HUMPH, AND OTHERS. IN THE VAULTS BENEATH.
'Who are you?' Harry would have liked a proper introduction, but it seemed that in this place he wasn't going to get one.
Who was I, do you mean? The other was open about it; he'd obviously had plenty of time to get used to the idea; he wasn't one of the recently dead, but more properly a long-time member of the Great Majority. / was J. Humphrey Jackson Jr - 'Humph' to my friends. An American, yeah. As for what I did: / used to build safes.
That's right. For banks, for rich folks, and sometimes for thieves who were worried that someone might try to steal it all back. I designed and installed safes, strong-rooms, vaults. Big steel piggy-banks for little greedy piggies.
'Well, I'm very glad to meet you, Humph,' Harry told him. 'Especially since no one else around here seems interested!'
Oh, they're interested for sure! Humph told him. But talk about close-mouthed? Cliques, Harry, a whole bunch of cliques, clans, families. Why, they talk to each other all the time - or rather, they whisper! But if you're an outsider ... forget it.
'But ... in death, too? I would have thought silence was the last thing they'd want.'
Wel, you don't know much about the history of this island, do you? (Humph gave an incorporeal snort). Ifs a bloody place, Necroscope. Me, I sort of found out the hard way - and so could you. That's why I spoke up. See, I was beginning to fall into their ways. I mean, there are people here I can speak to, sure, but recently I've been as tight-assed as the rest of them! Then I sensed you'd come on the scene; you could only be the Necroscope because you were warm and I could hear you thinking - and what you were thinking about: Le Manse Madonie.
'That's why you spoke to me?'
Mainly, yes ... The dead man's thoughts were suddenly hard, cold.
His was an uneasy spirit; in life, he'd either left something undone, or there had been a great injustice. Giving him a chance to organize his thoughts, Harry said:
'You sound pretty close, Humph. I mean, is there a cemetery close by? Where's your grave? I could come and talk to you there. It seems only right.'
Grave? Step to the other side of the road, Harry. And look down.t
Harry crossed the narrow road and came to a halt at a knee-high metal safety barrier that didn't look any too safe.
That wasn't there in 1938, Humph told him. No black-top on the road, either. Just a potholed track. An easy place to take a dive into the next world, if you were a careless driver- or if someone figured your time was up...
'You crossed the wrong people?' The Necroscope took a cautious step over the barrier, one leg only, and looked down. Two or three hundred feet of thin air to a scree-strewn slope that went down to the next loop of road.
That's where I ended up in my burned-out wreck, Humph told him. Right there on that stretch of road. Mercifuly, I didn't feel a thing after the first bounce.
And no, I didn't cross the wrong people ... I worked for them!
Harry guessed what was coming next. 'The Francezcis?'
Absolutely. Three months to put in their vault -1 supplied the brain, they supplied the brawn - and this is how I got paid of. A couple of their boys, their soldiers, flagged me down on my way of the mountain; they rapped me on the head hard enough to knock me dizzy, took the brake of, Pushed me over. An ' accident,' of course.
Two reasons, (Harry sensed a shrug). One: they took back my cash payment before I went over ... miserable bastards! And two ... Two has to be obvious.
'You were the only one who knew about their strong-room?'
That's how I figure it, yeah.
'Murder.' Harry's voice had been quiet enough before; now it was the merest murmur.
Most foul, Humph agreed. And a moment later; So, my bones went into a grave somewhere, but I hung about down there, where it happened. And what do you know, forty-odd years later, along comes Harry Keogh, Necroscope! Enough to make a man believe in God. Vengeance is thine, sayeth the Lord!
'Except that's not what I'm here for,' Harry told him.
And after a moment's silence: Then maybe we should forget I ever spoke to you ...
'... But I'll see what I can do.' Humph's lead was too good to let go of. It might be exactly what Harry was looking for.
How? I mean, how will you get my own back?
The Necroscope's turn to shrug. 'They robbed you ... it's my intention to rob them.'
They kiled me, Harry! And I don't go for this turning the other cheek stuf! I mean, I've been hearing some things in the last couple of years; like, you're a man who believes in an eye for an eye?
That's true enough,' Harry answered. 'But I also need to believe in what I'm doing. And as yet I don't have much information on the Francezcis. I'm pretty sure it's within my parameters to steal from \ them, but as for anything else
... try to put yourself in my position. j There's no way I can right every wrong that's ever been done to the dead. Not on my own. There are an awful lot of you, Humph - you're of a very large, even a Great Majority - and I'm only one. But yes, when I j can see the whole picture, then I'll see what can be done.'
(A thoughtful pause, and): So what can I tell you?
'First, do you know anything about their family history?'
What? (Utter bewilderment). / mean, what the hell would I know about family histories? I build safes, Harry! Or I did.
'Is there nothing you might have seen inside that place?'
Shit, I wasn't alowed to see anything inside that place! I had a room. I could go from my room to my place of work, and from my place of work to my room. And also to the place where I ate, always alone. Oh, and the grounds; it was okay if I wanted to walk around the grounds. Layout? Oh, I can tell you the layout, roughly. I can tell you where their treasury is, for sure! But history?
'Very wel, let's setle for the layout. For now, anyway.'
And Humph told him. Taking it al in, The Necroscope listened intently as he moved out of the glaring sunlight into the shade of an embankment where the winding road had been blasted through the solid rock of the spur.
It had been some time since Humph was inside Le Manse Madonie, but it had been on his mind ever since. Also, his description was enhanced by pictures straight out of his dead mind, so that Harry was enabled to 'see' the route he had taken from his room to the vault that | he'd been securing in the bowels of the place as if he himself were | walking it. He could actualy get the feel of the place, take co-ordinates.
'Right down in the bedrock,' he eventualy commented.
No, Humph told him. Deep, but not right down. There were other levels below that one. I just sort of happened to stray down there one time. I can't remember if I lost my way or if I was just curious. Probably the latter - no, definitely the latter. Anyway, I found a place with a steel-barred door hooked up to a generator. Electrified! Oh, yeah! 1938, but Le Manse Madonie had its own juice. That was something in Sicily in those days.
'Maybe that was the old strong-room that yours was replacing?' Harry reasoned.
Maybe, but I don't think so, Humph's thoughts were very dark now. There was just something down there that they didn't want anyone to see ... Not anyone. Anyway, a guard caught me, gave me hell, frog-marched me in front of Emilia Francezci, my employer. (Harry caught a 'reflection' of the man from Humph's mind - and gave a start).
Oh? Humph said. Something up?
Something was up, yes. This could easily be one of those photographs that Darcy Clarke had shown him. The family resemblance was that close! And like the photographs, this picture from the mind of a dead man was somehow blurred, indistinct.
I know what you mean, Humph said. These people were shady characters in more ways than one. I never could remember precisely what they looked like. Funny, eh? But in no way funny ha-ha ...
'You say this Emilio was your employer, singular,' Harry frowned, felt a litle confused. 'But you've also been talking in the plural: "they," and
"these people." '
Emilia's brother, Humph explained. He was a big cheese in Le Manse Madonie, but didn't go out much. Never, that I saw. I saw the pair together, though, frequently. Brothers, but definitely. Twins, even, if not identical.
Darcy had said exactly the same thing, but about the current owners of Le Manse, the current generation of Francezcis. And this time it was Humph who saw their pictures in the Necroscope's mind.
That's them! he said at once.
'Can't be,' Harry shook his head. "These are Francesco and Tony, or Anthony ... today people. What you're seeing is from a recent photograph.' He felt Humph's astonishment. And:
You know something? the dead man said, very quietly. Emilia's brother was called Francesco ...
'Wel, why not?' Harry wanted to know. 'Names can carry on down the generations as wel as family resemblance. And anyway, I'm not so much concerned with the current family as with the historical ...' (But for the life of him he couldn't say why, even to himself!) 7 don't know anything about that, said Humph, stubbornly.
'Maybe you do. Let's go the route again, from your room to the tunnel where you were putting those vault doors in.' He had remembered seeing something and wanted to see it again.
Humph took him back along the route, from his first floor rooms in the manse, down a winding marble staircase into a huge hall or balroom. And on the wals - glimpsed however dimly in the eye of the American's memory - rich, gilt-framed portraits of...
... Francezcis! Humph had surprised himself. Hey, I remember now! Why, there's a whole damn family tree on those walls! Except... I'm sorry, Harry, but I can't remember what a single one of 'em looked like. Try to look a little closer,' the Necroscope begged him. And Humph obliged. As he had said, these people were shady characters in more ways than one; even their brooding portraits seemed obscured, either by Humph's memory or the patina of age, or ... whatever. But the family likeness was there in every one of them, certainly.
Harry leaned against the rocky wall of the cutting through the spur and closed his eyes the better to see through Humph's. And he saw - - A woman. Misty in Humph's memory, but still beautiful. She was long-necked, had an elegant or perhaps haughty tilt to her head, and was classically Sicilian. And under the picture, her name on a brass plate, swimming up uncertainly in the eye of the dead American's memory:
Constanza ... Constanza de ...
Constanza de' Petralia ...! And this time Harry's start was violent indeed. Humph felt it, and moving on to the next portrait asked: Are you okay, Necroscope? Are you getting all of this? Harry nodded, knew Humph would sense it, peered yet more intensely through his incorporeal eyes. And next to Constanza's portrait, that of her son, Angelo as a young boy. But the very next frame was Angelo again, this time as a young man. And now he had changed his name. To Angelo Ferenczini, of course!
The Necroscope withdrew, crashing out of Humph's mind as if al the devils of hel were after him. Wel, they weren't, but evidence of them was in there for sure. Even as they were in - still in - Le Manse Madonie!
Harry? Humph queried as from very far away. You okay, Necroscope? Harry knew what he'd seen and recognized, but already the information was subsuming itself into his inner identity, into his subconscious mind. It wasn't for him, this information, but for some other. He was only the one who gathered it. He mustn't alow it to register. That part of his mind - or Bonnie Jean's part - was like her personal computer. What was in there would not be activated until she pressed the right keys.
Hearing the warning toot of a car's horn, Harry opened his eyes. He'd staggered out into the middle of the road, and a car was coming through the cuting.
Slowing to avoid him, it puled to a halt and the driver leaned out of his window and made some inquiry in Italian. Harry stumblingly apologized, shrugged, got out of the way. And the car roled forward, picked up speed and set off again down the mountainside.
Harry? }. Humphrey Jackson Jr caled again, a faint cry from a long, long way off as the Necroscope deliberately tried to shut him out entirely. He felt ill and didn't know why. Sunstroke? Possibly. But
suddenly his entire being seemed to reel like a drunkard. What in hell had happened - was happening - here? What was happening in his head?
He had felt this before, when that lunatic telepath 'wolfman' had invaded his mind. But that had been in London and this was Sicily. Was someone trying to get at him, or get through to him? Normally Harry could guard his thoughts to exclude whoever he wanted to. But something - some shock or other - must have thrown him out of kilter, off balance.
However temporarily, his mind was wide open.
And they came ...
... Whoooo? Whoo? Who? Who are you? Who? Yes, who? Who are you??? A dozen of them, al speaking at once.
Whooorrrr? A growl.
Who? A small, timid, pleading voice.
Whoooooooooo!? Like some young girl's shriek of agony.
Who? Who-ho-ho? Ha-ha-ha-haaa! A burst of crazed laughter, fired into the Necroscope's mind like a stream of bullets from a machine-gun.
And finally: WHO? ... WHAT? ... WHERE . . .? But unlike the previous voices - and despite that its source was the same -this one was utterly alien and totally menacing. And Harry felt himself reeling again from its sheer terror, from the touch of its mad blind groping in the innermost whorls of his brain.
Run! (The lesser voices whispered as one dead voice in his head). Oh, run, run, run!
NO! WAIT! Mad mental 'hands' were reaching, clutching for him. He clapped his own hands to his ears and ran!
His knees hit the crash barrier; his body pivoted; he toppled forward, and felt the air whistling in his clothes, plastering back his sweat-wet hair. Harry opened his eyes - saw the cliff and the sky and the distant sea, all revolving -and saw the rocks and rubble waiting for him below. In a moment, sanity returned, and in the next he conjured a Mobius door immediately beneath his falling body ... and fell through it.
The continuum! Safety! His co-ordinates! Paterno -
- He stumbled from the Mobius Continuum into his room at the Adrano, crumpled to his knees, and was at once sick in the middle of the beautifully carpeted floor ...
Harry must have been down for a couple of hours. When he awoke he remembered being sick but not what had caused it. Sunstroke, it could only be. He'd cleaned up the mess before collapsing on his bed; thank goodness he didn't have to face that! The room's air-conditioning had dispersed the stale smell.
But turning his mind to Le Manse Madonie ... he remembered everything Humph had told him, including the dead man's tale of a forbidden place with an electrified door deep in the bedrock, but nothing after that. No big deal; he knew where the strongroom was, the
Francezci treasury, and that was why he was here.
The only reason? The only reason, yes. So why was he shivering?
It was a momentary thing ... it came and it went... possibly, even probably, it was whatever had made him sick. Wel, probably. He shivered again, which triggered something else out of the past. Not what had made him sick but a scene of biterly cold wastelands, and a stony face carved on the stonier face of a mountain.
As quickly as that the Necroscope's computer mind - but a computer 'damaged' or 'diseased,' not only by Bonnie Jean's virus but also by Dr James Andersen's -had managed to switch drives and thrown him off what could easily have become a very dangerous programme or train of thought.
And Harry was quick to grab hold of something - anything solid - that might steady him up and give him a focal point to revolve around, instead of al this dizzy spinning he was doing now. And he remembered an idea that had flashed across his mind on discovering that he had Le Manse's co-ordinates without ever having been there in the flesh: that if it could work for that place, maybe it would work for those other places, too.
Why not? Alec Kyle's power had been to look into the future, but without ever knowing just exactly what the things he saw meant. And something of that power had come down to Harry in the contours of Kyle's brain. He'd 'seen' Le Manse Madonie as part of his future, but his own weird talent had complemented Alec's; his metaphysical mind had instinctively recorded the co-ordinates!
And there were other places. The stone-faced - what, temple? - in the mountains was one of them. And the other: Was or might be where Brenda was!
High passes and fang-like mountain peaks, and stars like chips of ice glinting with a frozen blue sheen in an alien sky. And down below, a barren plain of boulders reaching to a shimmering horizon under the weave of ghostly auroras ...
Harry gave himself a shake. Brenda and the baby could be there? Yes, they could be - ;/ it was a scene from his future and not just the leftover of some fanciful dream.
Well, he'd already proved the theory by going to Le Manse Madonie, and so would feel safer using it to visit these other places, too -wouldn't he? Only one way to find out.
First the temple or monastery, or whatever it was ... but not before he felt a little better.
He took two Alka Seltzers, let them go down, and waited a few minutes until his stomach felt settled. Then he threw cold water in his face over his wash basin, patted himself dry with a fresh towel. And after lying on his back on his bed with his hands behind his head for half an hour, just thinking it over, finally he was ready.
He pictured the place in the frozen wastelands, the location from which he'd viewed the temple, and tried to remember the co-odinates. No problem: they were waiting right there in his mind. This was it. He got up from his bed, conjured a Mobius door, and went there:
- And again it worked!
A little after twelve noon in Paterno, Sicily - five in the afternoon at the Drakesh Monastery on the Tibetan Plateau.
And there the place was, exactly as Harry had seen it in that previous visitation. Indeed this was that visitation; it was his future caught up with him, or him with a precognitive glimpse out of the configurations of a brain not yet conforming to his paterns:
The unseasonal blizzard had falen off; fresh snow glistened softly in sunlight glancing through a grey cloud blanket; and out there on the white waste ...
movement? Of course: ant-like figures at this range, making their way across the snows. They were robotic in their movements, like some physicaly punishing military drill routine - left, right, left, right, left - rapid and shuffling. The three in front were dressed in red hooded robes, also the three bringing up the rear. But the one in the middle was clad in pure white. And coming to the Necroscope across a half-mile of gradualy melting snow, the chiming of tiny golden bels ...
Harry wasn't dressed for this. 'Summer' it was, even here, but the elevation more than compensated. The Roof of the World, yes. And shivering again - this time from the cold - he conjured a door and returned to Paterno.
The heat struck him an almost physical blow as he stepped from nowhere into his room. And a maid was banging on the door, the real door, asking if she could
'makes it da-cleanings.'
He let her in, showed her the stained carpet and said he'd spilled coffee, let her get on with her tut-tutting and frantic cleaning.
And sitting in a corner out of the way, watching her, he wondered what the stone-faced temple on the cold plateau was all about, and how it featured in his future. One thing seemed certain: Brenda wasn't there. There had been no 'sense' of her presence, and there'd be no sense to it. Not in that place.
But mainly he wondered about the next place, and how that featured.
- A garden in a fertile valley between ruggedly-weathered spurs, where dusty beams of sunlight came slanting through the high passes during the long daylight hours, and the stars glittered like frosted jewels at night, or ice-shards suspended in the warp and weave of ghostly auroras ...
Was Brenda there?
Just thinking of the place, weird co-ordinates surfaced on the screen of Harry's mind. Weird, yes, like nothing he'd ever seen before. So strange that he was given to wonder: were they real, or were they simply the co-ordinates of fantasy, the ephemera of dreams? Was that it, wishful thinking? Had he wished or dreamed too hard of an unatainable location somewhere over the rainbow?
Wel, the Necroscope didn't have any ruby slippers, but he did have the Mobius Continuum.
Finaly the maid was finished. With many nods, smiles, and a mouthful of unintelligible pidgin-English, she backed out of the room and was gone. Harry waited no longer but conjured his Mobius door, and in the primal darkness of the Mobius Continuum he pictured the esoteric symbols, the weird equation that would signpost his destination, and went... nowhere.
It had been after al a dream, a wish, a forlorn hope. And the co-ordinates had failed because they, too, were an invention of his wishful imagination and meant nothing.
He was wrong, of course, but had been perfectly correct to think of the co-ordinates as alien. For in a paralel dimension beyond space as we know it, Harry's 'weird' co-ordinates would have taken him directly to his target. There was nothing wrong with them at al ... except that they were alien.
Enough of experimentation, discovery and disappointment; right now, despite that he had rested, still Harry was tired. He was emotion-lagged, time-lagged, even Mobius- or spacetime-lagged. But later tonight he would need his wits about him, need to be physicaly and mentaly fit for the job in hand. He had al the information he needed about Le Manse Madonie; his new knowledge with regard to the inhabitants of that place had sunk into and locked itself away in post-hypnotic vaults of the Necroscope's mind; it would remain there, beyond recal until some other - Bonnie Jean, or Radu Lykan - pressed the right butons. As for conscious apprehensions: they were natural enough considering his mission. So he told himself.
He slept like a smal child, for once undisturbed by the whispering of the dead in their graves. If they were talking, they were very quiet about it. But this was Sicily after al ...
Waking about six in the evening, Harry felt a moment's disorientation before his mind cleared. It was still broad daylight, would be for another two to three hours.
Showering to shake off the last effects of dul sloth, he made a desultory meal in the hotel restaurant - a 'something' Genovese - and at once returned to his room.
Now the Necroscope was just about ready and it was only a mater of time. Now, too, he realized how little he knew about Le Manse Madonie, its occupants and staff... Like how many of them, for instance, and what their duties were. But in a place like that - a fortress in its own right - there would be little or no requirement for security in
the form of guards. A night watch, possibly, but on the perimeter. Even then it seemed unlikely that there would be too many people up and about in the wee smal hours.
Oh, really? (Harry frowned to himself, at the niggling litle voice in the back of his mind).
Wel, if they were up and about, his plan was designed to take care of that. They would be buzzing like wasps once he'd set the thing in motion, but on the outside. A distraction was what they required, something to divert them from their normal routine.
And a distraction was what he intended to deliver.
As for the vault doors: they were combination-locked. He wasn't an expert safe-breaker, but he was an expert at getting into places without going through doors. Or rather, he was the only one with the combination to his doors. In fact it worked very much in Harry's favour, that Humph's steel vault doors - two of them - took time to open; he'd be out of there before anyone else could get in! Why, they might not even try to get in; probably wouldn't, because Humph's doors were alarmed. And Harry wasn't going to set off any alarms - not on the outside, anyway.
It was time he checked out his distraction. He hung a 'do-not-disturb' sign on his doorknob, double-checked that the door was locked, got out his suitcase and opened it on his bed. Four T-shirts, a black track-suit, a pair of soft black canvas shoes (a bit scuffed), a light-blue summer jacket, and ... an ex-Army web belt, with canvas pouch attachments, a box of six tear-gas canisters, and nine fragmentation grenades, packed like dully glinting, blued-steel eggs in a three-by-three plywood nest of straw-stuffed compartments. The mere presence of the last couple of items would suffice to make most people extremely nervous, but the Necroscope had played around with far more deadly things in his time.
He put the stuff away again, went down to the bar, drank mineral water and sat alone, determined to remain mainly unnoticed.
Beyond patio windows a swimming pool's lights came on. A party of British tourists was out there, hooting and splashing about. A pretty blonde girl came in with a towel wrapped round her, ordered drinks, smiled at Harry and said, 'English?'
'Nicht verstehen,' he told her, went back to his room and fidgeted. But on his way to his room he remembered to stop off at the gift shop and buy a pencil-slim flashlight... he might well need it, in the treasure vault under Le Manse Madonie.
His room had a smal balcony; he sat out there under briliant stars and counted satellites tracking the sky, until just after one o'clock in the morning when his patience ran out. It was stil early, but it would have to do.
He put on the track-suit and black shoes, fitted the belt and attachments to his waist, stuffed the pouches with canisters and grenades, then tested their weight and his own freedom of movement. Everything was just right, yet still he felt... not unlike he'd felt before he 'invaded' the Chateau Bronnitsy for the first time. But surely it wasn't as bad as that? Then: Harry had been full of mayhem, bloodlust; he had been going up against Boris Dragosani, a vampire. This time: it was 'just' a couple of Godfathers ... Wasn't it?
Also, Dragosani had been expecting him, and these people weren't.
But in any case, Harry's course was set; too late to have second thoughts now; he had to fund his search for Brenda and the baby - and fund it big - and the Francezcis were crooked as they come, and murderers to boot. That last couldn't be proved in a court of law, no, but the Necroscope was satisfied to take J. Humphrey Jackson Jr's word for it. He'd rarely known a dead man to lie. Some dead things lied, but not men.
He conjured a Mobius door and 'went' to Le Manse Madonie, to that spot under the walls of the place whose co-ordinates he remembered from his second flash forwards. And without pause he jumped again -this time a half-mile away across rugged, barren terrain, to where uneven fang-like outcrops of rock jutted from the stony, desiccated mountain soil like shattered teeth. That was far enough.
Using his flashlight, he climbed a few feet to a good vantage point and looked back at the dark, squat silhouette of Le Manse.
There were just a handful of dim lights shining out from rooms built into the walls -servants quarters, Harry supposed.
But the arched-over entrance to the inner courtyard was lit up by a battery of spotlights. That was okay; he wasn't going in through the main door. He had his own doors.
'Humph,' he said, under his breath, 'are you out there?'
Hey, I've been expecting you, Necroscope! The other came back at once. Then the excitement ebbed as the American asked him: What happened, Harry? I mean, when we were talking? You were there and you were gone. You sort of faded out, as if you were being blocked out... but by what?
The Necroscope frowned, shook his head. 'I'm ... not sure. I don't remember. I get this feeling occasionally that someone is messing about with my mind, and when I find out who there's going to be hell to pay! But for the moment
... I think maybe I'd better keep a tight rein on this conversation at least. So it'll be just you and me this time, Humph.'
How can I help you?
'Show me the route to the vault again - not from your room but just the underground part, the tunnels in the bedrock.'
Humph was puzzled. But with your talents, why not go right on into the vault?
For the life of him, Harry couldn't think why not! He only knew he had to take a closer look at the subterranean layout of the place. 'Maybe it's for later,' he shrugged.
Humph answered shrug for shrug, and said, It's your game, Harry. And without more ado his dead mind lit with al the details of the snaking tunnel labyrinth through the bedrock under Le Manse Madonie. The Necroscope memorized all the co-ordinates he needed - including those of that forbidden nether tunnel in the very bowels of the place, where Humph had earned himself a reprimand.
Got what you want, Harry?
'Let's hope so,' the Necroscope answered, and excused himself. He was going to be busy now.
Good luck then, Humph told him, his dead voice fading into nothing.
Harry got down from the rock. It was time for his distraction, a diversionary tactic. He took three fragmentation grenades from his belt pouches, pulled their pins, lobbed them left, right, and centre as far as he could throw. Then he ducked down in a cluster of rocks and counted off the seconds.
In the silence of the warm Mediterranean night, with only the frying-fat sounds of a hundred cicadas, and the toot-toot! of owls to disturb it, the abrupt triple blast of the grenades going off one, two, three, sounded like the beginning of World War HI. Shrapnel whistled overhead.
Harry waited until the echoes came rolling back from the mountains, then stood up. Sulphur and cordite stench came drifting on orange and grey clouds, while across the false plateau the lights of Le Manse Madonie blinked on one by one until the entire fagade was lit up like the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle during the annual tattoo. There was even a searchlight beam in one of the corner towers, that began to sweep the ground immediately outside the walls. Whoever was awake - probably all of them by now - they'd heard the blasts but hadn't detected the source. And that wouldn't do.
Harry gave it a count of ten, then lobbed another grenade off to his left. This time, after the flash and the bang, the searchlight beam came lancing right at him. He sat down in the rocks and let it pass overhead. Unless these people were equipped with something extraordinary in the way of night-sight binoculars, they wouldn't see anything at this range.
A minute passed, and another; the beam flashed to and fro; a motor coughed into life and a vehicle - probably a Landrover, four-wheel drive engaged - roared into view from under the arch of the entrance. It came bumping across the rough terrain, headlights blazing. Then another motor snarled into life, and with a rising whine and the unmistakable whup, whup, whup of rotors, a helicopter hovered into view from behind Le Manse's wals.
Harry wasn't about to let these vehicles get to him, only to where he had been. By now every occupant of Le Manse Madonie would be looking - and thinking - out. It was the Necroscope's time to go in. He conjured a Mobius door, and jumped ...
... To the location, the co-ordinates, that had come over the clearest (and the darkest) from J. Humphrey Jackson's memory: a junction of rock-hewn tunnels deep under Le Manse Madonie. Darkest, because this was a place that Humph hadn't much cared for. The Necroscope had felt it as the dead American had guided him along the route: his reluctance - even in death, and after all this time - to have to visit this spot again, however briefly. It was easy to see why.
The place was claustrophobic, soulless, empty ... there was nothing here, except the junction of tunnels itself. Yet it was as if something listened. So that Harry found himself listening back, to nothing. Maybe it was just the knowledge of the weight of rock overhead - claustrophobia, yes, - and the sudden notion that if Le Manse were a beast, these tunnels were its jaws; and the waiting for them to close. It was an oppressive place, evocative of morbid thoughts ... but no more so than any deep, dark, deserted mine shaft. So Harry thought, as he deliberately shook the feeling off.
The gouged, arched ceiling was low, no more than six and a half to seven feet. Every fifteen paces or so, dim naked light bulbs were strung to the walls, bending away horizontally with the curvature of the tunnel. The illumination they offered was eerie at best: more a haze than true lighting. This was a meeting point for five tunnels. Stone steps going up, to the basement of Le Manse, Harry knew. And others descending, to forbidden regions, apparently. It was down there that Humph had got himself in trouble. Just for being there, without having seen anything. But Harry must see -eventually.
(What? But his reason for being here was money, surely? It was to fund his search. The two halves of Harry's mentality - conscious and subconscious, or post-hypnotic - met in momentary conflict, confusion, then cancelled the problem out, solving it with a soft solution: the Necroscope's need to explore this place was just his natural curiosity, that was all.) But right now his need was to be into the Francezci treasure vault.
Yet stil he paused, if only for a second, to fix this co-ordinate indelibly in his metaphysical mind. These steps coming down from above, and others descending steeply into the echoing bowels of the place . . . And three other tunnels joining horizontally ... The place was a labyrinth, just as Humph had said ... They and theirs had been hollowing it out for centuries.
Harry gave his head an angry shake, blinking his eyes rapidly, worriedly in the poor light. But the information had sunk in, buried itself in his secret memory. And now he could get on with the job in hand.
Seconds had passed, that was all. Up above, there'd be a lot of activity by now. But down here all was silence, or near-silence: the soft susurration of ventilation systems, a sighing of air through the tunnels, the muted throb of unseen machines. And the pressured tonnage of the solid rock overhead, of course - with all the additional weight of Le Manse Madonie on top of that - which felt like a sound in its own right: the mute but ever present groaning of stressed strata ...
Two of the three horizontal tunnels were unknown quantities; Humph had never explored them. Harry 'knew' the route that lead upwards into Le Manse, also something of the route leading down ... to whatever. The third horizontal tunnel led straight to the strong-room, to the massive steel doors installed by the dead American some forty-odd years ago. But Harry needn't waste time following the tunnel. He could 'go' directly to the outermost door.
He thought to contact Humph again, to check the co-ordinates, then changed his mind. Not in this place. He wouldn't want to disturb the psychic aether in this place. And so the Necroscope was on his own here; it was as simple as that. He went via the Mobius route to the vault's outer door - and discovered it exactly as Humph had described and pictured it: a hinged, circular, six-foot 'plug' of shining stainless steel, set in a wall of rough-surfaced blued steel whose four unseen edges were sunk deep and concreted into walls, floor and ceiling. The great airlock of a plug was fitted with a combination lock and a massive wheel to slide the hidden bolts. You could only go through that door if you had the lock's combination, or a thermal lance with an unlimited power source, or quite a few well-placed high velocity tank shells. That was it. There was no other way -
- Except one. Harry's way.
To anyone watching it would seem he simply disappeared . . . and reappeared, in the utter darkness on the other side of the door. He breathed dead air, used his flashlight, took two paces to the inner door, then a third pace into another quite invisible door which he conjured over the impervious metal... and so into the treasure vault of the Francezcis, the fabulous loot of centuries, the greedy black 'heart' of Le Manse Madonie.
And in the first thin beam from his flashlight, as he swept the room, or rather the cave - the treasure cave, yes - behind Humph's less than impenetrable doors ...
... The Necroscope had known something of what to expect, but that something was nothing compared to the reality. Wealth?
Monies? The illicit proceeds of ten, twenty, or thirty years of Mob graft and greed, vice and crime, overseen or advised by the Francezcis? Well, in that case they had a hell of a lot of crime on their hands! But deep inside - in a forbidden place within himself, which was as much a sealed vault as this place - Harry knew better, knew it was more than that. Much more.
That some of this unthinkable, some might say obscene spoil was garnered recently was obvious. For one thing, there must be millions, if not billions, in high denomination notes of almost every modern currency: certainly the wages of crime - for what did the Francezcis do, that they could possibly have earned al of this legitimately? And if it was legitimate, then why was it here? - but that was only the actual money, and by no means the treasure. As for that:
Some of it was literally centuried. There had been pirates on the Mediterranean since the early tenth century, when Genoa and Pisa raided the Saracen shipping routes. Later, the Crusaders themselves had been attacked as their ships lolled westward loaded down with the loot of fine cities; and some of that loot was here. Statuettes in rare marbles and gold, crude ingots of that same precious metal, treasures from every era of Mediterranean history. But there was more recent treasure, too. Harry's flashlight illumined chests clearly marked with the swastika - some of which were as yet unopened! But of those that had been opened:
Harry knew of a wartime legend that Rommel's forces, pinned down in Tunisia in May 1943, had moved an immense hoard to Corsica in the hope of using it to galvanize the German war effort. The treasure was in the form of gold, ivory, works of art, jewellery; all of which had been 'accumulated' in Tunisia, Libya, and northern Egypt. But none of it had ever fuelled the war, if indeed it ever reached Corsica. The Necroscope knew now that it never had - for it was here!
But his flashlight wasn't enough, couldn't show him enough. Harry's mouth was dry; his hands trembled and he felt the sweat of fever on his brow; even the Necroscope wasn't immune to this. For it was greed -like the insatiable, incredible lust of the Wamphyri themselves -treasure fever!
To be here, alone, surrounded by ... by a world's ransom! For a moment he could actually feel it: the way They must feel in all their power, their strength, their gluttony. And it was seductive.
Then, sweeping the metal shelves, chests, naked walls with his slender beam, Harry saw what he needed: electrical conduits looping down from the ceiling, with wires leading to light switches on a panel mortared to the wall between racks of shelving. It pulled him together, let him get a grip on his emotions, his greed-stricken senses. It separated his two parts, his two purposes. So that while he knew about the Francezcis in their modern role, he also knew about the Ferenczys in all their ancient horror:
Knew that the historical treasures gathered here had been amassed by the brothers' father - who or whatever he was - and before him by his forebears all the way back to Angelo Ferenczini, bloodson of Waldemar Ferrenzig and Constanza de' Petralia. As to how many forebears ... that was beyond even Harry's mathematical powers to calculate, a matter for conjecture. But certainly this mad, magpie's nest was not the work of one man but generations.
Generations of vampires!
The knowledge was there - clear as crystal in the Necroscope's mind - but only for a split second. Then it sank down into the limbo of B.J.'s beguilement and was gone. And, frowning to himself, Harry hit the light switch.
In the dazzle of the bright lights, for the first time he saw the ful extent of it ... and in his turn was seen!
In a tower security room, a guard stared from a half-open window across the plateau of the Madonie and watched the helicopter sweeping the far jumble of rocks and blasting clouds of dust over the sheer rim of the canyon. Then, sensing the glare of a viewscreen brightening to unaccustomed life on the security console, he blinked tired eyes and turned to see what was happening. What he saw froze him rigid, if only for a moment: It was the strong-room; its lighting system could only be activated from within; it had been activated, else the screen would be in darkness. But that was okay; it must be one of the brothers; must be one of them, because no one else was alowed in the strong-room, ever. Except. . the brothers were down at the arched entranceway, waiting for reports on the explosions!
A shadow - a male figure, dark-suited - flitted across the viewscreen, paused at one of the racks, picked up a smal burlap sack and spiled some of its contents.
Gold burned silver on the monochrome viewscreen as coins roled this way and that. The intruder was plainly astonished; he picked up handfuls of heavy coins, standing stock still to let them trickle through his fingers.
Unaccountable blasts ... both of the Francezcis in plain view out there in the night... strong-room ... intruder!
It al came together in the disbelieving watchman's mind. His jaw had falen open; he snapped it shut to bite off a half-hissed, 'Shit!' - then grinned as a red flashing light on the console told him that the vault's cameras had been activated along with the lights. Whoever it was down there, he was having his picture taken! One way or the other, he was already a dead man. And sliding the window open al the way, the guard shouted down to the Francezcis: 'Intruder! In the vault!
At first they failed to hear, or perhaps they didn't understand, accept. But who would? Then it sank in. 'What?' Anthony Francezci caled up, as he and Francesco glanced frowningly at each other and began walking, then running, towards Le Manse's main doors. 'What's that you say? In the vault? What vault?'
'He's on-screen!' The guard's voice was hoarse with excitement. 'He's in the strong-room!'
The brothers knew what it meant. Of course they did. It was one of theirs, could only be one of theirs. The bomb blasts had been a decoy. Treachery! But it was unheard of, unthinkable. To a man, these people were al in thral. In any case, how could anyone even think to get away with it?
'Weapons!' Francesco caled out, his voice booming into the night. He snatched his dark glasses from his face, and his eyes were scarlet. 'Everyone up and on the alert. Man the wals. Any stranger you see, take him alive - or if you can't, then shoot him dead! In or out of the house.' And pointing at the security guard in the tower window: 'You -what about the cameras?'
They're activated, yes.' The guard shouted back.
But by then the Francezcis were into Le Manse and gone from view ...
The Necroscope hadn't noticed the cameras in the ceiling. Since switching on the lights he'd noticed nothing, except the extent of the hoard. And even then his mind couldn't take it in, only the fact that it was massive and ill-gotten.
From stacks (literally stacks) of 'lost' Old Masters - one or two of which, in rich gilt frames, were actualy hanging on the naked rock wals - to the coins of forgoten realms; from the books and iluminated manuscripts of antiquity, to the jeweled ornaments of Byzantium; from pirate gold to modern paper money in bundles inches thick, Harry's eyes were drawn this way and that as the mass of it sank in.
It was far more than Darcy Clarke had hinted, because Darcy hadn't known. But the Necroscope did know, and knew what he must do.
The place had ventilation; he could hear a faint whirring and feel a gentle current of dry air being circulated. And when he looked closer, sure enough there were ducts behind the racks. Doubtless the system was an extension of Le Manse Madonie's air-conditioning. Harry grinned (for what felt like the first time in a very long time), and thought Well, and why not add insult to injury? This is for Humph. Something of what he's owed, anyway.
He took two tear-gas canisters from his belt attachments, positioning them on shelving close to the ventilation ducts .
... But first he had his own needs.
He unzipped the top half of his track-suit and stuffed it to bulging with wads of deutschmarks, sterling, dollars; filling the jacket until it bloated obscenely on him and threatened to split at the seams. Then he took up two smal, ridiculously heavy burlap sacks and hung them from hooks on his belt. It was as much as he could manage; it would have to do.
He yanked the ring-pulls on the gas canisters, backed off across the concrete floor and turned his face away. There came the threatening hiss of hot gases expanding under pressure.
Harry conjured a door and held it steady. He took two grenades from his belt, armed them, tossed them among the shelving. Wanton destruction of priceless treasures, but so what? No way the Francezcis were ever going to release any of this stuff or let anyone else see it, or even admit that it was here! It was here because it was theirs; ownership was everything.
He stepped through his door, exiting the Continuum between Humph's doors, in the airlock section. Quickly, he fiddled with the combination, until a red light began flashing . . . the alarm system, obviously. Then he heard the crump! crump! of his grenades from within the vault, and felt the bedrock give a shudder under his feet.
Another jump took him into the outer passage on the other side of the first door, where again he fiddled with the combination
... and once more the red flashing light -
- Which was when he heard the shouting, and saw powerful torch beams turning the dim light almost to daylight where they lit up the bend in the tunnel. As to why he'd bothered to mess with the combination locks: he'd definitely developed a 'thing' about protecting his talents. This way he was making it 'obvious' that somebody had physically broken into the strong-room. And thus it would be far less obvious that the someone in question was purely and not-so-simply a magician!
But in order to protect his talents yet again it was now time for him to move on, before the people with those powerful hand torches came into view around the bend. And anyway, there was somewhere else he wanted to see.
He didn't quite know why, but -
- There was definitely somewhere else he wanted to see ...