Moscow, Friday evening, Dragosani's flat on the Pushkin Road.
It was growing dark by the time Dragosani gratefully let himself into his flat and poured himself a drink. The trains had been maddeningly slow on the journey from Romania, and Max Batu's absence had made the return trip seem that much longer. Batu's absence, yes, and Dragosani's growing feeling of urgency, this sensation of being rushed towards some colossal confrontation. Time was quickly passing and still there remained so much for him to do. Achingly tired, still he couldn't rest. Some instinct urged him onward, warned him against pausing in his set course.
With a second drink inside him and beginning to feel a little better, he telephoned the Chateau Bronnitsy and checked that Borowitz was still in mourning at his dacha at Zhukovka. Then he asked to speak to Igor Vlady but Vlady had already left for home. Dragosani phoned him there, asked if he could come round. The other agreed at once.
Vlady lived in his own state flatlet not too far away but Dragosani took his car anyway; in less than ten minutes he was seated in Vlady's tiny living-room, toying with a welcoming glass of vodka.
'Well, Comrade?' Vlady finally asked when they'd done with the usual formalities and preliminaries. 'What can I do for you?' He peered curiously, almost speculatively at Dragosani's dark glasses and gaunt grey features.
Dragosani nodded, as if he silently confirmed some­thing or other, and said: 'I can see you've been expecting me.'
'Yes, I thought I might be seeing you,' Vlady carefully answered.
Dragosani decided against beating about the bush. If Vlady failed to produce the right answers he would simply kill him. He probably would anyway, eventually. 'Very well, I'm here,' he said. 'Now tell me: how's it going to be?'
Vlady was a small dark man and normally open as a book. That was the impression he achieved, anyway. Now he raised an eyebrow, put on an expression of mild surprise. 'How's what going to be?' he asked, innocently.
'Look, let's not fool around,' said Dragosani. 'You probably already know exactly why I've come here. That's what you're paid for: your ability to see things in advance. So I'll ask you again: how is it going to be?'
Vlady drew back, scowled. 'With Borowitz, you mean?'
'For starters, yes.'
Vlady's face grew strangely impassive, almost cold. 'He'll die,' he said, without emotion. 'Tomorrow, at midday or thereabouts. A heart attack. Except -' and he paused and frowned.
Vlady shrugged. 'A heart attack,' he repeated.
Dragosani nodded, sighed, relaxed a little. 'Yes,' he said, 'that's how it will be. And what about me - and you?'
'I don't do readings for myself,' said Vlady. 'It's tempting, of course, but far too frustrating. To know the future and not be able to change it. Also, it's frightening. As for you... that's a bit odd.'
Dragosani didn't like the sound of that. He put down his drink and leaned forward. 'What's odd?' he asked. This might be very important to him.
Vlady took up both of their glasses and poured more vodka. 'First let's get something straight, you and I,' he said. 'Comrade, I'm not your rival. I have no ambitions
in respect of E-Branch. None at all. I know Borowitz had me in mind for the job - along with yourself - but I'm just not interested. I think you should know that.'
'You mean you'll step aside for me?'
Tm not stepping aside for anyone,' the other shook his head. 'I just don't want the job, that's all. I don't envy any man that job. Yuri Andropov won't rest until he's crushed the lot of us - even if it takes the rest of his lifetime! Frankly, I wish to hell I was out of it altogether. Did you know I was a trained architect, Dragosani? Well, I am. Read the future? I'd far prefer to read the plans of great buildings any day.'
'Why do you tell me this?' Dragosani was curious. 'It has nothing to do with anything.'
'Yes it has. It has something to do with living. And I want to live. You see, Dragosani, I know that you will have something to do with Borowitz's death. With his "heart attack". And if you can tackle him and win, which you will, then what chance would I have? I'm not brave, Dragosani, and I'm not stupid. E-Branch is all yours...'
Again Dragosani leaned forward. His eyes were pricks of red light gleaming through the dark lenses of his spectacles. 'But your job is to tell Borowitz this sort of thing, Igor,' he rasped. 'Especially -this sort of thing. Are you saying you haven't told him? Or does he in fact already know that I'll be ... involved?'
Vlady shook himself, sat up straighter. For a moment he'd felt almost hypnotised by Dragosani. The man's gaze was like that of a snake. A wolf? Something not quite human, anyway. 'I really don't know why I've told you any of this,' he finally said. 'I mean, for all I know the old warhorse might even have sent you here!'
'But wouldn't you know it if he had?' said Dragosani. 'Isn't that something your talent would have foreseen?'
'I can't see everything!' Vlady snapped.
Dragosani nodded. 'Hmm! Well, he didn't send me.
Now tell me "truthfully: does he know he's going to die tomorrow? And if so, does he know that I'll be involved? Well, I'm waiting...'
Vlady bit his lip, shook his head. 'He doesn't know,' he mumbled.
'Why haven't you told him?'
Two reasons. First, it wouldn't change anything even if he did know. Second, I hate the old bastard! I have a fianc��e and want to be married. I've wanted it for ten years. But Borowitz says no. He needs me to keep my wits sharp. He doesn't want my talent dulled. Too much sex might ruin me, he says! Damn the old bastard - he rations me with my own fianc��e!'
Dragosani sat back and laughed out loud. Vlady saw the gape of his mouth and the length of his teeth and once more felt that he talked with some strange animal rather than a man. 'Oh, I can believe that!' Dragosani's laughter finally rumbled into silence. 'Yes, that's just typical of him. Well, Igor,' he nodded knowingly, 'I think you can now safely go ahead with your wedding arrangements. Yes, just as soon as you like.'
'But you'll want to keep me in the branch, eh?' Vlady's tone remained sour.
'Of course I will,' Dragosani nodded. 'You're much too valuable to be a simple architect, Igor Vlady - and far too talented! But the branch? That is merely a beginning. There's more to life than that. After this is over I'm going on and up. And you can come with me.'
Vlady's response to that was a blank stare. Suddenly Dragosani was sure he was hiding something. 'You were going to tell me what you've read in my future,' he reminded. 'Now that we've dealt with Borowitz, I think that would be a good idea. I think you said there was something... odd?'
'Odd, yes,' Vlady agreed. 'But of course I could be wrong. Anyway, you'll know all about it - tomorrow.'
And he gave a nervous twitch at Dragosani's startled expression.
'What? What's that about tomorrow?' the necromancer came slowly to his feet, uncoiling from his chair. 'Have you been wasting my time and confusing me with trivialities when all the time you knew there was something in store for me tomorrow? When, tomorrow? And where?'
Tomorrow night - at the Chateau,' said Vlady. 'Some thing big, but I don't know what it will be.'
Dragosani began to pace the floor, searched his own mind for clues. 'KGB? Is it likely they'll find Borowitz's body that fast? I doubt it. Even if they did, why should they suspect the branch? Or me? After all, it will only have been a "heart attack". That could happen to anyone. Or is it someone inside the branch itself? Maybe you, Igor, having second thoughts about your loyalties?' (Vlady hastily shook his head in denial.) 'Will it be sabotage?' Dragosani continued to pace. 'And if so what form of sabotage?' He angrily shook his head. 'No, no, I can't see that! Damn it, come on, Igor you know more than you're saying! What is it, exactly, that you've seen?'
'You don't seem to understand!' Vlady shouted. 'Man, I'm not superhuman. I can't be exact all the time!' It was true and Dragosani knew it; Vlady's voice betrayed his own exasperation; he, too, wished he had an answer. 'Sometimes things are very vague - like that time when Andrei Ustinov got his. I knew there would be a ruckus that night and warned Borowitz about it, but I couldn't for the life of me say who or what would be involved! It's the same this time, too. There'll be big trouble tomorrow and you'll be right in the middle of it. It will come from outside and it will be ... big trouble! Of that much I'm certain, but that's all.'
'Not quite all,' said Dragosani, ominously. 'I still don't know what you meant by "odd". Why do you avoid the issue? Will I be in any danger?'
'Yes,' said Vlady, 'a great deal of danger. And not just you but everyone at the Chateau.'
'Damn it, man!' Dragosani slammed his fist down on the table. 'You make it sound like we'll all be dead men!'
Vlady's face slowly lost some of its dark colour. He half turned his face away but Dragosani leaned over him, clasped his cheeks in the fingers of one great hand, drew his averted face and the O-shape of his quivering mouth back towards him. He looked deep into the other's frightened eyes. 'Are you quite sure you've told me everything?' he asked, forming his words slowly and very carefully. 'Can you not at least try to explain what you meant by your use of the word "odd"? Is there a chance, perhaps, that you've also foreseen my death for tomorrow?'
Vlady jerked his face free and pushed back in his chair away from Dragosani. The white pressure marks of the other's fingers faded on his cheeks, were replaced by a dark pink flush. Dragosani was capable of murder beyond a doubt. Vlady must at least try to satisfy his demands. 'Listen,' he said, 'and I'll explain as best I can. After that... you must make what you will of it.
'When I look at a man - when I try to see into his future - I normally detect a straight blue line extending forward. Like a line drawn down a sheet of paper from top to bottom. Call it his line of life, if you wish. From the length of this line I can work out the length of the man's life. From kinks and deviations which occur in it, I can determine something of future occurrences and how they will affect him. Borowitz's line ends tomorrow. At the end there is a kink which indicates a physical malfunction: his heart attack. As to how I know you will be involved: it is simply that at the end your life-line crosses his - and goes on alone!'
'But for how long?' Dragosani demanded to know.
'What about tomorrow night, Igor? Is that where my line ends?'
Vlady shivered. 'Your line is entirely different,' he finally answered. 'I hardly know how to read it at all. Some six months ago Borowitz demanded that I prepare weekly readings on you for his eyes only. I tried but... it was impossible. There were so many deviations in your line that I couldn't read it with any degree of accuracy at all! Kinks and wriggles I'd never come across before. Also, as the months passed, what had started out as one line began to divide, to split into two parallel lines. The new one wasn't blue but red, which was something else I had never seen before. As for the old, original line: it too slowly turned red. You are like... like twins, Dragosani. I know no other way to put it. And tomorrow -'
Tomorrow night one of your lines terminates...'
Half of me will die! thought Dragosani. But which half? Out loud he asked, 'The red or the blue?'
'The red line terminates,' said Vlady.
The vampire - dead! Dragosani's spirits soared but he controlled the laughter he felt welling inside. 'What of the other line?'
Vlady shook his head, patently at a loss for any reasonable explanation. Finally he said, 'That is the oddest thing of all. It's something I simply cannot explain. The other line loses its red tinge and forms a loop, bends back on itself, rejoins the other where the division first occurred!'
Dragosani sat down again and took up his drink. What Vlady had given him wasn't satisfactory but it was better than nothing. 'I've been hard on you, Igor,' he said, 'and I'm sorry for that. I can see you've tried to do your best for me and I thank you. But you've said that this thing tomorrow will be big, which tells me that you've probably
done readings for the others who'll be at the Chateau. So now I want to know just how big it will be?'
Vlady bit his lip. 'You won't like the answer, Comrade,' he warned at last.
Tell me anyway.'
'It will be very nearly total! A force - a power - will visit itself upon the Chateau Bronnitsy, and it will bring devastation.'
Keogh! It could only be Harry Keogh! No other threat existed ... Dragosani stood up, grabbed his coat, headed for the door. 'I have to go now, Igor,' he said. 'But again I thank you. I won't forget what you've done for me tonight, believe me. And if you should see anything new, I'd be obliged if-'
'Of course,' said Vlady, breathing a sigh of relief, following him to the door; and, as Dragosani went out into the night: 'Comrade... what happened to Max Batu?' It was a dangerous question, but he must ask it.
Dragosani paused just beyond the threshold, glanced back. 'Max? Ah, you know about him, do you? Well, it was an accident.'
'Oh,' said Vlady with a nod. 'Of course...'
When he was alone again, Vlady finished off the vodka and then sat deep into the night, wrapped in his own thoughts. But as a clock tolled midnight somewhere out in the cold city he started up and shivered, and finally decided to break his own rule. Quickly he cast his mind into the future, followed his own life-line to its inevitable end. Which came in just three days' time, and with a violent, wrenching terminal squiggle!
Automatically then, Vlady began to pack a few things and prepare to flee. And uppermost in his mind was the thought that with Borowitz gone Dragosani would be the head of E-Branch, or head of what survived. Whatever else Gregor Borowitz was, at least he was human! But Dragosani...? Vlady knew he could never serve under
him. Oh, it could well be that Dragosani would die tomorrow night - but what if he didn't? His line was so very confusing, so very alien. No, there was only one course for Vlady now. He must try - at least try - to avoid the unavoidable.
And almost a thousand miles away, where a dark watchtower overlooked the wall in East Berlin, a Kalashnikov machine-gun waited for Igor Vlady. He didn't know it, but even now his and the weapon's futures were bending towards each other. They would meet at exactly 10:32 p.m. - in just three days' time.
Dragosani drove straight back to his flat. From there he phoned the Chateau and got hold of the Duty Officer. He passed on Harry Keogh's name and description for immediate transmission to border crossing points and incoming airports within the USSR, along with the information that Keogh was a spy for the West who should be arrested on sight or, if that should prove difficult, shot dead without delay. The KGB would get to know about it, of course, but Dragosani didn't mind. If they took Keogh alive they wouldn't know what to do with him, and one way or the other Dragosani would get his hands on him. And if they killed him... that would be the end of that.
As for Vlady's predictions: Dragosani had some faith in them but it was by no means total. Vlady insisted that the future could not be changed, Dragosani thought differently. One of them must be right but they must wait until tomorrow night to find out which one. In any case, the promised 'trouble' at the Chateau Bronnitsy might well turn out to be nothing to do with Harry Keogh after all; and so, until then at least, things must continue according to plan.
After passing on his information to the Chateau, Dragosani had another drink - a stiff one, which was not his normal habit - and at last fell into his bed. Exhausted, he slept right through until mid-morning...
At 11:40 a.m. he parked his old Volga in a copse off the main road half a mile from the closest dacha, turned up the collar of his overcoat and walked the rest of the way into Zhukovka precinct. Just before noon he turned off a track inches deep in snow and walked through a strip of woodland lying parallel to the river, until he came to Borowitz's dacha. Smiling grimly, he went quickly along the paved path to the door and knocked gently on the rustic oak panels. While he waited, he sniffed at wood smoke where it hung in the bitter cold air. The fine hairs inside his nostrils crackled, but melting icicles where they hung from Borowitz's roof told him that already the temperature was rising. Soon the snow would melt and Dragosani's footprints would disappear; there would be nothing to connect him with this place.
There came slow footsteps from within and the door cracked open. Pale, shaggy and red-eyed, Gregor Borowitz peered out, blinked in the grey light of day. 'Dragosani?' he frowned darkly. 'But I said I wasn't to be disturbed. I -'
'Comrade General,' Dragosani cut in, 'if it wasn't a matter of the utmost urgency...'
Borowitz stepped aside, opened the door wider. 'Come in, come in,' he grumbled, but without his accustomed fire. He had been alone here for a week; he no longer seemed robust; his grief was very real and had left him old and tired. All of which suited Dragosani very well indeed.
He entered, followed the other down a short corridor and through hanging curtains into the small, pine-panelled room where Natasha Borowitz lay silently in her shroud. The woman had been a peasant, pleasant enough in life but plain and dowdy in death. Like a stout, badly fashioned candle she lay there, the wax of her face wrinkled, the wick of her hair coarse and sparse. Borowitz patted her cold face and bowed his head as he turned away. But he could not hide a very real tear glittering in the corner of his eye.
Now he led Dragosani through into the more familiar living-cum-dining room and offered him a seat close to a window. The rest of the dacha's windows were shuttered but this one's shutters stood open, letting in the light. With a silent shake of his head, Dragosani declined to sit, watched Borowitz flop heavily down on to a padded couch. 'I prefer to stand,' the necromancer said. 'This won't take long.'
'A flying visit?' Borowitz grunted, scarcely interested. 'You might have waited, Dragosani. Tomorrow they take my Natasha away from me, and then I return to Moscow and the Chateau Bronnitsy. What is it that brings you here so urgently anyway? You told me that your trip to England was successful.'
'So it was,' said Dragosani, 'but something has come up since then.'
'Comrade General,' said Dragosani, 'Gregor, I want you to ask no questions just yet but simply tell me. something. Do you remember a conversation we once had, you and I, about the future of E-Branch? You said that one day you would decide who would take over from you when you... retired. Also, you said the decision would lie between myself and Igor Vlady.'
Borowitz drew his brows together, stared at Dragosani disbelievingly. 'So that's why you're here!' he growled. 'A matter of the utmost urgency, eh? You think I'm ready to step down, do you? Or maybe you think it's time I stepped down! Now that Natasha's gone, maybe I'll think of retiring, eh?' He sat up straighter, his eyes flashed something of the fire Dragosani was used to seeing in them. Except that the necromancer no longer stood in awe of this man.
'I said you should ask no questions,' he reminded, a low, dark rumble in his voice. 'I am the one who seeks answers, Gregor. Now tell me: who did you decide would be your replacement? Indeed, have you yet decided? And if so, have you made a record of your decision?'
Borowitz was astonished, outraged. 'You dare...?' he scowled, his eyes bulging. 'You dare...? You forget yourself, Dragosani. You forget who! am and where you are. And apparently you forget - or choose to ignore the fact - that I am recently bereaved! Well damn you, Dragosani! But in answer to your questions: no, I have committed nothing to paper - there's nothing to commit for I'll be going on as the head of E-Branch for a long time yet, I assure you. Moreover, even if I had chosen a successor, as of this moment you could erase from your mind any thoughts of yourself in that position!' He stood up, shaking with rage. 'Now get your damned arse out of here! Get out before I -'
Dragosani took off his dark, wide-rimmed spectacles.
Borowitz looked at Dragosani's face and was suddenly staggered by the massive metamorphosis taken place in him. Why, it hardly seemed like Dragosani at all standing there but someone else entirely. And those eyes - those incredible scarlet eyes!
'I am retiring you, Gregor,' Dragosani rumbled. 'But .you don't go empty-handed. Not after so many years of faithful service.' He crouched down into himself, his shoulders and back seeming to bunch up with a grotesque life of their own.
'Retiring me?' Borowitz tried to back away from Dragosani but the couch was right behind him. 'You, retiring me?'
Dragosani nodded, opened his long jaws and smiled,
displayed fangs like scythes. 'We have a small retirement gift for you, Gregor.' 'We?' Borowitz croaked.
'Me and Max Batu,' said Dragosani. And in the next moment Borowitz looked into the face of hell itself.
Then - it was as if a mule had kicked him in the chest. He flew backward, his arms thrown wide, crashed into the wall and bounced off. Small shelves and pictures were brought crashing down. Borowitz fell, half-sprawling on the couch. He clutched at his chest, fought to take control of his rubber limbs and climb to his feet, gulped air to his straining lungs. His heart felt crushed - and if he didn't know how, at least he knew what Dragosani had done to him.
Finally he struggled upright. 'Dragosani!' he held out wildly fluttering, pudgy hands towards the necromancer. 'Drago -'
Again Dragosani hurled his psychic bolt, and again. Borowitz was swatted like a fly by the first blast, knocked over backwards on to the couch. He actually managed to sit up, to finish the last word he would ever speak, before the second blast hit him: '-sani!'
Then it was done. The ex-boss of E-Branch sat there, upright, dead as a doornail, showing all the signs of a heart attack.
'Classic!' Dragosani grunted his approval. He glanced about the room. The door of a corner cupboard stood open, displaying a battered old typewriter on a shelf with papers, envelopes and other items of stationery. He quickly carried the machine to a table, inserted a blank sheet of paper, began to type laboriously:
I feel unwell. I think it is my heart. Natasha's death has affected me badly. I think I am finished. Since I have not yet nominated another to carry on my work, I do so now. The only man who can be trusted to carry on where I leave off is
Boris Dragosani. He is completely faithful to the USSR, and especially to the aims and welfare of the Party Leader.
Also, if as I fear the end is coming, I want my body put in Dragosani's care. He knows my wishes in this respect...
Dragosani grinned as he rolled the typewritten sheet up a space or two. He read over the note, took up a pen and scrawled 'G.B.' as nearly as possible in the style of Borowitz at the end of the last line, then dusted the keys with his handkerchief where he'd touched them and carried the machine to the couch. Sitting down beside the dead man, He took his hands and laid his fingers briefly on the keys. And all the time Borowitz watching him through sightless, popping eyes.
'All done, Gregor,' said Dragosani as he took the typewriter back to the table. Tm going now, but I'll not say goodbye just yet. After they find you we'll be meeting again, eh, at the Chateau Bronnitsy? And what price your innermost secrets then, Gregor Borowitz?'
It was 12:25 p.m. when he let himself out of the silent cabin in the trees and backtracked to his car.
Since it was a Saturday there were fewer people about than one would usually find at the Chateau Bronnitsy, but as the guards on the outer wall checked Dragosani through, so they sent word of his arrival ahead of him. At the central cluster of buildings the Duty Officer was waiting for him. Wearing the Chateau's uniform of grey overalls with a single diagonal yellow stripe across the heart, he came breathlessly forward to greet Dragosani where he parked his Volga in its designated space.
'Good news, Comrade!' he declared, walking with Dragosani through the complex and holding a door open for him. 'We have word of this British agent, this Harry Keogh, for you.'
Dragosani at once grabbed him by the shoulder, his grip like a vice. The other carefully disengaged himself, stared curiously at Dragosani. 'Is anything wrong, Comrade?'
'Not if we've got Keogh,' Dragosani growled. 'No, nothing at all. But you're not the man I spoke to last night?'
'No, Comrade. He has gone off duty. I read his log, that's all. And of course I was here this morning when word of Keogh came in.'
Dragosani looked more closely at the speaker. He saw him remotely. Thin and slope-shouldered, a typical nothing to look at - and yet puffed up with his own importance. Not an ESPer, the Duty Officer was simply Senior Ground Staff. A good clerk, mainly, and efficient, but a bit too pompous - too smug and self-satisfied - for Dragosani's liking.
'Come with me,' he said coldly. 'You can tell me about Keogh as we go.'
With the DO at his heels, Dragosani loped easily through the Chateau's corridors and began climbing stairs towards Borowitz's private office complex. Finding it hard to keep up, the man said, 'Slow down a little, Comrade, or I'll not have breath to tell you anything!'
Dragosani kept going. 'About Keogh,' he snapped over his shoulder. 'Where is he? Who has him? Are they bringing him here?'
'No one "has" him, Comrade,' the other puffed. 'We merely know where he is, that's all. He's in East Germany, Leipzig. He got in through Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin - as a tourist! And no attempt to hide his identity, apparently. Very strange. He's been in Leipzig for three or four days now. Seems to have spent most of his time there in a graveyard! Obviously he's waiting for a contact.'
'Oh?' Dragosani came to a brief halt, glared at the other, sneered at him. 'Obvious, did you say? Let me tell you, Comrade, that nothing is obvious about that one!
Now, quickly, come into my office and I'll give you some instructions.'
A moment later and the DO followed Dragosani into the antechamber of Borowitz's suite. 'Your office?' he gaped.
Behind his desk, Borowitz's secretary, a young man with thick-lensed spectacles, thin eyebrows and a prema­turely receding hairline looked up, startled. Dragosani jerked his thumb towards the open door. 'You, out! Wait outside. I'll call when I want you.'
'What?' bewildered, the man stood up. 'Comrade Dra­gosani, I must protest! I - '
Dragosani reached across the desk, grabbed the man by the left cheek of his face and dragged him bodily across the desk top, scattering pens and pencils every­where. Amidst a squall of muted, pained squawkings, he whirled him towards the open door and aimed a kick at his backside as he released him. 'Protest to Gregor Borowitz next time you see him,' he snapped. 'Until then obey my orders or I'll have you shot!'
He continued through into Borowitz's old office, the DO trembling as he followed on behind. Without pause Dragosani lowered himself into Borowitz's chair behind his desk, continued to glare at the DO. 'Now, who's watching Keogh?'
Completely overawed, the DO stuttered a little before settling down. 'I ... I ... we ... the GREPO,' he finally got it out. "The Grenzpolizei, the East German Border Police.'
'Yes, yes - I know who the GREPO are,' Dragosani scowled. Then he nodded. 'Good! They're very efficient, I'm told. Right, these are my orders - on behalf of Gregor Borowitz. Keogh is to be taken, alive if possible. That was what I ordered last night, and I hate to repeat myself!'
'But they had no holding charge, Comrade Dragosani,'
the DO explained. 'He is not listed, this Keogh, and so far he has done nothing wrong.'
'The charge is ... murder,' said Dragosani. 'He mur­dered one of our agents, a sleeper, in England. Anyway, he will be taken. If that proves difficult, the orders are to shoot him! I ordered that, too, last night.'
The DO felt that he, personally, was being accused. He felt he had to make excuses: 'But these are Germans, Comrade,' he said. 'Some of them like to believe that they still govern themselves, if you see what I mean.'
'No,' said Dragosani, 'I don't. Use the telephone next door. Get me the headquarters of the Grenzpolizei in Berlin. I'll speak to them.'
The DO stood gaping at him.
'Now!' Dragosani snapped. And as the man scurried out he called after him: 'And send in that dolt from outside.'
When Borowitz's secretary entered Dragosani said, 'Sit. And listen. Until the Comrade General returns I'll be in charge. What do you know about the working of this place?'
'Almost everything, Comrade Dragosani,' answered the other, still pale and frightened and holding his face. 'The Comrade General left many things to me.'
'What about it, Comrade Drag-'
'Cut that out!' Dragosani snapped. 'No more "Com­rade", it wastes time. Simply call me Dragosani.'
'Manpower,' Dragosani said again. 'What do we have here right now?'
'Here at the Chateau? Right now? A skeleton staff of ESPers, and maybe a dozen security men.'
'Oh, yes, Dragosani.'
'Good! I'll want at least enough men to make our
numbers up to thirty. And I'll want them by 5:00 p.m. - at the very latest. I want our best telepaths and forecasters, including Igor Vlady, to be among them. Can that be done? Can we muster these men by 5:00 p.m.?'
The other immediately nodded. 'In more than three hours? Oh, yes, Dragosani. Definitely.'
'Then get on with it.'
When he was alone Dragosani settled back in his chair and put his feet up on the desk. He thought about what he was doing. If the East Germans took Keogh, especially if they killed him (in which case Dragosani must make sure that he, personally, got hold of the body) that must surely cancel out the possibility of Keogh's being part of tonight's disturbance. Mustn't it? In any case it was difficult to see how Keogh could possibly make it here, from Leipzig, in just a few hours. So perhaps Dragosani should be concentrating on some other eventuality - but what? Sabotage? Was the cold ESP war finally starting to heat up? Had his murdering Sir Keenan Gormley lit some sort of slow fuse, laid perhaps a long time ago? But what could possibly harm the Chateau? The place was impregnable as a castle. Fifty Keoghs wouldn't even make it over the outer wall!
Angry with himself, with the gradual build-up of ten­sion inside him, Dragosani forced Keogh out of his mind. No, the threat must come from somewhere else. He gave a little more thought to the Chateau's fortifications.
Dragosani had never fully understood the need to fortify the Chateau, but now he was glad indeed for its defences. Of course, old Borowitz had been a soldier long before he had started E-Branch; he was an expert strategist, and doubtless he'd had his reasons for insisting on this degree of security. But here, right next door to Moscow itself? What had he feared? Insurgency? Trouble from the KGB, perhaps? Or was it just one of the old man's hangups from his political or military feuding days?
Not that this was the only fortified place in the USSR, far from it. The space centres, nuclear and plasma research stations, and the chemical and biological warfare labs at Berezov were all security hotspots, tight as prov­erbial drums.
Dragosani scowled. How he wished he had Borowitz here now, downstairs in his operating theatre, stretched out on a steel table with his guts hanging open and all the secrets of his soul laid bare. Ah, well, and that too would come to pass - when they finally found the old bastard's body!
'Comrade Dragosani!' the DO's voice calling from next door shattered his thoughts to shards. 'I have GREPO HQ in Berlin for you. I'm putting them through now.'
'Good,' he called back. 'And while I'm speaking to them there's something else you can do. I want the Chateau searched top to bottom. Especially the cellars. To my knowledge there are rooms down there no one ever went into. I want the place turned inside out. Look for bombs, incendiary devices, for anything at all that looks suspicious. I want as many men on it as possible -particularly the ESPers. Understood?'
'Yes, Comrade, of course.'
'Very well, now let me speak to these damned Germans.'
It was 3:15 p.m. and Arctic cold in the city cemetery in Leipzig.
Harry Keogh, his overcoat turned up around his ears and a flask of coffee (long empty) in his lap, sat frozen at the foot of August Ferdinand Mobius' grave and despaired. He had sought to apply his ESPer's mind -his 'metaphysical' talent - to the equally conjectural properties of altered space-time and four-dimensioned topology and failed. Intuition told him it was possible, that he could in fact take a Mobius trip sideways in time,
but the mechanics of the thing were mountain-sized stumbling blocks that he just couldn't climb. His instinc­tive or intuitive grasp of maths and non-Euclidean geometry was not enough. He felt like a man given the equation E = me2 and then asked to prove it by producing an atomic explosion - but with his mind alone! How do you go about turning unbodied numbers, pure maths into physical facts? It's not enough to know that there are ten thousand bricks in a house; you can't build the house of numbers, you need the bricks! It was one thing for Mobius to send his unbodied mind out beyond the farthest stars, but Harry Keogh was a physical three-dimensional man of living flesh and blood. And just suppose he succeeded and actually discovered how to teleport himself from 'A' to some hypothetical 'B' without physically covering the space between. What then? Where would he teleport himself to - and how would he know when he was there? It could prove as dangerous as stepping off a cliff to prove the law of gravity!
For days now he'd occupied his mind with the problem to the exclusion of almost everything else. He had taken food and drink and sleep, yes, attending to all of Nature's needs, but to nothing else. And still the problem remained unsolved, space-time refused to warp for him, the equa­tions remained dark unfathomed squiggles on the now grubby, well-thumbed pages of his mind. A wonderful ambition, certainly - to impose himself physically within a metaphysical frame - but how to go about it?
'You need a spur, Harry,' said Mobius, wearily break­ing in on his thoughts for what must be the fiftieth time in the last day or so. 'Personally, I think that's all that remains. After all, necessity is the mother of invention, you know. So far you know what you want to do - and I for one believe you have the knack, the intuitive ability, even though you haven't found it yet - but you haven't a good enough reason for doing it! That's all you need
now, the right spur. The prod that will make you take the final step.'
Harry gave a mental nod of acknowledgement. 'You're probably right,' he said. 'I know I will do it; it's just that I ... haven't tried yet? It's something like giving up smoking: you can but can't. You probably will when it's too late, when you're dying of cancer. Except I don't want to wait that long! I mean, I have all the maths, all the theory - I have all the ego, really, the intuition - but I haven't the need, not yet. Or the spur, if you like. Let me tell you what it feels like:
'I'm sitting in a well-lighted room with a window and a door. I look out the window and it's dark out there. It always will be. Not night but a stronger darkness that will last for ever. It's the darkness of the spaces between the spaces. I know there are other rooms out there some­where. My problem is that I don't have any directions. If I go out that door I'll be part of the darkness, surrounded by it. I might not be able to come in again, here or anywhere else. It's not so much that I can't go out but more that I don't want to think about what it's like out there. Actually, to know it's there is to know I can go out into it. I feel that the going will just be an extension of the other things I can do, but an untried extension. I'm a chicken in a shell, and I won't break out until I have to!'
'Who are you talking to, Mr Harry Keogh?' asked a voice that wasn't Mobius', a flat, cold voice, as curious as it was emotionless.
'What?' Startled, Harry looked up.
There were two of them, and it was obvious who or what they were. Even knowing nothing about spying or East-West politics, he would have recognised these two on sight. They chilled him more than the thin wind which now began to keen through the empty cemetery, blowing dead leaves and scraps of paper along the aisles between the tombs.
One was very tall, the other short, but their dark-grey overcoats, their hats pulled down at the front and their narrow-rimmed spectacles were so uniform in themselves as to make them appear twins. Certainly twins in their natures, in their thoughts and their petty ambitions. As plain-clothes men - policemen, probably political - they were quite unmistakable.
'What?' Harry said again, coming stiffly to his feet. 'Was I talking to myself again? Fm sorry about that, I do it all the time. It's just a habit of mine.'
Talking to yourself?' the tall one repeated him, and shook his head. 'No, I don't think so.' His accent was thick, his lips thin as his mirthless smile. 'I think you were talking to someone else - probably to another spy, Harry Keogh!'
Harry backed away from them a pace or two. 'I really don't know what -' he began.
'Where is your radio, Mr Keogh?' said the short one. He came forward, kicked at the dirt of the grave where Harry had been sitting. 'Is it here, buried in the soil, perhaps? Day after day, sitting here, talking to yourself? You must think we're all fools!'
'Listen,' Harry croaked, still backing away. 'You must have the wrong man. Spy? That's crazy. I'm a tourist, that's all.'
'Oh?' said the tall one. 'A tourist? In the middle of winter? A tourist who comes and sits in the same grave­yard day after day, to talk to himself? You can do better than that, Mr Keogh. And so can we. We have it on good authority that you are a British agent, also that you're a murderer. So now, please, you will come with us.'
'Don't go with them, Harry!' it was Keenan Gormley's voice, coming from nowhere, unbidden to Harry's mind. 'Run, man, run!'
'What?' Harry gasped. 'Keenan? But how...?'
'Oh, Harry! My Harry!' cried his mother. 'Please be careful!'
'What?' he said again, shaking his head, still backing away from the two men.
The small one produced handcuffs, said: 'I must warn you, Mr Keogh, against resistance. We are counter­espionage officials of the Grenzpolizei, and -'
'Hit him, Harry!' urged Graham 'Sergeant' Lane in Harry's innermost ear. 'You have the measure of both these lads. You know the way. Do it to them before they do it to you. But watch it - they're armed!'
As the short one took three quick paces forward, holding out the handcuffs, Harry adopted a defensive stance. Also closing in, the tall one yelled: 'What's this? You threaten violence? You should know, Harry Keogh, that our orders are to take you dead or alive!'
The short one made to snap the cuffs on Harry's wrists. At the last moment Harry slapped them aside, half-turned, lashed out with his heel at the end of a leg stiffened into a bar of solid bone. The blow took the short one in the chest, snapped ribs, drove him backwards into his tall colleague. Screaming his agony, he slipped to the ground.
'You can't win, Harry!' Gormley insisted. 'Not like this.'
'He's right,' said James Gordon Hannant. 'This is your last chance, Harry, and you have to take it. Even if you stop these two there'll be others. This isn't the way. You have to use your talent, Harry. Your talent is bigger than you suspect. I didn't teach you anything about maths - I only showed you how to use what was in you. But your full potential remains untapped. Man, you have formulae I haven't even dreamed of! You yourself once said some­thing like that to my son, remember?'
Strange equations suddenly flashed on the screen of his
mind. Doors opened where no doors should be. His metaphysical mind reached out and grasped the physical world, eager to bend it to his will. He could hear the felled plain-clothes man screaming his rage and pain, could see the taller one reaching into his overcoat and drawing out an ugly, short-barrelled weapon. But printed over this picture of the real world, the doors in the Mobius space-time dimension were there within reach, their dark thresholds seeming to beckon.
'That's it, Harry!' cried Mobius himself. 'Any one of them will do!'
'I don't know where they go!' he yelled out loud.
'Good luck, Harry!' shouted Gormley, Hannant and Lane, almost in unison.
The gun in the tall agent's hand spouted fire and lead. Harry twisted, felt a hot breath against his neck as something snatched angrily at the collar of his coat. He whirled, leaped, drop-kicked the tall man and felt deep satisfaction as his feet crashed into face and shoulder. The man went down, his weapon clattering to the hard ground. Cursing and spitting blood and teeth, he scrambled after it, grasped it in two hands, came up into a stumbling crouch.
Out of the corner of his eye, Harry spied a door in the Mobius strip. It was so close that if he reached out his hand he could touch it. The tall agent snarled something incomprehensible, swung his gun in Harry's direction. Harry knocked it aside, grabbed the man's sleeve, tugged him off balance and swung him -
- Through the open door.
The German agent was ... no longer there! From nowhere, an awful, lingering, slowly fading scream came echoing back. It was the cry of the damned, of a soul lost for ever in ultimate darkness.
Harry listened to that cry and shuddered - but only for a moment. Over and above it as it dwindled, he heard
shouted instructions, the crunch of running feet on gravel. Men were coming, dodging between the tombstones, converging on him. He knew that if he was going to use the doors, it had to be now. The injured agent on the ground was holding a gun in hands that trembled like jelly. His eyes were impossibly round for he had seen... something! He was no longer sure if he dared pull the trigger and shoot at this man.
Harry didn't give him time to think it over. Kicking his gun away, he paused for one last split-second and let the screens in his mind display once more their fantastic formulae. The running men were closer; a bullet whined where it struck sparks from marble.
Printed over Mobius' headstone, a door floated out of nowhere. That was appropriate, Harry thought - and he made a headlong dive.
On the cold earth, the crippled East German agent watched him go, disappearing into the stone!
Panting men came together in a knot, skidding to a halt. All held guns extended forward, ready. They stared about, searched with keen, cold eyes. The crippled agent pointed. He lay there with his broken ribs and drained white face and pointed a trembling finger at Mobius' headstone. But for the moment, stunned to his roots, he said nothing at all.
The keening wind continued to blow.
By 4:45 p.m. Dragosani knew the worst of it. Harry Keogh was alive; he had not been taken but had somehow contrived to make his escape; what means he had employed in that escape were unknown, or at best the accounts were garbled and not to be trusted. But one agent was missing believed dead and another seriously injured, and now the East Germans were making angry noises and demanding to know just who or what they were dealing with. Well, let them demand what they
would - Dragosani only wished he knew what he was dealing with!
Anyway, the problem was his now and time was pres­sing. For there could no longer be any doubt but that Keogh was coming here, and coming tonight? How? Who could say? When, exactly? That, too, remained impossible to gauge. But of one thing Dragosani was absolutely certain: come he would. One man, hurling himself against a small army! His task was impossible, of course - but Dragosani knew of the existence of many things which ordinary men considered impossible...
Meanwhile, the Chateau's emergency call-in system had worked well. Dragosani had all the men he had asked for and half-a-dozen more. They manned machine-gun posts on the outer walls, similar batteries in the outbuildings, also the fortified pill-boxes built into the buttresses of the Chateau itself. ESPers 'worked' down below in the laboratories, in surroundings best suited to their various abilities and talents, and Dragosani had turned Borowitz's offices into his tactical HQ.
The Chateau had been searched, as per his orders, top to bottom; but as soon as he had learned of Keogh's escape he had called a halt to that; he had known where the trouble must originate. By then the lower vaults of the place had been explored to the full, floorboards and centuried flagstones had been ripped up in the older buildings, the foundations of the place had been laid bare almost down to the earth itself. Three dozen men can do a lot of damage in three hours, particularly when they've been told that their lives may well depend upon it.
But what enraged Dragosani most of all was the thought that all of this was on account of just one man, Harry Keogh, and that utter chaos had been forecast in his name. Which meant quite simply that Keogh wielded an awesome power of destruction. But what was it? Drago­sani knew he was a necroscope - so what? Also, he had
seen a dead thing rise up from a river and come to his aid. But that had been his mother and the location had been Scotland, thousands of miles away. There was no one here to fight Keogh's battles for him.
Of course, if Dragosani was so worried by all of this he could always flee the place (the trouble was scheduled for the Chateau Bronnitsy and nowhere else), but that just wouldn't be in his own interest. Not only would it smack of utter cowardice, it wouldn't fulfill Igor Vlady's prediction - his prediction that the vampire in Dragosani would die this night. And that was one prediction Boris Dragosani desired fulfilled above all others. Indeed it was his ambition, while his mind was still his own to crave for it!
As for Vlady himself - the call-in squad had found a note at his place which explained his absence, a note intended for his fianc��e. Vlady would call for her soon, the note said, from the West. Dragosani had been delighted to put out the traitor's description to all relevant points of egress. Nor had he given him any quarter: he was to be shot on sight, in the name of the security of the mighty USSR.
So much for Vlady, and yet ... would he have fared any better here? Dragosani wondered about that. Had he, Dragosani, terrified Vlady that much, or had it been something else he'd fled from?
Something he'd seen approaching, perhaps, out of the very near future.
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