Chapter Six


Twenty minutes before sundown Dragosani was back in the secret place. The piglet had regained consciousness but did not yet have the strength to stand up. Wasting no time and wanting no distractions, Dragosani knocked the struggling animal out again with a single blow of a KGB-issue cosh. Then he settled down and waited, smoked a cigarette, watched the light fading as the sun sank lower and lower. Here where the pines grew straight as spears in a ring about the ancient tomb, the only real light came from directly overhead, and that was filtered down through an interlacing mesh of branches; but as night drew on so the first stars began to come out, visible in advance to Dragosani, much as they would be to a man in a deep well.

And at last, as he ground out his cigarette and the gloom closed that much more tightly around him:

Ahhh! Dragosaaniiii!

The unseen presences were there as always, springing up from nowhere, invisible wraiths whose fingers brushed Dragosani's face as if seeking to know him, to be sure of his identity. He shivered and said: 'Yes, it's me. And I've brought something for you. A gift.'

Oh? And what is this gift? And what would you have from me in return?

Now Dragosani was eager and made no effort to hide it. 'The gift is ... a small tribute. You shall have it later, before I go. As for now:

'I've talked to you in this place, old dragon, many times - and yet you've never really told me anything. Oh,

I'm not saying that you've deceived or misled me, just that I've learned very little from you. Now that may well have been my own fault, I may not have asked the right questions, but in any case it's something I want to put right. There are things you know which I desire to know. There once was a time when you had... powers! I suspect you've retained many of them, which I don't know about.'

Powers? Oh, yes - many powers. Great powers...

'I want the secret of those powers. I want the powers themselves. All that you knew and know now, I want to know.'

In short, you desire to be... Wamphyr!

The word and the way it was uttered in his mind were such that Dragosani could not suppress a shudder. Even he, Dragosani himself - necromancer, examiner of the dead - felt its alien awe, as if the word in itself conveyed something of the awful nature of the being or beings it named. 'Wamphyr...' he repeated it, and then:

'Here in Romania,' he quickly went on, 'there have always been legends, and in the last hundred years they've spread abroad. Personally, I've known what you are for many years now, old devil. Here they call you vampir, and in the Western world you are a vampire. There you're a creature in tales to be told at night by the fireside, stories to frighten the children to bed and stir the morbid imagination. But now I want to know what you really are. I want to separate fact from fiction. I want to take the lies out of the legend.'

He sensed a mental shrug. Then, I say it again, you would be Wamphyr. There is no other way to know it all.

'But you have a history,' Dragosani insisted. 'Five hundred years you've lain here - yes, I know that - but what of the five hundred before you died?'

Died? But I did not die. They might have murdered me, yes, for it was in their power to do so. But they chose to. The punishment they chose was greater far. They merely buried me here, undead! But that aside... you want to know my history?


It's a long one, and bloody. It will take time.

'We have time, plenty of it,' said Dragosani - but he sensed a restlessness, frustration in the unseen presences. It was as if something warned him not to try his luck too far. It was not in the undead thing's nature to be pressured.

But finally: / can tell you something of my history, yes. I can tell you what I did, but not how it was done. Not in so many words. Knowing my origins, my roots, will not help you to be of the Wamphyri, nor even to understand them. I can no more explain how to be Wamphyr than a fish could explain how to be a fish - or a bird how to be a bird. If you tried to be a fish you would drown. Launch yourself from the face of a cliff, like a bird, and you would fall and be crushed. And if the ways of simple creatures such as these are unknowable, how then the ways of the Wamphyri?

'May I learn nothing of your ways, then?' Dragosani was growing angry. He shook his head. 'Nothing of your powers? I don't think I believe you. You showed me how to speak to the dead, so why can't you show me the rest of it?'

Ah! No, you are mistaken, Dragosani. I showed you how to be a necromancer, which is a human talent. It is in the main a forgotten art among men, to be sure, but nevertheless necromancy is an art old as the race itself. As for speaking to the dead: that is something else entirely. Very few men ever mastered that for a skill!

'But I talk to you!'

No, my son, I talk to you. Because you are one of mine. And remember, I am not dead. I am undead. Even I could not talk to the dead. Examine them, yes, but never talk to them. The difference lies in one's approach, in their acceptance of one, and in their willingness to converse. As for necromancy: there the corpse is unwilling, the necromancer extracts the information like a torturer, like a dentist drawing good teeth!

Suddenly Dragosani felt that the conversation was going in circles. 'Stop!' he cried. 'You are deliberately obscuring the issue!'

/ am answering your questions as best I might.

'Very well. Then don't tell me how to be a Wamphyr, but tell me what a Wamphyr is. Tell me your history. Tell me what you did in your life, if not how you did it. Tell me of your origins...'

After a moment:

As you will. But first... first you tell me what you know - or think you know - of the Wamphyri. Tell me about these 'myths', these 'old wives' tales' which you've heard, on which you appear to be something of an authority. Then, as you say, we shall separate the lies from the legend.

Dragosani sighed, leaned his back against a slab, lit another cigarette. He still felt he was getting the run-around, but there seemed little he could do about it. It was dark now but his eyes were accustomed to the gloom; anyway, he knew every twisted root and broken slab. At his feet the piglet snorted fitfully, then lay still again. 'We'll take it step by step,' he growled.

A mental shrug.

'Very well, let's start with this: A vampire is a thing of darkness, loyal subject of Satan.'

Ha, ha, ha! Shaitan was first of all the Wamphyri - in our legends, you understand. Things of darkness: yes, in that night is our element. We are . .. different. But there is a saying: that at night all cats are grey! Thus, at night, our differences are not so great - or are not seen to be so great. And before you ask it, let me tell you this: that because of our proclivity for darkness, the sun is harmful to us.

'Harmful? It would destroy you, turn you to dust!'

What? That is a myth! No, nothing so terrible - but even weak sunlight will sicken us, just as strong sunlight sickens you.

'You fear the cross, symbol of Christianity.'

I hate the cross! To me it is the symbol of all lies, all treachery. But fear it? No...

'Are you telling me that if a cross were held against you - a holy crucifix - it wouldn't burn your flesh?'

My flesh might burn with loathing - in the moment before I struck dead the one who held the cross!

Dragosani took a deep breath. 'You wouldn't deceive me?'

Your doubts tax my patience, Dragosani.

Cursing under his breath for a moment, finally Dragosani continued: 'You cast no reflection. Neither in a mirror, nor in water. Similarly, you have no shadow.'

Ah! A simple misconception - but not without its sources. The reflection I cast is not always the same, and my shadow does not always conform to my shape.

Dragosani frowned. (He remembered the leprous tentacle from that time almost twenty years ago.) 'Do you mean that you are fluid, unsolid? That you can change your shape?'

/ did not say that.

'Then explain what you did say.'

Now it was the turn of the old one in the ground to sigh. Will you leave nothing of mystery, Dragosani? No, I'm sure you won't...

But now Dragosani was doing some thinking for himself. 'I believe this may answer two questions in one,' he said while the other pondered. 'Your ability to change into a bat or a wolf, for example. That's part of the legend, too. If it is legend. Are you a shape-changer?'

He sensed the other's amusement. No, but I might seem to be such a creature. In fact there is no such thing as a shape-changer, not that I ever encountered...

Then ... it seemed that the old one had come to a decision. Very well, I will tell you: what do you know of the power of hypnotism?

'Hypnotism?' Dragosani repeated, continuing to frown. But then his jaw fell open as he saw the truth, or what might be the truth, in a sudden flash of realisation. 'Hypnotism!' he gasped. 'Mass hypnotism! That's how you did it!'

Of course. But while it fools the mind it cannot fool a mirror. And while I might appear to be a fluttering bat or loping wolf, still my shadow is that of a man. Ah! The mystique falls away, eh, Dragosani?

Dragosani remembered the leprous tentacle again but said nothing. He had long ago decided that dead (or undead) things which talked in men's minds might also be masters of deception. Anyway, he had other questions to ask:

'You can't cross running water. It drowns you.'

Hmmm! I may have an answer to that one, too. In my life I was a mercenary Voevod. And aye, I would not cross running water! It was my strategy. When the invader came I waited and let him cross the water - and slaughtered him on my side. Perhaps this is where this legend arose, on the banks of the Dunarea, the Motrul and the Siretul. And I have seen those rivers run red, Dragosani...

While the other offered his explanation, Dragosani had been building up to the big one. Now, without pause, he tossed it in: 'You drink the blood of the living! It is a lust in you, which drives you on. Without blood you die.

Your utterly evil nature demands that you feed on the lives of others. The blood is the life.'

Ridiculous! As for evil: it is a state of mind. If you accept evil you must accept good. Perhaps I am out of touch with your world, Dragosani, but in mine there was very little of good! And as for drinking blood: do you take meat? And wine? Of course you do! You devour the flesh of beasts and the blood of the grape. And is that evil? Show me a creature which lives, which does not devour lesser lives. This legend springs from my cruelties, which I admit, and from all the blood I spilled in my lifetime. As to why I was so cruel: it seemed to me that if my enemies believed I was a monster, then that they would be reluctant to come against me. And so I was a monster! If my legend has lasted so long and grown so fraught with terror, who may say I was wrong? 'That doesn't answer my question. I - ' And I ... am tired now. Do you know what it takes from me, this sort of inquisition? And do you think I am one of your corpses, Dragosani? A suitable case for necromantic examination?

At that a thought came into Dragosani's mind - but he suppressed it at once. 'One last question,' he said darkly. Very well, if you must.

'The legend has it that the vampire's bite turns ordinary men into vampires. If you were to draw my blood, old one, would I become as you - undead?'

A long pause, through which Dragosani sensed something of confusion, a mental scrabbling for an answer. And finally:

There was a time in the world's youth when the forests were alive with great bats, as they were with all sorts of creatures. Disease destroyed most of them - a specific disease, and horrible - but some learned to live with it. In my day a species existed which drew the blood of other animals, including men. Since the bats were carriers of the disease, they passed it on to those they bit, and the infected victims were seen to take on certain characteristics which -

'Stop!' said Dragosani. 'You mean the vampire bat, which still exists in Central and South America even today? Obviously you do. The disease is rabies. But... I don't see the connection.'

The thing in the ground chose to ignore his scepticism, said: America?

'A new land,' Dragosani explained. 'They hadn't found it in your day. It's vast and rich and... very, very powerful!'

Ah? You say so? Well! And you must describe this entire new world of yours in more detail - but on some other occasion. As for now... I am tired, and -

'Not so fast!' cried Dragosani, aware that the conversation had strayed. 'Are you saying I wouldn't become a vampire if you bit me? Are you trying to say that the legend is unfounded, except upon this supposed connection with vampire bats? That won't wash, old devil! No, for the bat was named after you, not you after the bat!'

Another pause - but not so long as to give the other too much time to think over what he had said - and Dragosani quickly continued: 'You asked me if I desired to be of the Wamphyri. And how would you make me a Wamphyr if not in this way? Could I be "invested" with it, then, as you were once invested with the Order of the Dragon? Hah! No more lies, old devil. I want only the truth. And if you really are my "father", why do you hold the truth back? What do you fear?'

Dragosani felt the disapproval of the unseen presences, sensed them drawing back from him. In his mind the other's voice was indeed tired now - and accusing. You promised me a gift, a small tribute, and brought me only weariness and torment. I am a spark that grows dim, my son, an ember that expires. You have kept the flickering flame alive, and would you now snuff it out? Let me sleep now, if you would not... exhaust... me... utterly... Dragosaaniiii...

Dragosani clenched his teeth, growled his frustration low in his throat, snatched up the piglet by its hind legs. He jumped to his feet, took out a switchblade and snapped it open. The blade glittered sharp as a razor. 'Your gift!' he snapped.

The piglet struggled, squealed once. Dragosani slit its throat, let the scarlet blood spray out, then drain on to the dark earth. A wind at once sprang up that sighed in the pines with a voice not unlike that of the thing in the ground: Ahhh!

Dragosani tossed the piglet's corpse down in tangled rootlets, stepped back from it, took out a handkerchief and cleaned his hands. The unseen presences crept forward.

'Back!' Dragosani snapped, turning on his heel to leave. 'Back, you ghosts of men. It's for him, not you.'

Descending through the pines in total darkness, Dragosani was sure-footed as a cat. In his way, he too was a creature of the night. But a live one. And thinking of life, death, undeath, he smiled an emotionless smile into the darkness as he considered again the one question he had not asked: How might one kill a vampire? Kill it dead.

No, he had not asked the thing in the ground that question - not in a place such as this, during the hours of darkness. For who could gauge what the reaction might or might not be? It could be a very dangerous question indeed. And anyway, Dragosani believed he already knew the answer.

The next day was Thursday. Dragosani had spent a poor night with very little sleep, and he was up early. Looking out of his window, he saw Use Kinkovsi feeding chickens where they had wandered out of the farmyard and on to the grass verge of the country road. Out of the corner of her eye she saw his movement at the window and turned her face up to him.

Dragosani had thrown the windows wide, was breathing the morning air deeply into his lungs. Leaning on the sill, leaning out into the light, his flesh was pale as snow. Use looked at his naked chest. When he breathed in deeply like that, the muscles under his arms where they fed down into his back seemed to swell out like air sacs. He was deceptive, this one. She suspected he would be very powerful. 'Good morning!' she called up.

For an answer he nodded, and staring at her knew now why he'd slept so badly. She was the reason...

'Is that good?' she asked, her teeth white where she deliberately licked them.

'What?' he went on the defensive again - and at once silently cursed himself for an immature child. Yes, him Dragosani!

'The air on your skin like that. Does it feel good? But look at you, so pale! You could use some sunlight, too, Herr Dragosani.'

'Yes, you could... could be right,' he stuttered, and withdrew from the window to get dressed. Angrily tugging his clothes on, he thought: women, females, sex! So... ugly? Is it? So unnatural! And so... necessary? Is this what I lack?

Well, there was a way to find out. Tonight. It would have to be tonight, for tomorrow the English were coming. He made up his mind and went back to the window.

Use had gone back to feeding her chickens. Hearing his cough, she looked up to see him buttoning his shirt, staring down at her. For a long moment their eyes met; then, stumblingly, he said:

'Use, does it get chilly still? Er, in the night, I mean...'

She frowned, wondering what he was getting at. 'Cold? Why, no, it's summer.'

'Then tonight,' he blurted, 'I believe I'll leave my window - and my curtains - open.'

Her frown lifted. She tossed her head and laughed. 'That's very healthy,' she answered after a moment. 'I'm sure you'll feel better for it.'

Embarrassed now, Dragosani once more withdrew, closed the window and finished dressing. For a moment or two he regretted what he had done - this rendezvous so simply arranged, which in fact seemed to have been arranged for him - but finally he shrugged the feeling off. It was done now. What would be would be. And anyway, it was time he lost his virginity.

Lost his virginity, indeed! It made him sound like a young girl! And yet there was a touching naivety about that phrase, unlike the blunt delivery of his undead mentor. How had the old devil in the ground put it that time? 'A mere pup who never breached a bitch

Yes, that was it - and he'd been referring to Dragosani's father. His true father. And so I got into his mind... and I bequeathed the night to them! He got into his mind - to show him how to do it ... Dragosani started as a pebble clattered against his window. He had been sitting on his bed, lost in thought. Now he got up, opened the window again. It was Use.

'Breakfast in your room, Herr Dragosani?' she called up, 'or will you eat with us?' The emphasis she put on 'in your room' was unmistakable, but Dragosani ignored it.

No, for first he must speak to the old dragon.

'I'll come down,' he answered, and narrowed his eyes thoughtfully at the disappointment which instantly registered in her face. Oh, yes, he would need assistance with this one, this time, this first time. She would know exactly what she was about, and he knew nothing. But ... the Wamphyr knew everything. And Dragosani suspected that there were certain secrets which even that devious old one wouldn't mind divulging. No, not at all...

Dragosani's sexual problem - rather, the mental block which had until now checked his psychological development in this area - had been implanted in puberty, at a time when other boys went on to steal their first kisses and explore their first soft bodies with hot, groping, inexperienced fingers. It had happened during his third year in Bucharest while he was boarding at the college there.

He had been thirteen and looking forward to the summer break. Then his step-father's letter had arrived telling him not to come home. There was disease on the farm; the animals were being slaughtered; visitors were forbidden and even Boris would not be allowed on to the estate. The fever was virulent; people could easily spread it about on their feet, their shoes; the entire area for twenty miles around was under quarantine.

A disaster, apparently - but it need not prove to be one for Boris. He had an 'aunt' in Bucharest, his stepfather's younger sister, and could stay at her house for the break. It was better than nothing; at least he would have somewhere to go and not be stuck in an outbuilding of the old college, cooking his own food on a tiny stove.

His Aunt Hildegard was a young widow with two daughters only a year or so older than Boris himself, Anna and Katrina, and they lived in a large, rambling wooden house on the Budesti road. Oddly, they had never been much mentioned at home and Boris had only ever met them on their very infrequent visits to the Romanian countryside. He had always found his aunt very affectionate, perhaps too much so - and his cousins a little sickly and giggly in the way of young girls, except that there were also undercurrents of a sly sensuality beyond their years - but hardly darkly suspicious or especially odd. Yet he gained the impression from his step-father's attitude towards them that his aunt was something of a black sheep, or at least a lady with a terrible secret.

In the three weeks he lived with her and her precocious daughters, when the college closed down for the summer break, Boris had discovered all he believed he needed to know of her 'oddness', of sex and the perverse ways of females, and his experiences had turned him off for all the years in between - until now. For the simple fact of the matter had been that his aunt was a nymphomaniac. Recently set free by the death of her husband, she had allowed her sexual obsession to get out of hand; and her daughters, apparently, were cut of pretty much the same cloth. Even when her ailing husband had been alive she had been notorious for her lovers. Word of her affairs had often got back to her brother in the country, so bringing about his aloofness, his disapproval. He was no prude himself, but he considered her little more than a whore.

Just how far she had carried her excesses was beyond her brother's power to know, especially now that he had broken off almost all contact with her. If he had known, then he would have made other arrangements for the youth; but his adopted son was, after all, barely a boy; he would surely stand exempt from the woman's vices.

Boris had known none of this but was to find out about it soon enough.

To begin with, there had been no locks on any of the interior doors in his aunt's house. Neither the bedrooms nor the bathroom had locks, not even the toilets. Aunt Hildegard had explained that there were no secret places here - nowhere for the performance of secret deeds -and that secret things in general were not tolerated. Which made it hard for Boris to understand the secretive or mischievously furtive looks which often passed between mother and daughters when he was present.

As for privacy: there was likewise absolutely no need for privacy in a place where nothing was forbidden, nothing frowned upon. Enquiring as to his aunt's philosophy, Boris had been told that this was 'a house of Nature', where the human body and its functions were things of Nature given us to 'explore, discover, understand and enjoy to their full, without conventional restrictions'. Provided that he respect the house and property of his hostess, there was nothing he could not do here and welcome; but he must similarly respect the 'natural' behaviour of the resident females of the house, whose ways he would find entirely open and unrestricted. As for philosophy as such: there was too little love in the world and too much hatred; if the lusts of the body and fires of the spirit could be quenched, sated in the pleasurable violence of embraces instead of war, then surely it would be a better place. Perhaps Boris would not understand immediately, but his aunt was sure that he would in a little while...

After an early supper on the first evening, Boris had gone up to his room to read. He had brought some of his own books with him from the college, but at the foot of the stairs leading to his bedroom was a tiny room set aside by his aunt as her 'library'. Looking in, Boris had found the shelves full of erotica and sexual perversions and abnormalities, some of which were so fascinating that he took several of the illustrated volumes upstairs with him. They were unlike anything he had ever seen before, even in the College library which was fairly comprehensive.

In his bedroom he had become engrossed with one of the books (which purported to be factual but was so 'Improbable' to Boris's mind that he 'knew' it must be a spoof, a work of highly imaginative fiction; though how some of the alleged photographs had been produced was quite beyond him) and, like any boy of his age, soon found himself aroused. Masturbation was not unknown to Boris - he relieved himself that way from time to time as most young men do - but here in his aunt's house he hadn't felt secure or private enough to do so. To avoid further frustration, he had taken the books back downstairs to the library.

Earlier, while reading, he had heard a car pull up to the house and the arrival and entry of some visitor or other, someone obviously popular with the household, but had paid no heed. As he deposited the books back in the library, however, he now heard laughter and the sounds of physical activity and apparent enjoyment from the main living-room - a room he had been shown and in which he'd admired the mirrors set all about and the curiously mirrored ceiling - and was drawn to see what was taking place. The door stood a little ajar, and from within as he approached in silence Boris could hear a guttural male voice, straining in something of exertion, plus the now coarsened and urgent voices of his step-aunt and -cousins. It was then that he had started to suspect that something very much out of the ordinary must be going on in there. Boris paused at the door to stare in through the inches-wide gap and was shocked almost rigid by what he saw. Far from being 'fantastic' as he had supposed, the book he had been reading had contained nothing comparable with this! The man - a stranger to Boris, bearded, pockmarked, huge in the belly and hairy - was quite repulsive in his looks and almost malformed in his body. Also, he was naked. What Boris could not know was that he was a satyr, which by this house's standards more than compensated for his ugliness and malformation.

Viewing the interior of the room through a mirror which stood just inside the door, therefore not directly, Boris could not see the entire performance, but what he could see was more than enough. The three females were taking turns with their playmate, urging him to greater efforts, working on him with their hands and mouths and bodies in a frenzy of sexual excess.

He lay on his back upon a divan, while the younger of the sisters, Anna, kneeled astride him and literally bounced herself up and down on him. With each upward bound of her body she revealed most of the great length and thickness of him, shiny with the liquids of their throbbing bodies. With each brief appearance of that slippery pole of flesh, Boris could see Katrina's tiny and almost fragile hand locked tightly around its girth between the two where they continued to collide, working at it no less than her sister's jolting body. As for the mother of the girls, 'Aunt' Hildegard, a woman of perhaps thirty-four: she kneeled at the head of the couch and flopped her great loose breasts upon his feverish face, so that her nipples dangled alternately into his gaping, gasping mouth. Occasionally, apparently lost in her ecstasy, she would stretch up, thrusting her pubic region against his quivering lips and tongue.

The women were not naked but all the more lewd for their garments, loose, baggy white things which were open and allowed their breasts and buttocks to be fondled, and all parts of them to be touched at will. What transfixed Boris most, riveting him to the spot, was not so much that this was sex - of which he knew very little in any case - but that all four participants seemed so utterly involved and engrossed, each enjoying not only the rewards of his/her own facet of the performance, whatever the part being played, but also the cavorting of the others!

But as they changed places and positions before his eyes, and almost without pause commenced a new series of intricate exertions (this time with the man mounted atop his aunt like some awful dog, while the girls played lesser roles), so Boris had begun to understand. No one was neglected here; each became the aggressor in turn, so that all received maximum satisfaction. Or, in Boris's fevered eyes, so that all seemed equally disgusting.

In any event, while he believed that he now understood something of what he was seeing, still he did not quite believe that he was actually seeing it. It was the central character - the man, the awful spurting machine - which he couldn't fathom.

Boris knew how exhausted he always felt after masturbating, so how must this hairy animal in the room of mirrors feel? He seemed to be hosing out semen almost continually, and groaning with the intensity of the pleasure given him by each fresh burst; except that it hardly seemed to weary him at all but only served to drive him to greater excess. Surely he must collapse at any moment now!

And as Boris had finally got his legs going and backed away from the door - and as if his aunt had been thinking almost precisely the same thing as Boris himself - he heard her gaspingly say: 'Now, now, you two! Let's not weary Dmitri so quickly. Why don't you go and play with Boris, eh? But not too fiercely or else you might frighten him. Poor lamb, he looks the sort who'd frighten very easily. About as lusty as a lettuce!'

That had been enough to send Boris scrambling frantically upstairs to his room, out of his clothes in a flash and into bed. There he lay and cringed - knowing his door was unlocked, that it couldn't be locked - waiting for ... something he daren't even essay a guess at. If he had been alone with one cousin, one normal girl, then perhaps things might have been different. Perhaps then there might have been a shy, gradual, fumbling introduction to sex - to normal sex - with Boris himself taking the stumbling initiative.

For until now Boris's dreams and fancies in this respect had been fairly ordinary. He had even entertained fantasies of being alone with his aunt - of smothering himself in her soft breasts, her white body - and had not found them especially abhorrent or shameful. Not before.

But now he had seen! Any innocence his fantasies might have contained was gone now, wrenched out of him. What could there possibly be of normal, healthy sex now? Was there any such thing? He had seen, yes.

Downstairs in this very house he had seen three women (he could no longer think of his cousins as girls) coupling with a seemingly inexhaustible beast. He had seen the beast's great pole of lusting flesh. And should he compare himself with that? Did he as a male even exist after that? A twig against a branch? And must he be a party to orgies, such as that - like one small hare amongst a pack of hounds? The mere thought of contact with the beast was sickening!

These had been his thoughts as his cousins came looking for him where he lay wrapped in sheets and blankets, absolutely still and breathless in his bed. He had heard them enter, had tried not to twitch when Anna had giggled throatily and asked: ' Boris, are you awake?'

'Is he? Is he?' Katrina had eagerly wanted to know.

'No, I don't think so.' (Disappointed.)

'But... his light is on!'

'Boris?' (Anna's weight pressing down on his bed beside him.)'Are you sure you're asleep?'

Feigning sleep, his heart hammering, Boris had turned a little where he lay, grumbled, said: 'Wha-? What? Go away. I'm tired.'

It was a mistake. Both of them giggled now, their voices still coarse and full of lust. 'Boris, won't you play a game with us?' said Katrina. 'Stick your head out, at least. We've something...' (more giggles) '... something to show you!'

He couldn't breathe. He'd tugged his bedclothes so close and tight that he'd shut out the air. He would have to come out in a moment, whether he wanted to or not. 'Please go away and let me sleep.'

'Boris' (Anna again, and a vision of her with her dainty hands on the beast's belly, jolting up and down on that pink pole) 'if we put the lights out will you come out?'

For a moment - the merest moment - a gulp of air - just long enough to fill his lungs! 'Yes,' he had gasped.

Then he'd heard the click of the light switch and felt Anna stand up, lifting her weight from his bed. 'There, it's out!'

It was out, as Boris discovered a moment later when, having struggled to free his head, he thrust it into darkness and breathed air deeply into his starved lungs - and almost gagged!

And at once, with more giggles from across the room, the light came on again.

Which of the girls it was, he couldn't tell, but one of them had been standing beside his bed with her loose cassock thing over his head like a tent. The musty smell of her body had been beating into his face, and he had seen the dark V of her pubic patch dewed with a string of milky semen pearls. The light through her garment wasn't good, but it was good enough for Boris to see, when she deliberately bowed her legs outward a little, what looked to him like the parting of that patch into a greedy vertical grin!

'There!' Boris had dimly remembered a husky voice saying, through a rising gale of coarse laughter. 'And didn't we tell you we had something to show you?'

But that was all that was said, for suddenly beside himself in a panic of loathing, that was when Boris had lashed out. Later he remembered little of it - only the giggles turning to screams, and the dull pain in his fists and skinned knuckles - but he did remember how, the next day, his tormentors had kept well away from him; and how both of them had sported blue bruises, while Anna had a split lip and Katrina a great black eye! Perhaps his aunt had been correct to liken him to a lettuce - in one direction. But as for tenacity and ferocity - Boris had lacked neither one.

That next day had been nightmarish. Exhausted after a night of wakefulness, barricaded in his room against all entreaty to come out, Boris had had to suffer his aunt's wrath and (from a safe distance) the accusations of her oversexed daughters. Aunt Hildegard would not feed him, starving him for punishment, and she swore that she would complain to his father if he didn't come to his senses at once. By that she meant that he should come out of his room and talk to her, apologise to the girls, and generally pretend that nothing had happened. He would have none of it, remaining in his room except for short and hurried excursions to the toilet and bathroom, determined that before nightfall he would flee the house and make his way back to Bucharest.

The only trouble with that scheme was that his father was bound to find out and would want to know why, and Boris would simply not be able to tell him. He'd never

been an easy man to talk to, and this - this had been simply unbelievable. And even then, assuming his step-father did believe and accepted all that had happened, mightn't there still be doubts about Boris's own - participation? His active, perhaps his willing participation...

There were other difficulties, too. Boris had no money and no arrangements had been made for him at the college. Which was why, when evening came around again and when his aunt's threats turned to pleading, he had dragged his bed and dresser away from the door and allowed her to take him downstairs.

She was sorry, she said, that the girls had teased him so badly the night before, and that he'd been so alarmed. What they could possibly have done to offend him so -that he should have reacted so violently - was quite beyond her powers of understanding. But whatever, it was all over now and Boris should try to forget it. It could only cause trouble between herself and her brother if he learned of it - whatever it had been. Oh, yes, for he always blamed her for everything.

Boris had silently agreed with her. It would cause trouble, yes - and even more so if there should be mention of the beast! But his aunt didn't know he knew about that, and it was best that she shouldn't. Otherwise ... the entire charade would fall apart. Anyway, the satyr was no longer in the house and Boris had hoped he wouldn't be back; Aunt Hildegard had fed Boris, and later he'd heard her telling Anna and Katrina to leave him completely alone, that he wasn't for them, and this must all be handled very delicately; the thing had seemed to be finished with, for which Boris had been grateful. Until that night...

Exhausted, Boris had slept in his bed against the door, his own weight replacing that of the dresser; but that had not been enough. At about 3:00 a.m., aware of some sort

of erratic, intermittent motion, he had come half-awake to hear his aunt's voice clumsily hushing and lulling him back to sleep, or at least attempting to. Her voice had been slurred and her breathing very heavy; she had been drinking and was naked, as he discovered when he put out his hand in the darkness. That had instantly shocked him fully awake, aware that this insatiable woman was trying to get into bed with him. And at that, immediately and like a cool, salving hand on his hot brow, an icy anger had come over him to oust and completely replace all fear.

'Aunt Hildegard,' he had said into the darkness, sitting up and averting his face from the alcohol on her breath, 'please put the light on.'

'Ah! Dear boy! You're awake and want to see me. But... why! I've been to bed, Boris, and I'm afraid I've no clothes on. So hot, these summer nights! I got up for a little drink of water, and must have stumbled in here by mistake.' As she finished speaking, her breasts had brushed his face.

Gritting his teeth and again turning his face away, Boris had repeated, 'Put on the light.'

'But that's very naughty of you, Boris!' she'd girlishly pretended to protest, at the same time finding the light switch. And momentarily dazzled, there she had stood quite naked where she'd forced the bed back from the open door. And smiling a little drunkenly at him, which had the effect of making her look utterly stupid and disgusting, she'd moved towards him and reached out her arms.

Then, seeing that he was fully dressed, and for the first time noting the strange look on his face, her hand had flown to her mouth. 'Boris, I - '

'Aunt,' he had swung his legs out of bed and slipped his feet into his shoes, 'you will get out of this room now,

please, and stay out. If you do not, I shall leave, and if the door downstairs is locked then I'll break a window. Then, as soon as I'm able, I shall tell my step-father exactly what goes on in this house, and -'

'Goes on?' she was sobering rapidly, trying to catch hold of his hand, beginning to look worried.

'About the men who come here, to fuck you and my cousins - like the great bulls which service my stepfather's cows!'

'Why, you - !' She had staggered back from him, her eyes wild in a suddenly white face. 'You saw?

'Get out!' Boris had sneered at her then, a withering look which he would employ from that day forward when dealing with women, and tried to thrust her from the door.

At that her eyes had narrowed to slits and she'd spat at him: 'So that's the way it is, is it? The big boys at the college got to you first, did they? You like them better than girls, do you?'

Boris had turned towards the window then, picking up a chair. 'Go on,' he'd snapped, 'out! Or I leave at once, right now. And not only will I tell my father, but also every policeman I meet between here and Bucharest. I'll tell them about the library of dirty books you keep -which alone might get you a term in prison - and about your daughters, who are little more than girls and already worse than whores - '

'Whores?' she had cut him off with such a hiss that he'd thought she would fly at him.

' - but who could never be as totally rotten as you!' he'd finished.

Then she had broken down, bursting into tears and letting him shove her from the room without further protest. And for the rest of the night he'd slept soundly and completely undisturbed.

That had been the end of it. At midday the next day, while Boris was enjoying his lunch in silence and on his own, his step-father had arrived to take him home. The trouble with the animals was over; it had not been so serious after all, thank God! Never had Boris been so glad to see anyone in his whole life, and he'd had to fight hard not to show it too much. While he got his things together Aunt Hildegard spent an apparently cordial if careful half-hour with her brother, who made a point of asking after his nieces, neither of them being present. Then, with brief farewells, Boris and his step-father had left to begin their trip back into the country.

At the gate as they got into the car, Aunt Hildegard had managed to catch Boris's eye. Her look, just for a second, before she began to wave them goodbye, was pleading. Her eyes begged his silence. In answer he had once more shown her that sneer, that look far worse than any snarl or threat, which said more of what he thought of her than any thousand words ever could.

In any event, he had never spoken of that awful visit to anyone. Nor would he ever, not even to the thing in the ground.

The thing in the ground... the old devil... the Wamphyr.

He was waiting (what else could he do but wait?) when Dragosani arrived in the gloomy glade of the tomb just before dusk with another piglet in a sack. He was awake, angry, lying there in the ground and fuming. And as the sun's rim touched the rim of the world and the far horizon turned to blood, he was the first to speak:

Dragosani? I smell you, Dragosani! And have you come to torment me? With more questions, more demands? Would you steal my secrets, Dragosani? Little by little, piece by piece, until there's nothing left of me? And then what? When I lie here in the cold earth, how will you reward me? With the blood of a pig? Ahaaa!I see it's so. Another piglet - for one who has bathed in the blood of men and virgins and armies! Often!

'Blood is blood, old dragon,' Dragosani answered. 'And I note you're more agile tonight for what you drank last night!'

For what I drank? (Scorn, but feigned or genuine?) No, the earth is the richer, Dragosani, not these old bones.

'I don't believe you.'

And I don't care! Go, leave me be, you dishonour me. I have nothing for you and will have nothing from you. I do not wish to talk. Begone!

Dragosani grinned. 'I've brought another pig, yes - for you or for the earth, whichever - but there's something more, something rare. Except...'

The old one was interested, intrigued. Except?

Dragosani shrugged. 'Perhaps it has been too long. Perhaps you're not up to it. Perhaps it's impossible -even for you. For after all, what are you but a dead thing?' And before the other could object: 'Or an undead thing, if you insist.'

I do insist... Are you taunting me, Dragosani? What is it you bring me this night? What would you give me? What do you... propose?

'Maybe it's more what we can give each other.'

Say on.

Dragosani told him what was in his mind, exactly what it was he was willing to share.

And you would trade? What would you have from me in return for this... sharing? (Dragosani could almost sense the Wamphyr licking its lips.)

'Knowledge,' Dragosani answered at once. 'I'm just a man, with a man's knowledge of women,' he lied, 'and - '

He paused in confusion, for the old one was chuckling! It had been a mistake to lie to him.

Oh? A man's knowledge of women? A 'complete' man's knowledge, eh, Dragosani?

He gritted his teeth, choked out: 'There hasn't been time ... my work, studies ... the opportunity hasn't arisen.'

Time? Studies? Opportunity? Dragosani, you are not a child. I was eleven when I tore through my first maidenhead, a thousand years ago. After that - virgin, bitch, whore, what did it matter? I had them all, in all ways -and always wanted more! And you? You have not tasted? You have not soaked yourself in the sweat and the juice and the hot sweet blood of a woman? Not one? And you call me a dead thing!

The old one laughed then, laughed uproariously, outrageously, obscenely. He found it all so ecstatically ridiculous! His laughter went on and on, became a deluge, a tidal wave, a howling ocean of laughter in Dragosani's head, threatening to drown him.

'Damn you!' he stood up and stamped on the earth, spat on it. 'Damn you!' he shook his knotted fists at the black soil and tumbled slabs. 'Damn you, damn you, damn you!'

The old one was quiet in a moment, oozing like some nightmare slug in Dragosani's mind. But I'm already damned, my son, he said, after a little while. Yes, and so are you...

Dragosani snatched out his knife, reached for the shunned piglet.

Wait! Not so hasty, Dragosani. I have not refused. But tell me: since it would appear that like some puny priest you've abstained for all these long years, why now?

Dragosani thought about it, decided he might as well tell the truth. The old devil in the ground had probably seen through him, anyway. 'It's the woman. She aggravates me, taunts me, flaunts her flesh.'

Ahhh! I know the sort.

'Also, I believe she thinks I've been with men - or at least she has wondered about it.'

Like the Turks? The old one's mental response was sharp, touched with hatred. That is an insult!

'I think so too,' Dragosani nodded. 'So... will you do it?'

You are inviting me into your mind, am I correct? Tonight, when this woman comes to you?


And it is an invitation, made of your own free will?

Dragosani grew wary. 'Just this once,' he answered. 'It will have no permanence.'

Again you flatter yourself, the other chuckled. I have -or will have - my own body, Dragosani, which is nothing so weak as yours!

'And you can do it? And will I learn from it?'

Oh, I can do it, my son, yeeessss! Have you forgotten the fledgling? And didn't you learn something that time, too? Who made you a necromancer, Dragosani? Yes, and this time you will learn... much!

'Then I want nothing more from you - for now, anyway.' He began to back away from the tomb, moving downhill, away from that place of centuried horror. And -

But what of the piglet? asked the thickly glutinous voice in his head. And more hurriedly: For the earth, Dragosani, for the earth.

In the deep, unquiet gloom, Dragosani narrowed his eyes. 'Oh, yes, I very nearly forgot,' he said, his tone not quite sarcastic. 'The piglet, of course. For the earth Quickly he returned, slit the insensate animal's throat, tossed its pink body down. And then, without looking back, he made silently away.

A little way down the slope, against the bole of a tree where great roots forked, trapped there and unable to roll any farther, he saw something strange and stopped to pick it up. It was last night's offering, or what remained of it. A tightly interwoven ball of pink skin and crushed bones, all dry as crumpled cardboard. A beetle crawled on it, seeking in vain for some morsel of sustenance. Dragosani let it fall and roll out of sight.

Oh, yes, he thought - but guarded his thoughts carefully there in the darkness beneath the pines - oh, yes. For the earth. Only for the earth...

Dragosani got back to the Kinkovsi place in time to eat supper with the family again; for the last time, though he couldn't know that then. During the meal Use showed little or no interest in him, which was as well for he felt tense and on edge. He was not sure he'd done the right thing; the old devil in the ground was no fool and had stressed that this would be at Dragosani's own invitation; his old revulsion was gradually mounting in him as the time approached; but at the same time his body ached for release from years of sexual self-denial. For the first time since his arrival here the food seemed tasteless to him, and even the beer was flat and lifeless.

Later, in his room, he paced and fantasised, growing ever more angry with himself and fretful as the hours slipped by. For the third or fourth time since supper he took out the half-dozen volumes he'd brought with him on vampirism, read through the relevant passages, put the books away again, out of sight in a suitcase. According to legend, one must never accept any invitation from a vampire; and, equally important, one must never invite a vampire to do anything! In this the conscious will of the victim (by accepting or making an invitation) was all-important. It meant in effect that it was his decision to be a victim. The will was like a barrier in the mind of the victim which the vampire was reluctant, even unable, to surmount without the aid of the victim himself. Or perhaps, psychologically, it was a barrier the victim must surmount: before he could become a victim, he must first believe ...

In Dragosani's case it was a question of the depth of his belief. He knew the thing in the ground was there, so that didn't come into it. But as yet he did not know what power - or the extent of the power - the creature could exert externally. Perhaps even more important, now that he had 'invited it in', as it were, he didn't know the limits of his own resistance, or if he would be able to resist at all. Or if he would want to ...

Well, doubtless he would find out soon enough.

The hour between midnight and 1:00 a.m. passed incredibly slowly, and as the trysting time approached Dragosani began to hope that Use would think better of it and stay away. She might be sound asleep even now, with no intention of meeting him here. It could simply be a game she played with all of her father's guests - to make them look and feel foolish! In fact, she might well feel the same way about men as Dragosani - until now -had been caused to feel about women.

A half-dozen and more times that thought had come to him, that she was making an utter fool of him, and each time he had gone to the open window to close it and draw his moon-silvered curtains. But on every occasion he had paused, something had stopped him, and he'd snarled silently at his own incompetence in this thing and gone back to sit on his bed in the darkness of the room.

Now, at two minutes past the hour, cursing himself for a buffoon and rushing to the window yet again, he was on the point of slamming it shut when - down there in the moonlit farmyard, making its way like a shadow amongst shadows, a figure, dark and gauzy, fleeting - and Use Kinkovsi's bedroom window open a little way, seeming to smile up at him with her face, her knowing eyes. She was coming!

God, how Dragosani needed the old one now! And how he did not want him. Did he need him, really? But... dare he make do without him?

Elation vied with terror in Dragosani and was very nearly overwhelmed at the first pass. Terror born not alone of the tryst itself, nor even the purpose of the tryst, but perhaps more out of his own ability - or inability? -to carry it through. He was a man now, yes, but in matters such as this still a boy. The only flesh he had known, whose secrets he had delved, had been cold and dead and unwilling. But this was live and hot and all too willing!

Revulsion climbed higher in him, coursed through him like a flood. He had been a boy, just a boy... pictures filled his head in bestial procession, which he had thought were forgotten, thrust out... the visit to his aunt's house ... his cousins...the beast-thing which he knew had been only a rutting man! God, that - had - been - a -nightmare!

And was it to be like that all over again? And himself the lusting, slavering beast?

Impossible! He couldn't!

He heard the creak of a stair down in the bowels of the guesthouse, flew to the window and stared wild-eyed out into the night. Another creak, closer, sent him flying to the light switch. She was out there, on the landing, coming to his door!

A gust of wind moaned into the room, billowing the curtains, striking at - into - Dragosani's heart. In a moment all fear, all uncertainty was gone. He stepped out of the moonlight into shadow and waited.

The door opened silently and she came in. Trapped in a shaft of moonlight the grey veil-like garment she wore was almost transparent. She closed the door behind her, moved towards the bed.

'Herr Dragosani?' she said, her voice trembling just a little.

'I'm here,' he answered from the shadows.

She heard but didn't look his way. 'So ... I was wrong about you,' she said, raising her arms and drawing off the gauzy shift. Her breasts and buttocks were marble where the moon caressed them.

'Yeesss,' he whispered, stepping forward.

'Well,' now she turned to him, 'here I am!'

She stood like a statue carved of milk, gazing at him with nothing at all of innocence. He came forward, a dark silhouette, reaching for her. In daylight she had thought his eyes a trifle weak, a watery blue - a soft, almost feminine, filmstar blue - but now...

The night suited him. In the night his eyes were feral -like those of a great wolf. And as he bore her down on to the bed, only then did she feel the first niggling doubt in the back of her mind. His strength was - enormous!

'I was very, very wrong about you,' she said.

'Aahhh!' said Dragosani.

The following morning, Dragosani called for his breakfast early. He took it in his room, where Hzak Kinkovsi found him looking (and feeling) more fully alive than he had thought possible. The country air must really agree with him. Use, on the other hand, was not so fortunate.

Dragosani didn't need to enquire after her: her father was full of it, grumbling to himself as he served up a substantial breakfast on a tray. That woman,' he said, 'my Use, is a good strong girl - or should be. But ever since her operation - ' and he had shrugged.

'Her operation?' Dragosani had tried not to seem too interested.

'Yes, six years ago. Cancer. Very bad for a young girl. Her womb. So, they took it away. That's good, she lives. But this is farming country. A man wants a wife who'll give him children, you know? So, she'll be an old maid -maybe. Or perhaps she'll go and get a job in the city. Strong sons are not so important there.'

It explained something, possibly. 'I see,' Dragosani nodded; and, carefully: 'But this morning...?'

'Sometimes she doesn't feel too good, even now. Not often. But today she really isn't up to much. So, she stays in her room for a day or two. Curtains drawn, dark room, all wrapped up in her bed, shivering. Just like when she was a little girl and sick. She says she doesn't want a doctor, but - ' he shrugged again. ' - I worry about her.'

'Don't,' said Dragosani. 'I mean, don't worry about her.'

'Eh?' Kinkovsi looked surprised.

'She's a full-grown woman. She'll know what's best for her. Rest, quiet, a nice dark room. Those are the right things. They're all I need when I'm a bit down.'

'Hmm! Well, perhaps. But still it's worrying. And a lot of work to be done, too! The English come today.'

'Oh?' Dragosani was glad that the other had changed the subject. 'Maybe I'll meet them tonight.'

Kinkovsi nodded, looked gloomy. He gathered up the empty tray. 'Difficult. I don't know a lot of English. What I know I learned from tourists.'

'I know some English,' said Dragosani. 'I can get by.'

'Ah? Well, at least they'll be able to talk to someone. Anyway, they bring good money - and money talks, eh?' he managed a" chuckle. 'Enjoy your breakfast, Herr Dragosani.'

'I'm sure I will.'

Beginning to grumble again under his breath, Kinkovsi left the garret room and made his way downstairs. Later, when Dragosani went out, both Hzak and Maura were readying the lower rooms for their expected English guests.

By midday Dragosani had driven into Pitesti. He did not know why exactly, except that he remembered the town had a small but very comprehensive reference library. Whether or not he would have gone to the library - or what he would have done there - is academic. The question did not arise for he was not given the chance to go there; the local police found him first.

Alarmed at first and imagining all sorts of things (worst of all, that he had been watched and followed, and that his secret - concerning the old devil in the ground - had been discovered), he calmed down as soon as he found out what the trouble really was: that Gregor Borowitz had been trying to track him down since the day he left Moscow and finally had succeeded. It was a wonder Dragosani hadn't been stopped at the border where he'd crossed into Romania at Reni. The local law had tracked him to lonestasi, from there to Kinkovsi's, finally to Pitesti. In fact it was his Volga they'd tracked: there weren't many of those in Romania. Not with Moscow plates.

Finally the policeman in charge of the patrol vehicle which had stopped him apologised for any inconvenience and gave Dragosani a 'message' - which was simply Borowitz's Moscow telephone number, the secure line. Dragosani went with them at once to the police station and phoned from there.

On the other end of the line, Borowitz came right to the point: 'Boris, get back here a.s.a.p.'

'What is it?'

'A member of the staff at the American embassy has had an accident while touring. A fatal accident: wrecked his car and gutted himself. We haven't identified him yet - not officially, anyway - but we'll have to do it soon. Then the Americans will want his body. I want you to see him first - in your, er, specialist capacity...'

'Oh? What's so important about him?'

For some time now we've suspected him and one or two others of spying. CIA, probably. If he's one of a network, it's something we should know about. So get back quickly, will you?'

'I'm on my way.'

Back at Kinkovsi's Dragosani tossed his things into the car, paid what he owed and a little more, thanked Hzak and Maura and accepted sandwiches, a flask of coffee and a bottle of local wine. But for all that they gave him these parting gifts, it was obvious that Hzak had some misgivings about him.

'You told me you were a mortician,' he complained. 'The police laughed when I told them that! They said you're a big man in Moscow, an important man. It seems a great shame that an important man would want to make a fool out of a fellow countryman - an unimportant man!'

'I'm sorry about that, my friend,' said Dragosani. 'But I am an important man and my job is very special �C and very tiring. When I come home I like to forget my work completely and just take it easy, and so I became a mortician. Please forgive me.'

That seemed to suffice; Hzak Kinkovsi grinned and they shook hands, and then Dragosani got into his car.

From behind her drawn curtains Use watched him drive away and breathed a sigh of relief. It was unlikely she'd ever meet another like him, and maybe that was as well, but...

Her bruises were blooming now but would soon fade, and anyway she could always say she had suffered a dizzy bout, tripped and fallen. The bruises would disappear, yes, but not the memory of how she had got them.

She sighed again... and shivered deliciously.


On the top floor of a well-known London hotel, in a suite of private offices, Alec Kyle sat at the desk of his ex-boss and scribbled frantically in shorthand. The 'ghost' (he couldn't help thinking of it that way) which stood facing him across the desk had been speaking rapidly, in soft, well-modulated tones, for more than two and a half hours now. Kyle's wrist felt cramped; his head ached from the myriad weird pictures implanted there; he had no doubt at all but that the 'ghost' spoke the truth, the whole truth, and etc ...

As to how it (he!) knew these matters he so fluently related, or why he related them - who is to say what knowledge such a creature should or shouldn't have and tell? But one thing Kyle knew for certain was this: that the information to which he now found himself privy was vastly important, and that he must also consider himself privileged to be the medium through which it was imparted.

As a pain suddenly shot up his forearm from his wrist, causing him to drop his pencil and clutch at his hand as it went into a brief spasm, so his unearthly visitor paused. It was as good a juncture as any, Kyle thought, and he was grateful. He massaged his hand and wrist for a

minute, then took up a sharpener and renewed the

pencil's point for what must be the ninth or tenth time at least.

'Why not use a pen?' the ghost asked, in such a perfectly natural and inquiring tone that Kyle found himself answering without even considering that he talked to something far less substantial than smoke.

'I prefer pencils. Always have. Just a quirk, I suppose. Anyway, they don't run out of ink! I'm sorry I stopped just then, but my wrist feels mangled!'

'We've a way to go yet.'

'I'll manage some how.'

'Look, go and get yourself another coffee. Have a cigarette. I realise how strange all this must be for you. It's strange for me, too - but if I were you my nerves would be leaping! I think you're doing remarkably well. And we're getting on fine. I was fully prepared, before I came here, to allow several visits just to let you adjust to me. So as you can see, we're well ahead.'

'Yes, well it's time that's worrying me,' Kyle answered, lighting up and drawing luxuriously on the smoke, saturating his lungs with it. 'You see, I've a meeting to attend at 4:00 p.m. It's then that I'm to try to convince some rather important people that they keep the branch open and allow me to take over from Sir Keenan and run it. So you see, I'd like to be finished before then.'

'Don't let it concern you,' the other smiled his wan smile. 'Consider them convinced.'

'Oh?' Kyle got up and went through into the main office, put money into the coffee machine. This time the ghost followed him, stood behind him. When he turned from the machine it was there, office furniture visible right through it. It was less than a holograph, less than a bubble, ectoplasm. Kyle started and slopped a little coffee, edged around the other and went back into Gormley's office.

'Yes,' the ghost continued, back where it had been, 'I believe we'll be able to "sway" your superiors in your favour.'

'We?' said Kyle.

The other merely shrugged. 'We'll see. Anyway, I want to tell you a little more about Harry Keogh now, before returning to Dragosani. Sorry to jump about like this, but it's better if you see a complete picture.'

'Anything you say.'

'Are you ready?'

'Yes,' Kyle took up his pencil. 'Except...'


'It's just that I was wondering where you fit into all of this?'

'Me?' the ghost raised its eyebrows. 'I suppose I'd have been disappointed if you hadn't asked. Since you have: if things work out the way I hope, I'll be your future boss!'

Kyle's face twitched and he grinned lopsidedly. 'A ... ghost? My future boss?'

'I thought we'd been through that once,' said the other. 'I'm not a ghost and never have been. Though I'll admit I came pretty close. But we'll get to that, you'll see.'

Kyle nodded.

'Can we get on now?'

And Kyle nodded again.

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