PART FIVE:

I

Advertisement

BONNIEJEAN: BIRTHDAY PARTY.

HARRY: GETTING IN SHAPE, AND

FUNDING HIS SEARCH.

In the morning, B.J. was up first. It was a few minutes after six, and the light still burgeoning from the east. In the garden the birds had been twitering for some time: enough noise to wake the Necroscope up, albeit gradualy.

-- Advertisement --

He came awake knowing that it was going to be hel again, and was pleasantly surprised, or more properly relieved beyond measure, to find that it wasn't. No headache, no fluff in his head where his brains used to be, no sore throat, and no great urge to drink ... anything! Except maybe a mug or two of black coffee. At which he remembered that both his pantry and fridge were empty.

B.J. was upstairs; he could hear the shower. He dressed quickly, made a Mobius jump into town, the local newsagent's, which doubled as a grocery-cum-post office, and just three or four minutes later was unloading stuff into the fridge; which, as B.J. came down and found him in the kitchen, looked like he was taking stuff out of the fridge, to prepare breakfast.

'You have a wash, brush your hair, clean your teeth - and whatever -while I do it,' she said.

'Yes, Ma!' He cocked his head on one side, raised an eyebrow, asked: 'Any other instructions?'

'Oh, you're okay,' she laughed. 'But in bed you're a ten, so why lower your average when you're up?' And eyeing his groceries, 'Funny, last night when I was geting supper, I didn't think you had anything in.'

'You didn't look in the freezer compartment,' he mumbled, waved his arms. 'The cupboards ... "

She shrugged. Til manage something.' And, as he headed upstairs: 'And buy a new toothbrush. That one tastes awful!'

Make yourself at home! he thought. But he knew he should feel pleased. So why didn't he? Maybe because he - his place - had been invaded? This had been a private place. He and it could be as they were here. Now he had to be someone else; and there it was again: the reminder that he was someone else! And it was possible he even felt guilty, too. But why, he couldn't honestly say. For after al, he wasn't the heavy in the piece. It was Brenda who had left him ...

Breakfast was good, very. And for the first time in God-only-knows how long - with most of his guilty feelings and doubts melted away - the Necroscope actualy felt good! But then, as the sky turned a lighter shade of grey, and B.J. made ready to leave him, he didn't. For with her out of the way he'd be back to thinking in ever-decreasing circles again, and doing nothing much else ...

... Or perhaps not. For in fact it seemed he did have a few things to do now. They were there in the back of his mind, anyway, probably headed-off down the diversion that was B.J. But he knew that if he concentrated he'd get back on track again.

Til cal one of my girls,' B.J. said, breaking into his thoughts. 'Sandra. I'll catch her before she sets out for work. She lives not too far away.'

'Sure, if you like,' Harry told her. Which satisfied her that this realy was his place and not some kind of safe house for the people he had used to work for. If it had been, surely he wouldn't want too many people to know about it. But no, he fited in here; the house had Harry Keogh writen al over it.

'Or I can take a taxi?"

'Whichever suits you,' he shrugged. Til cal one, if you like? Whatever is best for you. Just don't forget where I live, right?'

And to B.J. 's mind, that setled it. 'Not just a one-night stand, then?' Waiting for his answer, she dialed a number and spoke briefly to someone at the other end of the line, then put the 'phone down and turned to him.

Looking down in the mouth again, Harry was standing close to her. 'I suppose it should be,' he said. 'A one-night stand, I mean. Or rather it shouldn't have been, shouldn't have happened at al. But it did, and frankly I'm ... I'm upside down, messed up. That's the truth of it: I'm messed up.'

She nodded. 'Wel, perhaps I am, too. But I'd beter tell you now, Harry Keogh: I can't see myself as part of an eternal triangle thing, in the role of "the other woman." It's not my scene, and it certainly isn't my style.'

Harry shook his head. This wasn't a cheap thing. Not for me. It's just that I don't know how I feel. I did a moment ago, but now I don't. As for Brenda and my son: this search is something I have to do, even though I know I won't find her. Oh, I might find them ... but I won't find her. Brenda doesn't know me any more.'

'Neither do I, scarcely.'

'But time is on our side,' Harry said.

She looked surprised. Time? What, from what was possibly a one-night stand to a long-term relationship - al in one quick move?'

'I told you I was messed up.'

B.J. almost felt sorry for him. She knew why he was messed up. Something of it, anyway. And leaning forward, giving him a brief, brushing kiss: 'Let's wait and see how it al works out, okay?'

He nodded and said nothing.

And they waited for her girl to come ...

B.J. hadn't been gone ten minutes before Harry made a jump and bought himself a telephone answering machine. And a bicycle, to be delivered. The first so that he could monitor cals, and the second so that he could get himself in shape. Himself, yes. For he'd finaly decided: this was him now, and he'd have to accept it.

And it (he, damn it to hel!) couldn't realy be that bad, after al, because B.J. for one had accepted him - with a vengeance!

It was only after the bike had arrived that he realized he could have ridden it home, along the Mobius route. Why not? He could easily have pedaled down a back street, through a door, and so home. He knew the co-ordinates of the service road, and the road across the river. It would have been the easiest way. He wouldn't have had to pay for the delivery, either.

Next up on his search itinerary was Northern Ireland. He would give himself a week or so here at the house, settling in and adjusting to a new regime, make a list of places to visit, then go and do it. And he wouldn't any longer be alone ... not while he was at home, anyway. B.J. would be here. He just knew she would come to him, or he could go to her. He couldn't say how it would work out, didn't even want to think about it. It was just the way it was.

The day had cleared up; the sun was peeping through tufts of, fluffy cloud; next thing you know, it'll be spring! Harry thought.

And time for spring-cleaning.

Had B.J. mentioned that? Spring-cleaning? He thought she probably had - told him the house could use a little dusting, polishing, scrubbing - but couldn't think when. Or had it been sparked by the shame he'd felt when she first walked in and saw the place? But if it was her, then she'd been wrong: the house could use a hel of a lot of dusting, polishing and scrubbing! His 'study' ... wasn't even a room yet! It was a jumble.

So why not start now! A little hard labour would pass for getting himself in shape, wouldn't it? But first he had something really important to do: a mind to put at rest...

Down on the river bank Harry was wrapped warmly for once. But more importantly he felt warm on the inside, too. And his Ma felt the difference in him as soon as she 'heard' him in her mind. Tve been bad, Ma,' he told her, but she could feel the grin on his face. One that slipped a little as she answered: In how many ways, son?

'Er, I meant about the doctor. I didn't go to see one like I promised. But listen, whatever the trouble was, it's gone.' No more drinking?

'Couldn't face it.' He shook his head. 'The very thought's enough to make me want to throw up!'

It was the last ofMrKyle, then ... which you've finally kicked out. You've rejected what little was left of him to make room for you. I can feel that you've more or less setled down with yourself, son. At least, I think so. I hope I'm right...

'I feel a lot beter al round, yes.' He said, but even now couldn't be sure. Maybe she sensed that, too. Even as an expert at talking to the dead - the expert, the Necroscope - Harry knew how hard it was to fool his Ma. And Kyle's talent? This precognition thing?

'Not for a while now,' Harry answered. 'But that could be my loss. I didn't understand it, but it might have given me a few pointers. Anyway, the main thing is I feel... good. And I'm determined to get myself back in shape. I've bought myself a bicycle - for exercise, lots of it -and when I'm finished talking to you, I'm going to tear the house apart.' He sounded realy enthusiastic, if a bit jumbled.

You'll what? Tear the house apart? With a bicycle? Now she sounded more than a litle alarmed.

'I mean I'll rip the place apart - dust, polish, scrub. It can use it. Spring-cleaning, Ma!'

Yes, she said, after a moment. And thoughtfully: Why, I do believe I can smell it! Springtime, when a young man's thoughts turn to ...

'... To spring-cleaning!' Harry stopped her.

Among other things, his Ma said, but very quietly.

It was Harry's cue to leave. Til let you know how I get on,' he said, turning away from the river.

But you started this conversation by telling me you'd been bad, Harry. (She wasn't about to let him go). And I asked you, in how many ways?

Harry guarded his thoughts. 'I meant two things, Ma. About not seeing a doctor, and about being neglectful.'

Of me?

'Of course!'

Not ofBrenda? (She was sharp as a tack.)

'Ma?' And now he was doubly cautious, defensive.

You haven't mentioned her once, Harry ...

'Ma,' he was momentarily lost for words, 'I feel... like we're drifting.'

Drifting apart?

He nodded. 'I mean it's not just that Brenda is lost; she lost herself, after all. She, or the baby, wanted to get lost, or they wanted to lose me. But it goes deeper than that. It's that we're strangers now ...'

He sensed her understanding, or at least that she was trying to understand. And in a litle while she said: Wel, lets not you and 1

go the same way, all right? I mean, there's nothing you can't tell me, .Harry. We're too close for that. I was there at the start of you ... and you're here at the end of me! I'm not some kind of ogre that you have to hide from, now ami?

She had sensed that his guard was up, and it saddened her. But from Harry's point of view there was no help for it. There are some things you don't tel anyone.

And especially not your Ma ...

Once he got started on the house there was no stopping him. He wanted it in order before he saw B.J. again. Two days went by, three ... a few more and there'd be a ful moon. What that had to do with things Harry couldn't say, but he knew that he must speak to, must see B.J. again, and soon.

Finaly he couldn't fight it any longer. Right or wrong he wanted her in his bed again, maybe even in his life. Damn, she was in his life! He caled her at the wine bar, got one of her girls - who told him that B.J. wasn't available right now.

Then would she please tell B.J. that he'd called?

Of course. Would he be around if B.J. called back later?

Yes, he would, and it didn't matter how much later.

And that night, dozing on the couch in what really was his study now, he felt the light of the full moon flooding through the patio windows into the room, and wondered why it felt like B.J.'s eyes on him. But she was busy right how; she had a life of her own and he had to understand that. Maybe she would call him later.

God, he hoped so ...

B.J. was busy, or was about to be. It had been a six-month and her needs, and that of her girls, must be atended to. Discretion was the name of the game. It was like fishing, or hunting, for that mater; or beter still, poaching. Make too much noise and you'd scare away the game and perhaps atract unwanted atention. Use the wrong lure and the fish wouldn't bite, or the game would ignore the trap.

Tonight, Zahanine was the lure. She was black and she was beautiful, and she was one of Bonnie Jean's: a moon-child, and hungry as the rest of them. Oh, she ate and she drank the same as anyone else. Except it wasn't the same.

It was Zahanine's night off ... That was what she told Big Jimmy Lee when he walked into the lounge of the Fiddler's Elbow down the 370

road from B.J.'s. The place was almost empty; with her round, perfect backside seated on a bar stool, and her long legs crossed and swaying to a juke box tune, Zahanine stood out like a sore thumb, or a green light.

Big Jimmy bought himself a drink, hesitated a moment and bought another for the girl, before eyeing her up and down in an openly suggestive, pig-eyed fashion, and saving: 'But ah'm surprised ye're still on speakin' terms wi' such as me, since ye're boss, that bleddy Bonnie Jean, kicked me oot-a there.'

'Big Jimmy,' she said, her voice as soft as her dark skin and seductive as her dark eyes, 'you were out of order and well you know it. You used threatening behaviour against a customer, disturbed the other members, and wrecked a table. Now tell me, how is B.J. supposed to run a decent bar with al that stuff going on? Until that night you were a valued customer

... she's said so herself.'

'B.J.? Oh, really?' He looked doubtful.

Zahanine nodded. 'She's looked for you coming back, even had a new member's card made out with your name on it.

But B.J. isn't the sort to beg. If you want in again it's up to you. No more trouble, though, or the next time's final.'

'A new card?'

'I've seen it myself,' she told him, then fell silent as the barman headed their way picking up empty glasses. But when he went into a back room: 'You should drop by.'

'Ye think so?'

'I know so. And tonight would be a good time.'

'What? But does she no close up around now?'

Zahanine glanced at her watch. 'Half an hour, yes. That's when you should come, after I've had a chance to speak to her.'

Big Jimmy frowned. 'Come again? Ah'm no wi' ye.'

'Party time,' she explained. 'After hours. Staff only - just B.J. and the girls - and maybe you, too, if you think you can mend your ways. One of the girls is having a birthday. Why else would I be here on my night off? Free drinks, Jimmy! Not something that happens every day! I'm on my way in a minute or two. So what do you say? Should I tell B.J. you'll be dropping by?'

Standing up, she leaned forward and put her index finger in the cleft of his chin. 'Frankly, I've missed you, too.'

He was genuinely taken aback. 'But ah ... ah didn'ae ken ye cared!'

'Maybe you've been chatting up the wrong girls,' she said, and headed for the door. Thanks for the drink ...'

'Ye'11 speak to her?' Big Jimmy called after her.

Zahanine turned back, stepped closer. 'But remember,' she whispered, 'this is a private party. You've been quite enough trouble already, so don't go blabbing it all over Edinburgh or B.J.'11 lose her licence for sure!'

Big Jimmy nodded. 'No a word!' he promised.

Then wait half an hour and come on along. Just give the usual ring, and I'll let you in.'

'Ye're sure it'l be okay?'

'Positive. But we'l be late finishing. Maybe you'd be a gentleman and see me home afterwards?'

He grinned. 'Oh, ah'm no so sure aboot the gentleman bit, but ah can see ye home, definitely!' His voice was now rougher than ever, with anticipation.

She smiled knowingly and left, and he watched her out of the door and saw her distorted shadow pass by the smal-paned, smoked-glass windows. But the memory of Zahanine's deliciously wriggling backside stayed with him for the next half hour ...

... Until he pressed the bel outside B.J. 's and fidgeted under the dark archway until the door was opened. Zahanine was there, and one of the other girls. They took his coat and would have led him inside at once, but B.J. stepped from behind the door to caution him:

'Ye're privileged, Jimmy. Don't mess it up, now.'

'Oh, no fear, mah Bonnie lass!' he told her.

'But ye know ye're drinkin' after hours and shouldn'ae be here? If I let ye in it's on ye're own head, of ye're own free will.'

'What? Why, al the polis in Edinburgh couldn'ae keep me away!' he declared. And, smiling, B.J. took his arm and marched him down the corridor.

Al four girls were in the bar; five, if Jimmy included Zahanine. Apart from her, they al wore their black stockings, short, flouncy dresses, high heels, blouses that were open way too far in front, and snowed lots of flesh at the back. Owing a lot to Playboy atire, al they were missing were the fluffy bunny tails and ears.

And they were obviously in party mood.

Poppers went off left, right, and centre as Big Jimmy Lee appeared with B.J. and party; he was covered in paper streamers, slapped on the back, made welcome as a prodigal son, told 'Good to have ye back, Big Jimmy!' by al and sundry.

'Damn, but ah'm fair knocked out!' he declared. The only thing tha's missin' seems tae be the fated calf!'

'Later, Jimmy,' B.J. told him. 'We'l eat later. But for now there's the drinks. Wine's ye're tipple, is it no?'

'Wine, whisky, whatever!' he said, as she directed him to a stool at the bar. And Zahanine perched herself alongside, her swinging leg stroking his thigh. 'Damn me!' he said. 'But ah'd swear this was al for me!'

B.J. poured red wine, ('My own special reserve, Jimmy!') which he swigged back almost without tasting it, and the party got underway. The girls took turns to flank him, rubbing themselves against him, all tits and smiling teeth and temptation. And Big Jimmy had never resisted temptation. It was wonderful! He was the only man here, and though he'd heard of parties like this, he'd never imagined he'd be the centrepiece at just such a one. A gaggle of stacked women, all bent on plying, pleasing, and plundering him of his vital fluids.

The lights were low, the juke box played some old bluesy stuff, and the girls seemed more gorgeous with every taste of B.J.'s red wine. As for Bonnie Jean herself:

She disappeared momentarily; Jimmy scarcely noticed; he was having a hard time loosening the last button on one of the girls'

blouses, but finally succeeded and gawped as her ample breasts lolled free and available. He would have availed himself, too, except B.J. was back, and dressed in a flimsy see-through baby-doll nightie!

By now Big Jimmy was certain-sure what kind of party this was, and despite that the room spun a little when he moved too fast, and that the bar stool seemed to sway under his backside so that he must constantly maintain his balance, his blood was pounding as he dazedly wondered which of the girls would want him first.

As it happened, they all did.

'So,' B.J. said, standing a little apart from him along the bar, 'was it worth coming back to us, Jimmy?'

'Ah wouldn'ae missed it for the world!' he tried to answer, but all of his words came out sideways. He tried staring at B.J., tried to focus on her breasts, the dark V of her pubic region under the gauzy nightgown, but his gaze kept sliding off first to one side, then the other.

Behind the bar, Zahanine poured him the largest measure of whisky he'd ever seen, said: This will straighten you up, Big Jimmy. It's more what you're used to.'

'Right!' he said, and actually managed to grasp the glass, and tilt its contents down his throat. As Zahanine refilled it, two of the other girls wheeled a long trolley up behind Jimmy, positioning it precisely to his rear. Head lolling, he glanced around and took in the scene as B.J. and the girls stood chairs around the trolley, three to a side. Decked with a tablecloth, the trolley was quite empty. Obviously they'd be bringing food and a birthday cake out from the kitchen.

Obviously, yes.

'Whose f-f-fuckin' birthday is it anyway?' Big Jimmy slurred, tilting more whisky down his throat. But this time as he went to put the glass down he missed the bar and sent the glass crashing to the floor. It pulled him together momentarily, long enough to look from face to face, stupidly, as he waited for an answer. And eventually B.J. said:

'Birthday? Why, it's yours, Jimmy!'

'Aye!' Big Jimmy rocked on his stool and tilted it back a litle way, but just a little too far. Tha's a good'yin, that is!' he roared.

'Mine, by fuck!' And he teetered there.

'Except it's not exactly a birthday,' B.J. said, and her voice was quite different now, as she touched his shoulder to apply the very slightest pressure. Losing his balance and toppling over backwards, he scarcely knew he was falling. Several pairs of hands took his weight, lowering him on to the top of the trolley - or rather, to the hardwood draining board, for one of the girls had whipped away the cover.

There are two big days in a man's life, Jimmy,' B.J. said where she stood looking down into his quivering face. 'One's at the beginning, and the other's at the end. Well, you've had the one, and this is the other.'

'Wha'?' he said. 'Whazzat?' As the girls strapped him down, hands and feet. And: 'Eh? Eh?' he queried, as they used knives as sharp as scalpels to cut away his clothing. And however ridiculously, Big Jimmy was still grinning, for this could only be some kind of weird sex game, or an even weirder dream, as someone turned the lights down more yet and B.J. 's eyes - and the eyes of her girls - became yellow triangles in the gloom.

Then there was more yellow - the glitter of golden instruments - as B.J. passed around slender tubes with trumpetlike mouthpieces, similar to the funnels she'd used in Radu Lykan's redoubt. Except the feeders had been for the giving, and these smaller versions were for the taking.

Big Jimmy only noticed them in passing, however, because he wasn't able to take his eyes off B.J. herself. Bonnie Jean, who might just as well be naked for all her nightgown hid, standing there in the gloom, with her yellow eyes - no, her scarlet eyes now -burning into Jimmy's soul!

All feeling had fled him; Jimmy was as drunk, or as poisoned, as any man had ever been and remained conscious. Oh, he had a powerful constitution, but not powerful enough. He could still hear, see, think (though not much of the latter), but he couldn't have moved a muscle, couldn't speak any more, didn't understand that the crimson pounding in his skull, his heart and his veins wasn't sexual potency but an effect of the drugged wine.

And the ceiling was revolving, first this way, then that; and the faces of the girls looking down on him were foxy, wolfish, lustful; and B.J. herself -

- Wasn't Bonnie Jean!

What she was exactly Jimmy couldn't have said. But as the nightgown slid from her slender, furry form, and her soft dark muzzle wrinkled back in a half-snarl, half-smile, he thought:

What a bitch! Which was perhaps as close as he would ever come to the truth of it. Or to anything. Ever again.

When the siphons sank in, Jimmy barely felt them. He felt the warmth leaving him, and the cold seeping in, and a tide as dark and darker than the deepest ocean floor rolling over him, washing him to and fro, and gradually dissolving him all away . . . but that was all.

At 2:30 in the morning Bonnie Jean got Harry out of bed to answer the door; Sandra had dropped her off. There had been an after-hours birthday party for one of the girls. BJ. was sorry, but she hadn't been able to get out of it. Anyway, here she was. Or, if it was too late ...?

Too late? Harry told her she must be joking, made her a coffee in the kitchen while she watched, had a hard time keeping his hands off her but managed it somehow. And he even made smal talk, until she asked him: 'Can't we talk in bed?'

Then he almost had her on the kitchen table, and she was equaly wanton on the stairs, until finaly, in the bedroom ... geting her out of her clothes was a frenzied affair, for both of them.

Afterwards ...

... Harry lit one of his very rare cigaretes, and eventualy B.J. said, 'Don't think me vulgar, please, but that was a fuck. That wasn't just making love ...' And replete - in every way replete - she was asleep before he could think her vulgar, or think anything else of her.

Before sleeping himself, he touched her body al over, but very gently so that she wouldn't know. Maybe it was to reassure himself that she was there. But it felt like he was making sure that she was ... she? What that was al about, he couldn't say.

In his bed, she smeled of woman, and warm flesh, and sex, and -something else. Her breath? Copper? Salt? Or was it just the sex. Hah! Just the sex! But she'd been like an animal: vibrant, writhing, crushing him in her coils. He had found himself thinking on several occasions that she would draw blood - with her nails or her teeth - but she hadn't. He believed he'd actualy felt her holding back; he knew there had been a repressed violence in her (purely sexual, he thought), which had inspired the same sort of frenzy in him. But now:

Now, despite that he felt exhausted, it was hard to get to sleep. Something was bothering him. Finaly Harry realized what it was: the light of the ful moon, pouring its rays in through his bedroom window.

So he got up and drew the faded curtains ...

Life became a blur. Space, time, places, faces: Harry couldn't say where they came from, or where they went. He even began to forget where he'd been; would have forgoten, he was sure, but for the list he kept of the places he'd visited. Spring turned to summer. The seasons were turning, and Harry frequently felt that his mind was turning, too ... from sanity to ful-fledged madness. Yet when he was with B.J. he knew he was sane. Indeed, those were the only times when he did know it.

Upon a time he'd had difficulty accepting his body; he had felt that when it was hurt - despite that it had hurt - that it realy didn't mater because it wasn't his body anyway. But those times were past now.

That had a lot to do with B.J., too, the fact that she had accepted him. She'd become his anchor on an increasingly ephemeral world. She'd anchored his body, anyway. But his mind was something else.

Frequently he would wake up furious, frightened, unable to remember the nightmare that had awakened him, but thinking, someone is fucking with my mind! And promising himself that when he found out who it was, then there'd be hell to pay. But as the waking world took over, so the anger would recede. Yet the feeling persisted: that while his body was very definitely his now, his mind was someone else's.

His memory, for one thing - or memories, recent memories, anyway - was or were totally up the creek. Sometime around the middle of May he'd mentioned it to Bonnie Jean when they stayed late in bed at his place one Sunday morning:

'Do you remember when I did Ireland?' And he had felt her drowsy attention sharpening, rapidly centering on him.

'Yes. You've not long since finished. What of it?'

'Well, I don't! I don't remember it!'

She had slipped out of bed in a moment, gone to a dresser, returned with his notebook and opened it at the relevant pages: his Irish 'itinerary.' And she'd read from a list of places in his handwriting, starting at Belfast and working down the coast to Dundalk before he stopped her.

That's right! That's right!' He was excited, frustrated. 'Downpatrick and Newry and Kilkeel, and half-a-dozen more. You think I don't remember?' His jaw was tight where he scowled at her almost accusingly.

She sat beside him, looked down on him curiously with her head cocked on one side, and said, logically, 'But didn't you just say that you don't remember?'

And she was right. It was a contradiction, a confusion, a confounded nonsense! He had shook his head, flapped his hands, said:

'Green fields; emerald green, in fact! Greener than England. Irish accents - "Top o' the mornin' to yeh, sor!" Little pubs with ocean outlooks and peat fires. Shillelaghies and all that shit. Picture book stuff. Toss in a pixie or two, and ... "

'Harry!' she'd stopped him. 'What is all this?'

And the look on her face had said it all: that it wasn't rational talk, and hardly reasonable behaviour, that he should take this out, whatever it was, on her.

After that they hadn't seen each other for a week or more. Finally he'd called her and apologized for his irrational accusations, which had been directed at the world in general, never at Bonnie Jean. She had seemed uncertain and he'd said he would come and see her at B.J.'s. She had stalled him and come to him instead. For which he was grateful, for she really had become his one anchor on the world ...

No, for there was one other, of course, but Harry hardly dared speak to his Ma any more. And (mercifully) he knew that she wasn't likely to sneak up on him at an awkward moment. She knew he liked his privacy and would wait until he came to her, to the riverbank. He hoped so, anyway.

But a new idea had occurred to Harry, and he felt stupid that he hadn't thought of it earlier. He'd been relying on his own skills and the extraordinary talents at E-Branch to turn up something on Brenda and the baby. But wasn't that exactly what the missing pair would expect? Harry Jr was a Power in his own right and would know how to avoid that sort of detection. And he could move his mother at will any time he wanted to. As to providing for her, or for both of them ...

well, who could say what he was or wasn't capable of? He would provide for his Ma what she couldn't provide for herself, and vice versa.

So, they would naturally expect the very sort of approach that Harry was employing: the esoteric, the gadgets, the ghosts of E-Branch. But what about a more mundane approach? Every major town and city in the Yellow Pages of the whole wide world - certainly the Western World - listed scores of detective agencies! And here was Harry Keogh, Necroscope, trying to cover al of that ground himself. Which he could do, of course, given an eternity of time! Stupid! And if he should ever be lucky enough to get close and they spotted him ... then the whole wild-goose chase would have to start all over again.

But to have fifty detective agencies all on the job at the same time, in fifty different places -  - would cost a hel of a lot of money! And Harry's funds went only so far. . .

... His funds, yes.

But there were others who could well afford it. According to Darcy Clarke, anyway ...

By the middle of June Harry had set up the mechanisms for putting his battalions of detectives in their regiments of agencies in England, France, Germany and the USA, to work. Al he needed was the funding: at least three and a half million pounds sterling, or the equivalent in whatever currency was available, to guarantee he could bankroll the tiling for just the first three months of its operation! Meanwhile Darcy Clarke had put him in contact with a Swiss bank used by E-Branch, and Harry had made a ridiculously smal deposit - a few hundred pounds out of his remaining few thousands - to open a numbered account.

Now he could get on with the more serious stuff ... So he thought. But Bonnie Jean Mirlu had other plans.

She had decided it was time that Harry went into training in earnest. Real training.

For a man in his early thirties (she of course worked on the not

unnatural presumption that his body was his own, that his mind and body were the same age) Harry hadn't been in the best possible shape. Concern over his wife and child might explain some of that, and long idle periods between jobs would account for the rest: the fact that he'd done little or nothing in his field since his people ditched him.

But when he was working ... well, she had evidence of his general efficiency. The way he'd been able to handle that situation in London; the episode with Big Jimmy (who would never be a problem to anyone ever again); the fact that he had been able to enter secured, guarded premises - her premises - find what he sought and get out again without being detected ... it said a lot for his skill in every department. And even B.J., who had known a good many men in her vastly extended time, had to admit that he was good in other departments, too. So good indeed that she considered herself genuinely fond of him. Or as fond as she could be of someone with his strictly limited future potential.

But the thought of actually sending him out into the world - into Radu's world of hideous dangers such as he 'could never imagine,' except as she had told him about it - was a matter of some concern. Not so much for Harry (if he failed and fel foul of Drakul or Ferenczy, so be it) as for herself and her Master. Not that he could talk about them ... he didn't even know about them, not consciously. But anyone who cared to backtrack Harry Keogh's recent activities was bound to come across BJ. somewhere along the line, and possibly, in the course of things, Radu Lykan. On that front the secret watcher was problem enough (despite that his purpose was as yet undetermined) without any further complications.

Also, BJ. hadn't yet quite satisfied herself that Harry was all he appeared to be, or something more. She had reasoned that he wasn't in thrall to any Other ... or if he was, then it was beyond her power to detect. Radu, however, would soon sniff out whatever she might have missed. Nor was she convinced that his previous employers were quite done with him - or with her. What if she was being watched through Harry - without his consent or knowledge? With that in mind she had ordered him not to scrub messages on his answering machine, which so far were few and far between. And then she'd monitored them for coded or in any way cryptic content. But so far, nothing.

As for E-Branch itself: well, he'd said it was an esoteric organization, one of the 'secret' services. And so it appeared; she'd been unable to discover anything at all, not a single reference or clue, to any such authority. And despite that Harry was completely in B.J.'s thrall -beguiled at the snap of her fingers, or the utterance of a simple phrase, 'Mah wee man' - still he refused to divulge anything more than he'd already told her. He would simply tense up, sweat, tremble, and offer no further information. If they'd brainwashed all of their operatives the same way, it was hardly surprising that this E-Branch remained secret!

But there again, the dog-Lord Radu had his own methods; if there was something her Master should know, be sure he would get to know it.

Except, of course, she must first get Harry into the lair. He must somehow be made to climb into the 'unexplored'

heights of the Cairngorms, along with B.J. Which was why she'd needed him fit, and why she must now train him ...

In early July Harry woke up one morning to find B.J. gone from his bed. It was a Wednesday; she'd recently been a litle neglectful of work in the wine bar; he found her note in the kitchen, where she'd thoughtfully laid out the makings of his breakfast: Harry -

What with your home-maintenance drive, your cycling, and all your fit-making activities, you are almost a new man. I want you to give serious thought to what we talked about - that holiday in the Highlands? It will be different, something for me, really. But something I would like to share with you. Surely you can afford a few days, before you start searching again? After all, I don't know that if you're successful, it won't be the end of us. Do I?

All Love -  B.J.

The conversation she mentioned sprang immediately to mind (though he couldn't remember where or when they had had it). A holiday, yes, in the Highlands. B.J. liked to hunt, climb, live off the land: healthy exercise, for body and mind both. And she had suggested that he might like to go with her, live rough for a long weekend, make love under the moon and stars. Especially the moon ... or was that last one of Harry's inspirations?

It inspired him to go, anyway. Thus it was his decision to go, if only to please her. So he thought.

The Wamphyri have long believed that wherever possible the destiny of men should be in their own hands: that whatever they enter into, it should be of their own free wil. But no harm on occasion to offer a litle encouragement along the way ...

Later he rang her and they set a date: a month from now, in August. Meanwhile, they'd practise at least once a week in some good spots in the Trossachs, just a few hours out of Edinburgh. B.J. knew a lot of good rock climbs that would be ideal for an enthusiastic amateur. Wel, maybe so, but the Necroscope didn't intend to be that much of an amateur.

Also, she'd only asked him to put off his search for a while; which to his mind didn't include his planned operation to fund that search. And in any case, it was something that would only take a day or two, depending

on circumstances yet to be encountered in Sicily. Since he was seeing her only once or twice in any week, it was something he could fit in in between dates.

As for his preparations: they were simplicity itself. The Necroscope made a jump to an Army Ordnance Depot in the south of England, entered in the dead of night via the Mobius Continuum, and equipped himself with a lot of devastating weaponry. He could have gone to Darcy Clarke for his supplies but wanted to avoid implicating E-Branch in anything he did. This wasn't simply because Darcy had asked him to, but mainly because he'd quit the Branch and couldn't afford any more favours. He'd managed to keep himself out of debt so far, and liked it that way. Even if they found Brenda for him they would only be balancing the books on what he had done for them.

The Necroscope was scrupulously fair-minded. At the ammo depot, he knew the squad on duty would catch hel; they'd be in it up to their necks. So before geting out with his heavy-duty loot he deliberately tripped an alarm. Let the M.O.D. and Military Police try to figure out how it had been done. That's what they were paid for. Doubtless they'd blame the IRA.

Next (and most obvious and easiest), he obtained a recent map of Sicily, and more especialy of the mountainous Madonie. Then, the next right, riding the Mobius Continuum to the Mediterranean in a series of cautious exploratory jumps, he checked flight ETAs at the sleepy airport in Catania, and synchronized his watch to local time.

Finaly he used the toilets in the reception area, secured his stall's door on the inside, made doubly sure of his co-ordinates and returned home.

And when he'd very carefuly packed his suitcase, then he was ready ...

An hour later, at 9:30 that same night, he 'phoned B.J. to tell her he'd be away for a day or two.

'Looking for Brenda?' She seemed anxious, maybe even suspicious.

'No, other things. Business ... "

'I didn't know you had any "business." Not any more.'

This is financial. I have to move my bank accounts, sort things out in general. I've got nothing fixed up localy. It's your fault, in a way. You've occupied my free time, not to mention my thoughts. I'm doing some important personal administration, that's al. Stuff I've let slip. But it doesn't interfere with anything, and I'm not due to see you until Saturday.'

There was a long pause, until B.J. very softly said: 'Are you sure? That it won't interfere with anything?' And before he could answer, even as he framed words to answer: 'Now listen to me, mah - '

' - Of course I'm sure!' he cut her off, and was surprised to find himself perspiring. 'B.J., it's Thursday night. I'll be back tomorrow night, or Saturday morning at the latest.'

And after another pause: 'Very well - but remember, Harry, we're climbing this weekend.'

'I wouldn't miss it for the world,' he told her ...

After that:

Briefly Harry gave thought to what he was doing. Something puzzled him, and he couldn't figure out what it was. Eventually it came to him.

There had been a time when he would have simply used the Mobius Continuum to jump straight into Palermo. Now -

- It seemed he'd developed a real need for his litle subterfuges, the secrecy, this esoteric camouflage for his metaphysical talents. But that was ridiculous: of course he needed to keep his skils secret! Obviously he did - but to this extent? It was odd; he was more concerned now about someone discovering his talents than ever before in his life. But why now (he kept asking himself), in a time of relative safety?

Safety? Scarcely that, considering what he had in mind!

But if there was an answer to al of this, it was going to have to wait. His course was set, his plans made. For the next few days, at least.

It was 9:45 in Edinburgh, 10:45 in Sicily.

Harry made an international cal to the airport at Catania to check the sitrep on the incoming flight from Athens. It was descending, starting its approach run. He alowed it forty-five minutes to land and commence discharging its passengers toward customs, then took the Mobius route directly to the stall he'd booked in the men's toilets. Two or three minutes later he was queuing to change pounds into lira at the cambio, then walking out of the airport reception area into the Sicilian night with a handful of rather more mundane travellers.

Now he was just another tourist with a heavy suitcase.

Heavy for its size, anyway ...

-- Advertisement --