It was 3 p.m. and just as grey in London as in Edinburgh, and even darker for Darcy Clarke, who had been sitting at his desk for the last hour, ever since the Necroscope called him, still feeling bad about things in general and wondering what the hell this latest 'thing' was all about. Alec Kyle's personal habits? Especially the fact that he'd liked a drink now and then? What in the world could that have to do with Harry's search for his wife and baby son? Answer: nothing. Which meant that Harry was still dealing with the same basic problem, still getting used to the fact of his new body.
And as if that weren't enough, Darcy thought, / had to go and fuck about inside his head! Or get someone to do it for me, anyway.
The 'had to' part was the only tiling that let Darcy live with it: the fact that E-Branch and the security of the people, the country, came first above all other considerations. But it had been inevitable from the moment the Necroscope had let him know that he would probably be moving on. Then, even hating it, Darcy had been obliged to set the thing in motion. But all the time he'd been hoping against hope that it would never have to be brought into being, and he'd kept right on hoping until the moment Harry had said he was through, definitely.
From then on it had all been down to Doctor James Anderson, whose business address was a consulting room and a highly rewarding practice in prestigious Harley Street. One hell of a step up for a man who only three years ago had been working the nightclub circuits as a stage hypnotist! But E-Branch had found and elevated him, which was about the same as saying that they owned him. And certainly he owed them. That was why he'd come in that night a half-hour after Darcy called for him, and why he had done what he'd done.
Sinister? But in a way it might be argued that everything E-Branch did had sinister implications for someone. Except this time it was being done to a friend. And that was what bothered Darcy the most: that this
time the Department of Dirty Tricks had come down on Harry Keogh.
Yet for all that Darcy felt guilty about this thing, the fact was that he hadn't initiated it. That had come from much higher up, from a grey, almost anonymous entity known only as the Branch's 'Minister Responsible'. It had been Darcy's duty merely to let the Minister know how things stood, and the Minister's to order counter measures.
And (Darcy was pleased to remind himself) they could very easily have been much harsher measures, except he'd been able to advise in that respect, too. So Harry had suffered a degree of minor, or maybe not so minor, interference: so what? He was still functioning, wasn't he? Darcy gave a small shudder as he put what might have been to the back of his mind.
As for why it had had to be done:
Harry Keogh was potentially the most powerful force in the world, for good or evil. He was the Necroscope, and Sir Keenan Gormley had 'spotted' him almost from scratch, and homed in on him with unerring instinct, recruiting him to E-Branch. But if Sir Keenan had 'discovered' him, so to speak, couldn't a far less friendly agency just as easily find him?
For example the Russians. By now they must be keenly interested (to say the very least) in Harry's kind of ESP. It was a weapon he had used against them to devastating effect. Even though Harry 'himself was or might appear to be dead and gone, still the atention of al surviving members of the Soviet ESP-organization would be riveted upon their British counterparts' every move from this time on.
It was even possible (barely, but possible) that the Russians already knew about British E-Branch's 'new' Necroscope! And wouldn't that be causing them some concern! ? What, the ex-Head of Branch, Alec Kyle, back in business? Not brain-dead, or physicaly dead and blown to bits along with the Chateau Bronnitsy, but alive and wel and living in England? Not drained of al inteligence on a slab in some necromantic ESP-experiment, or pulped in a holocaust of almighty proportions, but sound as a bel and consorting with his old coleagues in London? Good God! By now they'd probably be thinking that every Englishman was indestructible ... and they'd be wanting to know why! And how ...
Darcy found himself grinning at his own flight of fancy, but of al men he knew that there had never been so fanciful a flight as that of Harry Keogh, Necroscope.
And the grin died on his face as he considered other possibilities.
Assuming that the Russians knew nothing - that they were still recovering from the Necroscope's onslaught - still there were other ESP-agencies in the world and Harry could conceivably fal into their hands.
And not only mindspies but crime syndicates and terrorist organizations, too. What a thief he'd make, what an assassin or terrorist!
Barriers, borders and brick walls couldn't stop him; he could disappear almost at will; the teeming dead were in his debt and would go to any lengths, literally, to advise and protect him. And all the knowledge of Earth had gone down into the soil or up into the air, where it was written like lore in some mighty volume in an infinite encyclopedia for Harry to open and read. If he had the time, but he didn't because of his search.
Oh, yes: Harry would be invaluable in the hands of any one of a score of criminal elements. And it was still possible that his wife and child's disappearance was connected in some way to just such an organization. Which was why the Branch was indeed working flat out to discover their whereabouts. Oh, they were doing it for Harry, too, who had done so much for them and for the world, but they were also doing it for themselves, for 'the common good.' And it was for that same common cause that Darcy had called in Doctor James Anderson.
Anderson was the best, the very best there was: a hypnotist without peer in all the land, as far as was known.
Working without anaesthetics on patients lulled to a painless immunity under the weird spell of Anderson's eyes and systems, surgeons had carried out the most delicate operations; women had given effortless birth in exceptionally awkward circumstances; mentally traumatized and schizoid cases had shed their delusions and extraneous personalities to emerge whole and one from his healing gaze. And far more importantly where Darcy was concerned, Anderson was a master of the post-hypnotic command.
Darcy remembered how it had gone that night...
By the time they had entered Harry's room using a master key, the Necroscope had been dead to the world, and probably to the dead, too! The drug Darcy had given him had been a sleeping pill, but a pill with a difference. Distilled from the oriental yellow poppy - and as such an 'opiate' - the principal active ingredient had the effect of opening the mind of the subject to hypnotic suggestion while he slept on. The hypnotist would then insert himself into the subject's dreams, his subconscious mind, implanting those commands which the subject would act upon and accept as routine long after the drug had dispersed and he was awake.
Darcy had obtained the pills from Anderson, who used them when he was treating mental cases. Not that Harry was a mental case, but it had provided an easy method of bringing him under Anderson's control without the Necroscope himself knowing what was happening. Since he wasn't a patient as such, it was imperative that he did not know what was happening. For rather than being a curative treatment, this was to be preventative.
Darcy had been present throughout and remembered the entire thing in detail. Especially he remembered his only partly covert, his almost suspicious examination of Anderson himself: the way he'd considered the hypnotist's attitude to be far too relaxed, too casual. . . well, in the light of what he was doing and who he was working on. Didn't he know who this man was? But then he'd had to remind himself: no, of course Anderson didn't know who or what Harry was. He was only doing what he'd been asked to do.
Anderson was young, maybe thirty-five or -six years old, tall, and good-looking in a darkly humourless sort of way; or perhaps more attractive than good-looking. But maybe that was residual of his stage days, when he'd used to portray himself as some inscrutable deity of inner mind. If so, then he'd succeeded very well indeed. With his high-arching eyebrows, full, sensual lips - that seemed too full and sensuous against the pallor of his face - and the sunken orbits of his eyes, dark as from countless sleepless nights; why, only give him a pair of horns and Anderson would be the very epitome of the devil! 'A handsome devil,' yes.
His hair was a shiny black, swept back and, Darcy suspected, lacquered into place. His chin was narrow, almost pointed, and sported a small neatly trimmed goatee; his sideburns were angled to sharp points mid-way between the lobes of his small flat ears and the corners of his mouth. And as if to underline or emphasize his looks, he wore a cloak, which to Darcy's mind was about as theatrical as you could get. Anderson's eyes, of course, were huge, black, and hypnotic. And his voice ... was velvet.
Inside Harry's room, the doctor had wasted no time. Darcy remembered how it had been: first Anderson sitting by the Necroscope's bed, and lifting each of his eyelids in turn to check the dilation of his eyes. Then, when Harry's eyes stayed glassily open, the classic technique: a crystal pendant swinging on a chain, and the doctor's soft, smoothly insistent voice, commanding Harry that he:
'Watch the lights, the sparkle, the heart of the crystal. Feel the heartbeat as the crystal swings to and fro, and match it with your own ...' Then Anderson's hand seeking and checking the pulse in the Necroscope's wrist, his nod of approval, and the pendulum's swing gradually slowing as the doctor's marvellous voice continued:
'Harry, you can close your eyes and sleep now. You are asleep ... you are asleep but you will continue to hear me. I am your heartbeat, your mind, your very life and soul. I control you; I am you, and because we are one, you will obey me. You will obey you, for I am you. We are one, and we're asleep, but we hear our mind speaking to us, and we obey.
Can you hear me, Harry? If you can hear me, you may nod ... " The Necroscope had closed his eyes at Anderson's command. As he slowly nodded his head, so Darcy had found himself holding his breath.
'Harry Keogh, you are a rare man with rare powers ... you are a man with rare powers ... rare powers, yes. Did you know that? That you're a man with rare and wonderful powers?' Anderson hadn't known what Harry's 'rare powers' were; only that he was following Darcy Clarke's instructions. And again the Necroscope's nod.
'If others knew of your powers, they would want the use of them. Others might want the use of these strange powers. Others might even use them against us, to harm you and me and the ones we love. Do you understand?'
'Now listen,' Anderson had leaned closer to the man in the bed, his voice more deep and sonorous yet. 'We can only be safe so long as others know nothing of our powers. We are safe only so long as we protect our powers. Others must never know what we can do. We must never speak of our powers. You must never ever mention your powers to anyone. You must never disclose them to anyone. You must never display them to anyone. Do you understand?'
(Harry's slow, uncertain nod).
'You may use your powers as is your right, Harry, but you may never speak of them, or display them or otherwise disclose them to others. You may never, ever speak of them, or disclose or display them to others, no matter what the provocation, not even under the stress of extreme pain or torture. Do you understand?' (Harry's nod, more positive now).
'Now listen, Harry. You are still you but / am no longer you. This is someone new speaking to you - someone you don't know! You don't know me, but you can hear me. If you can hear me, say yes.' Harry's head had commenced its almost robotic, mechanical nod; but now it paused, stiffened into immobility, and his mouth fell open. His tongue wriggled a moment in the cave of his mouth, then stuttered:
'Y ... ye ... yes.'
'Good! Now then, my friend, my good friend. I've heard it said that you have amazing powers? Is this true? Answer me!'
The Necroscope said nothing - but his face grew pale, his eyelids fluttered and his tongue wobbled wildly. Which was the point where Darcy had begun to wish he'd never set this in motion, except the possible alternative had been unthinkable.
'Let's be reasonable,' Anderson's oh so persuasive voice had droned on. 'Let's have a normal conversation, Harry.
Your throat is no longer dry; your mouth is salivating; your tongue is freed and you can talk normally. Let's talk normally, shall we? Now, what is all this about these powers of yours? You can trust me, Harry. Tell me about them ...'
At that the Necroscope had seemed to relax a little. His eyelids had stopped fluttering; his mouth closed as he licked his lips; his Adam's apple bobbed as he moistened his throat. Then:
'Powers?' he said, enquiringly. 'Whose powers? You have me at a disadvantage. I'm afraid I don't know you, or what you're talking about.' (At which Darcy had grinned, for this was more like it. Harry didn't seem uncomfortable any more - indeed he was having a 'normal' conversation. And he was lying his head off!) Anderson had glanced at Darcy, nodded and said, 'He was a difficult subject. I know it's hard to believe, that it looked very easy, but you'll just have to take my word for it: he was hard to get into, and I could feel him fighting me. I always know when they are fighting me, for I get these terrible headaches ... " He used a handkerchief to pat several beads of sweat from his forehead. 'And you can believe me, I've got a beauty right now! But let's put it to the ultimate test, eh? He knows you, right? He knows you for a good and trustworthy friend? So why don't you ask him about these wonderful powers of his?'
'What?' Darcy had been taken by surprise. 'Just like that? I can ... talk to him while he's under?'
And: 'Wait,' Anderson had told him, and turned back to the Necroscope. 'Harry, you have a friend here, Darcy Clarke. Darcy wants to speak to you, Harry, and you will talk to him just as you have spoken to me: a perfectly normal conversation. Do you understand?'
'Of course,' Harry had answered, a half-smile forming on his sleeping face. And without pause: 'How's it going, Darcy?'
For a moment Darcy had been taken aback; he hadn't quite known what to say. Then words had formed and he'd said. 'It's all going well, Harry. And you?'
'Oh, so-so. Better when I know about Brenda and the baby. I mean, when I know they're okay.'
It was the lead Darcy had been looking for. 'Sure. And as the Necroscope - I mean with your powers and all - it won't take too long, right?'
Harry's eyes had stayed closed, but he'd cocked his head inquiringly on one side. 'Eh?' he'd finally answered, frowning. And: 'It seems everyone is determined to talk in riddles today! Look, I hate to rush off like this but I'm - you know - busy? Do you mind?' And with that he'd rolled over in his bed, turning his back on both of them.
At which Anderson had grasped Darcy's elbow, saying, 'Not even you! You see, he won't even talk to you about it -whatever "it" is. Well, so far so good. But now I'd like to hammer the point home. I want to reinforce it and make absolutely certain that my post-hypnotic command is in place. Except I warn you: this is very repetitious stuff. I'm afraid I may bore you to death. Or if not that, I might certainly put you to sleep, too!' Anderson's success had pleased him, making him seem more warm and human.
Darcy had stayed, however, and seen it out to the end. And Anderson had been right: it was repetitious and boring, so that by the time he was done Darcy was indeed yawning.
'And now he can sleep it off,' the doctor had told Darcy, as they turned off the light and let themselves out of Harry's room.
Then, in his- office, Darcy had asked: 'What next? Is there anything else I should do? I'm having breakfast with Harry tomorrow morning.'
Anderson had shrugged. 'He'll probably seem a little confused, reluctant. Whatever this big secret of Keogh's is, all of your E-Branch agents presumably know about it. It's simply that you're keeping it from the outside world, right?'
That's right,' Darcy had nodded his agreement. 'We know about it, and Harry knows we know - '
' - Hence the confusion,' Anderson had finished for him. 'If I were you I wouldn't test it: don't even bring it up. Or if you must, then have someone else test it. Some "stranger?" But well away from this place.'
And Darcy had seen the sense in that. 'And is that all? Nothing else I should know?'
Anderson had looked at him, pursed his full lips, said: 'He's no longer one of yours?'
'That's right. He's moving on. He has things to do. But why do you ask? Is it important?'
Again Anderson's shrug. 'There may be - I don't know - side effects?' But before Darcy could show his alarm: 'I mean, I've been into his mind - or not into it, but I have opened it up a little. In some people the mind is like a door with rusty hinges. And as I told you, Harry's door was damned near welded shut! So I... applied a little oil. You see, it's not simply the drugs and my eyes and my voice, Darcy - it's also my mind. No, I'm not an esper like you and yours, but I'm special in my own way just the same. I mean, I can put certain people under just by snapping my fingers! But Harry wasn't one of them. He was difficult. Except now that I've oiled his hinges, so to speak, well, he could be easier the next time.'
The next time?'
'If someone did get hold of Keogh, it's possible - just possible, mind you - that they'd be able to get into his mind as "easily" as I seemed to.'
They could undo what you've done?'
'Ah, no, I didn't say that!' Anderson had held up a cautionary finger. 'What I've done is done, and as far as I know only I can break it. But the rest of Harry's mind might now be more accessible. He might more readily give in to hypnotic suggestion. However, that's a pretty big might. I shouldn't worry about it if I were you.'
But in fact Darcy Clarke hadn't stopped worrying about it ever since, for close on five weeks. It was a terrible idea, a fearful concept: to have someone break into a man's id - into him - without his knowing it; to weaken him in ways he wasn't even aware of, then leave the doors of his mind flapping helplessly to and fro in the wind of some future mental intrusion!
Not that it was really as bad as all that, Darcy told himself, returning to the present. He was simply over-dramatizing again, that's all. It wasn't as if the Necroscope was likely to come up against another hypnotist, now was it?
But still, it wasn't the sort of thing Darcy Clarke himself would ever want to happen to him. Not likely! And of course, it couldn't ever happen to him, not as long as his guardian angel talent was watching over him.
On one of the last two counts Darcy was quite wrong, and on the other he wasn't quite right. But then, he wasn't a precog.
Which was perhaps just as well...
That same night Harry took the Mobius route into the heart of Edinburgh and hailed a taxi. It was raining and he didn't want to walk -and anyway he wouldn't know where to go, for B.J.'s wasn't in the book. But his taxi driver should know it.
'B.J.'s,' he told the man, who turned, looked back at him, and shook his head sadly.
There's a lot cheaper places tae get pissed, Chief, if ye must,' he said. 'But the booze in they damn wine bars costs a pretty penny, aye!' He was a 'canny Scot,' obviously.
Thanks for the advice,' Harry told him, 'but B.J. 's will do.'
'As ye say,' the other shrugged. 'Ah expec' it's the young lassies, aye.' And they headed for B.J.'s.
The Necroscope quickly got himself lost as the taxi turned right off Princes Street into a maze of alleys, and the looming grey bulk of Edinburgh Castle, his principal landmark, vanished into a rain-blurred sky, behind the complex and merging silhouettes of shiny rooftops and arching causeways. The echoing canyon walls of bleakly uninteresting, almost subterranean streets and alleys sped by on both sides, and between squealing, nerve-rending swipes of the windscreen blades Harry could look ahead and see a pale glow of city lights reflected on the undersides of lowering clouds.
Time seemed suspended ... he might even have dozed a little in the musty-smelling back seat. But eventually:
'B.J.'s,' the driver grunted, bringing his taxi to a halt in a narrow street of three-storey buildings whose shop-front fagades were built onto or extended from the old brickwork of a gently curving Victorian terrace.
Harry shook himself awake, climbed stiffly out of the taxi and paid the fare, then turned up his collar and looked up and down the street. And as the taxi pulled away he saw that the area was more than a little rundown and shabby, and hardly the place he'd thought it would be. It scarcely matched up to B.J. or what he'd imagined of her. But just what had he imagined of her? What sort of place had he envisioned? A low, Moorish dive - but one with style - on the fringe of some Moroccan Kasbah, like a Rick's Cafe and Casino, magically transported from pre-war Casablanca? What, to Edinburgh? Oh, there were dives here, certainly - likewise in London, Birmingham, Newcastle, Liverpool, and Leicester; and in Berlin, Moscow, Nicosia, New York, Paris, almost anywhere - but as for style ... that was about as far as it went.
Harry had no idea where he was, his physical geographical location, but he did know he'd never have any trouble finding it again. He had instinctively absorbed the feel of the place - its aura, its 'co-ordinates' -into his metaphysical mind. From this time forward, using the Mobius Continuum, he would always be able to come here.
The rain came squalling slantwise; the street was almost deserted; it was too late for run-of-the-mill shops, and only one late-nighter was lit at the far end of the street. A Chinese takeaway was open maybe half-way down, also a pub opposite the restaurant, letting out a little orange light from incongruous 'antique' bull's-eye windows. But where was B.J.'s?
For a moment the Necroscope thought his driver had simply dumped him at The End Of The Known World, until he spotted the illuminated sign, no bigger or brighter than a cinema's 'Exit' sign, over a shaded door set back from the pavement between a shoe shop on the one hand and a fish-and-chip bar with a 'For Sale' sign in the whitewashed windows on the other. The illuminated sign was in dull blue neon and simply said, 'B.J. 's.'
Harry moved into the shadow between the two shops, making for the door. But as he did so, he sensed movement across the street. Turning his head, he was barely in time to witness the brief electric glare of a camera's flash from a dark shop doorway directly opposite. Now what the hell ... ? Someone taking a picture of him, outside B.J. 's? But who could have known he'd be coming here? He hadn't known himself until this afternoon! And he certainly hadn't told anyone.
He turned towards the street and made as if to cross ... and a slight, bent figure came scurrying out of the shop doorway, heading down the street towards the pub. Bird-bright eyes under a wide-brimmed hat glanced back at Harry, as the figure made off in a slap, slap, slap of leather on wet paving slabs.
Harry wanted to get a better look at this one. Fixing the orange glow of the pub's small-pane windows in the eye of his mind, he quickly stepped back into the shadows and conjured a Mobius door ... and a moment later stepped out of the shadows of the pub into the street, and headed back towards B.J. 's.
The mysterious figure in the raincoat and wide-brimmed hat came almost at a run, saw the Necroscope at the last moment and very nearly collided with him. As the man swerved aside, Harry caught at his arms as if to steady him, and so came eye-to-eye with him, however briefly. Briefly, yes, because even as Harry stared at him, so the small man displayed a surprising strength and wiriness, wrenched himself furiously free and made off down the street again. And this time Harry let him go, all five feet four or five of him, watching him disappear out of sight down a side alley ...
Harry felt fairly certain he'd never seen the man before, and therefore that the stranger didn't know and couldn't possibly have recognized him. As for Harry's use of the Mobius Continuum: the stranger would never believe that the man in front of B.J.'s was the same one he'd bumped into on the street just a moment later! So, nothing much for Harry to concern himself over there. But. . . what was it all about? Was it some kind of threat, something to worry over? Or was it simpler than that?
Maybe Darcy Clarke had decided to have Harry watched - or watched over - for his own good. But if that was the case, how had Darcy known he'd be going to B.J. 's?
Maybe the explanation was even simpler:
Like, someone was watching B.J.'s for his own reasons. Or perhaps a private detective for someone else's reasons?
Or the police? What if B.J.'s was a front for something else? And what kind of a girl - or woman - was this Bonnie Jean anyway, that she should go around shooting at men with a crossbow? But that last was a question Harry had asked himself many times before. It was one of the several reasons he was here: to find out if there was any connection between B.J. and Brenda's disappearance.
Walking thoughtfully back to B.J.'s in the rain, he considered the face he'd seen, or that glimpse of a face, before the - what, observer? - had wrenched himself free. That face on the little man, that startled face, that had decided Harry against any further action at this point. It wasn't that he'd felt afraid of the little man, just. . . surprised? Startled? Even as startled as the small observer himself? But by what?
There are looks and there are looks, and the little man had had one of those looks. Like a cornered rat. And everyone knows that it's best not to corner a rat. Such a look, on the face of the little man, had been enough to stall Harry - on this occasion, anyway. But if there should be a next time - then he might want to know more.
Approaching B.J.'s, he pictured that face again: that wrinkled old face with its rheumy, runny eyes. At a distance he'd thought of them as 'bright bird eyes,' but seen close-up they weren't. Those oh-so-strange three-cornered eyes that one second looked grey and the next shone dull silver, like an animal's at night... and the next turned grey again; or maybe it was a trick of the street lights. And the long, heavily veined nose, flanged at the tip; and the too-wide, loose-lipped mouth in its thrusting, aggressive jaws. And overall, the grey, aged aspect of the face generally.
Just a glimpse, yes, and not necessarily accurate. But it had been sufficient to give him pause ...
Letting the picture gradually fade in the eye of his mind, the Necroscope was satisfied (but not pleased) that he wouldn't easily forget it. Indeed he might just ask BJ. about it. About its owner, anyway. For if she was aware of the little man - if she'd ever seen him -she'd certainly know who Harry was talking about.
It was just one of the several questions he had for her. As for the questions she might have for him ... wel, he'd do his best to avoid them.
So he told himself, anyway ...
The door was heavy and banded with metal, and equipped with a buzzer, a peephole, and a speaker grile. Harry buzzed, detected slight movements within, and felt himself observed. Eventualy a female voice asked:
'Are you a member, sir? If so, hold up your card. If not, state your business.' Obviously one of the club's 'young lassies,' Harry thought.
'I'm not a member,' he answered. 'I was invited - by Bonnie Jean.'
There was silence for a long moment, then:"Wait.'
Harry seemed to wait an inordinately long time, but when the door finaly opened it was B. J. herself who stood holding it open for him. And again Harry wasn't certain what he'd been expecting. He had met her before, yes, but a lot had been happening at the time. Funny, but the best picture he had of her was the one George Jakes had given him:
A real looker ... Tall, slim, slinky, yet natural with it. (The shape in Jakes's dead mind had been that of Lauren Bacal in that old Bogie movie where she says, 'You know how to whistle, don't you?') Maybe Eurasian? She 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.
The ageless type ... Anything from nineteen to thirty-five ... But a looker, oh yes!
And now the reality. But still the Necroscope couldn't see her clearly enough, not in the dim light in the hallway inside the door. On the other hand, she could obviously see him.
'So, it's mah brave laddie in person,' she breathed, smiling at him wonderingly with her head on one side. 'Mah own wee man wi' no name.' Then she straightened up, and was still two inches shorter than Harry. 'And maybe no' so very wee at that! But I was beginning to think I'd never see you again! Come in, come in.'
The hallway or corridor was wide, high-ceilinged, carpeted. Low music came from somewhere up ahead; pop music, Harry thought, late '50s or early '60s. He quite enjoyed all that old stuff. The corridor seemed a long one; there were pictures on the walls, large tapestries in gilt frames; but there were no doors leading off to right or left. A peculiar set-up.
'I know what you're thinking,' B.J. said, leading the way. 'I thought so myself the first time I saw it - a fire hazard, right? Aye, well the authorities thought so, too. But in the event of fire - God forbid! - there are escape routes enough at the back and out into the garden. And we are on the ground floor, after all.'
'I wasn't thinking about fire,' Harry answered, not looking where he was going, and bumping into her where she paused at a fire door. And: 'Sorry,' he said, as she raised a querying, perhaps amused eyebrow. 'Clumsy of me ...'
'But you weren't so clumsy the last time we met,' she answered, with the hint of a frown in her voice. 'Indeed, I might even say greased lightning!' If she was fishing for some kind of reaction she didn't get it. Harry merely shrugged, and continued:
'No, I wasn't considering the fire risk. I was just wondering: why such a long corridor?'
They were standing very close together. He could smel her scented breath when she answered, 'Originaly it was an aley between the buildings to right and left. When the shop fagades were built at the front, the aley was roofed over to give safe access to the property at the rear - my place, now.' Her Edinburgh burr had almost disappeared, replaced by something Harry didn't quite recognize. 'Downstairs is B.J.'s,' she continued, turning from him and pushing through the door.
'Upstairs is my living area. And the garret... is my bedroom.'
Harry folowed her, commenting, 'When you answer a simple query, you realy do answer it in ful, don't you?'
And giving him that look again, 'Wel, at least one o' us does!' she replied, and a little of the brogue was back. Then, with a wave of her arm: 'B.J.'s,' she announced.
Inside was definitely beter than out. Shrugging out of his coat, which a prety girl in a not-quite-Playboy outfit took to the cloakroom, Harry looked the place over. There was a longish mahogany bar with access hatches at both ends, behind which two more girls served drinks - or would serve them, presumably, but at the moment there were only one or two customers. And at the far end of the room another girl sat near the juke-box, an original Wurlitzer by its looks, flipping the pages of a magazine.
'A "quiet" night,' Bonnie Jean commented wryly, as Harry perched himself awkwardly on one of too many empty bar-stools, and she went behind the bar to serve him. 'It's always the same when it's raining.' There were two other customers ('club members,' Harry reminded himself) at the bar, one at each end where they nursed their drinks and chated up the girls, and a group of three seated at a table in a corner close to a darts board. B.J.'s clients were al over forty, wel turned out, business types. Men with money, anyway. It looked like the taxi driver was right: this wouldn't be a cheap place to drink.
Harry continued to look the place over and decided: It's a converted hole-in-the-wal pub. And he was right. B.J.'s had been a fairly standard if poorly-frequented public house at one time. The ancient pumps were still in place behind the bar, and the oak ceiling beams were dark-stained from genuine fire smoke. The open fireplace itself was still there, big enough to take a smal table, but the flue had been sealed when central heating replaced the warmth of a real fire.
That fireplace isn't Victorian!' he said: an awkward seeming statement - almost an accusation! But he was still finding his way, geting used to the place. And to B.J. To her presence. Or to his presence in her place.
She took pity on him and didn't smile, but answered what he now saw as a dumb comment with a reasoned reply. 'You're right. This place isn't Victorian. It goes back a lot further - two or three hundred years at least. Remember, it's set back from the "modern" stuff, the terrace that fronts onto the street. Twenty years ago it got annexed to al of that almost by mistake, when they started to convert the whole street on this side into some kind o' shopping arcade! But the builder went broke and it al fel through. And a good thing, too, for this old building was here first. More recently it was a pub, but too out of the way. When I bought it I couldn't afford to modernize it, and now I'm glad.'
And before he could make another stupid comment (what the hel was it about this girl that so tangled his tongue, Harry wondered?) she went on: This was once a huge living room. Why, it took up most of the ground floor! Now it's split in two by the wal behind this bar. Back there is a storage room, an original kitchen, modern toilets, and access to the garden. And the stairs.'
'What's the difference?' said Harry.
'Eh?' She cocked her head, and he admired the angle of her jaw, but found that he couldn't look at her. It was disconcerting. He wanted to look at her but couldn't. It was as though he was a schoolboy again - his first fumbling approach to Brenda?
That brought him up short! What was this Bonnie Jean, some kind of Lorelei?
The difference?' she said.
'Oh!' He puled himself together. 'Between a wine bar and a pub.'
She nodded and smiled knowingly. 'I had'na taken ye for a drinking man, and it seems I was right. But while we're on that subject, what would ye like?'
Harry shrugged. 'I don't know. A short?'
'Vodka, gin, whisky, brandy, rum - you name it.'
'Er, brandy, I think.'
'Whatever you say.'
'No, no, no!' She laughed. 'It's what you say!'
The man at the closest end of the bar had been listening to their conversation. NoV, sneeringly, he caled out, 'Seems ye've got yoursel' a real live one there, B.J.!' He was short, stocky, and seemed to have no neck; well-dressed but uncomfortable-looking.
What, a rough diamond? A rough something, certainly.
Smiling along the bar at him, the Necroscope said, 'A live one? I guess I am - for the time being.' The other didn't know what to make of that; scowling, he turned back to his girl.
And in a lowered voice, Bonnie Jean said, 'He chats me up from time to time. The protective type, you know?' She slid a glass of cognac in front of Harry, and said, 'On the house. I... don't know your name?'
'It's Harry,' he told her. 'Harry Keogh. So what with him and me, it seems you're well protected, Bonnie Jean.' He sipped at his drink, which hit him at once and in al the right spots. So now he knew what Alec Kyle's tipple had been; what his body's tipple stil was!
'B. J.,' she told him. 'In here I'm just B.J.' But she had known what he meant well enough, and quickly went on, 'I still owe you for that, Harry.'
'Well, you owe me an explanation at least,' he agreed, and gave a shrug. 'You know, of a couple of smal things ...?'
'But not here,' she replied. 'Not now. And there's a good many things I don't know about you, either ...'
Harry knew a word game when he heard one, and he was good at them. 'Yes, but not here,' he said, smiling. 'Not now.' Astonishingly, after just a sip or two, the cognac was loosening him up! But he'd better not let it loosen him too fast or far. And aware of her eyes on him, finaly he looked back at her - and looked, and drank her in.
Finaly he had her; her picture had firmed-up, taken on life. And she wasn't so much the looker that Harry and George Jakes had thought she might be. But undeniably attractive, yes - even to the point of magnetic. Those eyes of hers, their oh-so-slight slant -and their colour, a deep, penetrating hazel flecked with gold: feral eyes. Her ears, large but not obtrusive, flat to her head and elflike with their pointed tips, not quite hidden in the swirl and bounce of shining hair. Her nose, tip-tilted but by no means 'cute.'
And her mouth: too ample by far, yet delicious in the curve of its bow. As for her teeth: the Necroscope couldn't remember seeing teeth so perfect or so white!
But she had been studying him, too. 'Funny eyes,' she said. 'Well, not funny . . . strange. Like someone else is looking out of them.'
Harry could have answered that one, but he kept silent as she went on: They look sort of sad, compassionate, and ... I don't know, trustworthy? But deep down, maybe they're a little cold, too. Maybe you've been made cold, Harry. Have you led a strange life?'
'What, have you been reading my palm?' He smiled his sad smile, which was always a part of him and couldn't be changed, not even by Alec Kyle's face. 'Maybe you've missed your calling, BJ. Maybe you should have been Gypsy Bonnie!'
'I... fancy I might have come from Gypsy stock at that,' she answered. 'But how close was I, really?'
'Maybe too close,' he answered. 'Maybe right now, you're too close.'
Showing feigned alarm, she drew back a fraction. 'Oh? And are ye big trouble, Harry?'
'I hope I'm not going to be,' he told her, honestly. 'And I hope you're not going to be. I do need to talk to you, BJ.'
She drew back more yet, and meant it this time - not away from Harry, but from the man who had spoken to him just a moment ago from the end of the bar. He had finished his drink and now knocked a bar stool aside in his stumbling approach. There was an unpleasant something on his face: a question - an accusation - aimed at B.J. but intended for Harry. Now he gave it voice. 'Is this creep botherin' ye, hon ...?'
And Harry thought: Protective? More the possessive type, I'd have thought. And seeing the ugly glint in the man's eyes, and weighing him up: Two hundred and twenty pounds if he's an ounce, and every ounce a pain in the backside!