KEENAN GORMLEY, AND OTHER VICTIMS.
Banks had been the first man to die; or rather, he'd been the first policeman to die. But on the way to the second graveyard, this time in the Muswell Hil district, as the Necroscope tried to relax in the front passenger seat, closed his tired eyes and settled down into the worn leather upholstery:
Harry? The dead voice was one he would know anywhere, any time: it was that of Sir Keenan Gormley, first Head of E-Branch. Harry? Harry, my boy! I can't tell you how good it is to know you're alive and well. . . again. Word has reached me about what you're working on. You're the Necroscope and your thoughts are very strong; sometimes we can't help but overhear them. And of course we've been, you know, 'holding our breath,' as it were, since discovering that you were back in the land of the living. In fact I've held back - oh, for a long time - from contacting you, for I knew you'd be busy. But as of now I want you to know that if there's anything we can do ...?
'Sir Keenan?' The Necroscope spoke under his breath, the merest whisper of sound, drowned out by the car's motor. 'It's good to know you're still around, too.' (What does one say to someone who was cremated more than two years ago?) 'I suppose you know that I'm ... what? Not the man I used to be?' Conversing with the dead could be complicated.
We know about it, yes, Sir Keenan's incorporeal voice was sorrowful, for Alec Kyle. And also something of your problems, Harry. Your discomfort? But you know, Alec's case was one in a million.. He was totally lost, to the living and the dead alike. But without him we wouldn't have you. So you see, your problem is our blessing. Where would we ever have been, what could we ever have done, without the Necroscope?
'And for that mater, what can you do now?' The way Harry said it, it wasn't a thoughtless question. The Great Majority were his friends and very important to him; he simply referred to their incorporeal condition.
Or rather, their usual condition, without that they were engaged in any ... activity on his behalf. But as wel as having certain conversational difficulties, communication with the teeming dead (much like telepathy) frequently conveys more than is actually said, and Sir Keenan understood that the Necroscope was only showing his customary concern and humility.
Well, for one thing, we can tell you that the deaths you're currently investigating weren't the first of this maniac's murders!
There have been a dozen here in London, all occurring near the time of the full moon; maybe a day or so before, during, or after. But it must be said that the victims were no great loss to humanity ... nor of any special benefit to us! In fact, and to be frank about it, they are mainly of the criminal element.
'Ganglanders?' Harry wasn't surprised. There had always been gang wars in London and there always would be, mainly for territory. 'From the East End?'
In almost every instance, yes. But what a close-mouthed bunch, Harry! Honour among thieves and all that rubbish! And of course there was nothing they could do about their lot anyway. Ah, but that's all changed now that you are on the case!
You're the Necroscope; which is to say you're not 'Filth,' not the law! With you, they don't consider themselves informants; it's not like 'grassing" in the normal sense of the word.
'How good is their information?' Harry was eager now. For the fact was that he didn't have a lot to go on.
I'm afraid there's not that much I can tell you, the dead man answered. And most of it is conjectural anyway. But surely anything is better than nothing?
Harry gave a mental nod. Tel me, then,' he said, 'and let me be the judge of it.'
The murders had al happened during the last three years, al of them around the time of the ful moon, but not so many that the police would necessarily make the connection; there'd been a good many killings in that time-frame. Indeed the only thing that might have connected them lay in their uniformly unsolved status ...
In that, and in the fact that the last three murders (prior to those of the police officers) had been commited by a thing half-man, half-wolf, or by someone in the guise of such a creature. Which would seem to indicate that the maniac had only recently adopted his werewolf role. This last, however, the use of the wolf mask, was something that other living investigators couldn't possibly know; only the victims had seen their atacker's face. The victims, and now Harry Keogh, Necroscope ...
It was the horrific nature of these last three murders - their modus operandi - along with those of Jim Banks, Stevens and Jakes, of course, that had finaly alerted the authorities to what they now erroneously categorized as a series of serial killings. That these atrocities were the work of a lunatic was hardly in question, but 'serial' killings? Sir Keenan Gormley and the Great Majority doubted it.
Harry had been right: the initial series of seemingly unconnected murders had been territorial. A homicidal member of a gang of car-thieves had begun taking out members of encroaching gangs one by one, almost systematically. But after a while, following his first half-dozen killings, maybe he'd started to enjoy it! Maybe he'd sensed his power, the advantage that his weird talent gave him, his ability to get into an enemy's mind and pre-empt his every move. A grudge against the police? Well, maybe. The urge to permanently remove any persistent adversary - very definitely!
An esoteric talent plus a diseased and generally criminal mind, equals gruesome murder. Lycanthropy: not merely a concept of fantastic fiction but a mania, a recognized and accepted psychiatric phenomenon. The madman's need to tear his victims to pieces like a wild animal, and his bloodlust at the full of the moon, when the lunar orb tugs at the fluid of his brain no less insistently than it lures the great oceans. His anguished howling when innermost passions are finaly vented in acts of furious mayhem!
The madness of a rabid animal, then, in combination with the warped cunning of an habitual criminal. That was what the Necroscope was up against. And as yet he was still no closer to learning the murderer's identity ...
'So what do you suggest?' he asked Sir Keenan Gormley, as the car sped him ever closer to the Muswell Hill cemetery and his second liaison.
'Eh?' Darcy Clarke glanced at Harry out of the corner of his eye. 'Did you say something?'
Harry gave a slight start, and muttered. 'Er, just talking ... to myself.' He knew how the espers of E-Branch looked upon his talent, that even with their knowledge of parapsychology, still they found it disquieting. Settling deeper into his seat and switching to a mental mode, he said:
And Keenan Gormley chuckling in his mind: What do I suggest? Wel, for one thing, if I were you I wouldn't let myself stray too far from that one! Darcy Clarke has to be just about the safest man I know - or knew. But quite apart from Darcy's talent, he was also a good friend. And better to have him as a friend than a foe, Harry, what with that guardian angel of his and all! You certainly wouldn't want to go up against him in a duel, now would you? So if Darcy wants to keep his eye on you, don't complain about it.
I'll try to remember that, Harry told him. But that's not what I meant. I wasn't talking about Darcy.
No, of course you weren't. But I thought it worth mentioning, thafsall. I'm just so glad to see that you're still with E-Branch. He fel silent for a moment, muling the real question over in his incorporeal mind. Then:
I think ... (Sir Keenan's disembodied voice was much more sober, thoughtful now), that I would probably try to fight fire with fire. For talking to you about Darcy and the Branch brings back to mind some of the amazing talents you have at your command. Quite literally, yours to command. If you so desire them.
Oh? Harry waited. And shortly:
Your quarry appears to be some kind oftelepath, which so far has given him an advantage. But you ham al the fuly developed talents of E-Branch. So why not give him a taste of his own medicine, Harry? From what I know of you, thafs your way, isn't it? An eye for an eye, and al that?
Harry was interested. I should use an E-Branch telepath?
Now that you know what you're up against? You'd be a fool not to! And Sir Keenan explained what he meant.
Harry thought about it a while and said, Maybe, if that's what it comes down to. But right now I have to be saying goodbye. For shortly I'll be speaking to Derek Stevens, the second of this lunatic's three policemen victims.
But Keenan Gormley had already drawn back; Harry felt him shrinking away, as from a scowl or a slap. And he felt obliged to ask: Is there something I should know?
He sensed the other's nod and eventually, hesitantly, his answer: Sometimes ... some people ... just aren't ready for it, Harry. Some people don't get used to death so readily. And some ... well, they don't get used to it at all, ever. When I found out you'd be handling this, I tried speaking to Stevens myself, just as I've spoken to others of the victims: in order to save a little time, you know? (Harry sensed his sigh). I'm sorry, my boy, but. . . Derek Stevens hasn't got used to it yet.
Harry felt Darcy Clarke's elbow giving him a gentle nudge. Looking up, he saw that the car was at a standstill outside the Muswell Hill cemetery. And since they were here, it seemed only right that he should give it a try.
Well, if you must, I suppose you must, Sir Keenan Gormley told him, his ghostly echo of a voice fading to a distant whisper in the Necroscope's metaphysical mind. But better you than me, Harry. Far better you than me ...
From this side of Muswell Hill, the fact that the district was elevated was obvious. Southwards, the nighted streets of London sprawled like some giant, shimmering cobweb woven on the curve of the world. It had done raining for now, but in Harry Keogh's fertile imagination the cold glitter of distant street lamps in the moisture-laden air was the reflection of a myriad jewels of dew on the blacktop strands of the great web. And the vehicles crawling on the roads were Mama Spider's children, learning the skills of the silken tightrope.
But evocative though the vista was, it wasn't the Necroscope's reason for being here. As he penetrated the graveyard, the concerned, concerted, ever-burgeoning clamour of incorporeal voices sounding in his metaphysical mind brought him back down to earth - and below it -in a moment. Their concerned clamour, yes.
Ful of concern, for Stevens. They weren't talking to Harry (not yet, for they didn't know he was here), but to each other, and to Stevens. Trying to talk to him, anyway.
Discovering the dead man's plot wasn't difficult: it lay dead centre of the physicaly silent but psychicaly noisy babble which, as Harry approached, grew louder by the moment. The brand-new marker, clean gravel chips and fresh flowers provided al the corroboration he needed. These things and Stevens's name, his dates, and his epitaph, of course:
A Man of Law & Order,
- a Fighter to the Last -
Struck Down by the Lawless,
in the Pursuit of His Duty.
Sorely Missed, but Alive
in Our Memories,
A very sad thing. But the babbling creature in its grave was sadder by far ...
It was just as simple as Sir Keenan Gormley had tried to forewarn: the dead couldn't console him. Derek Stevens couldn't come to terms with his demise, wouldn't accept it, wasn't going to lie still for it. And despite that he knew in his innermost being (or unbeing) that he was dead, still he fought against it and cried his horror of it, until his plot and the entire graveyard reverberated with his silent shrieking and his coffin wasn't merely a box but a cel in a subterranean asylum.
An asylum in the worst possible sense of the word, that of the madhouse.
A madman? Harry asked of the dead moaning in their graves.
Driven mad by grief, frustration and horror, Necroscope! a shuddering voice answered. For the living aren't alone in their capacity for grief. We also mourn -for the absence of all the loved ones we left behind,, who don't know that we're still down here ... and must never know! Else they'd sit by our graves all day, and their brief sojourn in the land of the living would be wasted no less than ours in the darkness of death ...
So taken aback by the sheer soulfullness of it, the doom-fraught feeling in the voice, for a little while the Necroscope said nothing. But then:
Excuse me, Sir, for I don't know you, (Harry respectfully shielded his thoughts from the rest of the cemetery's dwellers in order to speak to this one alone). But I do know that while you are in the majority, still you are of a minority: a defeatist among optimists. For while I've spoken to a great many dead men, I honestly can't say I ever before heard the ... condition or the lot of the teeming dead expressed so mournfully, so hopelessly as you express it. Even vampires, who have lost not only life but undeath and immortality, too, seem a deal more accepting of their station than you are of yours! Which isn't so much to put you down as to inquire ... well, what is it that's made you this way?
For a moment the other was silent, perhaps shocked. Could this really be the Necroscope, whose compassion was universally acclaimed? Harry sensed the stiffness in the unquiet night, and to his relief felt its gradual easing. Until eventually: You're right, of course, said the unknown voice, but without its hopeless tremor now, stoic in the modern sense, yet submissive when faced with the truth. You must forgive me my doubts and my regrets, Harry, my lack of conviction. Ah, but it comes hard for a preacher to be preached to, for a man of the Faith to discover himself faithless! Made to discover it, and by one so young at that! And yet you're so - persuasive! You put it so very well! Perhaps you should have taken the cloth and been a preacher? Or maybe you'd make a better philosopher. Have you studied philosophy, Harry?
Some, the Necroscope answered, which was at least in part the truth. Or rather, I've played a few word-games in my time. And with experts, too. I know how to argue, if that's what you mean. He explained no further than that. But on the other hand, what the dead man had said to him explained a great deal.
Al of his life this man had preached of a God and a life after death. But now, in death ... where was He? Why had He not taken these souls to His bosom? Neither Necroscope nor preacher could answer that question; but in fact He had claimed them, or would eventually. Except Harry had always had his doubts, which this apparent delay in the promised deliverance only served to exacerbate. The whole truth of the matter was something he was yet to discover, albeit in another world, another time.
Harry's thoughts on the preacher's predicament were like spoken words, which the dead man answered. Again you are right. For if I thought it hard to convince my flock in life, how much harder in death, when the anticipated resurrection is not?
Harry nodded. It must be difficult, yes. But you do still talk like a priest.
I still think like one, deep down inside! It's just that now, well, my words seem so futile, so empty. Even to me, sometimes! And the worst thing is, I can't put a time on it, can't advise them of the hour of their salvation. But talking to such as you, and feeling your living warmth, I do believe, of course I do! For if there is nothing left but this darkness, this purgatory of sorts, then why have you come to remind us of the past - if not to provide evidence of a glorious future? For He was, He is, and He shal always be ...
God's messenger? Harry didn't feel like one.
But you are! the preacher was insistent. You bring light in the eternal darkness, Harry, and hope where no hope existed. You ... rekindle the flame! Yes, and I think I know what brings you here: the soul-destroying cries of this demented one, taken before his time. You are here to comfort him. Tell me that I'm right?
Not quite, Harry shook his head, and knew the other would sense it. I can comfort him, well and good. But in fact I'm here to question him. I want to know who killed him, so that I can right the wrong.
Revenge? The voice of the preacher was far quieter now.
An eye for an eye, Harry growled.
You can't find it in you to turn the other cheek?
So that the murderer goes free to kill again?
It's not my way, Harry.
Nor mine, not really. But I'll do what I must.
And in doing so, lower yourself to the killer's level?
Tell that to the dozen or more he's lowered six feet under the sod!
I can't give you my blessing, the preacher shook an incorporeal head.
Give me access, that's all I ask. Call of the others, for they're doing no good and crowding me out.
It was true, Derek Stevens had them all in a state. Every single -inhabitant? - of the place, brought to the brink of what among the dead could only pass for nervous collapse. They knew no peace with him; they could neither converse nor hear themselves think for his noise; they flocked to him with gentle words, and the hardest of them with threats, but nothing they did brought surcease for he was inconsolable. To the world outside, the world of the living, the Muswell Hill graveyard would seem a hallowed place of peace and rest, but to the ones interred here it was now a Bedlam.
Wel, Harry thought to himself, Sir Keenan did try to warn me, after all. But as he seated himself on a nearby slab the tumult fel off a litle, and as the teeming dead felt his presence, they drew back and made way for him. Then gradually, the incorporeal babble tailed off to a hiss of whispers, and finaly a welcome silence, as they waited.
Or almost a silence. For down there in the earth, unheard except by the dead and the Necroscope Harry Keogh, there was a sobbing. A heart not yet melted in corruption lay broken there, a soul with nowhere to flee suffered al the undeserved grief of the grave, and a mind bereft of control, cut off from man's five earthly senses teetered on the brink of total insanity.
to the eye of memory, fleetingly, the Necroscope pictured an illustration from some old book (perhaps the idea of Bedlam had brought it back to mind): of a man lying in a foetal position on a bed of filthy, vermin-infested straw over broken flagstones, with gaunt, drooling, holow-eyed figures shambling to and fro, aimlessly al around. Add to that scene al the protests and the pleading and even the threats of the Great Majority, and Harry couldn't help wondering: is that what it's like for Derek Stevens?
To the teeming dead, the unguarded thoughts of the Necroscope were perfectly audible. And:
Yessss! Stevens sobbed, and huddled to Harry in his mind, crushing to him for his living warmth!
Any other man would have recoiled at once. To be embraced, even in one's mind, by a corpse, isn't a thought to dwel upon. But Harry was the Necroscope, and the dead were his friends. He could no more shrink from Stevens in his grave than from a sick friend in a hospital ward. And so he instinctively wrapped the dead man in his warmth, and let him leech on it a while ... but briefly, for something warned him not to let himself succumb to the other's incurable chil.
But as he drew away:
No! Don't go! Who are you? What are you? A nurse? A doctor? You're alive, I know that, because you're warm. I can feeljyowr warmth!
But the others in this ... place, they're cold! So tell me, tell me, tell me ... you've got to tell me they're lying! I have to know that I... that I'm ... aliiiive! Right at the end it turned to a wail, a sobbing shriek that sank down as if into the earth from which it issued.
'I'm alive, yes,' Harry spoke out loud, however quietly now, which was easier for him and made no difference at al to the Great Majority. 'But this ... isn't a hospital, Derek. I'm Harry Keogh, the one they cal the Necroscope, and sometimes I wish I wasn't. This is one of those times.' There was no other way to do it. His words spoke volumes, told far more than he'd said, but even in his ears they sounded like a betrayal.
Nooooo! The dead man's wail denied it. My parents, wife, family, friends. My whole wooooorld!. . . Gone? But this time the final word was a whisper.
'Not gone,' Harry's face was wet with his own tears, and his voice rang with his own agony. They're still there, Derek, everything, everyone. They have accepted what you can't accept. Because they saw, felt, touched you, and knew that they had to give you up. Their living senses made them to know that yours ... don't work any more.'
The sobbing had stopped now, and for long moments there was only a stunned, breathless silence. It was as if the dead held their breath, waiting for Derek Stevens to gather his, a renewal of his crazed raving. The Necroscope sensed it coming, and stopped it short:
'I can tell them you're okay now,' he said. 'Your family, your friends, Jim Banks and George Jakes. I'm the only one who can tell them. I can make it easy for them, reassure them, give them strength to carry on. Even those last two, who like yourself can't carry on, and have accepted it. Or I can say nothing at all. Or ... I can tell them you're like this. But I'd really hate to do that, and leave them in the same sort of hell, going mad with worry over you ... "
There couldn't be a 'same sort of hell,' not remotely! The dead man answered at last. But now there was that in his incorporeal voice that hadn't been there before, so that Harry felt like an inquisitor, as if he'd issued a threat or attempted to coerce the other. But you did! Stevens told him, with something of a sneer. You threatened a dead man!
So much for the 'mercy' of the Necroscope! And if that was a lie, what about the rest of the bullshit they've been feeding me?
At which Harry relaxed a little, and perhaps^even smiled to himself through his tears. The word-game he was playing was going his way at last. And: 'You're not crazy, Derek,' he told the other. 'Not if you can still reason as well as all that!'
Crazy? The other seemed surprised. Was I supposed to be? His voice was still bitter, but Harry sensed that he had definitely turned back from the brink. Mad with grief, sure, (just as the preacher had said). Tortured by frustration, naturally. But I wasn't crazy. Bull-headed, that's all: a bad loser, and unwilling to give up on a lost cause or argument. Well, hell, I've always been that way!
Of course. And how he'd always been in life was how he'd be in death. But even the worst loser must accept the verdict when he's finally down and out.
Harry felt the soft sighing of the dead, for this was an argument that was definitely going his way now. Except, as the Necroscope was well aware, it wouldn't go down well if he stuck the boot into an underdog. One should always leave a bolthole, so that the gallant loser may retire with grace. And so:
'Well, and you'll win this one, too, in the end,' he said, however casually.
Eh? How's that? (Stevens was 'back on his feet' again, the sob gone from his voice forever. It was the prospect of winning when all had seemed lost. But how could everything be lost when he was still here, still fighting?) What? I can still win?
'Can and will,' Harry assured him. 'Because in the end ... why, we'll all be in the same hole! Everyone, eventually.'
'Death is a hell of a long time,' Harry explained. 'You've lost nothing, Derek. Or at worst, your situation is a temporary one. But everything and everyone you've said goodbye to, you'll be saying hello to in some distant future. Except by then, why, you may not want to!'
Not want to? (Astonishment!) / won't want to be reunited with -
' - You'll get old, Derek, and so will they. You'll be old in the ways of death, and them old in the physical sense. Which is something you won't have to suffer. They'll have new friends and be ... different. And so will you. But who knows, who can say? Maybe they'll be like you, as rebellious as you have been, and need you to show them the way when finally
... finally they get here. Just as the dead will show you the way, if you'll let them.'
/ can have new friends?
'Even old ones! Jim Banks isn't that far away. You should be able to talk to him, if you'll just reach out.'
Have I been ... selfish?
'No, just scared. And you scared the dead, too, because now and then they lose someone like you. Now and then, someone will retreat so far into his misery that he's permanently lost. They thought you were going that way, too, Derek.'
And so they called you in ...
Harry shook his head. 'I didn't come to help you, but to ask for your help! Just as Jim Banks has helped me, and George Jakes too, I hope.'
Jim, George, and me ... Now the dead man knew what it was all about, what it had to be about, and Harry felt his excitement. Now that really would be a way to finish a fight, right? To hit back from the grave! So what do you want to know?
Harry told him, and what little there was he got: from a seat in the front row, as usual...
Afterwards, when the Necroscope had said goodbye to Derek Stevens and was leaving the cemetery:
Harry, said the preacher, that was just... marvellous! And you really do know how to argue, don't you?
Told you so,' said Harry. 'But in fact I had an advantage over you. I knew something you couldn't know.'
'It was something I saw written on his gravestone, something that had been put there by people who knew Derek better than either one of us. It said he was "a fighter to the last." Except, as we've seen, the fight isn't over yet... "
The Necroscope had to make one more visit. And this time it was a venue and a meeting that he wasn't looking forward to at all: the police mortuary in Fulham, where George Jakes lay gutted on a slab waiting for him. For it's one thing to talk to the dead, but something else to converse with a mangled mess that simply isn't recognizable any more and smells of the blood, guts, and shit that used to lie under the skin!
Harry steeled himself to it, however, and on the way told his esper friends what Derek Stevens had told him:
'Less than Banks, I'm afraid. When Banks was hit, Stevens didn't automatically tie it in to what Banks had been investigating. Banks had been onto a gang of car-thieves, yes, but he had been killed by some maniac who was perhaps responsible for a whole string of previous murders. Maybe Banks had been doing some work on those, too?
The only thing Stevens was certain of was that Banks had a lead on this East End garage. And he knew it was a job he had been keen to finish. So Stevens waited and watched, and got together and made plans with George Jakes. And because Stevens and Jakes had had close friendships with Banks, the investigation of Banks's murder was passed to another, more 'impartial' team. Not that there was any real impartiality; a policeman had been murdered, and the police are clannish about that kind of thing. Anyway, Stevens and Jakes were out of it.
'But if there was some connection between Banks's murder and his theory about the garage and his auto-theft case, Stevens reckoned business would fal off a bit now; the gang would keep a low profile until they saw which way the wind blew. In which case it would be pointless to raid the garage right now, for the place would be "clean."
'And in fact, over the next three weeks to a month, there was a noticeable fall-off in reported car-theft. But that could be coincidental, and Stevens still couldn't tie Banks's murder to the suspect garage. In a month, however, the moon had waned and waxed anew; toward the end of that period the incidence of vehicle theft had risen again; the taking of a couple of Porsches clinched it, and a raid on the garage was on ... and the moon was nearing its ful.
'Meanwhile, Stevens and Jakes had looked the place over. A run-down, multi-storey ex-municipal car park, the garage was huge and decrepit, a concrete skeleton. Upstairs it was a gutted ruin; only the ground floor and basement were still viable, and housed the garage proper. Access, however, was by no means easy. There were no windows on the ground floor and one of the two old entrance/exits had been blocked off. The remaining entranceway onto the disused ramps was controlled by a manned barrier and a motorized, steel-ribbed, retractable overhead door. There was no natural light in the work areas, only electrical, and the only visitors allowed inside were clients whose vehicles were in process of repair. A search-warrant was vital.
'But in the course of looking the place over, Stevens and Jakes had experienced the same kind of invasion suffered by Jim Banks: something, or one, had got into their minds! But a feeling so "strange, unnatural, weird, that neither one of them more than mentioned it to the other! Maybe they suspected they might be cracking up a little -certainly Stevens felt shaky about it - but neither one of them made too much of it, not to his partner, anyway. In fact Derek Stevens put it down to an attack of nerves, and to the loss of Jim Banks. But I've
spoken to both of them now, and I know that their symptoms were exactly the same.
This wolf-thing, a self-designated lycanthrope, was into their minds. Maybe he'd been alerted by their giving the garage the once-or twice-over in preparation for their raid. Whatever, it never got that far ...
'Five nights ago, a day before the full moon, Stevens was driving home from work on wet roads through a thin drizzle. He stopped at a red light controlling road-works at a bridge over a railway . . . but the truck following right behind him didn't! The only warning he got was that Thing in his mind, an obscene chuckle, and a gurgling mental voice that told him: "Kiss your asshole goodbye, fuckhead!" Followed by a howling, like a madman trying to imitate a wolf.
'Struck in the right-hand rear, his car spun left, smashed through a makeshift "safety" barrier, and fell thirty feet onto electrified tracks ...'
Darcy Clarke nodded. 'We read about it in the papers. That would probably have been enough - falling like that and crashing down on that live rail - but the commuter train that piled into him two minutes later left no doubt. It was a miracle the train wasn't derailed and there were no other injuries.'
Harry nodded. That was the extent of what Derek Stevens could tell me. And now I'm left with George Jakes. Or rather, with whatever is left of him!'
'Harry,' Darcy was very quiet, 'I know you've seen some stuff, but the police have told us that this one is, you know, ugly.
Jakes didn't have any family, so they didn't pretty him up much. He's ... just as our mad friend left him three nights ago. But the police are finished with him now and he burns the day after tomorrow. Jakes was a "Green" and that's how he wanted to go, cremated. He reckoned we're short enough of space as it is, without filling the ground with dead meat - his words, Harry, not mine!
So his boss told me, anyway.'
Harry thought about it a moment, and said, 'You're right, Darcy, I've seen some stuff. The Chateau Bronnitsy . . . was full of it!
But thanks for the warning, anyway. I could probably contact Jakes from here, or from my room at E-Branch HQ, but that isn't my way. See, in my book, respect works both ways: if you want it, you've got to give it. So I'll go to see him anyway.'
And in a little while they were there ...
No two dead people are alike, Harry knew that. Jim Banks had been hard, but not really. Derek Stevens had been hard-headed; he hadn't wanted to admit defeat, wasn't nearly ready to quit, even when the chips were all the way down. With them, maybe it was like a suit of clothes you wear to impress. They were just people underneath, wearing policemen on the outside. Well, and that was them. But George Jakes was something else. George had been hard hard. And he still was.
And he was soft, too, in places. Or as soft as his rigor mortis would allow. But on occasions like this, the Necroscope was adept at keeping his thoughts to himself ...
Harry and his friends had been taken down into the Unnatural or Suspect Deaths room by a police pathologist in a white surgical smock -rather, it had started out white, but their guide had just finished an autopsy in another room.
Chatting to them in a friendly enough fashion, he cleaned his hands on the smock as he led the way, then stripped off his thin rubber gloves to let the trio into the locked, refrigerated morgue. And leaving them, he told them, 'Drop the key into my room when you're finished.' Which was the only thing they actually heard. The rest of his patter had been drowned out, blurred to a mumble by the morbid aura of the place.
Clarke and Layard followed quietly behind Harry where he went from sliding drawer to drawer, examining labels. But when he stopped at a drawer marked 'George Jakes' they stepped back a little. Darcy admitted to still being queasy from the mess in Oxford Street, and Layard didn't want to see stuff just for the sake of seeing it. But if Harry really needed them
... ? He shook his head and let them leave, then slid open the drawer. And:
What's new, Necroscope? said George Jakes, with a grin of horror on his face that he'd wear forever, or at least until'it rotted off. And before Harry could answer, but in a far quieter mode, as Jakes scanned his visitor's stunned thoughts: Hey, is it that bad? Funny, 'cos I can't feel a thing! But I can remember it - and how! And seeing it in Technicolor doesn't really help. So what say you switch it of now, Necroscope? I mean, I wjas never a one /or watching myself on Home videos, either, you know what I mean? By which time the humorous touch had disappeared entirely from Jakes's voice.
And Harry realized that the dead man had been looking at himself through his eyes.1
He quickly slid the drawer shut, groped for a steel chair to steady himself, sat down heavily in it and said, 'George
... I... What can I say? I'm sorry.' It didn't seem much, but what else could he say?
\teSpiXfcX\a\A\fe taex ms, s\\A, Yisrry co\M stSi see'As contents. They were printed on his mind's eye in al their gory details. But Darcy had been wrong: someone had done something of a job on the corpse, if only to make it bearable. The stitches were ... less than cosmetic. Like a slipshod job on a torn hessian sack, Jakes's corpse seemed to have been sewn together mainly to keep it together, to stop him faling open or even apart.
Harry deliberately put the picture out of mind - to keep it from Jakes's mind - and took a deep breath. Then, remembering what Jim Banks had told him: 'But at least you didn't feel all of it, George,' he
said. 'You couldn't possibly have felt all of it.'
I felt enough, Jakes answered. More than enough to put me down among the dead men! Obviously he wanted to forget it, but knew that he couldn't, not for a little while. So: Let's get on with it, Harry. I know what you want, so let's get started ...
I had no family, Qakes commenced his story). The only real friends I had, and few of them at that, were on the force. I'd been a cop man and boy, since I was eighteen until a couple of weeks ago when I turned forty. And much like you, Harry, I was the one who always got the nasty cases. It just seemed to turn out that way: rapists and murderers and arsonists, pimps, perverts and all the slime that walks the streets, they all seemed to head my way. Hence my reluctance to make more than a handful of friends, take a wife and raise a family. Being that close to all of the shit, I didn't like the idea of contaminating others. Or ... maybe it was a matter of trust. So many people out there seem bent on making it, even over the bodies of the rest of us, that I wasn't willing to put myself in the firing line. I mean, I'd be the best sort of cop I knew how, sure, but I'd get along just fine on my own and not rely on anyone else.
And I did.
And people - even other cops, unless they were close to me - didn't mess with me. I had this reputation; I smoked too many cigarettes, and drank too much cheap whisky, maybe ... but I got the job done. Especially if it was a job no one else wanted. And I was hard, for despite all my bad habits I kept my body in good nick. It would have to be one rough son of a bitch who put me down. And it was ...
Normally I wouldn't have fallen for it, but these weren't normal times; I was feeling for Derek Stevens. I mean, one day there were two of us, and the next... he was gone! A lousy hit and run traffic accident, of all if only because He leaves no one to mourn after him when he's gone. I suppose I was bitter, you know? And no way I could tie Derek's or Jim Banks's deaths together, or connect them to Jim's work on the stolen car rackets.
But one thing for sure: warrant or no warrant, tomorrow I was into that East End garage. And nothing and no one was going to stop me! The trouble was, I thought these things while walking the street with my hands in my pockets and my fortieth cigarette sticking out of a corner of my mouth right there outside the garage, which I was looking at one last time before busting the place.
And of course he was listening to me! I knew he was there, in my head, but figured it was just another symptom of the blues.
Well, you live and you learn, and then you die ...
Before I left the place I saw a van rolling down the exit lane onto the road. There were two guys inside, and the van was giving out a blast of raw jungle-music, I mean like that calypso stuff that your namesake Harry Belafonte used to sing, but a hell of a lot wilder. Hey, I never got
past Bill Haley, Little Richard and Fats Domino, so don't ask me to be specific! But it was Caribbean Island stuff: Jamaica or somewhere like that, for sure. And so was the front seat passenger.
He was Rasta as they come, greasy dreadlocks and all, and his eyes were black as his plaited hair where they stared at me as the van shot by. Those dark eyes seemed to be saying, 'We'll be seein' ya 'gain, Honky!' And they sure enough did!
The guy driving was younger by three or four years; he was white - well, a dirty pale - pimply, sort of loose around the mouth like some kind of idiot, and wore a crewcut. Yeah, Harry, I know. What do you think, I've been lying here doing nothing? I've had a word or two with Jim Banks, sure, and this guy would have to be Skippy. But I didn't know that then. These guys were what? -Just a couple of yobs employed by the garage, as far as I was concerned. Yeah, a couple of yobs who were waiting for me in my flat when I got home.
Like I said, if I hadn't been so down I might have sensed it, I might have known something didn't smell right. But by the time I did smell it, it was too late.
My flat is on the ground floor and the other two tenants, upstairs, always work late. So the rest of the house was empty. It was -1 don't know - something-to-seven by the time I got home. Outside, the street lights were already on. But as I turned my key (which seemed to stick in the lock a little), opened the door, stepped inside and tried to switch on the lights ...
... Suddenly I knew! But it was already too late.
There was a little light from a street lamp right outside the main door of the house, which shone in through chinks in my curtained windows. But I hadn't been in there a minute before I knew they were there. Just a feeling, or a taste or smell; the fact that my lights were on the blink; and shadows where there shouldn't be any.
I don't know who or what hit me on the head. But the carpet was wet with my blood when I came to, and a spot behind my ear felt soft. I could only have been down a second or so, but as I stirred and tried to drag myself into a sitting position I heard this ugly voice say, 'Tough bastard, isn't he?' in a broad Geordie accent. And another voice, deep and brown and guttural, and yet a voice in my head, saying:
'Yeah. But you II be softer on the inside, won't ya, boy?'
And when I opened my eyes to catch a glimpse of that face, which I knew went with the voice ...
... It was Jim Banks's wolf-face, of course, but the mad eyes staring out of the sockets were black and glinty as coal, and human ... and inhuman! Then I was kicked over onto my back, and the thing seated itself astride my upper thighs and showed me its claw: five surgical knives set in a swarf-glove that he wore over his hand!
It was dark in my flat, as I've said; the only light came in through chinks in the curtains from the street lamp outside; but it wasn't so dark I
couldn't see this Skippy character over the crazy man's shoulder; how pale his face looked, and how he couldn't bear to look but must turn away!
And then the pain as that Thing ripped into me, and didn't stop ripping...
But you're right, Harry, Jakes sighed after a while, / didn't feel all of it. You can only take so much, you know? And funny, the last thing I remember thinking before I passed out and woke up here, was: 'Jesus, my flat's going to look a real mess . . .!'
Then he was quiet again, maybe turning it al over in his own mind. But as the Necroscope was about to say thanks, Jakes said: Oh, and there's one other thing. It probably isn't worth mentioning, but I'll let you decide. There was this girl.
'Girl?' Harry repeated him.
She was outside the garage, just walking up and down the street. I saw her there twice, and again on the night. . . that this happened. He shrugged the last off, was finally done with it. She was a real looker. Tall, slim, slinky, yet natural with it. Maybe Eurasian? Could be, from the shape of her eyes: like almonds and very slightly tilted. And her hair, bouncing on her shoulders, seeming black as jet but grey in its sheen, with the light glancing of it. She was the ageless type, Harry. I mean, anything from nineteen to thirty-five. But a looker, oh yes!
He pictured her for the Necroscope, who agreed with him: yes, she was definitely a looker. 'A customer, waiting for her car to be fixed?'
Could be, Jakes shrugged again, and fell silent.
The interview was over ...