything happen to Brenda.
And so back to that word: 'search.' Big joke! In England it had seemed to make sense. Close to Brenda's source, she had felt more real, she'd seemed feasible. Here she seemed impossible. So what it boiled down to was Harry wandering about in a strange body in a strange city in a strange land, praying he'd somehow collide with someone who was trying her best to avoid him! And she had a million other places in which to do it. And things were mainly a blur anyway, because he felt like hell...
Maybe if he hadn't run out of B.J. 's wine he would have stayed on even longer, doing nothing much. But it was starting to look like the wine wasn't the only thing that had him under its spell. B. J. herself kept coming back to mind: some beguiling thing about her, some promise he'd made, or she'd made. Or maybe some unspoken promise that he wished they'd made.
Harry wasn't too pleased with himself that he had stolen B.J. 's wine, but whatever else he did he knew (or hoped) that he wouldn't have to steal any more. With any luck it was out of his system now. And truth to tell his 'problem' - his, or Alec Kyle's alcoholism - had narrowed itself down, become specific. For it was now an established fact that the Necroscope couldn't or didn't want to drink any other kind of liquor. What was the point when it had little or no effect on him, except in massive doses? So maybe that was why he'd come home at this time: to be closer to B.J., and to her wine.
HeU of a note!
And what the hel kind of alcoholism was this anyway? Was it possible for a smoker to be addicted to just one brand? What if they stopped making it? After he'd finished his last pack of Brand X, what then? He'd never smoke again? The Necroscope had never heard of anything like it. And neither had his Ma.
Have it analysed, she told him. See what's in it. Maybe it has an antidote.
Harry was sitting on the river bank where he had materialized, his first port of call upon his return. It had been just after six a. m. in Seattle when he'd woken up, lifted his head, and looked at an empty bottle sitting there on a shelf at the side of his bookcase headboard. An empty bottle and an empty glass. And his first thought had been that he had used up the wine and there'd be none for tonight. That had been some twenty minutes, a wash, shave and a good stiff toothbrushing while he was still brave enough to put something in his mouth, ago - plus a minute or two to get dressed. While here in Scotland it was mid-afternoon. A decently warm spring day; the sun shining, birds singing and all ... and Harry feeling rotten.
'Mobius-lagged!' he grumbled, and at once bit his tongue. He shouldn't be talking about that stuff to anyone - or even thinking about it where the dead were concerned. Even his Ma. He'd have to learn to guard his thoughts about... about that sort of thing.
Nonsense! his Ma answered. But she was talking about his comment, not about his regretting it. You're not any kind of lagged! You're hung over, that's all.
He was glad to change the subject. 'Yes, probably. Except it doesn't go away.'
So do as I tell you! And anyway, if that's the end of it, it's the end of it. Thank goodness for that.
'But I know where there's more.' And again he could have bitten his tongue, for she was on him like a ton of bricks: Leave it alone, Harry! That's all I can do, advise you. You have a mind, and therefore you have a choke: be an alcoholic or don't be. It's one or the other. To be or not to be. It's up to you. No one can order you not to drink, but by the same token no one can make you drink!
But in the back of the Necroscope's head, a voice seemed to say, 'Oh, really?' Harry didn't know what it meant, and so ignored it. 'Anyway,' he said out loud, 'credit where credit's due: I'm fighting it. It's just this last wrinkle in my - or Alec Kyle's - grey mater. It needs ironing out, that's all. It's something that's residual of him, like his precognition. But I can feel it adjusting to fit me, I think. And if I don't use it, don't pander to it, it will... I don't know, atrophy? It's just a mater of time, I'm sure.'
His precognition? She repeated him, as glad as he was to change the subject. Have you been having more visions, then?
'No,' Harry shook his head - And at once reeled, and grabbed at the root of a tree to keep from toppling from the bank! For his Ma's question had seemed to bring something on, a scene obscured by what appeared to be mental static -until the Necroscope realized that he was seeing it through a blizzard!
A frozen monochrome landscape, like the roof of the world, and a gaunt range of mountains marching against grey skies that went on forever. It was cold - a biting cold - that was so real Harry could even feel it gnawing at him; and the snow slanting down like a million white spears, piercing his warmth as they landed and formed an ever-thickening layer on his being, his mind, his psyche ...
... It was gone, leaving him shivering and reeling, while his Ma's dead voice cried in his mind: Harry! What on earth - ? But what she should have been asking was where. Where on earth? For Harry had seen nothing like it; he'd never been in or imagined being in such a place. He gasped for air, could scarcely believe that he was warm and the sun still shining down on him. It had been so very real. And damn it, he could feel it coming back again!
He had let go of the root but now clutched at it again, as the thing invaded his senses and tore him from his reality into its own: The iron-grey mountains, snow-capped, ridged with carved, drifted snow; and the valleys and passes between the spurs and peaks full of it,
like white dunes rolling to rearing horizons of stone. But to Harry's right. . . what, a city? A walled city, yes, protected in the lee of the mountains and by a long, snaking wall - like a miniature version of the Great Wall of China - with gaunt square towers, battlements, mighty gates. But the old, cold city was dead and empty; it huddled down into itself behind the wall, and kept its secrets ...
It was much like a scene from some old geography book in Harry's secondary modern school at Harden. And once again the thought struck him: the Roof of the World, yes! But... Tibet? Why was he seeing a scene out of Tibet?
The blizzard had fallen of a little. (Harry felt the familiar river bank under his thighs) - but he also felt the cold of the snows gnawing in his bones, and saw a scene from incredible distances of space, or even out of future time, enacted on the screen of his mind. But Harry was the Necroscope and could handle it, perhaps even better than Alec Kyle himself. And finally accepting it, no longer fighting it, he shielded his eyes against the falling snow and stared harder.
Out there on the white waste ... movement? Single file, a line of seven people - antlike figures, at this range - were making their way across the snow. They were robotic in their movements, like a military drill routine -left, right, left, right, left-but rapid and shuffling. The three in front were dressed in red, also the three bringing up the rear. But the one in the middle was all in white. And as if from a million miles away, the Necroscope could hear the chiming of tiny golden bells ...
... The cold receded, was gone from mind and body in a moment; the river swirled below; Harry swayed like a drunkard, and his Ma had time for a single word - Son! - before Alec Kyle's talent struck again.
It was no longer snowing. Harry saw the six - what, monks? And one initiate? - out on the snows, tramping single-file as before. But the walled city was no longer in sight; the location was different. This time, in front of the six, the base of a sheer clif reared like a titan face. It was a face: carved out of the rock! But if the location was cold, that great grim visage in the rock was colder still.
It could only be a temple, (a monastery?) with huge steps carved from the bedrock leading up to the entrance: the yawning mouth of the great face. And up the steps the seven went, to where a portcullis was lifted and the throat became a passageway into the monastery. Then: Sheer fantasy!
For as the seven disappeared inside ... so the face became flesh! The great jaws snapped shut, and the eyes opened wide to burn crimson as hell! And suddenly the no-longer-stone face was smiling the devil's own smile!
Harry couldn't believe his eyes. He blinked - And stared up at a blue sky, where wisps of cloud drifted across a blinding sun. He'd toppled over onto his back, and was lying there on the river bank with his mouth wide open. Dazzled, Harry blinked again -and at once gritted his teeth, cringing down into himself in anticipation of another shift. But no, it was over now, and it gradually dawned on the Necroscope that he knew it was over.
Then, struggling to sit up, and gasping the words out, he began to ask his mother, 'Ma, did you - ?'
Of course I saw it! She cut him short. We're in contact; I saw what you saw. But Harry, what does it mean? What was it?
Harry stood up and shakily, absentmindedly brushed himself down. Finally he shook his head. 'Whatever it was, it certainly wasn't delirium tremens!'
But it's all tied up, isn't it? It's all one and the same! Harry, are you into another of these ... these things of yours? Her dead 'voice' overflowed with concern.
Things?' Harry's mouth was dry; he hadn't quite given up expecting something else to happen.
You know what I mean, his Ma insisted. Are you in trouble again, son?
And for the first time the Necroscope wondered, Am I?
But out loud, without really considering what he said, he answered, 'Ma, to the best of my knowledge, I'm not in any real "trouble" trouble. I don't think so, anyway. And that's fine by me, because I've got enough problems as it is. So don't you go wishing any more on me, okay?'
And yet again he could have bitten his tongue, because what he'd said wasn't nearly what he'd meant. But too late now.
Well! his Ma said, in a certain way she had, making that one small word an entire statement on its own. Following which she wasn't much inclined to talk to him any more ...
Harry walked the river path to the arched-over gate in the garden wall, and letting himself into the garden became aware of a car's engine fading to silence at the front of the house. Since the rest of the houses in this once select, now neglected location were derelict, this could only be someone visiting or delivering to him.
Avoiding the brambles as best he could, Harry ran up the garden path and quickly let himself in. He could have taken the Mobius route, of course, but the more sparing he was in his use of the Continuum, the less likely he'd be to give away its secret inadvertently. In a few seconds he was through the house to the front, where it took only a moment or so to unlock and open the door. Outside, a tall, slim young man was already half-way back down the walled yard to the gate that he had left open. In his hand was a large manila envelope. Beyond the gate, a black car stood waiting on the rutted service road. Hearing the door of the house open, the man turned and saw Harry.
'Delivery,' he said, showing Harry the envelope. And trying hard not to show too much interest, his keen, curious eyes looked the Necroscope over.
Harry returned the other's cautiously appraising look and said: 'You don't much look like a typical postman.' And it was true, he didn't. No uniform for one thing, and the car outside wasn't a post van, and the envelope had no address or stamps.
The other shrugged. 'Wel then, let's say it's "special" delivery. Or beter still - '
' - E-Branch,' Harry's mouth turned down at the corners as the man started back up the path. 'Do I know you?' He held the house door open to let his visitor in.
They both had to avoid trampling a month's worth of mail - most of it junk - on the coconut-fibre mat just inside the door.
The other shook his head, held out his hand, which Harry pointedly ignored. He'd told Darcy he was finished with al of this. 'Munroe,' the stranger let his hand fal. 'James Munroe. And no, we haven't met. I'm usualy on embassy duties here and abroad, "checking out the talent," so to speak. I'm a spoter, only recently returned from Italy to home duties - rotation of embassy staff, and what have you. Today I sensed you were back at last...' He paused and frowned. 'But I'm puzzled you didn't answer the door sooner. Is there a problem, Mr Keogh?'
'No problem,' Harry led him through the house to the room he'd designated as his study, whose patio doors looked out over the garden, directed him to a chair and seated himself. 'I was out in the garden, that's al. But did you say "back at last?" How long have you been waiting for me, then?'
'For a fortnight. In Edinburgh, coming out here each day to see if you were home yet.'
As they talked, Harry had checked James Munroe over. He would be six foot one or two, twenty-six or twenty-seven years old, one hundred and forty-five pounds maximum. His fare was angular: jutting chin, pointed nose and ears, and jet-black hair, swept back and lacquered down. His eyes saved him from looking cynical, or even sinister; they were wide, brown, penetrating and honest. The sort you could look into and not worry about what was going on in there.
'A fortnight? Coming out here every day? It's that important?'
To you, I believe.' Munroe shrugged. 'And possibly beneficial to the Branch, too, but I'm just guessing. It's the way we work, as you know.' He was staring, and Harry was suddenly uncomfortable.
'Is there something?' he snapped.
'Eh?' the other sat up straighter, was at once startled. 'Oh, I'm sorry! I was staring, right? It's just that when you asked if you knew me, I almost answered, "No, but I once knew you." But Darcy Clarke has told me you're touchy about that.'
Harry sighed, nodded and said, 'Alec Kyle. Yes, I'm sometimes touchy about it. But I'm geting used to it - to him - to certain aspects of him, anyway.' He.was nervous. This was geting too close to stuff he couldn't talk about.
'It's funny,' the other said, 'but on you he looks - oh, I don't know -younger?'
'Oh? Wel, he feels ancient!'
'I meant younger ... overall,' Munroe hurriedly corrected himself. 'I mean, it's like I can sense a younger man shining through. But shining too brightly, maybe?
Burning up?' 'What are you, an empath, too?'
The other's turn to sigh. 'I'm sorry, but I'm realy fucking this up, right? But I've read your files. You're the Necroscope, and I expected ... no, I didn't know what to expect! And I didn't mean to say that, either! I mean - you know - I'm not usualy a rude person, Mr Keogh ..."
And now there was an awkward silence, until: 'Harry,' the Necroscope said at last, his unnatural antagonism colapsing. 'Cal me Harry, please. And I'm afraid I have been rude, so don't you go apologizing. Just recently I've been doing more than my fair share of tripping over my tongue!' And changing the subject: 'So what's in the envelope?'
Munroe shrugged. 'I wasn't told what's in here.' He handed it over, and Harry looked at it with an almost accusing expression. This could be some kind of hook, and him the fish. But on the other hand ... it just might be news of Brenda.
And as he tore it open: 'I imagine Darcy tried to get me on the telephone, right? And when he found he couldn't get me, then he sent you?'
'Your listed number?' Munroe shook his head, and smiled. 'But we're E-Branch, Harry. No such things as listed numbers, not to E-Branch. Darcy Clarke could
'phone you, if he wanted to. I suppose he's doing his best to respect your privacy.'
The Necroscope said, 'Huh!' He took out a single, double-folded sheet of A-4 from the envelope. A leter, probably, but there was something stiff inside it - a photograph, maybe? And because it might be about Brenda, he wanted to open it at once. But because it mightn't be, he didn't.
'It doesn't make sense,' he finaly shook his head. 'Darcy can get me on the 'phone and doesn't. Or he could just write me a leter, asking me to contact him. But he doesn't. Instead, he sends you.' He glanced at the contents of the manila envelope - the leter, or whatever - still folded in his lap. 'So what do you reckon, James? Was your journey realy necessary?'
The other raised a querying eyebrow. 'I'm sorry, but - '
'See,' Harry cut him short. 'I'm not going to look at this - this
whatever it is - until I know why you had to deliver it personaly. In fact, if you don't tell me, and in the very near future at that, say the next five seconds, I'll simply set fire to it and dump it in the fireplace there. And you'l have to go back down to London and tell Darcy Clarke what happened.'
He looked around for his table-lighter, began to stand up, and Munroe said: 'Okay! You're right. Darcy wanted me, or someone, to see you personaly. Yes.'
Harry sat back again. 'Why?'
'Just to see how you, wel, looked ..."
'He's ... what, worried about me?'
'Maybe about how you're taking things. Maybe he feels responsible. Guilty ..."
Harry jumped on that. 'Guilty? And maybe you're right. So what would he have to feel guilty about?'
Munroe shrugged again, perhaps desperately this time, and said, 'Harry, I'm just a messenger, that's al. But Mr Clarke did say he was concerned about your general health. I mean, he knows your problems beter than I do, right? So why don't you read the leter? Maybe it's al in there.'
And in any case, despite his threat to burn it, the Necroscope had to know. So he unfolded the single sheet of A-4, laid the smal envelope inside to one side for the moment, and read what was writen in Darcy Clarke's spidery script:
First things first. Still nothing on Brenda, I'm afraid. And I suppose if you had heard anything, you would have told me. Don't worry, we're still on it.
Last time we spoke, you said you were thinking of taking a long holiday, except you were short of funds. So it could be you would take a sort of working holiday?
You asked if I'd check a few places out for you. Wel, I've found a place you might like - in the Mediterranean. The weather would be beneficial I'm sure, and the deal could work out realy cheap ...
Oh, and you asked about exchange rates? Wel, they are prety good, too. So why don't you contact me and we'l talk?
I enclose a photograph. Nice place. I think you'd enjoy working there ...
Al best -
The Necroscope knew what Darcy was talking about; he remembered how he'd suggested doing a job on the Russian repository in Moscow, or maybe on some other outfit or organization in the Branch's bad books, for monies to fund his search. Damn! Was that all this was? Darcy scratching his back - and maybe hoping to get a job done for free - all the time knowing it would put Harry in his debt, so that at some future time the Necroscope might feel obliged to do a little back-scratching in return? A sort of two-birds-with-one-stone scenario?
'So why don't you contact me and we'll talk?' - Indeed! E-Branch! It was typical! The nerve of the double-dealing...!
He almost ripped the photograph from its envelope ... and then sat there frozen, staring at it!
For a moment Harry thought it must be one of Alec Kyle's 'things' again, his precognition. Hell! - it was one of Kyle's things, but this time it was real! As real as this photograph, anyway:
The stark yellow and white clifs, coloured by sunlight. And the squat, white-walled castle, mansion, chateau, whatever it was, perched there on the edge of oblivion. A fortress on a mountainside, at the rim of a sheer drop. The scene was Mediterranean; yes, of course it was, and Harry had seen it before. All sun-bleached rocks, brittle scrub, a few stunted pines; he could almost taste the salty tang of an unseen ocean.
Finally he moved, rocked back in his chair, and James Munroe was at his side in a moment. 'Harry? Are you okay? I mean, your face. You looked stunned ... "
Harry got a grip on himself. He didn't know what all this meant, but he would soon damn well find out. 'I... I'm okay,' he said. 'It's . , . something you wouldn't understand.' Because I don't understand it! 'Look, you get on back to London. Sorry I can't be more hospitable, but I've things to do. Especially now. And don't worry, you've done your job. I'll be getting in touch with Darcy Clarke and E-Branch, yes.'
And after he'd seen Munroe off, he did just that...
The Necroscope could have just telephoned Darcy, but there was a better, almost an easier way. And anyway, face to face Darcy wouldn't be able to hide too much. That is, assuming there was anything to hide.
Not so long ago, using the Mobius route to E-Branch would have been much easier, but Harry couldn't do that now. Part of him realized that Darcy knew all about it anyway, but he still didn't like the idea that he knew - Darcy or anyone else, for that matter! And so he was restricted in his use of the Continuum; he couldn't do it in front of people.
So there was no way he could simply materialize in Darcy's office.
But that was all right, for there was another way. Harry doubted if they would have converted his room just yet; Darcy had told him they'd keep it for him just the way it was, even if he never had cause to use it again. So he couldn't see any reason why he shouldn't use it now, one last time.
He did: used it as one of his Mobius co-ordinates -
- And a moment later stepped out through the door of his old room into the main corridor of E-Branch in central London.
About half-way to Darcy's office, situated at the far end of the corridor, two Branch agents were talking to each other. Harry headed their way, and for a moment they scarcely noticed him. But as he passed the open door of the Duty Officer's room he heard someone say, 'Holy shit!' and guessed he'd been recognized. So, in another five seconds maximum Darcy Clarke would know he was here, too. Then, as he closed with the two espers, they finally saw him, snapped erect as soldiers on parade, and slid to one side out of his way. Harry was aware of their surprised glances, at him and at each other, as he passed by.
Darcy's office was full of security gadgets; the Necroscope knew that if he just barged in, he would probably set some of them off. So he went to knock ... but before his fist could strike home the door was yanked open from within.
And Darcy was there - in his shirt-sleeves, open-mouthed -beckoning him to come in. 'Harry! It's ... really great to see you! In fact I was just talking about you - '
' - With Munroe, on his car-phone?' the Necroscope nodded. 'Or with the Duty Officer?' He tossed Darcy's letter and photograph down on the Head of E-Branch's desk. And without further ado: 'Would you care to explain this?'
Darcy moved to close the door. Before he could close it all the way, Harry looked back down the corridor and saw half-a-dozen faces peering from their respective offices. Darcy saw his raised eyebrow and knowing, even scornful expression, gave a shrug and said, 'Er, word travels fast around here.'
'In some cases as fast as thought,' Harry nodded. 'Especially around here!' He placed extra emphasis on the 'esp' of
'especially.' 'So how will it be? Can we have some privacy for once? I mean complete privacy?' He sat down in a chair facing Darcy's desk. 'You have more than your fair share of listening devices around this place, Darcy: gadgets and ghosts and what-al. But your people would do wel to remember how curiosity killed the cat. Maybe the two-legged variety could use a reminder now and then?'
Darcy sat down in his own chair, flipped a switch on the desk and said, 'All stations. We have a guest who's a personal friend of mine, and of the Branch. You all know who he is, and of course he's to get the same degree of respect that we give each other. So this is private - and that's a capital "P." '
As he switched off again, Harry nodded and said, 'Gadgets and ghosts, yes. Machines are easy to switch off. But minds ... are something else, right?' He glanced about the office. 'Well, nothing seems to have changed much around here.'
'Er ... how's it going?' Darcy rubbed his hands in a businesslike fashion. He was lost for words if only for a moment. 'So, where have you been, Harry? And for that mater, how have you been?'
'How do I look?' The Necroscope was unsmiling.
'Fine!' Darcy answered, then slumped and shook his head. 'Hey, we're friends, Harry,' he said, his tone of voice flattening out a little, losing its bounce. 'I'd like to think so, anyway. And in that respect I'm pretty much like Ben Trask: I don't like to lie.'
'You look about the same as last time,' Darcy told him. 'You've lost weight, gained a few wrinkles, and you seem very tired. But at the same time - I don't know - somehow you look more like you, too? But you don't talk like you. I mean, I've given a lot of thought to that conversation we had about Alec Kyle - could he have been a secret drinker and so forth? That was pretty strange stuff!
So, you know, apart from Brenda and the baby ... what is it that's troubling you, Harry? I mean, I'd realy like to help, if I can.'
And suddenly the Necroscope felt he could relax a little. Darcy's friendship was genuine. Oh, there would always be this E-Branch thing, but that aside Darcy was real, and Harry felt able to talk to him. About certain things, anyway. And he did talk to him: Told him about Alec Kyle's precognition, how he seemed to have inherited it, and something about his strange new problem with drink. He didn't go into details on the latter, but enough that Darcy got the message. Certainly he got the message on the other thing.
'About Alec drinking; I still think you're wrong,' Darcy said, when Harry was through. 'And even if you're right, it's amazing to me that he hid it so wel! As for this,' he picked up the picture from his desk. 'You say you've seen it before?'
The Necroscope nodded. 'Yes. A scene, or sudden vision - in my head - but absolutely real. Actually, it was during our conversation about a Russian Fort Knox. Do you remember?'
'Of course, as a result of which I sent you the picture.'
'Right, but my mind - or maybe Alec Kyle's mind, the last wrinkle in his grey matter? - had already sent it to me! Only I didn't recognize it, didn't know what it meant.'
Darcy nodded. That's how it was with Alec, too,' he said. 'He rarely understood anything he saw but simply had to run with his visions to see how they worked out. He had to wait until he caught up with the future.'
'Me, too,' Harry said. 'Except this time I've been given more than just a precognitive glimpse, more than a mental clue.
I have your photograph, too,' he leaned forward and tapped his index finger on the picture. 'And I know that you know quite a bit about this ... what, target? So I won't be going in blind, because now that I'm sure this place is waiting to happen to me somewhere in my future, you'l be giving me al the details.'
'As much as we have,' Darcy said. 'Certainly. But even so, it's still fait accompli. You are going to do it.'
'So it would appear,' Harry's face was grim. 'So maybe we can start with you telling me who it is I'll be doing it to ...'