IV

DARCY'S TARGET. BONNIE JEAN AT HARRY'S.

Advertisement

'First the place,' Darcy pushed the photograph back across the desk closer to Harry. 'We don't know much about it; its history is vague at best. But you can probably find out more localy if you're so inclined.' (In fact the 'probably' was redundant, for Darcy knew that the Necroscope could do just that - could actually talk to the original owners or builders, if he so desired - but he didn't want to broach that subject).

'Anyway,' he went on, 'it's called Le Manse Madonie, named after the mountainous region in Sicily where it stands.

It was built about four hundred years ago on the foundations of a castle dating back to crusader times. And like most ancient properties, it's been added to and subtracted from for centuries.

'As to what it was originally: a watchtower looking out over the Tyrrhenian? Possibly. The redoubt of some princeling? We don't know. And actually it mightn't be so easy to find out after all - not from books, at least - because as far as we're able to discover most of its historical records have been destroyed. I mean, utterly.

-- Advertisement --

'The one sure thing we do know is that it's stayed in the hands of the same family for centuries. Their line goes back a long way, you might say immemorially. But records? - forget it! Where they exist they've been altered, updated, re-written from scratch. Not that there's much we can deduce from that; quite a few old families have skeletons in their closets. These people have cleared them out, that's all. Or maybe that's not all. It could be they were simply making room for a few new ones ...'

These people?' Harry sat wrapped in his own thoughts. He had absorbed all that Darcy had told him, which wasn't much so far. 'Well, it seems obvious to me that you've been interested in "these people" for quite some time. And that's E-Branch I'm talking about, keenly interested! So who are they?'

'They're called the Francezcis,' Darcy told him. 'That's their family

name, anyway: the current owners and occupiers of Le Manse Madonie. But as I've said, it's been Francezci family property, oh, since the year dot. They're brothers, twins, but not identical. Anthony, or Tony, and Francesco Francezci. That is who they are, but it's what they are that interests us.'

Harry nodded. 'So what are they?'

'First the facts,' Darcy answered. 'Let me tell you what we know for sure, and then what we suspect. And finally we'll be down to best bets. The Francezci brothers are the sole surviving heirs to one of the richest families in the world.

You can measure their wealth ... well, in billions! So we believe. Okay, okay!' He held up a hand. 'I said I'd tell you only what we know, and we do know. But it isn't easy to tie these people, or their assets, down. Put it this way: if you could calculate their wealth in terms of the Italian economy - if you could find a way to put back half of what they have taken out -then Italy and Sicily wouldn't be in half the shit they're in now.'

Harry could see where they were going. 'Mafia,' he said, very simply.

'Shhh!' Darcy put a finger to his lips and pulled a mock-horrified face. 'What, the Francezci brothers? But that's akin to blasphemy, Harry! Even suggest such a thing in polite Italian society, you'd be ostracised in a moment - and later you could end up circumcised, too, from the neck up! No one talks about them in such terms, but we're pretty damn sure it's how people think of them. Except... well it's amazing how things get warped with the passage of time. I mean, look at the so-called "legends" of Robin Hood, Jesse James, Ned Kelly - all the murderers and thieves who've become folk heroes.'

As he paused for breath, Harry said, 'Are you telling me the Francezcis are heroes?'

Darcy grinned, or grimaced, and said, 'But when you're powerful enough you can be what you want to be. I'l give you an example of what I'm talking about. Some forty-odd years ago it was a Francezci -allegedly one "Emilio" Francezci, a shady

"uncle" to Anthony and Francesco - who helped to organize the collaboration of a then underground Sicilian Mafia in the American invasion of 1943. That was a joint effort that came about as a direct result of an old debt owed by Emilio to Lucky Luciano, who was then rotting in an American prison cel.

'It was Emilio's "suggestion" that in exchange for Luciano's freedom and later extradition to Italy, Lucky might like to contact several Sicilian "ex"-capo friends on behalf of the American invasion force, and request that they and their "ex"-Mafia soldiers - who were still scattered throughout Sicily's villages - tighten the screws on what remained of II Duce's armed forces and make them an offer they couldn't refuse: life if they ran away, death if they chose to remain at their posts. Except while a clean sudden death as the result of an American blitzkrieg couldn't be guaranteed, a very ugly one on the cutting edge of some mafioso guerrilla's garrotte most certainly could!

The reason for all those "ex"s is simple: you've got to remember that at the time, Mussolini was hanging mafiosi from whichever handy lampposts he could find, and so it was a very good time to refute or better still cancel your membership in that organization! But the Mafia never dies; it might go away for a while, but it always comes back.

And II Duce, by standing against them, had put himself in their line of fire. They wanted rid of him - and they certainly didn't want Hitler!

'Thus the American invasion of Sicily was a walkover, and the course of the war - and a great many world-shaping events since - was altered. And so while this Emilio Francezci might be a difficult man to trace, by which I mean that we know absolutely nothing about him, still he could become one of those fake folk heroes I was talking about. But then, I'm told that there are people who idolize the memory of Al Capone, too ...'

Harry was silent a while, then said: 'But we are talking about Italy, or more properly Sicily, which is a place apart, surely? The way I understand it, graft, political corruption, crime in general, these things are almost a way of life. Just because this one Francezci - this "Emilio" - had bad connections, does that mean they're all tarred with the same brush? I mean, isn't everyone in that sort of culture tainted or at least touched by it, from the politicians down? ... Or up, as the case may be? What else have you got, Darcy? Why don't you tel me what brought about E-Branch's interest in the Francezcis in the first place?'

'Cut straight to the point, right?' Darcy answered. 'Okay, let's try that. E-Branch's interest in the Francezcis:

'Harry, I have prognosticators, people like Alec Kyle, yet unlike him, who are mainly interested in the future. The future of this country, and its welfare - and, I hasten to add, of the world as a whole. But charity begins at home. So what do I mean, these people are like Alec yet unlike him? Well, you were with us long enough to understand that no two sets of ESP skills are exactly alike. The talents of my precogs don't work like Alec's did, that's al. But they are skiled at making damn good guesses. Except as any precog will tell you, the future is devious as hell and therefore hard to gauge.

But they do their best.

The point is, as an island and a race we're moving closer and closer to Europe. Not in the physical sense, no, but ideologically, politically, and financially. So it would seem, anyway; so my precogs - my futurologists - have predicted. Well, if that's how it will be, it's how it will be. But in a future world where we are tied to Europe, we'd like to give ourselves the best possible advantage. Just because we happen to be divided from Europe by the English Channel and the North Sea - a situation which has given us a positive advantage in the past - doesn't mean we have to be some kind of poor offshore relative, some sort of bare-arsed cousin!'

The Necroscope was quick on the uptake. 'Your - futurologists? -foresee financial difficulties?'

Darcy was impressed. 'Among others,' he answered. 'French governments come and go like day follows night, and the French franc fluctuates accordingly. Then there's the deutschmark ... except there we're more worried about the past than the future! The old deutschmark may look good now, but it has one hel of a bad record, Harry. And as for the lira and the drachma? I mean, seriously, the pound sterling should end up tied to currencies such as those?'

'So, you've gauged something of the future, you're mindful of the lessons of the past, and you're now considering the present, right?' Harry nodded. 'So that you can discover where the rot has set in, and stop it from spreading over here? Which led you to the Francezcis.'

'Among others, right. But we've had to tread oh-so-carefully. The Francezcis seem immune from any kind of accusation. I can give you several examples in the last decade where Italian governments have fallen just because they looked like they were pointing a finger in their direction! E-Branch is E-Branch, yes, but on an international scale even we don't have that kind of diplomatic clout. Let them get wind of the fact that we've been checking on them ... why, even our plug could be pulled! And the intelligence of these people is awesome.'

Darcy had gone too fast. 'Hold it!' Harry held up a hand. 'You could get the plug pulled? Cease to function? But surely, you're first-line national security?'

Darcy sighed. 'We're E-Branch. There are people who should know better who still don't even believe in us, and others who want to cut our expenditure ... and we exist on a fucking shoestring anyway! And it isn't just idle flattery when I tell you that you, personally, have saved our skin time and again. You, your successes, are what's kept us afloat. We are ahead of The Opposition, which means we're successful. Ergo: we are allowed to exist. But the Francezcis are just too powerful for us. As a covert organization, we simply can't go against them. If we're right about them, we lack the clout to do anything about it. And if we're wrong and get found out - they'd have us by the balls... "

Harry was thoughtful. Two brothers, that powerful? Just the two of them? What's their power-base - I mean, apart from money.'

'Well, of course, that's the most powerful force on Earth!' Darcy exclaimed. 'But okay, apart from money:

'Harry, they're like an octopus, with tentacles all over the place, in every kind of sinkhole. I mentioned their intelligence. Well, in the main that's their power-base, too. Except the rest of this is really deep and you might find it difficult to believe, even hearing it from me, even here at E-Branch HQ.'

Try me, anyway,' the Necroscope answered. 'See, I have a very open mind.' He actually smiled, and for a moment looked even more like the old Harry Darcy had known. And Darcy could see the humour of it: someone trying to tell Harry Keogh that something might be too hard to believe! And that someone just happening to be himself, Darcy Clarke, who could walk through a minefield blindfold, in snowshoes, and come through without a scratch. So that Darcy smiled, too, then chuckled, and the tension was that much more diminished.

But in the next moment it was back to business, as Darcy said: 'Okay, then listen. These people, the Francezcis, aren't just a couple of big-time hoods. They've got the weight of the Mafia behind them - the total weight! Of course they have, for they're advisers to the Mafia, like Dons of dons, or Godfathers of godfathers! But that's not nearly the end of it. For through the Mafia they're also advisers to the KGB and, on occasion ... to the CIA!'

The Necroscope looked blank, as if he hadn't heard. But as it sank in, he cocked his head on one side and said,

'They're what?'

Darcy nodded. 'You can't see it. Well, that's understandable. But remember the Lucky Luciano story, and then ask yourself why the Mob is still alive and well and living in a great many places even today, when every "straight" body in this big wide world would love to put them out of business for good.'

'But the CIA?' Harry still needed convincing. 'I mean, the first is acceptable, even plausible; naturally Mother Russia would love to undermine western capitalism. And what better way than by the corruption at its root? But the CIA?

What kind of "advice" would the Central Intelligence Agency take - what kind would they even want - from people in bed with the Mob?'

'Go back a step,' Darcy told him. 'First the KGB. I never said they were giving orders to the Francezcis. I wasn't hinting that they were sabotaging or manipulating financial institutions, or anything of that order - though they could well be, or at least setting up the machinery for it. I said the Francezcis were "advisers." The key word is

"intelligence!" And as I told you, the Francezci intelligence machine is awesome! Which is why the CIA uses them; their information is that good. But as to the kind of advice they offer ...' Darcy shrugged. The Branch isn't privy to that information. But it won't be small potatoes, you can bet on it. As to how it works: they'll tell the KGB stuff that doesn't conflict with CIA interests. Likewise, they'll offer information to the CIA if it doesn't drop the Russians in it.

And the Mob benefits both ways by knowing what's going to go down world-wide. And everyone involved is grateful to the Francezcis. That's power, Harry.'

Harry was silent a while, then said: 'So, they're "advisers" of a sort to the Mob, the KGB, even the CIA ...'

'... And through them, advisers to their governments - just as

Emilio Francezci was, when he advised that colaboration between the American invasion force and Sicily's Mob-in-Waiting.'

'Information of that order,' Harry mused.

'Yes ...'

'Inteligence is the key word,' the Necroscope continued to mul it over. 'Okay, so what is their inteligence machine? How do they organize it? What's the source of their information? Maybe they're simply the Mob's own CIA: the nerve-centre in a spiderweb of international crime and corruption?'

Darcy shrugged again. 'Possibly. But unlikely. For let's face it, the Families aren't that... wel, familiar with each other. There are Mob wars going on even now in the USA; probably in Italy, too. They're not united. It isn't in their genes. But here's something to think about:

'Our precogs tell us that Communism is on the wane, certainly in Russia. So maybe the Francezcis are preparing the way for the Mob, or a faction of the Mob, in the USSR? That's a lot of turf, Harry! The point is, whatever they're doing, you can guarantee they're not up to any good.'

'And you - or the Branch - want me to throw some spanners in their works?'

Darcy held up his hands in protest. 'Hey, I told you we can't be involved! You asked me if there was someone you could hit for funds. Which suggested to me that maybe there was a way we could both benefit from ... wel, from what you do best. But if there's any fal-out from anything you do, the Branch can't be implicated. We aren't part of this scene.'

'What if I don't need the money that badly?'

Then let it go.'

The fact is I don't need the money that badly, or haven't so far.'

'You asked me to do something for you,' Darcy said. 'What can I tell you? I've done it. Now al I'm saying is this: that place in the photograph, Le Manse Madonie, houses money, treasures, gold, beyond your wildest dreams. Because we're sure that quite apart from what these characters have stashed away in the world's banks, they're also magpies. They - their family - have been accumulating goodies for a couple of hundred years! A lot of the wealth of Europe that vanished into Nazi coffers during World War Two still hasn't been accounted for. Hel, it never wil be while it's tied up in that place!'

'Oh?' The Necroscope raised a querying eyebrow. 'So even now I don't know it al?'

'I would have told you,' Darcy said at once. That's the whole idea of talking like this, surely? But so far we've just been kicking it around, right?'

'What about plans of the place?'

'I thought you weren't interested?'

Harry grinned, however tightly. 'But we're just kicking it around, right?'

'No plans. And their security is second to none. The space centre at Baikonur in Kazakhstan would be easier! That's probably an exaggeration, but I'm sure you take my point.'

The Chateau Bronnitsy was secure, too,' Harry answered.

Darcy nodded but made no reply. He didn't want to mention Harry's "talent" for getting into and out of places ... or the damage the Necroscope had done to some of the places he'd been into. The Chateau Bronnitsy - once the headquarters of Soviet ESPionage - was only one of them. And Bronnitsy was no more.

'But that place was the very seat of evil,' Harry went on, 'while I'm not yet convinced that these Francezcis are anything but big-time crooks.'

'I'm not asking you to destroy anything,' the Head of E-Branch shook his head. 'In fact, I'm not asking you to do anything. If you do, it's your business and I don't even want to know. I'm just pointing out the bull's eye in case you should ever want to do a litle target practice, that's al.'

'And if during my "investigations" I should discover the Francezci's oracle, the source of their intelligence ...?'

'We'd be grateful, of course. Because if we could tap into that source ... it goes without saying that we'd put it to better use than they do.'

'And maybe queer their pitch at the same time?' Harry was on top of it. 'But you're not in any kind of hurry?'

'No. Honestly, Harry, this was for you. If you use it, then you use it. And if you don't... wel, it's your choice. But as you say, if it's also of benefit to us so much the better.'

The Necroscope gave it another moment's thought, said, 'Do we know what these brothers look like? Or their people? You've told me their security at Le Manse Madonie is good. So what do they have up there?'

"Their own private "staff," ' Darcy answered. 'Not massive by Mob standards - but, as I've said, the Francezcis aren't Mob. They're bigger than that. They just pul strings; others do the twitching. And an army wouldn't be necessary anyway, not in a place as inaccessible as the Madonie. They have guards, their "servants," a four-seater helicopter, and various types of surface transport. Localy, they like to travel in a stretch limo: which is about as close as they come to emulating their nearest and dearest!'

'Yes,' Harry nodded. The Mafia. And Sicily is still Mafia H.Q.?'

'But definitely!' Darcy said. 'If the Francezcis ever required it, they could call up a lot of heavy-duty help. But not in short order. It takes time to get from Palermo into the Madonie - for some people, anyway.' With his last comment he averted his face, dug in a desk drawer, and

came out with a handful of photographs which he tossed onto the desk top. 'Pictures of our friends,' he quickly returned to the original subject. 'Not very good ones, I'm afraid. But the Francezcis appear to be the world's least photographed - and least photogenic - people!'

'Can I take these with me when I leave?'

'Sorry,' Darcy shook his head. 'Memorize by al means, but that stuff stays right here. I'll say it again: officialy, we aren't even interested in these people. We can't be identified as a source of information in this respect.'

Harry frowned. 'You make it sound like the Francezcis have influence over here, too.'

Darcy said nothing.

'What, with the British Government? Are they "advising" our inteligence agencies, too? Another reason you're interested in them?'

'We don't know what the Francezcis are or aren't into!' The other threw his hands wide. 'But with their inteligence, there has to be a real chance that they're players on our side of the pond, too. Not big as yet, but - '

' - Up and coming,' the Necroscope finished it for him. And: 'I have to admit, you've got me interested. I'm not keen on the idea of my country's strings being puled by some kind of super-criminal puppet-master, not now or in the future.'

He looked at the photographs.

Three of the five pictures were of the same two men, taken from the same angle, same location. They'd been snapped in grey evening light leaving a typicaly Italian or Sicilian building, descending a wide flight of steps. Other people were folowing on behind them but out of focus. In the first picture, the two were glancing directly at the camera, their eyes unseen behind the dark lenses of sunglasses, their handsome faces twisted by shock or surprise.

In the second picture they loomed much closer, one of them pointing at the camera, his slash of a mouth barking some sort of question or order. In the third picture the pair were almost totally obscured by the five fingers of a gloved hand, reaching to cover the lense of the camera.

In al of the photographs their features - while appearing handsome in an almost stereotyped Mediterranean fashion - were very indistinct, blurred; possibly by motion, or by the nerves of the cameraman. Dark hair brushed back, large ears lying flat to their heads, long, slender faces. Also, they appeared taler than the average Italian. Harry knew he would retain these lasting impressions of the Francezcis ... and one other: their lack of colour. For Italians, or Sicilians, they didn't seem to have too much colour ...

'A couple of cold-looking customers, right?' said Darcy, his voice reaching Harry as if from a million miles away.

The Necroscope looked up. 'Hmm?' he said.

'Crawly types.' Darcy puled a face. "The result of misspent youths. Pale as a pair of long-time hustlers; spawn of the back aleys and the biliard hals - or in their case, of the dimly-lit, echoing rooms of Le Manse Madonie.'

'Being a bit theatrical, aren't you?' Harry frowned, and his thoughtful or faraway expression disappeared. 'And anyway, I thought you didn't know anything about Le Manse Madonie?'

'No, but I know something about them. They have a congenital disorder, a kind of photophobia: alergy to strong light. Which means they keep prety much to home. It's one of the reasons why we don't have beter pictures. No one has beter pictures. Another good reason is that they don't like people taking pictures! The felow who took these ... he was paparazzi, at the time of that nasty Aldo Moro business. It seems amazing to me that he ever got these pictures out of Sicily.

Anyway, that's not al he got.' 'Oh?'

Darcy shrugged, but in no way negligently. 'He was found hanging from a bridge in Naples a month later. Suicide - apparently.'

Harry looked at the other photographs. One of a squat man in a flying suit, and the other of a cadaverous type in a valet's uniform. 'And these people?'

The little stubby one is their pilot,' Darcy said. 'His name is Luigi Manoza. Until a couple of years ago he was working for one of the New York families. A local war took out his employer, and there were threats on Luigi's life, too. He fled to relatives in Sicily, ended up working for the Francezcis.

The other one is their chauffeur, Mario. He doesn't have a second name - not that he's telling anyway. But he's a dead ringer for a certain "Mario" who was a highly-paid hit man for the Scarlatis in Rome in the late Sixties. He was "the best" at his infamous job; just the right sort of chap to be driving for the Francezcis!'

'Nice,' said Harry. 'But something seems wrong. I mean, for people who want to appear divorced from the Mob, these Francezcis seem to employ an awful lot of ex-soldiers.'

Darcy shrugged. 'In Manoza's case, he was on the periphery. So he's a pilot, but he could just as easily be a gardener. The Mafia employs ordinary people, too, you know. As for Mario: he has no criminal record, was never brought to trial. It's hardly surprising: "the best" never are.'

The Necroscope dropped the photographs back on the desk and stood up. He held out his hand and Darcy shook it. But as Harry headed for the door:

'Harry,' Darcy said. 'I can stil find you some clean money if you want it.' Harry paused. 'I'D make out,' he said. 'I'm not short, not yet anyway.

It depends how long it takes to find Brenda and the baby - if I find them. You're sure there's nothing your end?'

Darcy shook his head. 'But we're keeping our eyes and our ears wide open.'

He watched Harry open the door and step out into the corridor. He wanted to cal him back, but didn't. He wanted to ask after his health again: were there any other problems - inside his head, maybe? But he didn't. It was always the Branch first. And if the Necroscope had looked back, seen Darcy's face right then, he would have known something was wrong. And maybe Darcy wanted him to. But Harry didn't look back.

Instead, over his shoulder, he said, Thanks, Darcy. It's as much as I can ask.'

And then he closed the door behind him ...

That night, Harry caled Bonnie Jean. Why, he could never have said. Maybe it was the three-quarters ful moon hanging in the sky over the budding trees beyond his garden wal. (Though why that should be a motive was just as big a mystery.) Or maybe it was simply that he'd run out of B.J. 's wine, which was probably why he'd left Seatle and headed for home in the first place.

But these were arguments the Necroscope had had before, if only with himself. And Bonnie Jean ... was just another of the mysteries of his life. Or was she more than that? An innocent? Harry was sure she was. But how innocent can someone who goes out intent on murder be? Except Harry wasn't alowed to think that way, and so he setled for innocent. Also, she was a damn good-looking woman and someone to talk to. Company, yes. Wel, if she wanted to be.

And it looked like it could be a long night, spent tossing and turning. Especialy if Harry didn't have anything to drink. And damn it, he intended not to have anything to drink! So why cal Bonnie Jean?

But he called her anyway.

First he got one of her girls, then Bonnie Jean. She was in the bar, said she'd take it upstairs. (For privacy, he imagined. She wanted privacy, to talk to him.) And she must realy have flown up those stairs, for after a few seconds:

'Harry? Is it really mah wee man himself?' Her voice - or words -were like warm fingers driven home through his butter brain, pressing buttons, switching channels, conjuring a different him. Then B.J. dropped the accent but retained her husky breathlessness: 'Funny, but I've realy missed you, Harry ... "

And whatever misgivings he'd had - if he had had any at al - were at once forgotten. 'Wel, I'm back,' he found his voice. 'For the time being, anyway. And you told me to stay in touch ...' It seemed a weak, ineffectual way to broach what was on his mind. But the words just slipped off his tongue as if they were someone else's.

'And if anything, your call is early,' B.J. said, without really thinking what she was saying. But it was a fact that the ful moon was stil a week away. Immediately realizing her mistake (why did this bloody man have this effect on her?), she went to add something, anything, but Harry beat her to it:

'I know what you mean,' he said, without really knowing. 'I seem a bit eager, right? Well, maybe it's the moon.'

That shocked her rigid, so that she found difficulty in answering: The moon?'

'Over my garden wall,' he explained. 'I seem to have this tune in my head: "Give me the moonlight, give me the girl, and leave the rest to me." Well, I have the moonlight, but...'

She sighed her relief, inaudible to Harry, and said, 'But no girl, eh?' And before he could answer: 'Where are you?'

'Pretty close. I'm home. Five or six miles.'

'Did you find them? Your wife and child?'

'No,' the Necroscope answered, his voice showing no emotion one way or the other. B.J. wouldn't be able to tell if he was glad or sad. And the fact was that right now, Harry didn't know either.

'It's a quiet night,' B.J. said. 'We'll be closing around twelve ... "

It wasn't much, Harry thought, but she seemed to be saying so much more. And: That's more than three hours,' he answered.

Too long?'

'Yes ... no ... I don't have much to do. I mean I'm alone and ... lonely, I suppose.'

'Do you want to come here?'

'I can if you - '

' - No, don't. Look, why don't you tell me where you are, and I'll come to you? I'll take a taxi. The girls can take care of things here for one night.'

'You'l come now?'

He sensed her shrug. 'I could use a break. Have you eaten?'

'Not in a while.' (It was true, he was starving!)

'Do you have any food in?'

'No food,' he shook his head, despite that she couldn't see him. 'No drink either ...'

She answered pause for pause and finally said, Tm sure we can fix that. I mean, I'll pick something up on the way.

So ... what's the address? Oh, and Harry, give me your 'phone number, too, in case I'm delayed. The number I have doesn't work.'

And he told her both his address and telephone number. Why not? It seemed the most natural thing in the world to do ...

Harry's address was scarcely the easiest place in the world to find. It

was one of four Victorian houses standing in an uneven cluster on a riverbank a mile or two out of Bonnyrig, with undulating patchwork-quilt fields on three sides, dotted with dark copses here and there, and, during daylight, the rare hazy view of a distant steeple or square church tower.

Just why any specific area falls derelict is hard to say, but this district definitely had. Three of the once-proud, even grand old houses were terraced and stood in high-walled gardens extending almost to the river. The two outer houses had been empty for years and were beyond redemption; their windows were gaping holes and their roofs were buckling inwards. They had been up for sale for a long time; every so often someone would come to look at them, and go away shaking his head. They were not 'desirable' residences. The central house was Harry's place. It was lonely, but he could talk to his Ma in private here and never fear that anyone would see him sitting on the riverbank mouthing nonsense to himself.

Glimpsed through the trees lining the riverbank, Bonnie Jean's first view of the house was from a road on the far side of the river. She had asked the driver of her taxi to halt, and sat there a while just looking across the river. It was obvious which house was occupied: the ground floor lights were on; they flooded out and lit the sprawling garden, lending the place an eerie illumination. The house was alive, barely. But by comparison the others were stone dead.

Yet oddly enough, B.J. didn't consider the place as a whole at all out of keeping with Harry Keogh's character. Indeed, she thought it suited him.

The reason she had caused the driver to stop was simple: she'd wanted to observe the house from a safe distance.

But it was what it was, an old house on its last legs: hardly a 'safe' house as she would imagine such a place to be.

And in any case, since Harry's people, his ex-employers, already knew about her - or something about her - it made little difference. But he had told her they were finished with him and that they'd have no further interest in her.

Following which she'd made doubly sure by giving him certain post-hypnotic commands. But he was no ordinary man, this mysterious Harry Keogh, and it was something she'd have to check up on anyway.

After a while she'd told the driver to carry on, and a minute later the taxi had crossed the river by an old stone bridge onto a rutted service road. The row of houses lay at the end of the road, and B.J. dismounted and paid her fare outside Harry's address: Number 3, The Riverside, the one with the lights.

As the taxi pulled away, B.J. walked the moonlit ribbon of paving stones to Harry's door, which opened as she reached it. And Harry was there.

Taking the brown-paper, Chinese-motif takeaway bags out of her hands as he ushered her inside, he looked harassed and was instantly apologetic about the state of the place. He had obviously been busy; his brow was damp with perspiration.

'But... you seem in a bit of a state!' she said, looking al around his spacious if sparsely furnished study, the only room that he'd spent any time on, and that nearly a month ago. 'What on earth have you been doing, Harry?'

He grimaced. 'Er, tidying up?'

'Really?' She couldn't help but smile. Then I'd hate to have seen it when it looked rough!' He nodded glumly. 'A mess, right?' She shook her head in bewilderment. 'And you live here?' 'Is it that bad?' He looked around, licked his lips nervously, nodded again. 'Yes, it is that bad.

Well, actually, the house isn't too bad at all. It's been a decent old place in its time and was built to last. Which is as well, because it's seen some neglect. But the site ... is a mess, yes. The main thing is, this place is mine, and I can do it up. I've only been here a while, after all. And I've been busy. But the place has had a survey and doesn't seem to have any problems. I mean, structurally,' Harry opened his arms expansively, setting the Chinese takeaway bags swinging, 'it's just fine! I'll replace the carpets .

. . well, eventually. And a few floorboards kind of creak. Er, the decor could be improved, I suppose. And I really don't know where all the dust comes from.' He sighed, and his poorly-feigned optimistic air disappeared in a moment. 'Then there's the paintwork, and a handful of roof tiles, and ...' Shrugging, he fell silent. 'But why this place?' There had to be a reason. 'It was my Ma's,' Harry said. 'Then my stepfather's. They ... are dead now. It's just a place to be, I suppose, now that I'm on my own.'

Listening to him, B.J. had felt his loneliness. She'd been lonely, too -albeit in a different way - for a very long time now. 'Outside, from across the river, I thought it looked like you. The house, I mean. From a distance, it's still -1 don't know - rich?' 'I'm not rich,' Harry shook his head.

'I mean its character,' she said. 'In the night, it looks like it has style.' 'Do I have style?'

B.J. nodded and cocked her head on one side. 'Wel, you've certainly got something, Harry Keogh. Else I wouldn't be here.' Which was the truth, however she meant it. And, before he could answer: 'Where's the kitchen?' she asked, as she took the takeaway bags back from him. 'Or don't I want to know?' But thank God, the kitchen had been modernized ...

They ate. Discovering that he really was hungry, Harry set to with a wil. B.J. watched him mainly, and toyed with the smaler portions of Chinese food that she had served herself. She had also been watching

him as she'd unpacked and reheated the food in his microwave: his keen interest in what there was to drink, and his obviously disappointed frown on sighting a botle of Liebfraumilch.

He didn't want any (for which she was glad), settling for a can of Coke instead. But as she poured herself a glass, she said, 'The red wine is gone. What was left, anyway ... " And the pause was pregnant as she stared at him.

Harry was ready for it, but stil he glanced at her before looking away. That was bad of me,' he said. 'Would you believe me if I said I came to see you? I mean, you'd asked me to stay in touch, and here I was about to go away. And I couldn't contact you.' 'But why break in?'

'Break in? As in burglary?' He shook his head. 'I didn't have to break anything. I told you: this is what I do best. It was my job, remember? And your place is a walk-in, believe me! From the back, anyway.'

'Oh?' She'd thought she was so secure, but the fact was that she had been advised to employ more security at the rear of the premises. 'It was that easy?'

Til show you some time,' he said, hoping he would never have to. And he carried on eating.

'And you got past one of my girls,' B.J. wasn't finished. 'I move very quickly, and very quietly,' Harry said, knowing that she couldn't argue with that.

'But it was very wrong of you, anyway! What would I have thought or done, if I had been in and you had suddenly entered my bedroom? And as for stealing a botle of my wine ...!'

Harry grinned in what he hoped was a disarming manner. 'I left a caling card, that's al. You must have seen that ad on TV. You know the one: "and al because - " '

' " - Harry Keogh loves red wine?" '

'Something like that, yes. But you know that stuff realy did have an adverse effect on me? And didn't I read something recently - about a mass-poisoning or some such - where certain European vintners were accused of topping up their wines with antifreeze? And now you tell me it's gone? What, did you actualy sel that stuff?'

What? Bonnie Jean could hardly believe it! Now he seemed to be accusing her of something! Also, this was beginning to sound a lot like one of Radu's word-games ... and if so, then Harry Keogh was good at them! But she kept her temper, answering: 'You know, you could be right? I tried it myself and the next morning felt like you looked that time. But no, I didn't sel it. I gave it to my customers to try - and they didn't like it either.' 'And so it's gone?' 'Finished, yes.'

Against his wil, Harry felt himself griting his teeth. He didn't quite know whether to be glad or mad. He should have taken all the bottles when he had the chance. But no, of course he shouldn't! It had to be for the best that the vile stuff was finished. And with it the 'after-image,' or whatever, of Kyle's alcoholism, obviously. For Harry was damned if he could fancy B.J. 's Liebfraumilch! Exactly how it all tied up he couldn't say, but now, at last, it was over. It had to be over, because there was no more of B.J. 's wine.

And as if someone had pulled a plug in his brain, most of Harry's frustrations, anxieties and self-doubts went flooding away down the drain of his mind, leaving him relieved and cool where a moment ago he'd been burning up.

For perhaps, after all, he was that one smoker in ten million who could only smoke one brand ... and at last they'd stopped making it! Yet even now, in the depths of his subconscious mind, a small voice was asking him: 'Oh, really?

But what about Greece? I'll bet you can get it in Greece ...'

And there it was: the question right there on the tip of his tongue, making ready to blurt itself out: That friend of yours, the one who brought it back for you? You wouldn't happen to know where he got it, would you? Except he mustn't ask it! Never! Not if he would be his own man again. She came to his rescue, saying: 'All I knew was that someone had been into my place. I didn't think of you at first, but wondered if maybe it had been this organization you worked for. Maybe they were checking me out or something.'

For a moment that caught him off guard; he had quite forgotten the story he'd told her about the Branch wanting him to clear up a point or two. But now she'd brought it all back to mind, and since in fact E-Branch knew nothing at all about her: 'No, B.J., no one's out to get you,' he said. 'Like I told you, the people I worked for aren't police, and in fact they're not even remotely interested in you. Not any longer. Nor in me for that matter. And believe me, I really am sorry I caused you so much concern ... "

They finished the rest of the meal in an awkward silence, just mulling things over. But when Harry finally sat back, he sighed and said, 'You want to know something? I think this is the first time in - God, I don't know how long! - that I've felt relaxed. Your choice of food was just great. And you ... are just great, too. Wrong-headed, maybe, but great. And anyway, who am I to talk?'

'Who indeed?' she said, something like his Ma might, but with an entirely different feel to it. 'Was that a compliment?'

Harry laughed and rubbed his chin. 'I'm not sure,' he answered, 'but it felt like a whole series of them!'

'Your best line? Your idea of chatting me up? Seduction, even? To tel me that I'm great despite that I'm wrong-headed? Well, I have to say I've heard better!' The way she said 'Well,' it really did sound like his Ma.

The idea of red wine was now rapidly receding in the Necroscope's mind. B.J. had spoken several key words - words that had nothing to do with previous post-hypnotic commands - which Harry had picked up on. And now he realized what else he'd been missing in the last eighteen months, other than his own body.

Taking up the used plates and cutlery, and fumbling it a little, he said, 'Do you feel cold? Is it cold in here?' There had been a fire laid in his open fireplace ever since he moved in, but the Necroscope hadn't felt the need to light it. Normaly he didn't like it too warm, and perhaps surprisingly the house's oil-fired central-heating system was working very wel.

She had seen his eyes rove over the hearth and had perhaps read something of what was on his mind. 'A little chily, yes.'

'Then toss a match on the fire while I wash up.'

'Al right,' she said. 'And ... I'd like to wash up, too.'

'Ummm?'

The bathroom, is - ?'

'Off the landing, upstairs,' he answered. "The shower is ... very good."

'But I bet your bedroom's a mess, right?' The direct way was usualy the best and easiest. Even so, B.J. was surprised to find herself breathing a shade too fast.

'Actualy, no,' Harry answered, his voice a little husky. 'No, it's ... prety tidy. I, er, tidied it?' He paused in the doorway and looked back to where she was standing by the fireplace. Their eyes locked, and for a moment it was like it had been in her bar-room. There was this magnetism, which had nothing to do with the art of beguilement... or on the other hand, it was that entirely natural, mutual beguilement, the electric moment, when a man and woman know that it's going to happen.

'But now that the fire's lit,' she tore her eyes from his, struck a match and tossed it onto a base of crumpled newspaper and kindling, 'I think I would be just as comfortable ... down here?'

And beginning to burn as quickly as the fire, and just as hot, Harry husked, Then after you've showered, bring down the quilt and soft top blanket from my bed.'

Then he was off to the kitchen, and B.J. licked her lips. The dog-Lord was right: there were other ways, beter ways, to enthral a man. With the lights off and the curtains drawn, in the red glow of the fire, it would be just like a warm, secret cave in here.

Yes, it would be just like a lair ...

-- Advertisement --