HARRY KEOGH, CATALYST
THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM
In the privacy of Francesco's rooms, the brothers studied the photographs at greater length; but even at first glance in the cavern of the pit that housed their terrible father, Francesco had gasped, 'What in the - ?' before showing the badly mottled pictures to his brother. Tony's reaction had been more or less the same: not shock but dismay, that it appeared the pit-thing, old Angelo Ferenczy, was right. For he had to agree with Francesco that for all the distortion of the grainy prints he, too, was certain they'd seen images of this man before.
Some months earlier their sleeper in the British Isles - a trusted, senior lieutenant - had sent them a series of snaps taken outside 'the woman's place' in Edinburgh. Just like these current pictures they too had been badly lit, monochrome, spur-of-the-moment efforts; scarcely studio quality. But then, they weren't required to be. They had been obtained 'for information only,' items destined for the brothers' file on one Bonnie Jean Mirlu, whom they had long suspected of being in thrall to Radu Lykan.
Now the contents of that file lay sprawled across a massive desk; one picture uppermost, where Francesco had thrown it in a rage. For it was clear to both men - or monsters - that the man in the Edinburgh photograph, and the intruder pictured inside their treasure vault, was indeed one and the same man.
'A dead man!' Francesco snarled for the third time. 'Him, the woman, Radu too! Al of them!'
'You agree that our father was right, then?' Tony made no attempt to hide his smugness; he took pride if not pleasure in the fact that he'd been wise to take Angelo's side in this matter.
'Eh?' Francesco rounded on him. 'And what difference does it make if that ... that disgusting Thing was right? Yes, yes, of course he was right - but isn't he always? It's his function to be fucking right! And yours to bolster his bloody ego, or so it seems to me!'
Tony smiled thinly and said, 'We were right, then.' And before his brother could rage again: 'Which seems to mean that we now have a feud on our hands. You and I, and the people we control - all of us, under the, er, Thing's guidance, of course - against this elusive character in the photographs, his mistress Bonnie Jean Mirlu and her people, and the sleeping but by no means silent Radu Lykan.'
'Because of that girl we took?' Francesco was trying hard to control himself.
That's what Angelo said,' Tony nodded.
This Radu: he goes to war over a thrall, while he himself is still in hibernation or whatever?'
'So it would seem.'
Then he must be pretty damn sure of himself!' Again Francesco's outburst. And again his brother's nod:
'Pretty damn sure of his thralls, anyway. What are we up against, brother? Oh, we now know what our intruder looks like - but how did he do it? Where did he come from, and where did he go? And how? Angelo says he talks to dead people!'
'Frequently, yes. But at other times he's perfectly lucid. Today ... he seemed lucid enough to me.'
'Lucid and devious,' Francesco snarled. 'He took Guy Cavee knowing that he was innocent. This intruder had no inside help, and our bloody father knew it!'
'He was hungry,' Tony shrugged. 'As always. And anyway, it was your idea. Cavee was your example ...'
Pacing to and fro, Francesco scowled and nodded grudgingly 'Yesss,' he hissed, 'he was! But anyway, it did produce results of sorts. We appeased the old bastard and he did speak to us - if only to talk rubbish.'
'Some of it, maybe. But we do know the intruder's name, at least. What, Harry? British, isn't it?'
'Probably.' Francesco picked up the vault photographs from a corner of his desk. 'He looks British, anyway.'
Tony took the initiative. 'Let's take a look at what we've got and try putting it all together. We've been watching Bonnie Jean Mirlu for years, but from a distance. Recently, because of Angelo's warnings, we've been taking a lot more interest in her. We could have had her taken out a long time ago, but that would have alerted Radu's other thralls and it still wouldn't tell us the location of his lair. So, we waited. More warnings from our father in his pit; we saw an opportunity to grab one of Mirlu's people, the girl. We got very little out of her - yet in a way we did. At least she showed us how strong Radu's power is over his people. Even our father failed to get into her ... well, in one way at least. Or perhaps she didn't know a lot? But in any case she was only a thrall. Oh? But she was one of his, Radu's.
And apparently he cares for
his own, even from his secret lair. How we were traced, tracked down, and discovered after all this time ... who can say? But we were. And last night the dog-Lord struck back, hit us where it hurts most. So, what use is money to such as him? But as you and I know well enough, in this modern world money is all-important! Especially to someone attempting to re-establish himself, who will doubtless build his own power base, his own army. And what a wonderful irony - to fund it with the proceeds of a strike against his greatest, his oldest enemies!'
'But we were not his enemies!' Francesco burst out. 'After two thousand years? Radu's enemies were all dead long before we were born!'
'Perhaps you should have paid more attention to our father when ... when you could have,' Tony told him. 'For to the Wamphyri, the blood is the life. And a blood-feud is a blood-feud, unending until. . . until it ends. This Radu will seek to avenge himself. Yes, even for alleged crimes committed against him in another world, another time, by an earlier generation.'
'Another world, another time!' Francesco mimicked. 'Myths and legends - and lies, of course. And tell me, how would our dear father know about that, anyway! What? Why, he never knew his father, Waldemar Ferrenzig! So what are his sources to all this Wamphyri history? What makes him such an authority?'
Anthony smiled wryly at what he could only assume was his brother's naivete, his stupidity, his petty, argumentative nature.
'Now I know that you are playing word games,' he said. 'Or you are being stupid and arguing for argument's sake. Our
"dear father," as you have it, had centuries in which to research his forebears. I'll tell you something you don't know, for you were away at the time in the USA, Rome, Berlin. That was a most difficult period, as you'll perhaps recall?'
'What, the Second World War?'
'Exactly. You remember the American invasion?'
'Of course I remember. Wasn't I your go-between, "Emilio" Francez-ci's spokesman in America? Didn't I bargain for Luciano's freedom, in return for a "soft landing" for the American invasion force? And also to ensure that no shells fell in the vicinity of Le Manse Madonie?'
Tony smiled. That wasn't all you bargained for, or with. Our dear father had told me about a plan he'd been working on: a saturation air-raid on Nazi-held territory north of Ploiesti in Romania. It called for pin-point bombing.'
'I remember,' Francesco answered. There was to be a top-brass meeting of German strategists, to re-direct the course of the war they were losing. This was a valuable piece of information that Angelo wanted passed on to the Americans.
The meeting place would be the target for the bombers, who would then head south and raid the oil installations at Ploiesti. What of it?'
"There were no German strategists north of Ploiesti on the night of the 1st August 1943,' Tony told him. 'Just a village, or a huddle of rich homes and fine gardens. And in one of those houses ... a Ferenczy!'
'What?' Francesco frowned. 'What are you saying?'
'Our father's brother, a bloodson of Waldemar, but out of a different mother - which is to say our uncle, Francesco! -lived there. As he had lived there for hundreds of years! His name was Faethor, and he was or might possibly become a threat. Such was our father's research, brother, that he was aware of Faethor without that Faethor ever knew of him!
And such was - such is - his wicked intelligence, that he had Faethor removed without that he, or we, could ever be shown to have been involved. That way if Faethor had survived, he would never know that the bombs that night were intended specifically for him! But in any case, he didn't survive.'
'And I never knew about this? I was never informed?' Francesco's brows were black as thunder.
Tony held up a hand placatingly. 'You were the negotiator. You were our liaison with the Americans - among others. If you had known, would your story have held the same conviction?'
'I arranged for the death of my own uncle?'
'Before he could discover you and arrange for yours, yes.'
'I don't know how I should take this ...'
'Take it as it was intended. Angelo - he and I - were protecting you, us, the Francezcis.'
'Without my knowing? All these years ...'
'You were away for years! It was one thing, one incident. Why, I wouldn't have remembered it myself, if you hadn't questioned our father's authority in such matters. But it's as I've said: he is an authority, mainly as a result of research in his youth. Such research as led him to the conclusion that this was the way forward: his way - and our way.'
'Strength in riches, in secrecy, in ritual silence, Francesco. Why are the Sicilians the way they are? Omerta! Because of the Mafia. Why is the Mafia? Because of the Francezcis. Why were we - until last night -untouchable? Because we are the heart of a secret empire of terror. And why all or any of this? Because of Angelo Francezci's talents! What? But he knew something of everything, even of the future. And he knew that the blood wars were not finished!'
'Huh! Francesco snorted. The sins of the fathers, indeed. But out of another world and time? Did we inherit that, too?'
'Apparently, along with everything else. Haven't you enjoyed it, then? What? And isn't it worth fighting for? You say we weren't the dog-Lord's enemies ... oh, really? but the Ferenczys have been his enemies as long and longer than you or I can possibly remember. When
we took that girl, to examine her, we rekindled an old fire, lit an old fuse. Yes, and it's burning down even now, Francesco ..."
'We have to find him,' Francesco was paler than ever.
The intruder. Find him, extract every ounce of knowledge, and kill him!'
But Tony shook his head. 'No, we have to find them. And I mean al of them. The Lykans, the Drakuls, their aeries, their thrals to the last man. And we have to do it soon. Then - and only then - can we move against them. And even then in stealth and secrecy.'
'A blood-feud,' the other mused.
But again his brother disagreed. 'I would cal it a blood-war,' he said. 'Oh, yes, for that's how hot it could get to be! Yet on the surface al must appear calm - the world can't know. We must use our wits, as Angelo used his. It must be something like that bombing raid on those "German strategists." '
'It is definitely coming, then?'
'It has come. And no use to plead innocence or ignorance; for just like last time, we Ferenczys are the ones who started it.'
'Damn it to hel!' Francesco slammed a clenched fist down onto the desk top, scatering papers.
To hel, yes,' Tony agreed. 'Or maybe to glory? We have the advantage, brother. Radu isn't back yet, but we're already here! Not only do we have the inteligence of a certain - what, "disgusting thing?" - but also of the Mafia, the KGB, and even our several contacts in the CIA.
'As for this Harry person, whoever he is: he'll be out of Sicily by now. But we know where to find him: with Radu's lady lieutenant, Bonnie Jean Mirlu! And we certainly know where to find her - and through her Radu himself.'
'Al very interesting,' Francesco told him. 'But haven't you forgoten something - like our vulnerability? We've been hit once. So what's to stop them doing it again? I mean, this "Harry" felow has to be a ghost! Indeed we have our father's word for it that he "talks to dead people!" Hah!'
'We were vulnerable, yes,' Tony answered. 'But no more. From now on there'll be day and night patrols, guards outside the vault, men on the walls and at every access or egress; Le Manse Madonie has to become a fortress. And after that, if we so much as smell a stranger within a mile of the place ...' He left the threat unspoken.
Finally Francesco was convinced. 'Everything you've said makes sense,' he said. 'Especially what you said about intelligence. So why not put our contacts to use? In the past we've been in the business of selling them information, so why don't we buy a little back? Let's not stick our own necks out - or, at least, not too far - but have the KGB and CIA do it for us. Our father tells us this Harry is no common man ... Huh! As if we didn't have proof enough already! But doesn't that mean he should be on record somewhere?'
'Good!' Tony was enthusiastic. 'Send out copies of these photographs. If he's known, then we'l know him too. And meanwhile I'l look to the security of this place. We have a network, brother, so let's use it. But slowly, oh-so-slowly. And let me emphasize it again: the world must never suspect, must never know of our secret war. For if it did know, be sure the world would go to war, too - against us, al of us! Our father says two to three years before Radu Lykan is up again. That is when he wil be at his weakest, in the hour of his resurgence. Wel, two to three years should be time enough to find him. So I repeat: slowly, slowly does it. And let's be sure that whatever it is that's going down, we're not going with it...'
Harry Keogh, Necroscope, woke up in his house on the outskirts of Bonnyrig one morning and discovered that two years had gone by. He had known they were going, of course, but stil it surprised him. From autumn to autumn to autumn, as if in a single night. It was the colour of the leaves that told him; some of them were turning again - just as they'd been when he and B.J. had first started climbing together.
But two years? As long as that? Maybe it was only one!
And feeling disoriented - but even so, knowing what he would find -he checked his calendar. Two years, yes.
And again he wondered about his memory. Alzheimer's? God, no! He was too young for that! Echoes of Alec Kyle: his talent, and all his problems? Was Harry compensating for those glimpses of the future by losing fragments of his past? But Kyle's
'problems' - in particular his drinking - had disappeared, merging with or being subsumed into Harry's stronger identity; and his dubious talent hadn't recurred. Not so far, anyway.
But two years! And as he got dressed, Harry tried to fil them in. He had done a little searching, for his wife and baby of course.
Except now ... he sometimes forgot what Brenda had looked like; and this time it wasn't any kind of defect in his memory. Not long-term, anyway.
He remembered her as a girl, in Harden on the coast; and school holidays ... on the beach ... the woods ... long walks ... their first fumbling attempts at making love. Then a blank. It was grief, but Harry didn't know that. It was as if Brenda had died, and his mind had found ways to forget. Forget what she'd felt like in his arms, what he had felt like in her. The adult part, the meaningful part, had been closed down. He had found ways to close it down, to forget - if only to get to sleep at nights - when he was on his own.
As for the baby: nothing. Harry just didn't know, couldn't remember a single feature of the baby. But except to a mother, aren't all babies
like that? A baby is a baby. And what the hel, Harry Jr wasn't a baby any longer (and had he ever been one?) He was an infant, almost four years old now: lost years, from his father's point of view. And Harry wondered: would he even recognize Harry Jr or his mother if he were to pass them on the street?
But in any case, he had done some searching - personally, that is, and keeping it quite separate from the army of private investigators who were now working on his case. The west coast of England: Maryport to Blackpool... the Derwent at Workington . .
. 'grockles' in kiss-me-quick hats on fifty different promenades. Blackpool and the illuminations, and the tower like some garish beacon, its lights liquidly mobile on a rainy night. And of course, the east coast again: Whitley Bay, Seaton Carew, and Redcar; Marske and Saltburn-by-the-Sea; Whitby and Robin Hood's Bay. But all stereotypes - images, unreal somehow -scenes that drifted on the surface of his memory, unable to anchor themselves, as if he had never been there at al! Except he must have, for they were al places he'd struck from his itinerary. Yet if he tried to focus on any specific place or moment: nothing. And time and again he remembered catching himself thinking: someone is messing with my mind!
In the end he'd given it up: his search, the personal side of it. He would let the professionals do it. Except they seemed to be having as litle luck as he himself. And of course he had to fund them al the way. Or someone must fund them, if not the Necroscope.
And a good many someones had; including the most powerful of Japan's Yakuza 'families,' whose illicit earnings were such that they operated their own bank, and several oil-rich, potentially dangerous potentates, and a Czechoslovakian arms manufacturer notorious for his dealings with terrorists. So far it had cost twenty milion pounds, or the equivalent, and the end was nowhere in sight. Another two or three months, Harry would have to top-up his fund yet again. But since there was no lack of rich villains, that shouldn't be too hard ...
But the idea of 'villainy' - the word itself, the thought of it - was sufficient to bring on other emotions. First among them (again), Harry felt himself victimized; by whom or what he couldn't say. Worse, he, too, felt like something of a vilain. It wasn't his series of grand larcenies (his 'fund-raising activities,' as he liked to think of them), because in that regard he felt more like some modern Robin Hood; no, it was his adultery. It was his guilt.
And no mater how many times he reminded himself that his wife, Brenda, had deserted him, stil he felt like the vilain of the piece; like some kind of animal, yes. The Necroscope had never considered, had never thought of people as animals before meeting B.J., but he did now. For his sexual appetite when he was with her was certainly animal. Likewise hers! Love? Perhaps he was in love with her, and she with him. But wild? No 'perhaps' about that! Together, they were wild! Harry told himself that for him it was a sort of frenzied making up for lost time - the taking back of something stolen from him, if only by circumstances - but at the same time he admited to a fascination he'd never known before. No doubt about it, B.J. was fascinating.
And for her? What was in it for her? Just lust? Maybe in the beginning, but Harry felt it was deeper than that now. How much deeper, then? What if he were to find Brenda now? What if she should change her mind, decide to come back, and suddenly appear? Where would B.J. fit in the scheme of things then? And would he even want Brenda back?
Thus his guilt complex - if that was what it was - ran in circles. And the idea of himself as some sort of lustful animal who cared only for his own sexual fulfilment was reinforced. It perhaps explained his dreams ...
Harry's dreams - specificaly his nightmares - had always been complex things, but never more so than now. While he could never remember the substance of certain parts, the animal motif was always present; the wolf fetish (inspired no doubt by those events in London almost three years ago) featured strongly.
He would dream of B.J., usualy when he was alone, and the nightmare would start when she was in his arms, gazing into his eyes. The moon's rim would rise above the window-sil, shining into her eyes. And they would change ...
... From slightly slanted hazel ovals, to feral yellow triangles, then from the colour of gold to that of blood. And finally ... finally they would drip blood! Then a swirl of strange motion, and dark against the disk of the moon, a silhouette ... always the same silhouette ... a wolfs head, thrown back in a full-blooded howl!
Thinking about this fragment (for that was al there was to it) was sufficient to bring it back into focus, and sufficient to chil the Necro-scope to the bone even though the morning was warm and sunny. Brilliant sunlight streamed in through his bedroom window, pooling on the polished boards of the floor, while Harry sat and shivered, and listened to an ululant, fading howl conjured from a dream ...
He gave himself a shake, slid his feet into shoes, tried physical as opposed to mental activity. He knew what he would like to do today: talk to his Ma. (God, something else to feel guilty about!) How long had it been? Far too long he was sure. She would be feeling neglected. But how could he talk to her? There were questions she was bound to ask that he couldn't possibly answer. And if he guarded his thoughts she would know it at once, would think he was hiding something. And of course he would be; he'd be hiding B.J.
Bonnie Jean. The woman was always on his mind. Especialy at this time of the month. Tonight was a ful moon: he wouldn't be seeing B.J.
After two years he knew ... that she had her own moods - did her own thing, whatever it was - at the ful of the moon. She was a woman; it was al part of her cycle, Harry told himself. And every three-month without fail, he could guarantee she'd be off to her beloved Highlands for three or four days on her own. Climbing, and hunting, no mater the season. He remembered her promise: to take him with her one of these days. And, in fact, they had already set the date: just a month from today. Wel, at least it would be something to do, other than check the mail for endless negative reports on the whereabouts of Brenda and the baby. And so he looked forward to it -
- And yet, at the same time and without knowing why - he didn't...
... And neither did B.J.
But the two-year period of probation was up. She was satisfied that Harry had no ulterior motive, that he was under no other's influence. He was fuly trained in her climbing techniques; not that she believed he'd needed extensive training, but at least it had been an excuse to keep him from the most dangerous climb of al. .
. until now. For Radu had finaly decided it was time he met his 'Man-With-Two-Faces,' this oh-so-Mysterious One, in the flesh. Even knowing that this was not the safest of times, still the dog-Lord had insisted that B.J. bring Harry to the Cairngorms lair; and she knew that he'd ordered it in spite of the danger, because he now felt obliged to advance the hour of his resurgence.
Dangerous times, yes - for Radu, and for Bonnie Jean, and not least for Harry.
For Radu, because of his vulnerability. For B.J., because she suffered agonies of indecision, the frustration of her own burgeoning vampire, which constantly strove to defy and undermine the authority of her Master. And for Harry because he was the catalyst; several kinds of catalyst.
For one thing, Harry worked on Bonnie Jean. She was used to him now, wanted him for herself; she was unwiling to envisage a future without him in thral to her - and herself partly in thral to him? Wel, possibly. And for another he worked on Radu. For the dog-Lord saw Harry as his future; as an alternative to the possibility of a crippled, diseased, incapacitated body. And finaly he had worked, and was working still, on the Francezcis ...
Harry's 'watcher' had been seen again, indeed on a number of occasions over the last two years. Bonnie Jean had even seen him for herself; she had spied him one night through the gauzy curtains of her garret bedroom - an ominous shadow lurking in the dark doorway across the street, keeping his furtive vigil. And her girls had been folowed to and from their various lodgings, so that al of their comings and goings, the tracks and trails of B. J. 's smal pack were known.
Occasionaly one or another of the girls would report seeing a certain figure and face on a crowded street in the gloom of a warm evening. It was festival time, and the tourists were here in their thousands; the Castle on the Rock was lit like a Christmas tree. Normaly, it would be a good time for B.J. and the pack. This or that lone stranger could so easily disappear in the thronging night. Bonnie Jean's girls were good-lookers al. But now they were wary as never before. It was that face, that figure, that watcher whom they feared; for B.J. knew him. She'd seen him before - oh, ten, twenty, thirty years before.
Bright bird eyes in a rheumy wrinkled old face; eyes that one second looked grey and the next shone dul silver, like an animal's at night. B.J. understood that wel enough. For they were feral eyes - thral eyes! The heavily veined nose, flanged at its tip, and the too-wide loose-lipped mouth and aggressive jaws. And the grey, aged aspect of the face generaly. But just like herself he never changed or got any older, and until now had been cautious not to show himself too frequently.
She had passed on details of this suddenly increased surveilance to Radu, of course, which had perhaps determined him to accelerate his rising. And now he would examine Harry, find out if he was a fit vessel for his resurgence, and also to discover whether in fact he could be sent out into the world as an agent and put to good use prior to ... to his primary use. And even though B.J. was worried about the possible loss of her lover in various ways, the dog-Lord wasn't. For if indeed this Harry Keogh was the key to Radu's future ... why, then it was already decided.
he was the one foreseen, then surely he must be there at Radu's rising. Between times, no harm could possibly befal him ... Not between times. Oh, the dog-Lord knew only too wel that the future was a devious thing, but what was foreseen was foreseen; as fixed as the moon in its orbit. And nothing could change that...
These were 'facts' which Radu impressed upon B.J.'s mind, just as she had impressed her own 'facts' upon Harry's. It had become necessary, for the dog-Lord had seen the way things were going with his long-lived - perhaps too long-lived - lady lieutenant. As the seasons passed and the hour of Radu's true awakening drew ever closer, so with each successive quarterly visit she paid him, the dog-Lord had felt B.J.'s reluctance, her resistance to his beguilment ... the way she seemed to be turning away from him.
He had known for many years, of course, that she was Wamphyri. But while he was fixed in the resin - helpless, vulnerable - it was something he'd been obliged to keep from her. Not that he doubted his own powers, but that he was unable to assess the growing potential of hers. For B.J. was that rarity among Great Vampires: she had achieved
her ascension neither by transfusion of an egg, migration of a leech or the breathing of spores; nor by a 'bite of conversion' (near-total loss of blood and its replacement by copious amounts of metamorphic vampire essence, the 'natural' result of which would be undeath and true vampirism); nor even as her birthright.
(For al that Bonnie Jean's parents had been 'of the blood,' moon-children, they'd also been common thrals and for the greater part human. Much like Auld John.) No, none of these things had brought about Bonnie Jean's ascension. For she had simply wiled it. Oh, there'd been more to it than that - the fact that her blood was 'tainted' by more than four centuries of ancestral thraldom; her regular contact over two more centuries with a source of 'purest' vampirism and lycanthropy, in the shape and form of Radu; the indefinite extension of her own existence at the expense of others' - but in essence it was the truth. Bonnie Jean had wiled it.
Which was perhaps a measure of the vampire Lady she could become, if her Master were to alow it. Which of course he would not...
In the past -for the past two hundred years - B.J. had been Radu's lifeline, without which he could not exist. By now, but for her ministrations, he would be a shriveled, truly dead thing. In some milions of years when his mountain den had colapsed and his remains were excavated, men would wonder at this bony relic out of time, of which there was no other fossil record; this dog- or wolf-like man - Homo lupus? - preserved in amber. But that time would never come, for which he should be grateful to her.
On the other hand, she had outlived her span by a hundred years at least, and was still young; so she should be grateful to him! Wel, and she had been, and loyal to a fault... until recently. For at last she had started to feel the influence of her own creature.
Radu had sensed it in her, he had tasted it in her blood: how she was torn two ways, between obedience to him and obedience to her 'instincts,' her burgeoning parasite. But more than this, he had sensed her uncertainty, her fear. Her uncertainty with regard to the future: B.J. knew that the Ferenczys and at least one Drakul were out there waiting; would she be capable of handling them without Radu? ... And her fear of him. Oh, he had promised her the moon, but that was when she was a thral. Now she was a Lady! And what about her Harry? How would he fare when Radu was up again? Was he to be Radu? And if so, in whose design?
Would he have his man's body and aspect... or the dog-Lord's?
Bonnie Jean was a Lady, aye, but her thoughts and tumultuous emotions were as yet a woman's, set to raging by her parasite. But a vampire is a vampire, and a Great Vampire is Wamphyri! Already she had doubts ... and in a hundred years? The time would come when Radu must deal with her, he knew it. So why not in the hour of his resurgence, when his need would be greatest?
The idea was nothing new; he had considered it before. But now it was more than merely a notion, it was a necessity. What? But she loved a man! A mere man! Radu had only told her to give her body, not her soul! That was his; or if not his it belonged to whoever it was who gathered them, when they were fled ...
Now that it was decided, definitely decided, the dog-Lord looked forward to it: that marvellous feast to come! Oh, he had sipped of Bonnie Jean's nectar before, but to take it all - to take her, as he had so often dreamed of doing - to fil her on the one hand while draining her on the other ... The thought was delicious! But he would save the most prized delicacy, the gobbet of true delight, until the last: B.J.'s immature parasite itself, to break a fast of centuries ...
So he lay in the yellow glue of his sarcophagus, and surrendered himself to his leech's lust. For, of course, these were not the dog-Lord's plans alone but mainly those of his vampire, from which creature sprang everything that he was. Through his leech's talent, or its vampire influence on his, Radu knew how the future would be; something of it at least. For he had been given to see it:
The Mysterious One, (this Harry Keogh?) his eyes full of a weird and wonderful passion: his new knowledge - his new being, perhaps - in the wake of Radu's metempsychosis? And the thrall, Bonnie Jean: a pallid husk, all drained away to nothing ... And Radu Lykan, risen from the resin, burning bright as the moon in his glory! And the world of men trembling, tumbling, thundering to its knees in the face of such a plague as to make the Black Death seem the most trifling thing...
But not a man of them would die from Radu's plague, or not for long. For they would al be wwdead! Not a man would die, no -
- But as for those who were already undead: the Ferenczys and Drakuls, Radu's ancient enemies out of time, or their descendants ... wel, of course they would die, most certainly. The true death at last, for them.
For a solution had dawned on Radu; even a 'final solution' to a problem as old as olden Sunside/Starside. That in a vampire world, which this world would be, the only safe course for a Lord of vampires was to be the only one! Let there be vampires galore, aye, but only one Lord. Lord Radu Lykan: Wamphyri...!
The Ferenczys and the last Drakul had their own problems, one of which was common to both: Harry Keogh - except they didn't know him under that name. Or rather the Ferenczys did, through their father in his cavern pit, but Angelo Francezci seemed to have given them the wrong name! Two years ago the Francezcis' many contacts had responded to a
rare reversal, when the brothers had sent out pictures of their intruder, the thief in their treasury, requesting information! And over the next few months the answers had commenced to come in:
From long-established 'Families' in Italy and America, and also from more recent branches in Europe: nothing. To the Cosa Nostra, the man in the photographs was an unknown quantity; he wasn't on file. From the brothers' contact in the CIA; nothing. Indeed, 'their man' in the CIA returned their substantial 'gift' in crisp dolar bils with the recommendation that the Francezcis 'suspend their inquiries' concerning this man -which only served to make them more curious yet. And from their long-time contact and senior lieutenant in Edinburgh: a very disappointing nothing. He had seen this man only once, since when Bonnie Jean Mirlu had tightened her security. It was now more difficult than ever to keep track of her and the members of her pack. And as for the man in the pictures - he left no tracks at all! The Francezcis had answered by telling him to try harder, which accounted for his increased surveillance; and so far only sheer misfortune had kept him from tracking B.J.
from her wine bar to the Necroscope's house near Bonnyrig. Misfortune, and the fact that she was now doubly vigilant.
But from the KGB, some eleven months after the Francezcis dispatched their initial request for information, at last a positive but baffling response. Yes, their high-ranking go-between with the KGB knew the man in the photographs; to prove it, he enclosed a microfilm of his own. The pictures had been taken two years earlier in the Chateau Bronnitsy, the Soviet ESPionage centre, on the night of the Chateau's destruction by some unknown agency. As for the man in these pictures:
He was Alec Kyle, Head of E-Branch, the British equivalent of the Russian organization whose HQ had been the Chateau Bronnitsy! As a result of 'extreme methods of interrogation,' Kyle had been brain-dead (which, with no life-support system, meant as good as physically dead) when the pictures were taken. But he had been most certainly dead later that same night, when the Chateau was reduced to so much rubble, and a great many of its staff with it!
There was no way he could have avoided that holocaust! As for the cause of the destruction: it remained to be ascertained, but sabotage seemed probable.
And a connection, however tenuous: the name 'Harry' rang a bell. One Harry Keogh had been an agent of this same E-Branch, but he too was dead. And as circumstances would have it, he too had died at the Chateau Bronnitsy, also during a time of crisis and sabotage in which he had definitely been instrumental. But that had been prior to the actual destruction of the place. The two incidents were probably connected, but if so the connection was 'restricted beyond this agent's need to know.' In short, he didn't have access to the relevant files ...
The brothers had pressed for further information on British E-Branch. Three months later, a list of names (Branch operatives and contacts) had arrived at Le Manse Madonie - and also a warning: this organization was the most secret of the British secret services, and certainly the most effective. In the field of extrasensory or parapsycho-logical inteligence-gathering, no comparable opposition existed; not since the destruction of the Bronnitsy complex - which perhaps said a lot in itself. But in any case, these people should be considered untouchables.
Which gave the brothers pause. Until now they had thought that their organization - their web, with their diseased father at its centre - was the only one of its sort. And so it was, in the field of criminal endeavour. Indeed the report in its entirety gave them pause. For unless the man pictured on a mortuary troley at the Chateau Bronnitsy had an identical twin, he was quite definitely the intruder in their subterranean vault; and he was the man in the street outside Bonnie Jean Mirlu's place in Edinburgh!
But if the report was wrong and Alec Kyle was still alive - and perhaps alive in his capacity as Head of E-Branch? - then what was he doing with B.J. Mirlu?
Was it possible that the dog-Lord Radu Lykan had started recruiting in advance of his return, and that he was recruiting such as these top-level British espers?
What if the Bronnitsy affair had been some kind of elaborate subterfuge to make it appear that Kyle was dead? And on the subject of death, what had been their diseased father's meaning when he said that this 'Harry' spoke to dead people?
One further request of their Moscow contact - with regard to the Harry Keogh mentioned in the first report - produced a yet more thought-provoking result.
Their informant was 'embarrassed' that he must pass on such dubious information; but then, in his estimation, the whole world of ESPionage was a very grey and dubious area. The brothers could readily understand his reluctance. As a hard-boiled KGB double-agent, a very much down to earth secret policeman, his mundane perception of such maters was bound to be a narrow one. But to them ... his information was worrying indeed.
For this dead Harry Keogh, an ex-member of E-Branch, was believed to have been a necromancer; a man gifted or cursed to commune with the dead in order to know the secrets of the tomb! The coincidences were too many; and anyway, the brothers Francezci were no firm believers in coincidence. Whatever was going on here it involved them, B.J. Mirlu, the dog-Lord Radu Lykan in his secret lair, and apparently certain members - dead or alive - of Britain's security services.
Enough! It had been time to set wheels turning. Eighteen months had gone by since the incident in their treasure vault, and their progress towards a solution and retribution seemed slow indeed. They had to know more about this E-Branch, about Alec Kyle, and about Harry Keogh.
But how might they investigate E-Branch, an organization of trained espers, without alerting them more substantialy to their presence and their interest? Their father could probably help ... the Old Ferenczy in his pit was after al their seer, server, oracle. But he was ever more difficult, given to rambling, less in control of himself. And if Angelo knew anything at al, why hadn't he already told them? They must see if they could find some special tidbit for him, something to goad him to greater effort.
Also, there was the list of E-Branch operatives and contacts, and on that list the name of a man' who was not an esper as such but who was very skiled in the art of hypnotism. Sufficiently so that E-Branch used him from time to time. Surely he would know something about the organization? And if he did ... then the Francezcis could get to know about it.
His name was Doctor James Anderson ...
And meanwhile, on the Roof of the World:
Daham Drakesh, the last Drakul, had a certain advantage over the Ferenczys. He had known of the world's ESPionage organizations from the start. Indeed, he was ostensibly 'employed' by one such: the People's Army's Parapsychology Unit in Chungking, under the command of Colonel Tsi-Hong. Through Tsi-Hong, he had been one of the first outsiders to learn of the destruction of the Chateau Bronnitsy. Also, he had been kept up-dated on what little was known of the activities of British E-Branch. This last was very important to him, for Radu Lykan lay sleeping somewhere in the British Isles. While seeking out his den, Drakesh must take care not to cross tracks with E-Branch. For just like the Ferenczys, he knew what would result if men suddenly became aware of the 'monsters'
in their midst! Until now Drakesh had been the most anonymous and secure of them all; he would like to keep it that way.
But some two years ago - by some weird process of synchronicity, at about the same time the Francezcis had been studying grainy photographs of their intruder
- Drakesh had likewise received a set of pictures, a series of snapshots, from members of his 'sect' in England. And he had at once recognized several faces: Darcy Clarke, current Head of E-Branch, Trevor Jordan, a Branch telepath, and -
- Alec Kyle? ... But that was impossible!
Comparisons with photographs in one of Drakesh's numerous files had decided the mater. Despite a deal of evidence to the contrary, Alec Kyle wasn't dead.
And the last Drakul had jumped to an understandable but incorrect conclusion: that for reasons known only to E-Branch, Kyle was now working undercover. In al likelihood he'd been 'killed off to free him from mundane duties and obscure the fact of his involvement with more important maters - or perhaps But sooner rather than later he had 'died' in order to protect himself? But from what?
It had been a mystery that not even Tsi-Hong could solve; but then again, British E-Branch was a mysterious organization. And since Drakesh was in no way involved, the pictures and the report that accompanied them - about a peculiar event in London's Oxford Street -had been filed for future reference ...
... Until recently.
But now, suddenly, E-Branch was hot again. The Ferenczys were known to be buying information on Alec Kyle and other members of E-Branch from their contacts world-wide; they had even sent two of their lieutenants into England to strengthen their presence there.
Drakesh had started to put two and two together:
One: the dog-Lord's rising was close now, he could feel it in his vampire bones. Two: the Ferenczys must likewise be aware of this. Three: for some time now the British E-Branch had involved itself in a great many hush-hush affairs - not least the Bronnitsy thing. Now they'd atracted the atention of the Ferenczys, in what connection Drakesh couldn't say. And in conclusion, four: since from now on it might wel prove too dangerous to keep an eye on E-Branch, Drakesh should watch the Ferenczys' people in England instead.
Drakesh's emissaries, expert in discovering vampires, had found little difficulty in tracing the extra thrals sent into England by the Ferenczys. Through them they had also found the Ferenczy sleeper, and through him Bonnie Jean Mirlu. Moreover, they had succeeded where the sleeper had failed - for through Bonnie Jean they had also found Alec Kyle!
Both Radu's keeper, and the supposed 'ex'-Head of E-Branch together! Now finaly it al made some kind of sense, and Drakesh believed he had the whole picture:
E-Branch were indeed aware of the menace in the midst of humanity! - something of it, anyway - aware of Radu and possibly the Ferenczys, too. But E-Branch did not yet know Radu's whereabouts, else they would have put him down and al subterfuge done with. Alec Kyle was their undercover agent, who had somehow found his way into the female thrall's confidence. Or, Kyle had been recruited by her ... and if so, how many others of these damned espers had Radu got at? As for the Ferenczys: perhaps they were still safe, and were simply keeping a wary eye on the whole thing to see which way it went.
Wel, Daham Drakesh knew which way it would go. It would appear that he was the only unknown factor in this entire equation, and he intended to stay that way. But for some time now he'd searched for a way to play the role of agent provocateur, and finaly the opportunity had falen right into his hands.
He had a triangle of forces here, al in deadly opposition, just waiting to be unleashed at each other's throats.