'It always happens at the full moon,' Darcy said.
'What does?' And now Harry was quiet, too.
The murders,' said Darcy. They happen at the full moon. And after each murder a bout of howling, and the bodies of the victims are found ... torn.'
Darcy nodded. 'As by an animal. A big dog, or maybe a - '
' - A wolf?' The Necroscope finished it for him, yet could never have said what had prompted him to cut in. Just that Darcy's mention of howling, and a big dog, had seemed to set something in motion. It could be something he'd dreamed. But if so it was gone now, and only its echo left to trouble him. Taking a deep breath, he tut-tutted; perhaps significantly, he didn't grin. 'What are we talking about here, Darcy? A werewolf?'
'Someone who thinks he's a werewolf,' Darcy shrugged. 'Or wants us to think it.' He relaxed a little, feeling pleasantly surprised that the Necroscope had got straight to the heart of the matter. Harry Keogh had always been precocious, of course, but there was a lot more than that to him. There was his history, too, his knowledge of the darker side of life.
'And we don't believe in werewolves, right?' (Was there a touch of sarcasm in the Necroscope's voice?)
'We're E-Branch,' Darcy went on the defensive anyway. 'We can't afford to simply disregard or disbelieve anything -not after what we've seen and what we know. But in this case, it's more that we'd like - '
' - That you'd like some proof? That you've simply got to know one way or the other? Because if this is the unthinkable, you can't let it go on?'
Again Darcy's shrug, a little nervous but in no way careless. Two years ago we wouldn't have turned a hair. But since then ...' He let it tail off, and of course Harry knew why. For since then there'd been the Necroscope and everything that went with him. Namely vampires! Upon a time, people hadn't believed in them either.
'But a werewolf is ... something else,' Harry was thoughtful now, his gaze sharper, less soulful. And staring at Darcy: 'You said you think these murders are the work of "someone who thinks he's a werewolf." But as you also pointed out, this is E-Branch. So what do you think?'
Now Darcy's face was grim, even gaunt-looking. His eyes, suddenly vacant, seemed to scan the past. 'It feels like only yesterday,' he answered. 'I can hardly believe it was - what, eighteen months ago?' Again Harry knew what Darcy was talking about: the Bodescu affair.
'I was in on most of it, down there in Devon,' Darcy went on. 'I saw ... saw what became of poor Peter Keen. Hel, I was the one who found him, or what was left of him! But you know, we never did make up our minds just what did that to him? Yulian Bodescu? Wel, maybe. Or was it that godawful dog of his, that Thing that was more than just a dog? I don't mind admiting, I still have nightmares about it, Harry, and I suppose I always wil. We thought we had Harkley House contained. Huh! How wrong can you be? Yulian escaped, and his bloody dog very nearly got out too! But that was only at the end, the finale. And what I've been asking myself ever since, is - '
' - I know,' the Necroscope cut him off again. 'You know how hard it is to kill such things. You're wondering if something - something like that dog, maybe? -might have escaped before you moved in for the kill, before you razed Harkley to the ground.'
The other nodded, then changed his mind and said, 'Wel, not realy. We were fairly wel satisfied that we nailed down everything that could be nailed down. But the Dragosani thing, then the Bodescu affair and al - the whole chain of events - seemed designed to make us aware that we espers aren't the only different things in creation. We're one side of the coin, yes, but for white there's black, and for good there has to be evil. We knew that, of course, but we weren't aware of the different bands of evil. I mean, we didn't know just how dark they could get.'
'So now that you know, what do you think? About this so-caled werewolf, I mean.'
'Personaly? It's like I said. I think, I hope, that he's a man - but only a man! A lunatic, affected by the moon at its ful, trying to murder as many policemen as he can before they get him.'
'But why policemen? Why should a "werewolf discriminate in that way? When his blood and the moon are up, surely a victim is a victim? That is, if our understanding of the "legend" of the beast is correct.'
'But that's why I think it's a man!' Darcy nodded. 'It's one of my reasons, at least; I mean quite apart from logic and commonsense telling me it's a man! This is someone who reasons and discriminates, someone who knows the police wil hunt him down. So if he must kill, who beter to take out than the ones who are looking for him, threatening him?'
Harry found himself interested, and no longer just because it was something to keep him occupied. For of al men, the Necroscope had experience of the strange things of the world, and knew that some of them shouldn't be alowed to continue.
Finally: 'Okay, I'm convinced,' he said. 'Convinced that something needs sorting out, anyway. So how about the details?'
'We don't have any,' Darcy shook his head. 'Just a set of utterly senseless murders. On the one hand a couple of police officers already down in the ground, and a third in the morgue waiting to go. And on the other hand their friends, 'Colleagues and families mourning them, grief-stricken. And dead-centre, a yawning great gap called "motive" and "evidence". I mean, it's an old cliche, I know, Harry, but this time it's also a fact: we just don't have a clue.'
'But we do have somewhere to start,' said the Necroscope, grimly.
And in fact he had three somewheres ...
Sometimes I can take it, Jim Banks told Harry. / tend to sleep a lot, like I'm emotionally exhausted, you know? But it's when I'm
'awake' that it's rough. They try to comfort me ... I have that at least. But even so, it's hard. Oh, I know I had a long way to go and a tough road ahead. My life wasn't easy, and it wasn't about to get any easier, but it was a life!
Banks had been one hard copper; the Necroscope could sense the sob behind his unbodied voice, but Banks never once let it break through to the surface. Harry supposed he'd done most of his crying and cursing earlier on, when finally the dead - and his situation - had got through to him. The 'they' he had mentioned were the teeming dead, of course, the Great Majority of mankind who were there before him, 'laid to rest' in the cold, cold earth, or gone up in smoke into the sky.
Banks was of the former variety: buried in a north-London cemetery under a marker that gave his name, dates and a motto, and a sad farewell from his family. The motto was in Latin and said, Exemplo Ducemus. Harry wondered about that.
I was an MP, a Military Policeman, for twelve years, Banks explained. SIB: Special Investigation Branch. That's the Corps motto,
Exemplo Ducemus: By Example We Lead. Now, in this place, I'm just another follower -following all the poor bastards who beat me to it! Maybe I should have stuck to a simple Requiescat in Pace, eh?
Except, as Harry knew wel enough, the dead don't rest al that easy but find ways to occupy their incorporeal minds. Jim Banks's way would be to keep on doing what he'd done in life. A cop, currently he might easily be investigating his own murder, if only in his incorporeal mind. He would be investigating it, certainly - or at least trying to think it through - but just like his colleagues in the world of the living he didn't have much to go on. Only the fact that he'd been very close to something. Too close by far.
'But you'll tell me as much as you know?'
Not much to tell, Harry. A month ago I was the detective in charge of investigating a ring of car thieves. I got as far as a pub in the East End one night, and that was where my lead petered out. But after that until he got me, whoever he is-I don't know, it was ... weird! / had this feeling I'd been made, that someone had cottoned on to me. Yet I had no reason to feel like that! I hadn't even known I was that close to anything!
Scanning the ranks of old headstones, some leaning, Harry looked around. His gaze followed the tracks of wandering, white gravel pathways between dreary rows of markers, to a high stone boundary wall. Beyond the wall, a distant hill stood silhouetted against the smoky evening sky, where lights were just beginning to come on in a clump of darkly-huddled houses. The cemetery was located in a quiet backwater; well in keeping, distant traffic sounds hung faint as ghosts on the greasy air. It was a late February night, damp and miserable as only London ever gets to be. On the other hand, Harry had to admit that it was peaceful here. Well, to anyone else ...
But there was pain in the earth, the Necroscope knew, and in some of its inhabitants. Banks was one of them, and already Harry had made up his mind that Jim Banks must be avenged. For only the teeming dead -and the one man privileged to talk to them - knew how truly precious was life, and how terrible the act of stealing it away.
Harry's thoughts, except when he shielded them, were just as audible to the dead as his spoken words. Banks had overheard him, and was quick to point out: This mad bastard didn't simply 'steal it away,' Harry! If you mean he was stealthy, well, yes, there was that in it. But there was a lot more than that. Something strong and fast and furious.
Something that slid into my chest like the tines of a pitchfork, to puncture my heart and stop it, and me, dead!
'Do you want to show it to me?' The Necroscope knew that it could be easier that way. 'If you don't want to talk about it you can just... let it happen. That way I get more of the flavour of it.'
Flavour? Bank's incorporeal voice was suddenly sour. It wasn't ice-cream, Harry.
'Bad choice of words,' Harry said, by way of an apology, and he cursed himself roundly. But it was okay; Banks would do anything he could to help bring his killer to justice.
You want to feel something of it, right? You want to get the mood of it?
'Just the night in question, the start of it,' Harry told him.
He had forgotten for the moment that he was talking to an ex-policeman, but Banks was quick to straighten him out: You'd better have what led to it, too, he said. And Harry gave a nod, which he knew the dead man, long gone into corruption, six feet deep in his grave,
would sense. Because I have this feeling it all sprang from that night in the pub where my lead gave out on me. My lead ended there, yes, but I think that's where he must have picked me up! Looking back on it, I reckon my mistake was a simple one. The thing is, I wasn't looking for violence, you know? I was hunting car-thieves, not some crazy, vicious, murdering bastard! So ... maybe I was a little loose with my enquiries.
'You gave yourself away?'
The Necroscope sensed a sigh from the immaterial mind of the man in the grave. Yes, probably . . . No, better than that, I know I gave myself away.
'How? I mean, I'm not a policeman, Jim. If I know what it was you did to atract atention to yourself, maybe I can duplicate it and swing a little action my way.'
The other was at once alarmed. What? You'd use yourself as bait? No way, Harry! Jesus! I had the training, I knew what to expect. But I never expected this sod!
Al right, so you're the Necroscope. But you've just admited you're no James Bond. And you're certainly not Muhammad AH!
'No, but I do have a lot of ... friends? You know what I mean? I'm never alone, Jim, and I'm not above accepting a few tips from those who went before. Believe me, I can look after myself.'
Really? Well, so could I, or so I thought. Banks had settled down again, but he was bitter and angry . . . with himself, not with Harry. Harry was only the trigger, a reminder of what had been lost, the fact that there was still a decent world up there with some
decent people in it at least. Up there beyond the final darkness, yes. And so:
Okay, this is how it started ...
A nightclub owner's Porsche had been stolen. Banks hadn't felt too bad about the theft because he'd known that the owner, one Geordie King, had a lot of previous himself; he'd been a right old Jack-the-Lad in his time, a gangland hoodlum from the good old days. That was a long time ago, however; now he was a 'businessman' and 'going straight.'
But, still having contacts in the underworld, Geordie King had done a bit of investigating of his own. What he'd managed to turn up wasn't much, but it was better than nothing. An informant who owed Geordie a favour had told him he should watch out for a man called Skippy, who could be identified from the spider 'or something' tattooed on the back of his right hand. A spider with five legs and a sting. What's more, this Skippy was from 'up north': Geordie's old patch in Newcastle, where the 'used car' business was all the rage. His thick northern accent would give him away at once - especially to a fellow 'Geordie.'
So King had put it about that he was interested in having a chat with a certain Skippy bloke from up North; various contacts in the pubs and clubs had kept an eye out for the spider tattoo; soon the reports had started to come in - in the form of ominous warnings! Skippy was only one member of the gang, and they weren't the sort to mess with. In other words, colect on your insurance, Geordie, and let it go at that.
At the same time, however, King had heard on the grapevine that Skippy was known to frequent a boozer not far from his own East End club.
Wel, despite King's chequered history he was wel past his sel-by date. So he'd taken good advice and from there on kept his nose out... but it hadn't stopped him passing on the information to the Old Bill, namely Jim Banks. It was a mater of principle, so to speak. Honour among thieves, and al that.
Which was how Banks had happened to drop in on the pub in question that night just a month ago ...
'But you hadn't told anyone about your lead?' Harry found it a bit odd.
Bank's incorporeal shrug. Rivalry. It was my case. Maybe I was out of line, out to prove something - out of touch?
But this is England, not the USA, and there was a time when policemen didn't get killed too often in the line of duty, you know? And as far as I was concerned, I was still investigating a gang of car-thieves. Maybe I should have taken a leaf out of Geordie King's book and stepped a bit more cautious.
'You think there's more to it, then? More than just auto theft?'
No, I think they're car-thieves, plain and simple. Mainly young and crazy, and probably into drugs, too. And, fairly obviously, at least one of them doesn't give a kiss-my-arse about human life! Especially the lives of policemen ...
Tell me about the night in question,' said Harry.
I thought you wanted to 'see' it?
'Can we save that until later? Like ... the end?'
And after a pause: My murder?
'If it's not too - oh, shit!' (For Harry had almost said 'painful').
He sensed Banks's grin, however grim. Hey, don't sweat on it, Harry! Let's face it, I don't choose my words any too carefully either! Then, quickly sobering, he continued:
It was a civvies job, which goes without saying. I mean, I haven't worn a uniform in a long time. Nothing fancy, though, because this pub had a rep as a bit of a rough-house. The night was miserable: rain, sleet and all sorts of shit hammering down out of the sky. It was a Friday and the bar was packed with all kinds of sub-human specimens. I had a rum to warm up and bought one for the barman, then asked him if Skippy was in. Good question - bad timing!
A bloke just three stools away straightened up like someone had stabbed him in the back! I'd already checked him out in the bar mirror: about twenty-six or so, pale and pimply, white and ugly, long-jawed, loose-lipped and shifty-eyed, and a crew-cut like the bristles on a shaving brush.
Hardly inconspicuous! Put it this way: you wouldn't want your sister dating this one. But his hand stayed wrapped round a beer on the bar. And that's what settled it.
And it dawned on me: 'Skippy' was probably a foreshortened version of a nickname that must have sounded a bit over-the-top - a bit too Hollywood? -for this bloke's Newcastle chums. So they'd cut 'The Scorpion' down to Skippy.
That's what was on the back of his hand: not a spider but a scorpion. Five legs (what, artistic licence?) stretched their hairy joints down his four fingers and thumb; the beady eyes of the beast were located on his index-and third-finger knuckles, to make them stand out when he clenched his fist; its sting was at the end of a segmented body stretching four inches along his wrist.
And some other stuf: Skippy was in paint- and oil-stained overalls. His hands were dirty, and there was fresh paint under his fingernails. But from the moment I mentioned his name he'd been looking at me - glaring at me - in the mirror. Suddenly the hand disappeared, and Skippy with it. He was out of there.
Well, like I said, the bar was crowded; I couldn't really take off after him like Kojak. (One, it would give me away completely. Two, the bloke was young and fast - probably a sight faster than me - and he would know where he was going. Three, I was sure he'd have some previous; I could find out all about him from police records in Newcastle or New Scotland Yard). So ... I had another drink, hung about for fifteen minutes or so, finally went back out into that lousy night.
And I think that was my second mistake. I should have got straight out of there. See, these new gangs are more audacious than the old crowd. In Geordie King's day ifaperp thought the filth had locked-on, he'd head for the hills and keep right on going.
But nowadays ... I'd made him, so he would make me.
As Banks paused, Harry turned up his colar against a sudden squal of wind and drizzle. It had occurred to him that if anyone should see him sitting here on this slab and talking to himself, they'd think he was out of his mind and probably cal the police!
I am the police, Banks reminded him, with an entirely immaterial, totally humourless grin that Harry sensed rather than saw. And you probably are out of your mind! Why didn't you come to see me in daylight?
'Because I wanted to get on with this,' the Necroscope answered. 'See, I've got problems of my own, and this should help me to forget about them. For a while, anyway.'
So talking to dead people is therapeutic, is it? ... But in the next moment, in a far more conciliatory tone: What sort of problems are we talking about, Harry? Bad ones?
'Not desperate,' Harry told him. Not as bad as being dead, anyway! Even though that last thought was ful of his usual compassion, stil it Necroscope: The Lost Years - Vol. I might sound flippant; and so Harry kept it to himself. And: 'Go on with what you were telling me,' he said.
When I left the pub I had a tail, Banks went on. / wasn't sure about it then, but! am now. I mean, I've had lots of time to think things out, you know? And that was when it all started to go weird on me. It was like ... I don't know ... in a way it was pretty much like this, like talking to you. It felt like - how can I explain it? - like I wasn't alone ... inside!
Inside my head.
'You were talking to someone in your mind?'
(The shake of an incorporeal head). No, not talking, listening! And not me, someone else. As if someone - a stranger - was in there! Sitting there grinning to himself, in a comer of my mind, listening to me think and ... watching me! That's what it felt like, Harry: I just knew / was being observed! It was a feeling that grew on me from then until... well, right to the bitter end. Weird, eh?
In his time Harry had come across weirder things; for the moment he would keep those to himself, too. But having listened carefully to all Banks had told him so far, it struck him that Darcy Clarke was probably right, and on both counts.
For one: he was already engrossed with the case, to such an extent he was sure it would divert his mind from the psychological pitfalls of constantly querying who or what or where he was. And two: it looked like this really was something he would have to follow through to the end, a job that only the Necroscope himself (but himself, Harry Keogh's self) was qualified to handle.
And the more he listened to Jim Banks - and felt of his shock, his horror - the more convinced he would become ...
That was how it started, and pretty much how it stayed, Banks continued in a while. It wasn't with me all the time, only when I was actually working on the case. But the closer I got, the more I was aware of its presence. Except it wasn't an 'if, it was a him! Someone as real as you are, Harry, and as real as I... was.
'You're talking about a telepath,' Harry told him. 'A mentalist. Someone who can get into a man's mind like that has got to be - '
- A figment of his own imagination? Yeah, I know, Banks stopped him short. Or I thought I did. But:
'Not. . . necessarily,' said Harry, thoughtfully. For the Necroscope remembered Boris Dragosani's story: how the vampire Thibor Fer-enczy, the old Thing in the ground, had invaded his mind in order to sway Dragosani to its will.
Also, he knew the mind-spies of E-Branch were capable of just such mental eavesdropping. Telepathy was real, not just an idea out of fantasy or a figment of wild imagination. Why, his own thoughts on the subject, on this occasion, were a form of the selfsame talent; which was something else that Banks overheard, of course.
So I was right, he' said in a while. Call it by some other fancy name if you like, but what you're doing right now is the same sort of thing.
'Well, not exactly,' Harry answered, with a shake of his head. 'As far as I know there are only two of us who can talk to the dead. The other one is ... my son! The talent seems to have passed down to him from me. And plainly we are not spying on you! You know I'm here and you're not obliged to talk to me or even suffer my presence. True telepathy, on the other hand, is mental communication between the living ...' And sometimes the undead? Which was a thought he also kept back; pointless to further complicate matters.
'Also,' he went on, 'telepathy doesn't have to be intrusive; it can provide genuine two-way communication. I have certain friends who mind-spy, yes - for the protection of society, our way of life, just as you through your work protected those same ideals - but the way these friends of mine describe their skills, they aren't in any way this sinister thing that you experienced.'
No, because that was intrusive! Banks declared emphatically. And more than that, it was also frightening. If it hadn't finished when it did, the way it did -1 don't know -1 think I might well have gone crazy. Hah! Instead I went... dead! But at first, 1 really was starting to believe that I was suffering from some sort of persecution complex! I thought it was al in my head! I mean literally! It was only afterwards, recently, that I saw it as something else.
'As what, then?'
As ... a distraction! Banks answered.
'Someone was deliberately crowding your mind, in order to distract you from your investigations? Is that what you're saying?'
Like an irritating smokescreen, yes, Banks was convinced. But I fought it, pushed on, kept coming. And since he couldn't frighten me of, finally he -
' - He killed you off.'
Yes. But even at the end he was helped by this telepathic trick of his. I mean, he knew when I was going to come for him, and where from! And so he beat me to it...
'So what did you find out about him? This fellow with the scorpion tattoo, I mean?'
Harry sensed Banks's nod. As I'd suspected, he had lots of previous. But all petty stuf. He'd done time up north, plenty of it, all short term. But I did get something useful: Skippy was on a year's probation, but they'd let him move down to London to take a job in his cousin's garage in the East End. Some sort of cock-eyed rehabilitation programme: see if giving him a decent job would straighten him out. I mean, Jesus, Harry!
This shifs 'therapy' was to do face-lifts on stolen cars!
The paint under his fingernails?' Harry lifted a querying eyebrow. 'It was all coming together for you.'
'So what next?'
Next? Have a look inside that garage, what else? It was the bottom floor of a condemned municipal car park. The upper storeys had been made safe, reduced to a towering metal skeleton, but the ground floor and basement had been converted into workshops, inspection pits, paint bays and what have you. All the gear: your typical auto-repairs garage on a grand scale. I figured most of the work would be legitimate, a front for the real earner: the conversion of stolen cars. But it would have to be a superfast turnaround.
Tea-leaf a posh motor, give it a quick face-lift, and ship it out. Ten to twelve hours maximum, most of it at night, after hours.
'And did you check it out? And is that what got you ...?'
... No. I didn't have time. Just thinking about doing it, and getting ready to set the thing up, is what got me killed! Because he, the gang's -what, mindspy? - wasn't about to let it go that far. He was on me all the way, and it happened the night before I would have taken out a search warrant.
'And before you could let anyone else in on it... " Harry was quiet but couldn't keep a tone of censure - and of anger, at the waste of Jim Banks - out of his voice.
Banks accepted it. / was out of line. I just wanted this one for myself, that's all. Rivalry, like I told you. It would have been a feather in my cap. But instead - it was something that felt like a pitchfork in my heart!
'And that's why there were no clues to your death - well, other than the ones you've given me. Because you chose to play it close to your chest?'
Right. Banks was downcast. It was in his immaterial voice, and Harry could sense it wasn't just because he'd paid the ultimate price for his errors. Banks was privy to his thoughts, of course, and at last released a sob that no one in the world but the Necroscope Harry Keogh could ever hear. You pays your money and takes your chance, Harry. But the voice in Harry's mind was racked with ... what, guilt?
'Jim, don't torture yourself,' Harry told him. 'You didn't do anything wrong.'
And my family? My wife and kids? Were they guilty of something? But still they're paying, Harry. And ... and the others, and their families?
What about them? But no, I had to play the loner, ahvays the loner. I wouldn't feel so bad if I'd paid for it the same way, on my own. But those poor guys had to pay for it, too. Because of me!
'Because of you? I don't see it, Jim. You were only doing your job, and when you'd gone someone picked it up where you'd left off. You had nothing to do with - '
- But I did! And now I ask myself over and over again, if they'd had the whole story, would it have been different...?
The Necroscope shook his head. 'I don't understand. What do you mean, "if they'd had the whole story?" Your colleagues? But they didn't have any of it, did they?"
Do the names Stevens and Jakes mean anything to you? The dead man was somehow managing to keep himself under a semblance of control, but his anguish was lying just beneath the surface.
The other victims?'
Banks's incorporeal nod. Those two were the closest I had to friends on the force. I mean, I had friends, you understand, but those two were ...
close. I asked them if they'd like to be in on it when I closed down the biggest auto-theft gang in London. And like a fool I told Derek Stevens, who was closest of all, about the garage. And all the time that bastard thing was in my head, listening to everything!
Now Harry understood Banks's stored-up grief. Not for himself but his friends. And he sensed the dead man's nod of confirmation. / told them too little too late. Just enough they'd be sure to try to square it for me after ... after I...
But for the moment he couldn't go on. So Harry finished it for him. 'After you'd been murdered?'
Yes, (a fading sob).
They'd investigate the garage without knowing how dangerous it was, and so put themselves in the firing line?'
Yes ... God, yes!
'And they wouldn't know a thing about this mentalist, his telepathic trick, because you yourself hadn't known. You said it yourself, Jim: that you thought you were going crazy.'
Don't look for excuses for me, Harry.
'I'm not, because you don't need any. You were only trying to uphold the law, and so were they - and so will I.' He was in now, like it or not. 'Okay, Jim, you've given me enough to go on. A starting point, anyway. But now I need to feel it: your pain, your anger. I need to feel angry enough to want to put it right. Call it incentive, for want of a better word.'
The night it happened? How it happened? What I saw?
'All of it, yes.'
Give me a moment, Banks told him. And in a little while, in direct contact with the Necroscope's metaphysical mind, he began to think it through, relive it exactly as he'd experienced it that night.
And Harry was with him all the way ...
Banks's place was a stone's throw from Peckham High Street. It was nothing special: a tall, terraced house with a yard at the front, a balcony on the first floor, a small round window spying out from an attic room, and a vegetable patch at the back, crushed between neighbouring gardens. All of the houses in the terrace looked the same, with only slight variations of exterior decor. But the rooms were big and high-ceilinged, and there was plenty of space for the kids.
No space for Banks's car, though; his garage was one of a dozen in a low, asbestos-roofed block of badly constructed concrete boxes at the end of the terrace. This made for a walk (or a run when it was raining) of a hundred yards after he'd locked up. And when the weather was really bad, as tonight, it pissed him off to have to go rushing into the house spraying droplets |ike a hosed-down dog.
These were some of the thoughts that occupied his mind as he switched off the motor, snatched his keys from the ignition, rammed the door open with his elbow and made a dash for the up-and-over garage door. And this was another:
Fuck it! Why can't I ever remember to take the garage key off the fucking keyring? Now (as usual) he'd have to start up the car again to drive inside! Standing under the leaky garage guttering, he finally fumbled the correct key into the release handle and turned it - only to discover when he yanked on the handle that he'd locked the damned thing!
But even as warning bells commenced their mental clamour, as suddenly and as sinisterly as that, he was there again! That ominous presence watching and waiting, his silent snigger grown to a snarl now in the back of Banks's mind!
God! Banks thought in a moment of panic. / must really be losing it! And: Bastard, bastard, bastard! as he concentrated on what he was doing, turned the key the other way, and hauled on the handle to swing the door into its up-and-over position. Inside the garage it was night-dark, cluttered with household junk at the back. And the light switch ... wasn't working!
Shit and damnation! But it was okay; the car's headlights would give him all the light he needed to park up. But. . . was that movement back there?
A pair of dark figures moving forward, silhouetted against the greater darkness behind them; and Banks frozen to the spot, transfixed by the utterly unexpected! But in that single moment he put the whole thing together, and the warning clamour in his mind - and the sniggering -went up several decibels.
The garage door: he always checked twice that he'd locked it. But you could buy these fucking cheap keys in any hardware store. And the light: he'd replaced that bulb just a week ago! And that sniggering in his mind: it wasn't in his mind anymore but ... but right here in front of him! First the sniggering, and then a low warning growl!
Banks unfroze ... but too late. The figures coming toward him out of the darkness of the garage converged with him, fastened on him! One of them, briefly illumined in the rain-lashed glint of a street lamp, was
Skippy, Banks would swear. But in the next moment an arm went round his throat, and the scorpion-tattooed hand swept a glittering knife on high! Then -
'No!' said the second figure. 'He's mine. This piece of... filth is mine!' But the voice itself was filth - full of bile and phlegm and hatred -and Banks knew that this was the nameless mental intruder. No longer a bodiless, spying, sniggering spectre but a living, breathing reality. And to corroborate it, coming to him in his mind again, but audibly now: Your balls are mine, you stinking cop scumbag!
Then Skippy's knee in Banks's back, thrusting him forward onto something that ripped him open like a paper bag. Pain!
Unbelievable pain! And the slash, slash, slash of silver-flashing steel as sharp as razors ... the hot surging wetness of Banks's blood from his face, chest, belly and genitals as he went down. In just a couple of seconds he lost pints of blood. That alone would suffice to stop him, the shock alone: of feeling his face torn open to the bone, his belly in ribbons, his manhood shorn from him in a tearing of upward-swinging scythes!
And the slashes not stopping but continuing to rain down on him where he slumped, then crawled, then collapsed.
But the pain . . . miraculously the pain was going away, like a dull ache receding; so that only the tearing of shuddering but no longer protesting flesh remained to remind him of his murder. Because Banks knew that that was what it was: The End of him, with al his blood leaking out onto the floor, to mix with the rain and the oil-clogged dirt ...
He lay just inside the garage, looking out. After a while (it might have been hours but could only have been seconds), his eyes focused one last time on the rain-blurred street lamp. It was either that, a focusing, or the mucus of his eyes drying on the nerveless eyeballs to sharpen his dying vision. But as his brain prepared to switch off, someone or thing -a face, anyway - leaned down and looked him in his own torn and bloodied face.
But god, that the last thing he would ever see should be that face! It wasn't Skippy; it wasn't human; it wasn't anything Banks might ever have believed in. But it was as monstrous as the death it had delivered. So that he didn't just die but went out screaming, however silently.
And as if in mocking answer, the last thing he ever heard seemed to be a distant howling ...
... Banks was still doing it, silently screaming - but in the eye of memory now, a scream of rage and frustration as well as horror - as that rabid wolf visage gradually faded from his mind, and the drizzle worked its way inside Harry's colar, and Bank's sobbing from beyond lit a fire in the Necroscope's guts that he knew couldn't be extinguished as long as this went unresolved, unpunished. Until he'd 'seen' the face of the wolf for himself, Harry had almost forgotten what Darcy Clarke had told him: the werewolf theory. Having seen it, his senses were as shocked as the dead mind's that transmitted the pictures, as stunned as Banks had been on the night of his murder. He couldn't help but wonder if he would have fared any better. Probably not, not then, but he would now. It was al a mater of knowing what you were up against.
Gathering his composure and his thoughts, he finally said: 'Two of them, then. Skippy and ... that, whatever it was.'
His voice was colder than the grave itself, so that Jim Banks knew Harry wouldn't let him down even if his own life were forfeit.
And: Wel, what do you think? The dead man was able to ask him at last. / mean, was I crazy, Harry? Or what?
'You're as sane as I am,' Harry told him. And to himself: Which right now isn't saying much! 'But what do you reckon?'
Banks shook off the last remnants of his own horror, and answered, What do I reckon? Dead reckoning, eh, Harry? But his words contained litle or no humour. All right: I think it was a bloke dressed up as a wolf. See, a wolf or big dog goes on all fours, but this bloke was leaning over me! So ... why the disguise? I mean, if I'd survived they were goners anyway. I had already identified Skippy. So why that crazy horror mask?
'Work on "crazy," ' Harry told him. 'A lunatic, Jim. Someone influenced by the full moon, who thinks he's a werewolf.'
Really? The single word sounded like a sigh of relief to the Necroscope. Even dead, Banks was pleased to know that his mind hadn't been cracking up.
Harry squared his shoulders, tucked his collar in more yet and prepared to leave. 'I have some people waiting for me,' he was apologetic. 'But before I go I want to thank you, Jim, for what you've told me. It wasn't easy for you, I know. I mean, I really do know.'
Its okay, the other told him. Just don't forget to let me know how it turns out, right? It might make all of... this, a little easier to get used to.
'Be sure I'll let you know,' Harry told him. 'One way or the other, I'll let you know ... "
Beyond the gates of the cemetery, Darcy Clarke and the locator Ken Layard were waiting in a Branch car. Darcy was at the wheel and Layard sat slumped in the back seat, half asleep, his mouth lolling open. As the figure of the Necroscope loomed out of the wreathing mist, Darcy opened the front passenger door for him.
He got in, looked at Darcy, said: 'You know, there's really no need. Transport is the last thing I require. You could find a lot better things to do with your time.'
Darcy gave a shrug and started up the motor. 'Harry, the way we see it you're our most valuable asset. We can't be sure how or even if it will work out, but eventually, if it's feasible, we'd like you to take over as Head of Branch. Except, as you know, we've already lost two heads in the last two years! So - '
' - So you intend to keep your beady eyes on me ... yes, I know.'
As they puled away from the curb, Layard jerked awake in the back, said: 'Huh - ?' And, 'Oh, Alec!'
Harry felt Darcy cringe down in his seat beside him, and turned his pale face to glower at Layard where the locator was already biting his lip. But whatever the Necroscope might have said, Darcy beat him to it. 'Ken, were you just born stupid or does it take a lot of practice?'
'I...' Layard said, glancing at Darcy, then looking into Harry's face. Finaly he shrugged and sighed, 'I guess I was asleep. What can I say? I'm sorry ... Harry.'
Folowing which he tried to change the subject. 'Anyway, how did things go? I mean, did you get to ... weU, speak to him?'
The Necroscope hadn't been in a good mood to start with; now he wasn't in any sort of mood at al. 'Yes, I ... "wel, got to speak to him," ' he mimicked the other's hesitancy. 'I'd never met Jim Banks in life, but we got on prety wel. Funny thing, but for a total stranger he knew my name right from the word go! And he'd only had a few minutes - which is a lot less than eighteen fucking months!' It was perhaps unfair of him, but that was the way he felt.
In any case, nothing more was said until they reached their second destination. Nothing that Darcy or Layard were privy to anyway ...