Upon Their Backs, to Bite 'em...

Harry stayed with her for a further half-hour: calming, soothing, doing what he could, and in so doing managing to get a few more personal details out of her, enough to give the police something to go on, anyway. But when it was time to go she wouldn't let him without his promise that he'd see her again. She hadn't been there long, but already Penny had discovered that death was a lonely place.


The Necroscope was jaded - or thought he was - by life, death, everything. He believed he needed motivation. Before leaving her he asked if she'd mind if he looked at her. She told him that if it were anyone else she couldn't care less, because she wouldn't even know they were looking, not any longer. But with Harry she would know, because he was the Necroscope. She was just a shy kid.

'Hey!' he protested, but gently, 'I'm no voyeur!'

It wasn't... if he hadn't... if I was unmarked, then I don't think I'd mind, she said.

'Penny, you're lovely,' Harry told her. 'And me? After all's said and done, I'm only human. But believe me I'm not putting you down when I tell you that right now I'm not interested in that side of things. It's because you're marked that I want to see you. I need to feel angry. And now that I know you, I know that to see what he did would make me feel angry.'

Then I'll just have to pretend you're my doctor, she said.

Harry very gently took the rubber sheet off her pale, young body, looked at her, and tremblingly put the sheet back again.

Is it bad? She fought down a sob. It's such a shame. Mum always said I could be a model.

'So you could,' he told her. 'You were very beautiful.'

But not now? And though she kept from actually sobbing, he could feel her despair brimming over. But in a little while she said: Harry? Did it make you angry?

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He felt a growl rising in his throat, suppressed it, and before he left her said, 'Oh yes. Yes, it did.'

Darcy Clarke was still outside the door with the plain-clothes man. Looking washed out, Harry joined them and closed the door after him. 'I've left the sheet off her face,' he said. And then, speaking specifically to - and glaring at - the officer: 'Don't cover her face!'

The other raised an indifferent eyebrow and shrugged. 'Who, me?' he said, his accent nasal, Glaswegian, less than sympathetic. 'Ah had nothing tae do wi' it, Chief. It's just that when they're dead 'uns, people usually cover them up!'

Harry turned swiftly towards him, eyes widening and nostrils flaring in his pale, grimacing face, and Darcy Clarke's instinct took over. The Necroscope was suddenly dangerous and Clarke's weird talent knew it. There was a terrible anger in him, which he needed to take out on someone. But Clarke knew that it wasn't directed at him, wasn't directed at anyone but simply required an outlet.

Quickly forcing himself between Harry and the special-duty officer, he grabbed the Necroscope's arms. 'It's OK, Harry,' he said, urgently. 'It's OK. It's just that these people see things like this all the time. It doesn't affect them so much. They get used to it.'

Harry got a grip of himself, but not without an effort of will. He looked at Clarke and growled, They don't see things like that all the time! No one's ever going to "get used" to the idea that someone - something - could do that to a girl!' And then, seeing Clarke's bewildered expression: 'I'll explain later.'

He turned his gaze across Clarke's shoulder, and in a tone more nearly civil now - more civilized? - asked the officer, 'Do you have a notebook?'

Mystified - not knowing what was going on, just trying to do his job - the other said, 'Aye,' and groped in his pocket. He scribbled quickly as Harry fired Penny's name, address and family details at him. Following which, and looking even more mystified: 'You're sure about these details, sir?'

Harry nodded. 'Just be sure to pass on what I said, right? I don't want anyone to cover her face over. Penny always hated having her face covered.'

'You knew the young lady, then?'

'No,' said Harry. 'But I know her now.'

They left the officer muttering into his walkie-talkie and scratching his head, and went up into the courtyard and the fresh air. As they moved into sunlight Harry put on his dark glasses and turned up the collar of his coat. And Clarke said to him: 'You got something else, right?'

Harry nodded, but in the next moment: 'Never mind what I got - what have you got? Do you have any idea what you're dealing with?'

Clarke threw up his hands. 'Only that he's a serial killer, and that he's weird.'

'But you know what he does?'

Clarke nodded. 'Yes. We know it's sexual. A sort of sex, anyway. A sick sort of sex.'

'Sicker than you think.' Harry shivered. 'Dragosani's kind of sickness.'

That pulled Clarke up short. 'What?'

'A necromancer,' Harry told him. 'A murderer, and a necromancer. And in a way worse than Dragosani, because this one's a necrophiliac, too!'

Clarke somehow succeeded in grimacing and looking blank at the same time. Then: 'Refresh my mind,' he said. 'I know I should be getting something, but I'm not.'

Harry thought about it for a few moments before answering, but in the end there was no way to tell it other than the way it was. 'Dragosani tore open the bodies of dead men for information,' he finally said. 'That was his "talent", just like you have yours and I have mine. Necromancy. It was his job when he worked for Gregor Borowitz and Soviet E-Branch at the Chateau Bronnitsy: to "examine" the corpses of his country's enemies. He could read their passions in the mucus of their eyes, tear the truths of their lives right out of their steaming tripes, tune in on the whispering of their stiffening brains and sniff their smallest secrets in the gases of their swollen guts!'

Clarke held up a hand in protest. 'Christ, Harry - I know all that!'

The Necroscope nodded. 'But you don't know what it's like to be dead, and that's why you're not getting it. It's because you can't imagine what I'm talking about. You know what I do and accept it because you know it for a fact, but deep inside yourself you still think it's just too way out to think about. So you don't. And I don't blame you. Now listen.

'I know I always protested I was different from Dragosani, but in certain ways he and I were alike. Even now I don't like admitting it, but it's true. I mean, you know what the bastard did to Keenan Gormley - the mess he made of him - but only I know what Gormley thought about it!'

And now Clarke got it. He snatched air in a great gasp and felt the short hairs stiffen at the back of his neck as an irrepressible shudder wracked his body. And: 'Jesus, you're right!' he breathed. 'I just don't think about it - because I don't want to think about it! But in fact Keenan knew! He felt everything Dragosani did to him!'

'Right,' Harry was relentless. 'Torture is the necromancer's principal tool. The dead feel the necromancer working on them just like they hear me talking to them. Except unlike the living, there's nothing they can do about it, not even scream. Not and be heard, anyway. And Penny Sanderson?'

Clarke went pale in a moment. 'She could feel - ?'

'Everything,' Harry growled. 'And that bastard, whoever he is, knew it! So you see while rape is one thing, and bad enough when it's done to the living, and while necrophilia is something else, an outrage carried out upon the unfeeling dead, what he does hits new lows. He tortures his victims alive, then tortures them dead - and he knows while he's doing it that they can feel it! He uses a knife with a curved blade, like a tool for scooping earth when you're planting bulbs. It's razor-sharp and... and he doesn't use it for scooping earth.'

It had been Clarke's intention to stop at the guardroom and speak to the policemen there. But now, pale as a ghost, he reeled to the castle's low wall. Clutching its masonry for support, he gulped at the gusting air and fought down the bile he felt rising from the churning of his guts.

And: 'Jesus, Jesus!' he choked. For he could see it all now and there was nothing he could do to cleanse the picture from his mind's eye. Weird sex? God, what an understatement!

Harry had followed Clarke to the wall. The head of E-Branch looked at him sideways from a watery eye. 'He ... he digs holes in those poor kids, then makes love to the holes!'

'Love?' the Necroscope hissed. 'His flesh ruts in blood like a pig's snout ruts in soil, Darcy! Except the soil can't feel! Didn't the police tell you where he leaves his semen?'

Clarke's eyes were swimming and his brow feverish, but he felt his nausea being replaced by a cold loathing almost as strong as the Necroscope's own. No, the police hadn't told him that, but now he knew. He looked out over the blurred city and asked: 'How do you know he knows they feel it?'

'Because he talks to them while he's doing it,' Harry told him, mercilessly. 'And when they cry out in their agony and beg him to stop, he hears them. And he laughs!'

Clarke thought: Christ, I shouldn't have asked! And you - you bastard, Harry Keogh - you shouldn't have told me!

With fury in his eyes, he turned to face the Necroscope... and faced thin air. A wind blew up the esplanade and tourists leaned into it, balancing themselves. Overhead, seagulls cried where they spiralled on a rising thermal.

But Harry was no longer there...

Later, with Clarke's help, Harry fixed it that Penny Sanderson would be cremated. Her parents wanted it, and it wouldn't hurt them that it was all a show. They wouldn't know it anyway: that Penny was already ashes when their tears fell on her empty box, before it slid away from them behind swishing curtains and became wood smoke.

Clarke hadn't wanted to do it but he owed Harry. For a good many things. And he wanted very badly to catch the maniac who had done this thing to Penny and too many other innocents. Harry had told him: 'If I have her ashes - her pure ashes, not damaged or spoiled by burned linen or charcoal - then I'll be able to talk to her any time I want to. And maybe she'll remember something important.' It had seemed logical at the time (if anything about the Necroscope could ever seem logical) and so Clarke had pulled strings. As the head of E-Branch he had that sort of power. But if he'd known the whole story of what had happened at the castle of Janos Ferenczy, in Transylvania, maybe he would have thought twice about it. And then not done it at all.

He certainly wouldn't have gone along with it if Zek Föener had stood firm on her first... accusation? Or if not an accusation, a premonition at least.

Zek was a telepath and as loyal to the Necroscope as they came. In the Greek islands at the end of the Ferenczy business, she'd had occasion to try and contact Harry with her mind, during the course of which something had shocked her rigid. But it had been a while before she could tell Clarke what it was. They had been on the island of Rhodes at the time, less than a month ago, and their conversation was still fresh in his mind.

'What is it, Zek?' he'd said to her, when he could talk to her in private. 'I saw that change come over your face when you contacted Harry. Is he in some sort of trouble?'

'No - yes - I don't know!' she'd answered, fear and frustration audible in her every word, visible in her every move. Then she'd looked at him and it was that same, strange, disbelieving look he'd seen when she tried to contact Harry: as if she gazed on alien things, in a distant world beyond the times and places we know. And he remembered that indeed she had once been in just such a world, with Harry Keogh. A world of vampires!

'Zek,' he'd said then, 'if there's something I should know about Harry, it's only fair that - '

' - Only fair to who?' She had cut him off. To whom? To ... what? And is it fair to him?'

At which Clarke had felt an icy chill in his blood. And: 'I think you'd better explain,' he'd said.

'I can't explain!' she'd snapped at him. 'Or maybe I can.' And then the empty expression in her beautiful eyes had filled itself in a little, and her tone had become more reasonable, even pleading. 'It's just that every other mind I've touched in the last few days has seemed to be one of them! So maybe I've started to find them where... where there aren't any? Where they can't possibly be?'

And then he'd known for certain what she was trying to tell him. 'You mean that when you contacted Harry, you sensed - ?'

'Yes - yes!' she'd snapped again. 'But I could be mistaken. I mean, isn't that what he's doing at this very moment, going up against them? He's close to vampires right now, even as we talk. It could be one of them I sensed. God, it has to be one of them...'

End of conversation, but it hadn't been out of Clarke's mind from that day to this. When it was time to leave the islands and come home again, he had asked Zek if she'd like to visit England, as a guest of E-Branch.

Her answer had been more or less what he expected: 'You're not fooling anyone, Darcy. And anyway I don't like the idea that you would want to fool me, not after all of this. So I'll tell you straight out: I detest the E-Branches, whether they're Russian, British, whoever they belong to! No, not the espers themselves but the way they're used, the fact that they need to be used at all. As for Harry: I won't go against the Necroscope.' And she'd given her head a very definite shake. 'We were on different sides once before, Harry and me, and he gave me some good advice. "Never again go up against me or mine," he said, and I never will. I've seen inside his mind, Darcy, and I know that when someone like Harry says something like that to you, you'd better listen to him. So if there are... problems, well, they're your problems, not mine.'

It had been the kind of answer to make him worry all the more.

Back in London after the Greek expedition, at E-Branch HQ, a mass of work had built up. During the first few days back at his desk Clarke had cleared or at least begun to clear quite a lot of it, and had also managed to clear his mind of much of the horror of the Ferenczy job. But nightmares kept him awake most nights. One in particular was very bad and very persistent.

This was the essence of it: they (Clarke, Zek, Jazz Simmons, Ben Trask, Manolis Papastamos: most of the Greek team, with the important exception of Harry Keogh) were in a boat that lolled gently on an absolutely flat ocean. It was so blue, that sea, that it could only be the Aegean. A small, stark, sloping island of rock floating on the blue made a gold-rimmed, black silhouette against the blinding refraction of a half-sun where it prepared to dip down beyond the slanting rock of the island into a short-lived twilight. The serenity of the scene was immaculately structured, vivid, real, with nothing in it to hint that it was prelude to nightmare. But since the thing was recurrent - indeed a nightly event - Clarke always knew what was coming and where to look for the start of it.

He would look at Zek, gorgeous in a swimsuit that left little to the imagination, stretched out along a narrow sunbathing platform attached to the upper strakes at the stern. She lay on her stomach, her face turned sideways, with one hand dangling in the water. And the sea so calm that her fingers made ripples. But then...

She glanced sharply at her hand in the water, snatched it out and stared at it, gave a cry of disgust and tumbled herself inboard! Her hand was red, bleeding! No, not bleeding, but bloody - as if it had been dipped in someone else's blood! By which time the entire crew had seen that the sea itself was sullied by a great crimson swath, an elongated splotch like an oilslick (a bloodslick?) which had drifted to surround the boat with its thick, red ribbons.

But drifted from where?

They looked out across the sea, followed the swath to its source. Previously unnoticed, the warty, barnacled prow of a sunken vessel stuck up in grotesque salute from the water only fifty yards away. Its figurehead was a hideous but recognizable face, mouth gaping, hugely disproportionate fangs jutting, and blood spewing in an unending torrent from the silently shrieking mouth!

And the vessel's name, as she gurgled down out of sight into her own blood? Clarke didn't need to read all of those black letters daubed on her scabby hull as they disappeared, in reverse order, one by one into the crimson ocean: O... R... C... E... N.

No, for he already knew that this was the plagueship Necroscope, out of Edinburgh, contaminated in strange ports of call and doomed for ever to oceans of gore! Or until, like now, she sank.

Aghast, he watched her go down, then jumped to his feet as Papastamos cursed and leaped to snatch up a speargun. The swath of blood beside the boat was bubbling, fuming, as some nameless thing drifted to the surface. A body, naked, face-down, floated up and lolled like some weird jellyfish, dangling its tentacle arms and legs. And feeble as a jellyfish, it tried to swim!

Then Papastamos was at the side of the boat, aiming his gun, and Clarke was starting forward, screaming, 'No!'... but too late! The steel spear hissed through the air and thwacked into the lone survivor's back, and he jerked in the water and rolled over. And his face was the face on the figurehead, and his scarlet eyes glared and his scarlet mouth belched blood as he sank down out of sight for the last time...

Which was when Clarke would start awake.

He started now as his telephone chirruped, then sighed his relief that his morbid chain of thoughts had been broken. He let the telephone chirp away to itself for a few moments, and considered his nightmare in the light of cold logic.

Clarke was no oneiromancer but the dream's interpretation seemed simple enough. Zek, to her own dismay, had pointed the finger of suspicion at Harry. As for the Aegean backdrop and the blood: these were hardly inappropriate in the circumstances and considering the occurrences of the recent past.

And the dream's conclusion? Papastamos had put an end to the horror but that wasn't significant, hadn't been the point of it. It didn't have to be Papastamos but could have been any one of them - except Clarke himself. That had been the point of it: that Darcy Clarke himself hadn't done it and didn't want it to happen. In fact he had tried to stop it. Just like, right now, he was less than eager to start anything...

The telephone was starting its fifth ring when he reached for it, but the relief he'd felt at the first chirrup was shortlived: his nightmare was right there on the other end of the wire.

'Darcy?' The Necroscope's voice was calm, collected, about as detached as Clarke had ever heard it.

'Harry?' Clarke pressed a button on his desk, ensuring the conversation would be recorded, and another which alerted the switchboard to start a trace. 'I'd thought I might have heard from you before now.'

'Oh, why?'

Harry asked good questions, and this one stopped Clarke dead. For after all, E-Branch didn't own Harry Keogh. 'Why - ' he thought quickly, ' - because of your interest in the serial killer case! I mean, it's been ten days since we met in Edinburgh; we've spoken only once since then. I suppose I'd been hoping you'd come up with something pretty quick.'

'And your people?' Harry returned. 'Your espers: have they come up with anything? Your telepaths and hunch-men, spotters, precogs and locators? Have the police come up with anything? No, they haven't, because if they had you wouldn't be asking me. Hey, I'm only one man, Darcy, and you have a whole gang!'

Clarke decided to play the other at his own circuitous game. 'OK, so tell me, to what do I owe the pleasure, Harry? I can't believe it's a social call.'

The Necroscope's chuckle - normal, however dry -brought a little more relief with it. 'You make a good sparring partner,' he said. 'Except you cry uncle too quick.' And before Clarke could counter, he went on: 'I need some information, Darcy, that's why I'm calling.'

Who am I talking to? Clarke wondered. What am I talking to? God, if only I could be sure it was you, Harry! I mean, all you, just you. But I can't be sure, and if it's not all you... then sooner or later it will be my job to do something about it. Which, of course, was what his nightmare was all about. But out loud he only said, 'Information? How can I help you?'

Two things,' Harry told him. The first one's a big one: details of the other murdered girls. Oh, I know I could get them for myself; I have friends in the right places, right? But this time I'd prefer not to put the teeming dead to the trouble.'

'Oh?' Clarke was curious. Suddenly Harry sounded cagey. Put the Great Majority to the trouble? But the dead would do anything for the Necroscope - even rise from their graves!

'We've asked enough of the dead,' Harry tried to explain himself, almost as if he'd read Clarke's mind. 'Now it's time we did them a few favours.'

Still puzzled, Clarke said, 'Give me half an hour and I'll duplicate everything we have for you. I can mail it or ... but no, that would be silly. You can simply pick it up yourself, right here.'

Again Harry's chuckle. 'You mean via the Möbius Continuum? What, and set off all those alarms again?' He stopped chuckling. 'No, mail it,' he said. 'You know I'm not struck on that place of yours. You espers give me the shivers!'

Clarke laughed out loud. It was forced laughter but he hoped the other wouldn't notice. 'And what's the other thing I can do for you, Harry?'

'That's easy,' said the Necroscope. 'You can tell me about Paxton.'

It was delivered like a bolt out of the blue, and quite deliberately. 'Pax - ?' The smile slid from Clarke's face, was replaced by a frown. Paxton? What about Paxton? He didn't know anything about him - only that he'd done a few months' probation as an esper, a telepath, and that the Minister Responsible had found cause to reject him: something about a couple of small kinks in his past record, apparently.

'Yes, Paxton,' Harry said again. 'Geoffrey Paxton? He's one of yours, isn't he?' There was an edge to his voice now, an almost mechanical precision which was cold and controlled. Like a computer waiting for some vital item of information before it could begin its calculations.

'Was,' Clarke finally answered. 'Was going to be one of ours, yes. But it seems he had a couple of black marks against him and so missed the boat. How do you know about him, anyway? Or more to the point, what do you know about him?'

'Darcy.' The edge on Harry's voice had sharpened. It wasn't menacing - there was no threat in it, no way - but still Clarke could sense its warning. 'We've been friends, of sorts, for a long time. I've stuck my neck out for you. You've stuck yours out for me. I'd hate to think you were shafting me now.'

'Shafting you?' Clarke's answer was instinctive, natural, even mildly affronted; with every right, for he wasn't hiding anything or shafting anyone. 'I don't even know what you're talking about! It's like I said: Geoffrey Paxton is a middling telepath, but developing rapidly. Or he was. Then we lost him. Our Minister found something he didn't like and Paxton was out. Without us he won't ever be able to develop to his full potential. We'll give him the onceover now and then, just to make sure he's not using what he has to take too much of an advantage on society, but apart from that - '

'But he's already taking advantage,' the Necroscope, plainly angry now, cut in. 'Or trying to - and of me! He's on my back, Darcy, and he sticks like glue. He tries to get into my mind, but so far I've kept him out. Only that takes effort, gets tiring, and I'm getting pissed off exerting so much effort on something like this! On some sneaking little bastard who's doing someone else's dirty work!'

For a moment Clarke's mind was full of confusion, but he knew that to hesitate would only make him look suspect. 'What do you want me to do?' he said.

'Find out who's running him, of course!' Harry snapped. 'And why.'

'I'll do what I can.'

'Do better than that,' Harry came back like a shot. 'Or I'll have to do it myself.'

Why haven't you already? Clarke wondered. Are you afraid of Paxton, Harry? And if so, why? 'I've told you he isn't one of mine,' he said out loud. 'Now that's the truth, so you can't threaten me through him. But like I said, I'll do what I can.'

There was a pause. Then: 'And you'll get the details of those girls to me?'

'That's a promise.'

'OK.' The Necroscope's voice had slackened a little, lost some of its tension. 'I ... I didn't mean to come on so strong, Darcy.'

Clarke's heart at once went out to him. 'Harry, I think you've a lot on your mind. Maybe we can speak sometime - in person, I mean? What I'm saying is, don't be afraid to come to me.'


It had been the wrong word. 'Apprehensive, then. I mean, don't worry that there might be something you can't tell me or we can't talk about. There isn't anything you can't tell me, Harry.'

Again that long, perhaps indicative pause. Then: 'But right now I don't have anything to tell you, Darcy. However, I'll get back to you if I ever do.' 'Is that a promise?' 'Yes, that's a promise too. And Darcy - thanks.'

Clarke sat and thought about it for long minutes. And while he sat there behind his desk, drumming his fingers in a continuous, monotonous tattoo, so he became aware of the first small warning bells growing to an insistent clamour at the back of his mind. Harry Keogh had required him to find out who was running Paxton. But who could be running him if not E-Branch? And to what end?

The last man to occupy this desk had been Norman Harold Wellesley, a traitor. Wellesley was gone now, dead, but the fact that he'd ever existed at all - and in this of all jobs - must have caused ructions further up the line. What, a double-agent? A spy among mindspies? Something which must never be allowed to happen again, obviously; but how to stop it from happening again? Could it be that someone had been appointed to watch the watchers?

It reminded Clarke of a ditty his mother had used to say to him when he was small and had an itch. She would find the spot and scratch it, reciting:

'Big fleas have little fleas

upon their backs to bite 'em.

And little fleas have smaller fleas,

and so ad infinitum!'

Was Clarke himself under esper scrutiny? And if so, what had been read from his mind?

He got on to the switchboard, said: 'Get me the Minister Responsible. If he's not available, leave a message that he's to call me back soonest. Also, I'd like someone to run me off a duplicate set of police reports on those girls in that serial killer case.'

Half an hour later the reports were delivered to him, and as he was putting them in a large envelope he got his call from the Minister. 'Yes, Clarke?'

'Sir,' he said, 'I just had Harry Keogh on the 'phone.'


'He asked for a set of reports on the girls in the serial killer case. As you'll recall, we asked for his help on that.'

'I recall that you asked for his help, Clarke, yes. But in fact I'm not so sure it was a good idea. Indeed, I think it's time to rethink our attitude towards Keogh.'


'Yes. I know he's been of some assistance to the Branch, and -'

'Some?' Clarke had to cut in. 'Some assistance? We'd have all been goners long ago without him. We can't ever repay him. Not just us but everyone. And I do mean everyone.'

Things change, Clarke,' said that unseen, unknown other. 'You people are a weird lot - no offence - and Keogh has to be the weirdest of all. Also, he's not really one of you. So as of now I want you to avoid contact with him. But we'll talk about him again later, I'm sure.'

The warning bells rang even louder. Talking to the Minister Responsible was always like talking to a very smooth robot, but this time he was just too smooth. 'And the police reports? Does he get them?'

'I think not. Let's just keep him at arm's length for the moment, right?'

'Is there something to worry about, maybe?' Clarke came straight out with it. 'Do you think perhaps we should watch him?'

'Why, you surprise me!' said the other, smooth as ever. 'It was my understanding that Keogh had always been a good friend of yours.'

'He has.'

'Well, and doubtless that was of value at the time. But as I said, things change. I will get back to you about him - one way or the other - in good time. But until then... was there anything else?'

'One small thing.' Clarke kept his tone neutral but scowled at the 'phone. 'About Paxton...'It was a leaf straight out of Harry Keogh's book, and it worked just as well for Clarke.

'Paxton?' (He actually heard the Minister catch his breath!) Then, more cautiously, perhaps curiously: 'Paxton? But we're no longer interested in him, are we?'

'It's just that I was reading through his records,' Clarke lied, 'his progress reports, you know? And it seemed to me we lost a good one there. Is it possible you've been maybe a bit too thorough? A shame to lose him if there's a chance we can bring him on. We really can't afford to waste talents like his.'

'Clarke,' the Minister sighed, 'you have your side of the job, and I have mine. I don't question your decisions, do I?'

Don't you?

'And I really would appreciate it if you wouldn't question mine. Forget about Paxton, he's out of it.'

'As you wish - but I think I'll at least keep an eye on him. If only from a distance. After all, we're not the only ones in the mindspy game. I'd hate it if he were recruited by the other side...'

The Minister was getting peeved. 'For the moment you have quite enough work on your plate!' he snapped. 'Leave Paxton be. A periodic check will suffice - when I say so!'

Clarke was only polite when people were polite to him. He was far too important to let himself be stepped on. 'Keep your shirt on ... sir,' he growled. 'Anything I say or do is in the Branch's best interest, believe me - even when I step on toes.'

'Of course, of course.' The other was at once conciliatory. 'But we're all in the same boat, Clarke, and none of us knows everything. So for the time being let's just trust each other, all right?'

Oh, yeah, let's! Sure! 'Fine,' Clarke said. 'I'm sorry I've taken up so much of your time.'

'That's all right. We'll be speaking again soon, I'm sure...'

Clarke put the 'phone down and continued to scowl at it a while, then sealed the envelope containing the police reports and scrawled Harry Keogh's address on it. He erased his and Keogh's recent conversation, then asked the switchboard if they'd traced the call. They had and it was Harry's Edinburgh number. He 'phoned it direct but got no answer. And finally he called a courier into his office and gave him the envelope.

'Post it, please,' he said, but before the courier could leave: 'No, repackage the whole thing and send it off special delivery. And then forget you ever saw it, right?'

In a little while he was alone with his dark, suspicious thoughts again, and an itch between his shoulderblades which he couldn't quite get at.

And his mother's ditty about fleas, which was equally persistent.

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