'Er, Harry?'

Darcy Clarke stuck his head round the door of the Necroscope's E-Branch 'suite': a long, narrow room, realy, fited out like a smal hotel room for Harry's convenience, until he could find the time and opportunity to look round for a place for himself and his family in London ... if he could convince his wife to stay.

Right now, though, the way it was going with Brenda and al, Clarke considered it a hel of a big if...

In fact, in years gone by when this entire top-floor complex had belonged to the hotel below, Harry's apartment had been one of the rooms. In front, it was simply an overnight bedroom some four or five paces square. At the rear, partitioned behind a sliding door, there was a wash-basin, a shower and WC. The floor space of the main room was occupied along one wal by a computer console with a swivel-chair and space beneath for the operator's feet; it was of little or no use to the Necroscope, who had his own unique ways of solving problems. In a corner a wardrobe stood open. Some items of Harry's clothing were hanging there; others lay folded on shelving to one side.

Harry had been about to shave. He wore a towel round his waist and foam on his face, and was leaning over the wash-basin with a plastic shaver in his hand. And he looked just a little sick: pale and sick and tired. Well, Darcy thought, he's looked pale ever since I've known him ... ever since I've known him as Harry, anyway! Because of course that had only been for seventeen months; but he'd once known him a lot longer than that as someone else. It was that previous person whom Darcy was looking at now - on the outside, at least.

Harry was only twenty-one, but his body (or Alec's) was ten years older. The Necroscope's hair was russet-brown, plentiful and naturally wavy; but even in the last few months a lot of the lustre had disappeared, and the odd strand of grey hair had appeared among the brown in the temples. His eyes too were honey-brown; very wide, very intelligent, and (strange beyond words) very innocent! Even now, for all they'd seen - for all that he'd experienced and learned - they were innocent. Darcy knew it could be argued, however, that certain murderers have the same look. But in Harry the innocence was mainly genuine.

He hadn't asked to be what he was, or to be called upon to do the things he'd done - but he had done them.

His teeth were strong, not quite white, a little uneven; they were set in a mouth that was unusually sensitive but could also be cruel, caustic. He had a high brow, a straight nose, cheeks that seemed just a fraction sunken. Not surprising, that last, for the Necroscope had lost weight. Alec Kyle had been perhaps too well-fleshed - once. With his height it hadn't mattered much. Not to Alec, whose work in E-Branch had been in large part sedentary. But it mattered to Harry Keogh. It had been bad enough carrying around those extra years, let alone the extra weight! He was trying to find time to get his new body in training, bring it to its best possible condition. He'd be better off, Clarke thought, if he got his mind sorted out first! He suspected Harry's mind must feel something like a nervous cat in a new house -prowling around and trying to get used to the layout. But it was already more than a year.

'What is it, Darcy?' the Necroscope asked, his voice listless as his looks - listless, but not lost. The man might be little more than a boy, but still he carried a lot of mileage. And his tone of voice, the depth of his penetrating gaze, his obvious intelligence, carried a whole world of authority.

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But his looks, Harry Keogh's looks! They were the stumbling block, and not only for Clarke but for every esper in the Branch. The fact that each time they spoke to Harry - or even thought of him - it was on the tip of every tongue to call him Alec, just as Clarke had barely avoided doing a moment ago. And this despite that he'd been deliberately rehearsing to himself, Harry, Harry, Harry, all the way down the corridor.

Clarke forced himself back to earth. 'It's late,' he said. 'And, well, one or two of the gang just happened to mention you mightn't be ... you know, feeling too good?' He came in, closed the door behind him and sat on Harry's tumbled bed.

The Necroscope gave a shrug of his shoulders and offered a mirthless, 'Huh! They just "happened" to mention it, right? I mean, it's not that these espers of yours have been into my mind or anything. Hell no! But they just kind of

"suspected" I might be a bit down this morning.' He frowned and gave a snort of derision. 'Christ, give it a rest, can't you, Darcy! I mean, surely you know I've been feeling them groping away in my head morning, noon and night every day for well over a year now!'

Clarke flopped his hands uselessly. 'But they're ... well, espers,

Harry!' he said, making it sound like an apology. 'And they do manage to keep their talents pretty much to themselves. I mean, we have our code, you know? But we can't help worrying about you ... " Or thinking about you, and about Alec. Wondering what kind of a freak you are; how you feel about it. And what about that poor girl downstairs; how she feels. Because we told her you were dead! And now you're alive, but no longer you! And as for Alec, he's gone forever. We know how it was -you've told us how it was, and Ben Trask has corroborated it - but we wonder anyway ... The Ben Trask of Clarke's silent reflections was another Branch operative, a human lie-detector.

The Necroscope looked at Clarke and he looked back: at a man he'd known as the precog Alec Kyle. Or rather, he looked at the shape of Kyle with Harry's mind in it. And so back to that again: a complete fuck-up of a situation! And Clarke thinking: But if it can fuck me up like this, what must it be doing to him and his family?

Clarke continued to look at Harry where he'd scraped the first tentative swath through the foam - and where he'd immediately stopped shaving, and was now staring at his reflection in the mirror over the bowl. Clarke couldn't possibly know what the Necroscope was thinking (telepathy wasn't Darcy's talent), but he could take a stab at it: Looking at himself and wondering who he was ... and where he was! Knowing that in fact the Russians would have cut the real him up long ago, to study his guts and brains.

And that they'd have done a far more thorough job of it - and certainly a more clinical one - than the necromancer Boris Dragosani had ever done on one of his victims.

Trying to concentrate on what he was doing, Harry crooked his mouth and said, 'You know, sometimes when I cut myself I'm surprised it hurts? It's true: I'm having to learn to be a lot more careful with myself. It's like when you borrow a book out of a library: you don't much care how you handle it because it isn't yours. Except this time it isn't like that, because now it is mine and I have to look after it. And I'm not just talking about a book but a body: my body, now! And not even a snowball in hell's chance that I'll ever get another. So I have to take care of it - despite that I don't much care for the damn thing!'

He finished shaving: a patchy job, but he hadn't actually cut himself. Tossing the shaver into the basin, he splashed his face, patted it dry, and stepped into the bedroom. And letting the towel fall paradoxically wwselfconsciously from around his waist, as he started to dress he asked: 'So what do you think? How do we look, Darcy?' Darcy knew it wasn't a so-called royal we. The Necroscope was asking about the two of him.

Well, of course, the recently elected Head of Branch could lie, but he chose not to. 'How do you look?' He shook his head in unfeigned concern. 'Not too good, Harry. In fact, you look like shit!'

And finally Harry had to grin. He looked like shit. This from Darcy

Clarke! Not that Darcy looked like shit, no - but then again he didn't look like much of anything! For Darcy was possibly the world's most nondescript man. Nature had made up for this physical anonymity, however, by equipping him with an almost unique talent. He was a deflector: the opposite of accident-prone. Only let him stray too close to danger, and something, some parapsychological guardian angel, would intervene on his behalf. He had no control over the thing; indeed he was only ever aware of it if he stared deliberately in the face of danger. Or occasionally when danger came creeping up on him.

The talents of the others - telepathy, scrying, precognition, oneiro-mancy, lie-detecting - were more pliable, applicable, obedient; but not Darcy's. It just did its own thing, which was to look after him. It had no other use. But because it ensured Darcy's longevity, it made him the perfect man for the job. Continuity was important in E-Branch. The anomaly was this: that he himself didn't quite believe in it until he felt it working. He still switched off the current before he would even change a light bulb! But maybe that was just another example of the thing at work.

To look at Darcy Clarke, then, no one would ever suspect he could be the boss of anything - let alone head of the most secret branch of the British Secret Services! A job that Darcy hoped against hope he'd soon be able to hand over to Harry. Of middle-height, mousy-haired, showing early signs of a slight stoop and a small paunch, he was middling in just about every way.

He had sort of neutral-hazel eyes in a face not much given to laughter, and an intense mouth which you just might remember if you remembered nothing else, but other than that there was a general facelessness about him which made Darcy instantly forgettable.

Even the way he dressed, was ... conservative.

And indeed looking at him, Harry thought: He's a very ordinary, extraordinary man! And however much the Necroscope might dislike the situation, it was a very difficult thing to dislike someone like Darcy Clarke. So: 'What's on the menu for today?' he asked him, glancing at his watch. It was 9.45 and Darcy was right: it was late. By now, the rest of E-Branch would be buzzing. But before Darcy could reply to Harry's first question, he followed it up with: 'And what about Brenda? Did you see her yet this morning?'

'We had breakfast together, downstairs,' Darcy answered. 'She's . . . well, fine.' But he didn't seem too sure about it. And more hurriedly, eager to change the subject: 'The baby is just beautiful! I mean, he's really coming along ...'

Harry stared hard at him. Right now he wasn't interested in the baby. 'She still doesn't want to see me, right?'

Darcy flapped his hands. 'Harry, it's only been - '

' - A year and a half,' the Necroscope cut him off. And he was right. Time had flown.

'Okay,' Darcy nodded. 'But give Brenda - give yourself- a little more time! I mean if you, we, aren't used to this yet, how can you expect her to be? She's just a girl, and she went through a hell of a lot.'

The Necroscope continued to stare hard at him for a long time, then nodded, shrugged, gave a deep sigh. Darcy was right, he knew. Life had to go on, and Harry's life for the moment was here at E-branch. He had to involve himself, become part of it. He'd be okay as long as there was something to do. Well, apart from these endless fucking debrief-ings!

It was as if Darcy had read his thoughts. 'We think there may be work for you, Harry,' he said, beginning to breathe easier as he sensed the Necroscope's spring winding down a little. 'Work that should suit you right down to the ground.'

But Harry only wondered: And below it?

Much in accord with Harry's own deliberations, it was the general consensus of opinion in the Branch that if they could keep the Necroscope busy, it would be best for him and everyone else concerned. They had a telepath, Trevor Jordan, who despite the mainly unspoken Branch code occasionally came into contact with Harry's jumbled, anxious thoughts; a locator, Ken Layard, whose talent drew him to the Necroscope like a moth to a lantern, so that his mind kept bumping into him; and an empath, Ray Betts, who couldn't help but sense the Necroscope's overwrought emotions. But these were only the special cases; every E-Branch member was affected by Harry's presence one way or another. For to a man or woman, and in their own ways, all Branch operatives were talented, and all must feel for a fellow psychic.

They knew what the Necroscope was; they were aware of his awesome, even frightening powers. But they also knew what Harry had done for them, for the world, and how he was paying for it. If they could keep him with them, keep him working, it could be he'd eventually get over the multiple traumas of past and present. Certainly he was the type who worked best under pressure. Making use of a case that only the Necroscope could possibly handle, Darcy Clarke was about to apply just such pressure. In his office at the end of the corridor, the recently-appointed Head of Branch waved Harry into a chair and told him, This ... could be a nasty one.'

Harry nodded and said drily, 'My kind of work, right?' He waited for Darcy to get on with it. But before he could begin: The intercom came cracklingly alive and blurted an urgent, 'Sir?' Simultaneously, an alert button on Darcy's console began flashing red. Keying all-points connections with the Duty Officer, he said:

'What is it?'

'One for us, I think.' The DO's voice was tense.

'Put it on screen,' Darcy answered. And a moment later his desk screen displayed a communication from the Minister Responsible. Harry, seated opposite, saw Darcy's jaw drop as his face almost visibly paled. 'Christ!' Darcy hissed.

The Necroscope stood up, paced to Darcy's side of the desk, glanced at the screen:

Origination: MinRes. Destination: Director INTESP.

Duty Officer INTESP.

All Agents INTESP.

IRA Alert! A few minutes ago the Metropolitan Police received anonymous advance warning that a device will be planted in Oxford St., set to detonate at 10:25 today. Any chance you can do something, Mr Clarke? Sorry for short notice. No reply required -action will suffice ...

'Your Minister Responsible has a sense of humour!' Harry's tone was dry. Then ... the Necroscope blinked, staggered, and grabbed the edge of the desk to steady himself! Darcy scarcely noticed; made breathless by haste, he was already getting back to the DO:

'Is Trevor Jordan in?'

'He's on it,' came the immediate answer. 'I caught him on his way to the office and diverted him.'

'I'm on it, too,' Darcy snapped. 'But no one else! Get me a car, then get in here and take over.'

There's a car waiting out back.'

As Darcy left his chair and headed for the door, the Necroscope said, 'How about me?'

Darcy skidded to a halt, whirled around. 'No way! There's only one you, Harry, and this is - '

' - Dangerous?' Harry was himself again; he grinned, however coldly. 'I've seen a lot worse places than Oxford Street, Darcy.'

Darcy shook his head. Speaking rapidly but precisely, he said, 'You can be hurt, Harry. You can be killed! But with me, it's not very likely. My talent won't even let me get close to that bomb, which means I can help the police find it.

Where my legs won't take me, that's ground zero! As for Trevor Jordan: he knows the risks - but he also knows the mind of just about every IRA bomber working in England! If this bloke's still out there on the street, Trev can probably find him. But you - '

He might have gone on, but Harry held up a hand. 'You've made your point. Don't let me hold you up.'

In the next moment, Darcy had wheeled and disappeared out into the corridor. In his wake he left an old-fashioned wooden coat-stand

teetering where he'd grabbed his overcoat. It swayed first one way, then the other. It might even have toppled; but coming from nowhere, a sudden swirl of air straightened it up.

The door hadn't yet slammed shut behind Darcy's back; his running footsteps were still echoing in the corridor; his communications screen" still carried the Minister Responsible's cry for help. But already his office was quite empty.

Against Darcy Clarke's orders, against all logic, and definitely against commonsense, the Necroscope had taken a Mobius shortcut to Oxford Street. For to Harry it didn't feel like he was putting himself at risk at all. And he could hardly be putting Alec Kyle at risk, now could he? For Kyle was already dead ... wasn't he?

And his talent, too?

But if so, then what was it Harry had seen, experienced, in the moment after reading the Minister Responsible's message on the viewscreen? How to explain what had come and gone in the briefest possible time, like a crack of lightning illuminating some secret part of his brain and causing him to stagger?

For he'd seen ... a Mobius door, but horizontal! A Mobius door, shimmering, hovering lengthwise in mid-air, superimposed on reality. Then, as quickly as it had come, the extraordinary vision had disappeared. But in its split-second existence, the Necroscope had seen the door shaken, had seen it writhing like a ring of smoke in a sudden draft -

- And he'd seen what it vomited, like some monstrous volcano, high into the suddenly darkening sky!

Harry scarcely knew London at all. Despite that the Necroscope was much, far, and extremely strangely travelled, London hadn't been an extensive part of his itinerary. He had visited Oxford Street, however, and so knew several co-ordinates; enough that he wouldn't emerge in the middle of the road in heavy traffic, anyway. Not that that ever happened; in doubt, he could always look out through his exit door before stepping through it. But as for the Street itself, its junctions, idiosyncrasies - its 'personality' - he really didn't know one end from the other.

He emerged in the entrance of a shoe store perhaps midway along the street. An extremely tall man in spectacles, leaving the shop in a hurry, bumped into him, looked surprised, and at once apologized. But Harry was already looking around, getting the feel of things.

It was mid-week but there were plenty of people about. Up and down the street, he saw policemen; already they were thick on the ground. And somewhere out there would be Trevor Jordan, probably in the company of a couple of plain-clothes officers. As for Darcy Clarke: he wouldn't even have reached his car yet. But once at the driving wheel Necroscope: The Lost Years - Vol. I he'd be here before you could say boo! And he'd very probably be mad at Harry, who couldn't even say why he'd come here against good advice.

A sign said Hyde Park to the west, Oxford Circus, Holborn, and Central to the east. Looking along the street towards Hyde Park, Harry saw that police activity was hotting up. There was no panic as yet, but things were happening: barriers appearing as if from nowhere, being dragged across the road; traffic being diverted, stopped from coming this way. Wherefore the suspect area must lie to the east, towards the city centre.

Sure enough, in the direction of Holborn, traffic and pedestrians alike were being diverted off the main road down side streets, and several of the police down there were using loudhailers. A great many of the people on the street seemed used to it all; they began to move a little faster but were still mainly unhurried. Most of them looked irritated by the disruption of their everyday routines, but were nevertheless obedient to the law as police activity grew in proportion to the number of officers arriving on the scene. On the other hand, some paid little or no attention to it all but went about their business as if there were no interference whatsoever.

A string of six red-robed Hari Krishna types with shaved, bowed heads, beads galore, and their arms folded up their wide sleeves went single-file, in an almost mechanical pitter-patter shuffle, along the pavement. With their heads down like that - the way they seemed intent upon their own feet and moving with that rapid, rhythmic, apparently blind locomotion - it astonished Harry that they somehow managed to avoid collision with anyone or thing in their way! Their leader, and the one bringing up the rear, carried tiny golden bells that chimed in time to their precise, almost clockwork motion ...

Except Harry wasn't here as an observer of life but as a foil against death. Fine, but how to go about it? So he stood there undecided, until a young policeman of about his own age approached and said, 'Best to get well away from the barriers, sir.

We'll be clearing the whole street in a litle while.'

Harry looked him in the eye and said, 'Look, some friends of mine -E-Branch people, Trevor Jordan and Darcy Clarke? - are helping you blokes out. Now, it's possible you never heard of these people, but your seniors very definitely have. Since I fancy my friends are a lot closer to the action than I am right now, that's where I need to be. So I'd be obliged if you would, wel, direct me? Where's it al happening?'

Listening to Harry, the policeman had at first looked surprised; then his eyes had taken on a blank expression; now they went hard and his eyebrows came together in a frown. 'E-Branch? Sorry, pal, but you're right: I never heard of it.

Press, d'you mean? But in any case, and since it isn't in my orders, I have to ask you to move on.'

The pavement was still alive with people. Harry pointed at them, saying, 'What, just me? I mean . . . can't you get this lot moving first? What about the Hari Krishna types?'

Now the young officer was really ruffled. His lips tightened and he said, 'Look, chummy, we have to start somewhere and you're it! So just leave out all the lip and move your backside out of here!'

Harry refused to display his annoyance. He simply nodded, conjured a Mobius door and stepped through it. He wasn't there any more. The young officer started to say, 'And if I can give you a word of advice and stopped short. He wasn't speaking to anyone and people were starting to look at him. He turned a couple of stiff-legged, complete circles, looked for Harry and failed to find him, finally shuffled sideways into a shop doorway and out of sight...

The Necroscope emerged from the Mobius Continuum at the junction of Oxford Street and Regent Street, and knew that he must be pretty close to the venue. Policemen in uniform were everywhere, working frantically to clear the street. Glancing at his watch, Harry saw the reason why: it was 10:16. If indeed a bomb had been planted, it was due to explode in something less than nine minutes' time.

Caught in a crush of people being shepherded down Regent Street, he stepped to one side and looked about. Then, just as he was about to be caught up again, he spotted Trevor Jordan on a traffic island in urgent conversation with two uniformed senior policemen. Sidestepping the cordon, he ran towards Jordan, shouting, Trevor, can I be of help?'

Jordan saw him and quickly spoke to the inspectors; one of them waved off a policeman who was hot on Harry's heels. And as he skidded to a halt, Harry was apologetic. 'I ... just thought it might be a good idea to be in on this,' he gulped.

Jordan shrugged and said, 'Right now I don't see what you can do, but since you're here . . .' He shrugged again. Jordan was the easy-going sort generally, but it was obvious from his tone of voice that in the current situation he saw the Necroscope as an encumbrance. There weren't any dead people to talk to here ... not just yet, anyway.

A seasoned if occasionally variable telepath, Jordan was thirty-two years old. His looks fitted his character precisely: he was usually transparent, open as a favourite book. It was as if he personally would like to be as readable to others as they were to him; as if he were trying to make some sort of physical compensation for his metaphysical talent. His face reflected this attitude: oval, fresh, open and almost boyish. He had lank mousy hair falling forward above grey eyes, and a crooked mouth that straightened out whenever he was worried or annoyed. Mostly, people liked him; having the advantage of knowing it if someone didn't like him, Jordan would simply avoid that person. But, rangy and athletic, it was a mistake to misread his obvious sensitivity; there was plenty of determination in him, too.

Harry asked him: 'Is this where it will happen?' He scanned all about, trying to work out what was going on.

In his time (just seventeen months ago), the Necroscope had been the author of a considerable amount of bombing of his own, but he told himself that that had been different and even necessary. Or was it all in the eye of the beholder? Well, maybe, except this wasn't a nest of mindspy thugs and megalomaniacs in some nightmare-riddled chateau in the USSR, but a busy thoroughfare in the heart of London. The people who could get involved, hurt, killed here, were innocent of any crime other than being here. And there were still far too many of them.

A flood of shoppers was even now issuing from stores both east and west, adding to the crushes down Regent, Portland and New Bond Streets. And police activity had grown even more urgent. There were dog-handlers, with sniffers straining at their leads; loud-hailers boomed to left and right, issuing raucous instructions; motorists were leaving their blocked-in cars and hurrying on foot in what they hoped was the safest direction.

'Chaos!' Harry said, guessing that Jordan hadn't answered his question because he didn't know.

The name of the game, sir,' one of the police inspectors harshly answered. The three "D"s. To cause as much disruption, death and destruction as inhumanly possible. Chaos, yes. But if you're with Mr Clarke's Branch - and if this is new to you - where've you been?'

'Oh, places,' Harry looked at him in a certain way of his, and was glad that Alec Kyle had been the sort who kept himself to himself. And turning to Jordan: There are only six minutes left, and people all over the place!'

But Trevor Jordan wasn't listening. He was half-collapsed in the back of a squad car parked on the traffic island, with a pained expression on his face and his hands to the sides of his head. The policemen looked at each other, went to question him. Harry stopped them, saying, 'He's at work. Leave him.'

The police cordon in Regent Street had let a car through the crush. It slewed across the road, bumped up onto the traffic island alongside the squad car. And Darcy Clarke got out. He saw Harry at once and began to protest, 'Jesus, Harry - !'

But the Necroscope had gone down on one knee beside Jordan, who was muttering: 'It's ... it has to be ... Sean!'

'Scan?' Harry gripped his shoulder, stared hard into his squeezed-up face.

'Sean Milligan,' Darcy hissed in Harry's ear. 'He's one of their best, or worst!'

'Armed,' Jordan gasped. 'And with more than just a bomb! He ... he hasn't primed it yet. Too many police around.

Sean knows he'll be spotted, knows they'll get him. He's thinking of... of creating a diversion. Yes, that's it, a diversion!' Jordan's eyes blazed open.

'Oh, fuck! Now he's primed it!'

'Primed!' Darcy snapped at the two officers, who at once turned away and began speaking into walkie-talkies. Up on the roof of a building, Harry caught the glint of metal as a marksman took his position behind a parapet.

'Primed, yes ... " Jordan's eyes were squeezed tightly shut again, and sweat rivered his face. 'And he's set the timer for ... just one and a half minutes!'

'God!' Darcy was trembling; he looked like he might make a run for it, which told him - and Harry Keogh - a lot.

Trevor,' the Necroscope spoke softly. 'With only ninety seconds left, Sean has to be on the move. Which way's he heading?'

But Darcy Clarke babbled, 'Oh, I can tell you that!'

And Harry continued to speak to Jordan: 'Has he still got the bomb?'

'Yes!'Jordan's gasped answer, as he squeezed his temples more yet. 'But he knows he must get rid of it, and now!

Jesus, fifteen pounds of semtex!'

'Christ!' Darcy suddenly yelped. 'Let me in the car. I've got to get out of here!' He made to scramble for his car, tripped and went sprawling across the back of the police vehicle.

And it happened. A tal thin man with a pale, badly pock-marked face, wearing a loosely flapping overcoat and carrying a sausage-shaped holdall, came at a run down the middle of the road. Jordan looked up, saw him, yelped: 'Sean!' And the recognition was mutual. Not that Milligan recognized Trevor Jordan, but seeing the squad car, the senior policemen, and three civilians all grouped on the traffic island - and all staring at him - he did know that he'd been made.

The right-hand side of his coat went back and the snout of an ugly, short-barrelled machine-pistol swung into view.

Harry sensed hasty movement on a roof, the re-alignment of a weapon; Milligan sensed it, too, and the gun in his hand swept up, his thin lips drew back, and both he and his machine-pistol snarled their abuse! Bullets chewed the high parapet of the building, causing the marksman up there to duck down out of sight. And over the chatter of Milligan's gun, Harry heard Jordan cry out:

'Getaway! He's looking for the getaway car!'

Milligan was maybe forty feet away, pointing his gun here, there, everywhere, trying to choose a main target. A secondary crowd of people had come bursting out of a large store onto the street, but they weren't a threat to the IRA man. On the other hand, the sausage-shaped holdall in his hand was definitely a threat to them. And it was rapidly becoming one to Sean Miligan, too.

As the Necroscope glanced again at his watch and saw that there was something less than a minute to go, two things happened. Darcy Clarke had finally got into his car, started the motor, and was making to drive away. His car had just lurched off the traffic island onto the street when a second car, low, dark, fast and mean, came careening through a traffic barrier in a tangle of twisted metal. The two vehicles collided; Darcy's car was thrown back onto the traffic island and the rogue car glanced off, smashed through a pair of bollards, mounted the kerb and nose-dived through a store window. Scan Milligan wouldn't be making his getaway after al.

He knew it, and it was time to apply the crazed logic of the total terrorist. The sniper on the roof couldn't get off a shot at Sean because of the people on the street; Sean had to get rid of his holdall in the next twenty seconds and then make one hell of a run for it, but first he had to get these people out of his fucking way and he couldn't shoot them all. He aimed his gun at the parapet hiding the sniper, pulled the trigger and stitched the wall of the building with a tracery of bullets. Then, as the milling people scrambled for cover, Sean chose his target. Not so difficult, for there was only one target after all: the City Centre itself, and what could only be a bunch of top-ranking officials and police officers.

By now he should have been shot dead, and he knew that, too. Which meant there were no armed policemen on the ground in the immediate vicinity. So maybe he stood a slight chance after all... (/there was still time.

Panting, sweating, cursing, he ran towards the group on the traffic island and, pivoting like a discus-thrower, whirled the holdall. Which was when he saw Harry Keogh. Harry had come forward onto the road, putting himself between his friends and Sean Milligan. Still pivoting, preparing to release his deadly missile, Sean let rip with a burst of wild fire from his gun.

Harry had guessed how the other would react; he'd already conjured a Mobius door between himself and Milligan.

Stray bullets ripped past him, but Scan's arc of fire was restricted by the door, which no one else but the Necroscope could see. The main stream of bullets crossed the threshold and passed right out of this universe. While up on the roof, the sniper finally had Milligan in his sights and fired one hurried shot.

Hit in the hip, the IRA man tripped and went flying. Him and his holdall both, flying right in through Harry's door!

And the Necroscope knew what he must do. If he simply collapsed the door there'd be questions, because people just don't vanish into thin air like that. But Harry had a picture in his mind that he couldn't shift, which told him how it must be. And with only three seconds to go, he tilted the door on its side.

His mind wrestled with the alien, metaphysical math of the thing ... and won! And as if the invisible door's top edge were hinged, it swung upwards through ninety degrees into the horizontal. And the Necroscope hurled himself backwards away from it as it blew!

Fifteen pounds of semtex in the Mobius Continuum, a place where even thoughts have weight, and a spoken word can be deafening. And only the frail however savage shell of a human body to take the blast. With one exception it was exactly as it had been during that split-second of precognition in Darcy's Clarke's office; the exception was sound. For even though the Continuum acted as a baffle, still there came the subdued roar of the explosion, as the immaterial frame of the door buckled and warped and finally blinked out of existence.

But not before the Continuum had rid itself of a hideous contamination, and a jet of wet red stinking human debris had erupted like a volcano, flinging the guts and brains and shit and shattered bones of a man up and outwards against the high walls and windows of the street.

And then the slimy, spattering rain, that smelled of cordite and copper and many a crime corrected ...

It was over but as yet the street was still and strangely silent. Street-cleaning vehicles had been ordered-up and were on their way; somewhere in the near-distance police and ambulance sirens wailed their unmistakable dirges; a handful of unfortunate uniformed officers were picking up ... whatever pieces were large enough to be gathered off the street. A man, staggering and bloody, was being led away from a shattered store window, where the rear of his car stuck up at an odd angle.

'You,' one of the police inspectors said to Harry, with a hand on his shoulder, 'are a hell of a lucky man. You were the closest to it when that bomb went off.' But suddenly his voice was very quiet. 'What did you . . . see? I mean exactly what was it that happened there?' Carefully, he dabbed specks of blood and other matter from his forehead.

Darcy Clarke was fully recovered. Breaking into the conversation with what he hoped would be a useful lie, he said, 'I saw everything. When Sean was shot he fell on top of his hold-all. Then there came the explosion. His body muffled the sound but took the full force of the blast. He just... flew apart.'

Harry nodded. 'Something like that,' he said. 'Actually, I was looking away from it.'

As luck would have it, most of them had been looking away from it. But behind the parapet wall of a tall building, white-faced and wondering, a police marksman examined his weapon and thought, what the hell...? For it was one thing to shoot at a man, but quite another to hit him and see him fall - and then watch him disappear right out of this world!

Not fifty feet away from the group on the traffic island, Harry's

Krishna types huddled in a shop doorway. For once immobilized, they stared at the scene of what could have been an enormous disaster. Harry saw them looking.

Their sandals might have been stilled for once, but their slanted eyes were still ful of the action that had been, and that they'd seen. One of them - their leader? - was lowering a camera. Harry couldn't help wondering what he'd been photographing, and why ...

Amazingly, Darcy's car looked like it might still drive, however dangerously. The senior lawmen seemed uncertain about it, but before they could advise Darcy against it he'd bundled the Necroscope and Trevor Jordan inside and driven off. On the way to E-Branch HQ, he said, 'It seems we should never underestimate you, Harry. I don't know what you did, or how you did it, but I do know it was you.'

And Jordan said, 'My telepathy seems like a toy by comparison!'

'We al played our parts,' Harry shrugged. 'We've worked together before, and it's starting to look like we make a good team.' But before they could misinterpret that, and perhaps his future intentions, he added: 'Wel, this time it worked out, at least.'

Darcy made a derisory noise in his nose. 'But sometimes I feel like such a ... such a bloody coward, that's all!'

'I shouldn't if I were you,' Jordan told him. 'Oh, it was Harry who saved the day, right enough, but was it al him? How do you know he wasn't prompted by that guardian angel of yours, Darcy, taking care of you as always?'

Which gave them al something to think about on their way home ...

Back in Darcy's office, after he and Harry had cleaned up and things were quieter, the Head of E-Branch took up the conversation with Harry where it had been interrupted by the Minister Responsible's cal for help:

'Harry, we know that we can't overload you. By that I mean we know you could give us the solution to every unsolved murder there's ever been, certainly to the ones where the victims knew their murderer. Except - '

' - Where they know their murderers, you mean,' Harry cut in, correcting him.

And Darcy knew he was right. For Harry was the Necroscope and talked to dead men. To him, when a man died, he didn't just stop. His body stopped, yes, but his mind went on. And Harry's talent gave him access to such incorporeal minds. Any ordinary policeman must find clues, discover evidence to bring a kiler to justice. But Harry could have it 'straight from the horse's mouth', as it were. To him the dead weren't, wel, departed - not al the way - but moved aside. As if they were in another room, where he could speak to them across the threshold of his amazing talent. He could simply ask a victim who had done it!

... Or perhaps not so simply. No, definitely not simply. This thing he had was almost unique; it would still be unique, if Harry Jr hadn't come along. Which was the problem in a nutshell: how do you use a unique talent to best effect? For example, you surely wouldn't employ Albert Einstein as an accountant! And what of the Necroscope, Harry Keogh? In a world where brutal murders and terrorist atrocities were now 'commonplace' crimes (God help us), Harry might easily find them his life's work! Was that why he had been born into this world and time? His only reason for being? Was that all? Darcy thought not.

'What I'm saying,' he continued, 'is that you - we, the Branch - can't be expected to do the work of the police. Well, not all of their work. We do some: a lot of big-time crime, or the occasional case that's so abhorrent someone has to be made to pay for it. Or sometimes an "urgent" job, like today's thing in Oxford Street. But in the main we're spies . . . mindspies. It isn't so much individuals we protect as the country, our way of life - "western civilization," if you like - from forces that oppose it. But I know you've heard all of this before, and from someone far more eloquent... "

Harry nodded, knowing that Darcy meant Sir Keenan Gormley, first Head of E-Branch, who had recruited him into the service.

By coincidence, that had been just such a case. Abhorrent, yes, to say the least... for Boris Dragosani had butchered him! But without Sir Keenan, without having spoken to his remains, Harry might never have gone on to his discovery of the Mobius Continuum, and to his re-discovery of life, in the brain-dead body of Alec Kyle. Except he must stop thinking of it in that way, because Kyle was no more while he, Harry Keogh ... was.

'So currently you're worried I might think that this job of yours, whatever it is, is beneath me, too mundane,' he said. 'You think I might reckon it's just a red herring to divert my mind from other, more personal problems - and that's probably exactly what it is!

But you and I are on the same side in more ways than you think, Darcy. The fact is, I need this job, whatever it turns out to be.

That's why I got myself involved down in Oxford Street today - yes, I know, against your best advice - because it was a diversion .

. . Well, and maybe for a couple of other reasons, too. Okay, so this other job you're talking about is no big deal. At least it will keep me busy. That's my reasoning, anyway. And it's yours, too, I fancy. So why don't we just get on with it?'

Darcy nodded, seemed relieved. 'Okay. But it isn't just a coincidence that I mentioned the police. This time they've actually asked us for our help. Oh, we get requests from them . . . fine! Like today, when they know we have someone who can help. I'm talking about Jordan, whom they've used frequently enough in the past. But even to the top brass in the police he's just someone with a weird knack, a lucky guesser. That's how they view us: as a pack of fortune-tellers, literally "psychics" in the popular or worst possible meaning of the word. As if they see us sitting around a table holding seances or something - which isn't too far from the truth, I suppose! Anyway, we're always their last resort.'

'But not this time,' Harry nodded. 'Because this time ... is it something that involves the police directly?'

Darcy looked him straight in the eye. 'Right. It's because they're getting murdered, Harry. By a madman. And I mean literally, a genuine dyed-in-the-wool lunatic! A serial killer with a grudge against policemen.'

The Necroscope thought about it, and finally said: There must be a lot of people holding grudges against the police.'

'Just about every criminal in the book,' Darcy answered. That's what makes it so hard to catch the bastard! The files are crammed with people this could be. Suspects? Everyone who ever committed a violent crime! And thirteen thousand reported in the last twelve months! So you see, this could be the break we've been looking for with the police. We already have a good record of co-operation with Special Branch and the other secret services, but we were never on a sure-footing with the common-or-garden "Bobby" on the beat. If we can show them that we've really got something here, not just an old lady called Madame Zaza with a crystal ball in a Gypsy caravan ... I mean, there could be all sorts of weird stuff the police bump into and we never get to hear about it. This could be a breakthrough.'

'Weird stuff? I thought you said this was mundane.'

'No, you did. If you want to call grotesque, bloody murder mundane, then yes, it is. Except... it just could be something else. If I sound hesitant, it's because we're not quite ready to believe that this is ... what it's made out to be.'

Harry frowned. Then you'd better tell me what it's made out to be. Why are you holding back?'

Darcy answered frown for frown, finally glanced away. 'Oh, I don't know,' he answered at last, but his voice was much quieter now, darker, even a little shaky. 'But maybe - just maybe, you understand -this really is your sort of thing, after all...'

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