On Thursday morning Harry went back to the river, back to the place where his mother lay once more locked in mud and weed. Except that there were two of them there now, and he had not gone to talk to her but to Viktor Shukshin. He took a cushion from the car and carried it down to the river bank, putting it down in snow six inches deep before seating himself and hugging his knees. Below where he sat the ice had crusted over again and snow had settled on the place where he'd cut his escape hole, so that only an outline showed through.
After sitting in silence for a while, he said: 'Stepfather, can you hear me?'
'...Yes,' came the answer in a little while. 'Yes, I can hear you, Harry Keogh. I hear you and I feel your presence! Why don't you go away and leave me in peace?'
'Be careful, Stepfather. Mine might be the last voice you ever hear. If I "go away and leave you in peace", who'll speak to you then?'
'So that's your talent, is it, Harry? You speak to the dead. You're a corpse rabble-rouser! Well, I want you to know that it hurts me, like all ESP hurts me. But last night, for the first time in many long years, I lay here in my freezing bed and slept soundly, and there was no pain. Who'll speak to me? I don't want anyone to speak to me! I want peace.'
'What do you mean, it hurts you?' Harry pressed. 'How can my just being here hurt anything?'
Shukshin told him.
'And that's why you killed my mother?'
'Yes, and it's why I tried to kill you. But in your case,
it might also have served to save my own life.' And now he told Harry about the men Borowitz had sent to kill him, Dragosani and Batu.
Harry wasn't satisfied. He wanted to know it all, from the beginning right to the present. Tell me about it,' he said, 'all of it, and I swear I won't bother you again.'
And so Shukshin told him.
About Borowitz and the Chateau Bronnitsy. About the Russian ESPers where they worked for world conquest through ESP in their secret den in the heart of the USSR. He told of how Borowitz had sent him out of Russia to England to find and kill British ESPers, and how he had broken away and become a British citizen. And he told him again about the curse that dogged him: how ESP-talented people rubbed his nerves raw and brought on the madness in him. And at last Harry understood and might almost have pitied Shukshin - were it not for his mother.
And as Shukshin talked so Harry thought of Sir Keenan Gormley and the British E-Branch, and he remembered his promise to go and see Gormley and perhaps join his group when all of this had been sorted out. Well, now it was sorted out. And now Harry knew that he must go and see Gormley. For Viktor Shukshin wasn't the only guilty one. There were others far worse than he could ever be. The one who had sent him out on his murderous mission in the first place, for instance. For if Shukshin had never come here, Harry's mother would still be alive.
And at last Harry was satisfied. Until now his life had seemed greatly aimless, unfulfilled - his one ambition had been to kill Shukshin - but now he knew that it was bigger than that, and suddenly he felt small in view of the task which still awaited him.
'All right, Stepfather,' he finally said, I'll leave you now and let you rest. But it's a peace you don't deserve. I can't and won't forgive you.'
'I don't want your forgiveness, Harry Keogh, just your promise that you'll leave me alone here,' Shukshin told him. 'And you've given me that. So now go and get yourself killed and let me be .. .'
Harry climbed stiffly to his feet. Every bone in his body ached - his head, too - and he felt completely sapped of strength. It was partly physical, but mostly emotional. It was the calm which follows on the storm, and, although he couldn't yet know it, it was also the lull before the greater storm still to come.
But now he shrugged himself upright, left the cushion lying there forgotten in the snow, headed back towards his car. Behind him and yet with him a voice said in his mind: 'Goodbye, Harry.' But it wasn't Shukshin's voice.
'Goodbye, Ma,' he answered. 'And thanks. I'll always love you.'
'And I'll always love you, Harry.'
'What?' now came Shukshin's horrified mental gasp. 'What! Keogh, what's this? I saw you raise her up, but - ?'
Harry didn't answer. He let Mary Keogh do it for him:
'Hello, Viktor. No, you're wrong. Harry didn't raise me up. I raised myself up. For the sake of love, which is something you can't understand. But that's over now and I'll not do it again. My Harry has others to look after him now; so I'll just lie here, lonely in the mud. Except maybe it won't be so lonely now...'
'Keogh!' Shukshin frantically called out after Harry again. 'Keogh, you promised me - you said you were the only one who could talk to me. But now she is talking to me - and she hurts me most of all!'
Harry kept on walking.
'Now, now, Viktor,' he heard his mother's answer, as if she spoke to a small child. 'That will get you nowhere. Did you say you want peace and quiet? Oh, but you'll soon get bored with peace and quiet, Viktor.'
'Keogh!' Shukshin's voice was a diminishing mental shriek now. 'Keogh, you have to get me out of this. Dig me up - tell them where to find my body - only don't leave me here with her!'
'Actually, Viktor,' Mary Keogh remorselessly con­tinued, 'I think I'll rather enjoy talking to you. You're so close to me here that it's no effort at all!'
'Keogh, you bastard! Come back! Oh ... please.... come... back!'
But Harry kept on walking.
By 1:30 p.m. Harry was back in Hartlepool. The roads were nightmarish, layered with compacted snow for more than half the journey, so that in the main he was driving on his nerves. This only served to drain more of his strength, and when at last he got home it was as much as he could do to drag himself upstairs.
Brenda, his wife of eight weeks, was bright and chirpy about the flat, which had undergone some fantastic and inexplicable metamorphosis since she had moved in after their registry office wedding. She was less than three months pregnant but already blooming. Harry, too, had been in fine fettle when last she had seen him; but now, in complete contrast -
He barely managed the effort of kissing her on the cheek, was asleep almost before his head hit the pillows.
He had been away for three days, doing 'research', she knew, for a new book he was planning - what and where exactly he'd never bothered to say. Well, that was Harry and she should be used to it by now - but she was not used to him turning up looking like he'd spent three days in a concentration camp!
After he had slept right through the afternoon and seemed to have developed a fever, she called a doctor who visited at about 8:00 p.m. Harry didn't bother to wake up for his visit; the doctor thought it might be
pneumonia, though the symptoms weren't quite right; he left pills, instructions and his telephone number. If Harry got worse during the night, especially if his breathing became irregular or he started coughing, or if his temperature went up appreciably, Brenda was to call him at once.
But Harry got no worse through the night, and in the morning he was able to have a bite of breakfast, following which he engaged Brenda in a peculiar, guarded conversation which she was dismayed to find as depressing and morbid as any talk she'd ever had with him during his gloomy or morose periods of previous, less happy times. After listening to him for a little while, when he began to talk about making a will leaving everything to her, or to their child in the event she was unable to make use of it, then she rounded on him and laughed out loud.
'Harry,' she said, taking his hands where he sat on the edge of the bed with his shoulders slumped, 'what is this all about? I know you've had a bug of some sort or other and that you're still feeling low, and I know that when you're a bit down in the mouth it really seems like the end of the world to you, but here we are married for just eight weeks and you sound as if you expect to be dead by the spring! Yes, and me shortly after! I've never heard anything so silly! Just a week ago you were swimming, fighting, skating, full of life - so what is it that's suddenly bothering you?'
At that he decided he really couldn't hedge any longer. Anyway she was his wife now and it was only right that she should know. And so he sat her down and told her everything, with the exception of his dream of the tombstones, and of course excluding the death of Viktor Shukshin. He passed off his aggressive 'exercising' of the past few months as simply a means of ensuring his fitness for work still to come, work which could well prove dangerous; which in turn led him to speak of the British ESP organisation, but not in any depth. It was sufficient
she should know that he wasn't the only strangely talented person - that in fact there were many more - and that there were foreign powers ranged against the free world who were not above using such talents to its detriment. Part of Harry's work with the organisation would be to ensure that these alien powers failed in their objectives; his talent as a necroscope would be used as a weapon against them; the future therefore seemed at best... uncertain. His talk of wills and such had been simply an expression of this uncertainty: he thought it was best to be prepared for any eventuality.
Even telling her all of this - and while not being too specific on any point - still he wondered if perhaps he was making a mistake, if it would have been better to keep her entirely in the dark. And he wondered at his own motives: was he really confiding in her in order to prepare her for ... for whatever? Or was it that she was right, that he was feeling at a low ebb and so needed someone to share the load?
Or there again, was it guilt? He had a course to run now and must pursue it; the chase was not at an end; Shukshin had merely been a faltering step in the right direction. Did he feel that because he chose to go in that direction Brenda was at risk? The dream epitaph - his mother's warning - had said nothing about Brenda dying as a result of anything Harry was yet to do. He had impregnated her, yes, which would result in a birth; but how could any course he took now influence the physical event of the birth itself? And yet a nagging voice in the back of his mind told him that indeed it could.
And so it seemed to him that his motive for telling her was chiefly one of guilt, and also because he needed to tell someone - needed to tell a friend. The trouble was that he seemed to be leaning on the very one he endangered, which aggravated and magnified the guilt aspect out of all proportion!
It was all very confusing and abstruse, and trying to muddle through it made him more tired than ever, so that when he was done talking he was glad to sit back and let her think it over.
Strangely, she accepted everything he said almost as a matter of course - indeed with visible relief - and at once set about to explain why:
'Harry, I know I'm not as clever as you, but I'm not stupid either. I've known there was something in the air ever since you told me that story of yours - about the necroscope. I sort of sensed that you hadn't finished it, that you wanted to say more but you were scared to. Also, there've been times up in Harden when Mr Hannant has stopped me and asked after you. The way he talked, I knew he thought there was something strange about you, too...'
'Hannant?' he frowned suspiciously. 'What did he - ?'
'Oh, nothing to be concerned about. In fact I think he's more than a little frightened of you. Harry, I've listened to you talking to your poor dead Ma in your sleep, and I knew you were holding real conversations! And there were so many other things. Your writing, for instance. I mean, how come you were suddenly a brilliant author? I've read your stories, Harry, and they're not you. Oh, they're wonderful stories, all right, but you just aren't that wonderful! Not the real you. The real you is ordinary, Harry. Oh, I love you - of course I do - but I'm nobody's fool. And your swimming, your skating, your Judo? Did you think I'd believe you were a super man? I promise you it's easier to believe you're a necroscope! It's a relief to know the truth, Harry. I'm glad you've finally told me...'
Harry shook his head in open astonishment. Talk about level-headed...!
Finally he said: 'But I haven't told you everything, love.'
'Oh, I know that,' she answered. 'Of course you haven't! If you're to be working for your country, why obviously there'll be things you need to keep secret -even from me. I understand that, Harry.'
It was as if someone had lifted a great weight off his
chest. He breathed deeply, lay back again, let his head
link into his pillows. 'Brenda, I'm still very tired,' he
yawned. 'Just let me sleep now, there's a love. Tomorrow
I'm to go down to London.'
'All right, my love,' she leaned over him to kiss his forehead. 'And don't worry, I won't ask you to tell me a thing about it.'
Harry slept right through until evening, then got up and ate a meal. They went out about 8:00 p.m. just to walk for an hour in the crisp night air, until Brenda started to feel the cold. Then they hurried home, took hot showers, and made love, and afterwards both of them slept right through the night.
It was the least Harry had done in any single day in his life.
Later he would have reason to recall it as the most wasteful day in his life.
Sir Keenan Gormley was thoughtful as he left ESP HQ, took the lift down to the tiny lobby and went out into the cold London night. Several things had given him cause for concern just recently, not the least of them being Harry Keogh. For Keogh had not yet contacted him, and with each day that passed Gormley felt the time weighing on him like lumps of lead. It was just after nine o'clock as Gormley walked the streets heading for Westminster tube station, and two hundred and twenty-five miles away Harry Keogh himself was just making love to his wife before settling to a night's sleep.
As for Gormley's other causes for concern: there were two of them. One was the way his second in command
kept enquiring after his health, which might seem silly if his second in command weren't Alec Kyle, and if Alec Kyle wasn't a very talented seer, a man whose by no means negligible talent lay in foretelling the future! Kyle's concern for his boss over the last week or ten days had been pretty obvious, no matter how carefully he'd tried to hide it. If there was anything specific, Gormley knew that Kyle would tell him. That was why he hadn't pressed him about it, but it was worrying anyway.
And finally there was the other thing, the big thing. Over the period of the last six or seven weeks there had been at least a dozen different occasions when Gormley had known that there were ESPers about, when he'd 'spotted' them in his mind. He had never come face to face with one, had never been able to pin one down, but he'd known they were there anyway. At least two of them.
It had got so he could recognise them almost as easily as he recognised his own men, but these were not his men. Their auras were strange. And always they watched him from the safety of crowds, in the busy places, never where he could tie a face to a feeling. He wondered how long they would go on watching, and if that was all they would do. And as he reached the underground and went down to the trains he patted the bulge of his 9 mm Browning through his overcoat and jacket. At least that was a comfort. There wasn't an ESPer in the world who could think himself out of the way of a bullet - not that Gormley knew of, anyway...
There were only a few people on the platform and fewer in the compartment where Gormley picked up a discarded copy of the Daily Mail to keep him company during the journey. He found it mildly alarming that the headlines seemed completely alien to him. Was he really that much out of touch? Yes, he probably was! His work had been putting a lot of strain on him and taking up far
too much of his time; this was the third night in a row he'd worked late; he couldn't remember the last time he'd really read a book right through or entertained friends. Maybe Kyle was right to be concerned about him - and on a purely personal level at that - not from the point of view of an ESPer. Maybe it was time he took a break and left his second in command to mind the shop. God only knew he would have to sooner or later. And he made himself a promise that he would take a break... just as soon as he'd initiated young Harry Keogh into the fold.
Gormley had given a lot of thought to Keogh, had considered some of the ways his talent might be put to use. Fantastic ways. All in the mind for now, but fascinat­ing anyway. He would have started to go over them again, but just as it crossed his mind to do so the train pulled into St James's and Gormley found himself distracted by an incredibly pretty pair of legs in a tiny skirt that passed directly in front of his eyes and out of the twin doors. It was a wonder the lovely creature didn't freeze to death, he thought - and wouldn't that be a loss!
Gormley grinned at his own thoughts. His wife, God bless her, was always complaining he had an eye for the girls. Well, his heart might be tricky but the rest of him seemed to be in working order. An eye wouldn't be all he had for that young lady, if he were thirty years younger!
He coughed loudly, returned to his newspaper and tried to get himself reacquainted with the world. A brave effort but he lost interest half-way down the second column. It was pretty mundane stuff, after all, compared with his world. A world of fortune-tellers, telepaths, and now a necroscope.
Harry Keogh again.
There was a game Gormley played with Kyle. It was a
word-association game. Sometimes it startled Kyle's future-oriented mind into action, opening a window for him. A window on tomorrow. Normally Kyle's talent worked independent of conscious thought; he usually 'dreamed' his predictions; if he consciously tried for results they wouldn't come. But if you could catch him unawares...
They had played their game just a few days ago. Gormley had had Keogh on his mind and had wandered into Kyle's office. And seeing the ESPer sitting there he'd smiled and said: 'Game?'
Kyle had understood. 'Go right ahead.'
'It's a name,' Gormley had warned, to which Kyle had nodded his head.
'I'm ready,' he'd said, sitting up and putting down whatever he was working on.
Gormley paced a while, then turned quickly and faced the other where he sat at his desk. 'Harry Keogh!' he had snapped then.
'Mobius!' answered Kyle at once.
'Maths?' Gormley frowned.
'Space-time!' Now Kyle went white, scared-looking, and Gormley had known they'd got something. He gave it one last shot:
'Necromancer!' the other shot back at once.
'What? Necromancer?' Gormley had repeated. But Kyle was still working.
'Vampire!' he'd shouted then, starting to his feet. Then he was swaying, trembling, shaking his head, saying, 'That... that's enough, sir. Whatever it was, it ... it's gone now.'
And that had been that...
Gormley came back to the present.
He looked up and found they'd passed through Victoria and that the train was almost empty. Already they were
mid-way to Sloane Square. And that was when he began to feel a strange depression settling over him.
He felt that there was something wrong but he couldn't just put his finger on it. It might simply be the train's emptiness (which even at this hour was a rare enough occurrence in itself) and that he missed the bustle of life and contact with other human beings, but he didn't think so. Then, as the train pulled into the station he knew what it was: it was his talent working.
The doors sighed open and a middle-aged couple got out, leaving Gormley quite alone, but just before the doors hissed shut again two men got in - and their ESP-aura washed over him like a wave of icy water! Yes, and now he could put faces to feelings.
Dragosani and Batu sat directly opposite their quarry, stared straight at him with cold, expressionless faces. They made a strange pair, he thought, not designed with any degree of compatibility. Not outwardly, anyway. The taller one leaned forward, his sunken eyes reminding Gormley yet again of Harry Keogh. Yes, they were like Keogh's eyes in a way, probably in their colour and intelligence. And that was especially strange, for set in this face one got the impression that by rights they should be feral or even red, and that the intelligence behind them was barely human at all but that of a beast.
'You know what we are, Sir Keenan,' the stranger said in a voice deep as it was dark, whose Russian accent he made no attempt to disguise, 'if not who we are. And we know who and what you are. Therefore it would be childish simply to sit here and pretend that we were ignorant of each other. Don't you agree?'
'Your logic leaves little room for argument,' Gormley nodded, imagining that his blood was already beginning to cool in his veins.
"Then let us continue to be logical,' said Dragosani. 'If we wanted you dead, you would be dead. We have not
lacked the opportunity, as I'm sure you know. And so, when we leave the train at South Kensington, you will not attempt to run or make a fuss, or bring unnecessary attention to yourself or to us. If you do, then we will be forced to kill you and that would be unfortunate, of benefit to no one. Is this understood and agreed?'
Gormley forced himself to remain calm, raised an eyebrow and said: 'You're very sure of yourself, Mr er - ?'
'Dragosani,' said the other at once. 'Boris Dragosani. Yes, I am very sure of myself. As is my friend here, Max Batu.'
' - For a stranger in this country, I was about to say,' Gormley continued. 'It seems to me that I'm about to be kidnapped. But are you sure you know all you need to know about my habits? Mightn't there be something you've overlooked? Something your logic hasn't taken into account?' He quickly, nervously took out a cigarette lighter from his right-hand overcoat pocket and placed it in his lap, patted his pockets as if he searched for a packet of cigarettes, finally started to reach inside his overcoat.
'No!' said Dragosani warningly. As if from nowhere he produced his own weapon and held it before him at arm's length, pointing it directly into Gormley's face, so that the older man looked straight down the rifled barrel of the stubby black silencer. 'No, nothing has been overlooked. Max, could you see to that, please?'
Batu got up, eased himself on to the seat next to Gormley, drew the other's hand slowly back into the open and took the Browning from Gormley's trembling fingers. The safety catch was still on. Batu released the magazine and pocketed it, gave the automatic back to Gormley.
'Nothing at all,' Dragosani continued. 'Unfortunately, however, that was the last wrong move you'll be allowed
to make.' He put away his gun, folded his slim fingers into his lap. His posture was unnatural, Gormley decided: very sinuous, almost feline, very nearly female. He didn't know what to make of Dragosani at all.
'Any more heroics,' Dragosani continued, 'will result in your death - immediately!' And Gormley knew he wasn't bluffing.
Carefully, he pushed the useless automatic back into its holster, said: 'What is it you want with me?'
'We want to talk to you,' said Dragosani. 'I wish to ... to put some questions to you.'
'I've had questions put to me before,' Gormley answered, forcing a tight smile. 'I imagine they'll be very searching questions, eh?'
'Ah!' said Dragosani. Now he smiled, and it was ghastly. Gormley felt physically repulsed. His man's mouth gaped like a panting dog's, where elongated teeth gleamed sharply white. 'Ah, no. There'll be no bright lights in your eyes, Sir Keenan, if that's what you mean,' said Dragosani. 'No drugs. No pincers. No hose to fill your belly with water. Oh, no, nothing like that. But you will tell me everything I want to know, of that I can assure you...'
The train was slowing as it pulled into South Kensington. Gormley's heart gave a little lurch in his chest. So close to home, and yet so far. Dragosani had a light overcoat folded over his arm. He showed Gormley the silencer of his weapon, let it peep out of the folds of the overcoat for a moment, and reminded him: 'No heroics.'
There was a handful of people on the platform: young people mainly, and a pair of down-and-outs with a bottle in a paper bag between them. Even if Gormley looked for help, he couldn't find much here. 'Just leave the station by the same route you take every night,' said Dragosani at Gormley's shoulder.
Gormley's heart was hammering now. He knew full
well that if he went with these men it was all up with him. He was an older hand at this game than the two foreign agents. When Dragosani had told him his and his squat little companion's names, that had been as good as saying: 'But it won't do you any good, for you won't be around to tell anyone!' And so he must escape from them - but how?
They left the underground onto Pelham Street, walked down the Brompton Road to Queen's Gate. 'I cross here, at the lights,' Gormley said. But as they reached the parking lanes straddling the central reservation Dragosani's grip tightened on his arm.
'We have a car here,' he said, drawing Gormley to the right and along the line of parked vehicles towards an anonymous-looking Ford. Dragosani had bought the car second-hand (tenth-hand, he suspected) and cash down, no questions asked. It would last only as long as his and Max Batu's visit. Then it would be found burned-out in some suburban lane. But it was then, as they approached the car, that Gormley saw his chance.
Not twenty-five yards away a police patrol car pulled into an empty space and a uniformed constable got out and began checking the doors of the parked cars. A routine check, Gormley guessed. Or more properly, where he was concerned, a miracle!
Dragosani felt the sudden tension in Gormley, sensed his move before he could begin to make it. Batu had just opened the nearside front and rear doors of the Ford, was turning back towards Dragosani and Gormley, when his partner hissed: 'Now, Max!'
Unprepared, still Batu instantly adopted his killing crouch, his moon face undergoing its monstrous metamorphosis. Dragosani maintained his grip on Gormley, looked away at the last moment. Gormley had opened his mouth to yell for help, but all that came out was a croak. He saw Batu's face silhouetted against the night,
and one eye which was a yellow slit while the other was round and green and throbbing as if filled with sentient pus! Something passed from that face to Gormley as fast as the thrust of a mental knife; its razor edge located his spirit, his very soul, and opened them up! Except for what little traffic passed in the street, all was quiet, and yet Gormley heard the cacophonic gonging of some great cracked bell from deep inside himself, and knew it was his heart.
With that it should have been finished, but not quite. Thrown backward by the shock of Batu's awful power, Gormley slammed loudly against the wing of a car parked behind the Ford. Along the street the constable's face turned enquiringly in their direction as a second police­man got out of the patrol car. Worse, another vehicle, a blue Porsche, pulled in with a screech of brakes, its headlights dazzling where they picked the three figures out and pinned them against the darkness. In another moment the Porsche seemed to eject a tall young man into the street, his strong face concerned as he grabbed hold of Gormley to steady him.
'Uncle?' he said, staring into the other's bulging eyes, his blue face. 'My God! It must be his heart!' The two policemen were already hurrying to see what was happening.
Dragosani found himself almost paralysed by the changing situation. Everything was going wrong. He made an effort to regain control, whispered to Max Batu: 'Get into the car!' Then he turned to the stranger. By now the policemen were on hand, offering assistance.
'What happened here?' one of them asked.
Dragosani thought fast. 'We saw him stumble,' he said. 'I thought maybe he was drunk. Anyway, I went to help, asked if there was anything I could do. He said something about his heart...? I was about to take him to a hospital, but then this gentleman arrived and - '
Tm Arthur Banks,' said the man in question. 'This is Sir Keenan Gormley, my uncle. I was on my way to meet him at the station when I saw him with these two. But look, this isn't the time or place for explanations. He has a bad heart. We have to get him to a hospital. And I mean right now!'
The policemen were galvanised into action. One of them said to Dragosani: 'Perhaps you'll give us a ring later, sir? Just so we can get a few more details? Thanks.' He helped Banks get his uncle into the Porsche while his driver ran back to the patrol car and got the blue light going. Then, as Banks pulled away from the kerb and swung the Porsche around in a screeching half circle, the constable yelled: 'Just follow us, sir. We'll have him under care in two shakes!'
A moment later and he had joined his colleague in the patrol vehicle, by which time the siren was blaring its dee-dah, dee-dah warning to traffic. In a sort of numb disbelief Dragosani watched as the two cars moved off in tandem. He watched them out of sight, then slowly, unsteadily got into the Ford and sat there beside Batu trembling with rage. The door was still open. Finally Dragosani grabbed its handle and slammed it shut, slammed it so hard that it almost sprang from its fixings.
'Damn!' he snarled. 'Damn the British, Sir Keenan Gormley, his nephew, their bloody oh-so-civilised police - everything!'
'Things are not going well,' Max Batu agreed.
'And damn you, too!' said Dragosani. 'You and your bloody evil eye! You didn't kill him!'
'Allow me to know my business,' Batu quietly answered. 'I killed him all right. I felt it. It was like crushing a bug.'
Dragosani started the engine, pulled away. 'I saw him looking at me, I tell you! He'll talk...'
'No,' Batu shook his head. 'He won't have strength for
talking. He's a dead man, Comrade, take my word for it At this very moment, a dead man.'
And in the Porsche, suddenly Gormley choked out a single word - 'Dragosani!' which meant nothing at all to his horrified nephew - and slumped down in his seat with spittle dribbling from the corner of his mouth.
Max Batu was right: he was dead on arrival.
Harry Keogh arrived at Gormley's house in South Kensington at about 3:00 p.m. the following day. Meanwhile Arthur Banks had been a very busy man. It seemed a year but in fact it was only yesterday when he'd driven up from Chichester with his wife, Gormley's daughter, on a flying visit. Then there had been his uncle's heart attack, since when the entire world seemed to have gone stark, staring mad! And horribly so.
First there had been the awful business of phoning his aunt, Jacqueline Gormley, from the hospital and telling her what had happened; then her breakdown when she arrived at the hospital; and her daughter consoling her all through the long night, when she had broken her heart as she wandered to and fro through the house looking for her husband. This morning she'd stayed at the house until they brought Sir Keenan from the hospital morgue. The mortician there had done a pretty good job with him, but still the old man's face had been twisted in a dreadful rictus. Funeral arrangements were swift - that was the way Gormley had always said he would want it: a cremation tomorrow - until when he would lie in state at his home. Jackie couldn't stay there, however, not with him looking like that. Why, it didn't look like him at all! So she had had to be taken to her brother's place on the other side of London. That, too, had been Banks' job; and finally he had driven his wife to Waterloo so that she could go back to Chichester to the children. She'd be back for the funeral. Until then he was stuck at the house
on his own, or rather in the company of his dead uncle. Aunt Jackie had made him promise he wouldn't leave Sir Keenan on his own, and of course he hadn't refused her that.
But when he got back to the house after putting his wife on the Chichester train -
That had been the worst of all. It had been - mindless! Ghoulish! Unbelievable! And for all that it had been fifteen minutes ago, he was still reeling, still sick, numb to his brain with shock and horror, when Harry Keogh's ring at the doorbell took him staggering to the front door.
Tin Harry Keogh,' said the young man on the door step. 'Sir Keenan Gormley asked me to come and see -'
'H-help!' Banks whispered, choking the word out as if there was no wind in him, as if all the spit had dried up in him. 'God, Jesus Christ! - whoever you are - h-help me!'
Harry looked at him in amazement, grabbed him in order to hold him up. 'What is it? What's happened? This is Sir Keenan Gormley's house, isn't it?'
The other nodded. He was slowly turning green, about to throw up - again - at any moment. 'C-come in. He's in ... in there. In the living-room, of all bloody places -but don't go in there. I have to ... have to call the police. Somebody has to, anyway!' His legs began to buckle and Harry thought he would fall. Before that could happen he pushed him backwards and down into a chair in the lobby. Then he crouched down beside him and shook him.
'Is it Sir Keenan? What's happened to him?'
Even before the answer came, Harry knew.
Soon to die in agony. First and foremost a patriot.
Banks looked up, stared at Harry from a green-tinged face. 'Did you... did you work for him?'
'I was going to.'
Banks baulked, burst to his feet, staggered to a tiny
room to one side of the lobby. 'He died last night,' he managed to gulp the words out. 'A heart attack. He was to be cremated tomorrow. But now - ' He yanked open the door and the odour of fresh vomit welled out. The room was a toilet and it was obvious that he'd already used it.
Harry turned his face away, grabbed a mouthful of fresh air from the open front door before quietly closing it. Then he left Banks retching and walked through into the living-room - and saw for himself what was wrong with Banks.
And what was wrong with Sir Keenan Gormley.
A heart attack, Banks had said. One look at the room told Harry there'd been an attack, all right, but what sort didn't bear thinking about. He fought down the bile which at once rose up and threatened to swamp him, went back to Banks where he crouched weakly at the bowl of the toilet in the small room. 'Call the police when you can,' he said. 'Sir Keenan's office, too, if anyone's on duty there. I'm sure he would want them to know about... this. I'll stay here with you - with him -for a little while.'
'Th-thanks,' said Banks, without looking up. 'I'm sorry I can't be more help right now. But when I came in and found him like that...'
'I understand,' said Harry.
'I'll be OK in a minute. I'm working on it.'
Harry went back to the other room. He saw everything, began to catalogue the horror, then stopped. What stopped him was this: a Queen Anne chair with claw feet lay on its side on the floor. One of its wooden legs was broken off just below the platform of the seat. Embedded in the club-like foot was a tooth; other teeth, wrenched out, lay scattered on the floor; the mouth of the corpse
had been forced open and now gaped like a black shaft in ' the wildly distorted, frozen grimace of the face!
Harry gropingly found himself a seat - another chair, but one free of debris - and collapsed into it. He closed his eyes, pictured the room as it must have looked before this. Sir Keenan in his coffin on an oak table draped in black, rose-scented candles burning at head and feet. And then, as he lay here alone, the... intrusion.
'Why, Keenan?' he asked.
'Noooo! No, keep off!' came the answer at once, causing Harry to rock back in his chair with its force, its fear, its freezing terror. 'Dragosani, you monster! No more - for God's sake have pity, man!'
'Dragosani?' Harry reached out soothing mental fingers. 'This isn't Dragosani, Keenan. It's me, Harry Keogh.'
'What?' the single word was a gasp in his mind. 'Keogh? Harry?' Then a sigh, a sob of relief. 'Thank God! Thank God it's you, Harry, and not... not him!'
'Was this Dragosani?' Harry gritted his teeth. 'But why? Is he insane? He would have to be totally - '
'No,' Gormley's vigorous denial cut him off. 'Oh, he is crazy, of course he is - but crazy like a fox! And his talent is ... hideous!'
Suddenly the answer - or what he thought was the answer - came to Keogh in a flash. He felt the blood draining from him. 'He came to you after you died!' he gasped. 'He's like me, a necroscope.'
'No, absolutely not!' again Gormley's denial. 'Not like you at all, Harry. I'm talking to you because I want to. All of ... of us, talk to you. You're the bringer of warmth, of peace. You're contact with the dream that went before and which now has faded. You're a chance -the one last chance - that something worthwhile might
linger over, might even be passed on. A light in the darkness, Harry, that's what you are. But Dragosani -'
'What is his talent?'
'He's a necromancer - and that's a different thing entirely!'
Harry opened his eyes a crack and glanced once more at the state of the room. But as the horror welled up again he closed his eyes and said: 'But this is the work of a ghoul!'
That and worse,' Gormley shuddered, and Harry felt it - felt the dead man's shudder of absolute terror shaking his spirit. 'He ... he doesn't just talk, Harry, he doesn't ask. Doesn't even try. He just reaches in and takes, steals. You can't hide anything from him. He finds his answers in your blood, your guts, in the marrow of your very bones. The dead can't feel pain, Harry, or they shouldn't. But that's part of his talent, too. When Boris Dragosani works, he makes us feel it. I felt his knives, his hands, his tearing nails. I knew everything he did, and all of it was hell! After one minute I would have told him everything, but that's not his way, it's not his art. How could he be sure I told the truth? But his way he knows it's the truth! It's written in skin and muscle, in ligaments and tendons and corpuscles. He can read it in brain fluid, in the mucus of the eye and ear, in the texture of the dead tissue itself!'
Harry kept his eyes closed, shook his head, felt sick and dizzy and totally disoriented, as if this were all happening to someone else. At last he said: 'This can't -mustn't - happen again. He has to be stopped. I have to stop him. But I can't do it alone.'
'Oh, yes, he has to be stopped, Harry. Especially now. You see, he took everything. He knows it all. He knows our strengths, our weaknesses, and all of it is knowledge he can use. Him and his master, Gregor Borowitz. And you may well be the only one who can stop him.'
With another part of his awareness, Harry heard Banks on the telephone in the lobby. Time was now short, and there was so much Gormley must tell him. 'Listen, Keenan. We have to hurry now. I'll stay with you a little while longer, and then I'll find a hotel in the city. But if I stay here now the police will want to talk to me. Anyway, I'll find a place and from now until you - ' he realised what he had almost said and bit the words off unspoken, but not unvisioned.
' - Until I'm cremated, yes,' said Gormley, and Harry could picture him nodding understandingly. 'It was to have been soon, but now it will probably be delayed.'
'I'll stay in touch,' Harry said. 'There's still a lot I don't know. About our organisation, theirs, how to go about tracking them down. Many things.'
'Do you know about Batu?' again Gormley's fear was apparent. 'The little Mongol, Harry - do you know about him?'
'I know he's one of them, but - ' 'He has the evil eye - he can kill with a glance! My heart attack - he brought it on. He killed me, Harry, Max Batu. That face of his, that evil eye, it generates mental poison! His power bites like acid, melts the brain, the heart. He killed me...'
'Then he's another I have to settle with,' Harry answered, cold determination stiffening his resolve. 'But be careful, Harry.' 'I will.'
'I think the answers are in you, my boy, and God only knows how much I pray you can find them. Just let me give you this warning: when Dragosani was... with me, I sensed something else in him. It wasn't just his necromancy. Harry, there's an evil in that man that's older than time! With him loose in the world nothing, no one is safe. Not even the people who think they control him.'
Harry nodded. 'I'll be watching out for him,' he said. 'And I'll find the answers, Keenan, all of them. With your help. For as long as you can give me that help, anyway.'
'I've thought about that, Harry,' said the other. 'And you know, I don't think it'll be the end. I mean, this isn't me. What you see here used to be me, it was me - but so was a baby born in South Africa, and so was a young man who joined the British Army when he was seventeen, and so was the head of E-Branch for thirteen years. They've all gone now, and after my funeral pyre this part will also be gone. But me, I'll still be here. Somewhere.'
'I hope so,' said Harry, opening his eyes and standing up, and avoiding looking at the room.
'Find yourself a hotel, then,' said Gormley, 'and get back to me when you can. The sooner we get started the better. And afterwards - I mean when all of this is over and done, if it ever is -'
'Well, it would be nice if you could look me up some time. You see, unless I'm mistaken, you're the only one who'll ever be able to. And you know you'll always be welcome.'
An hour later Harry locked himself in his cheap hotel room and got in touch with Gormley again. As always, having already been in contact with him, it came very easy. The ex-boss of E-Branch was waiting for him, had been considering what to tell him and gave the information in order of priority. They started with E-Branch itself - a deeper view of the branch and the people who worked in it - and went on to the reasons why at this stage Harry should not approach Gormley's second in command or in any way attempt entry into the organisation.
'It would be too time-consuming,' Gormley explained. 'Oh, there would be benefits, of course. For one thing you'd be funded - any necessary expenses would be covered - but at the same time they'd want to give you a good close going-over. And naturally they'd be eager to test your talent. Especially now that I'm gone, and when it comes out what someone has done to my corpse...'
'You think I'd be suspect?'
'What, a necroscope? Of course you'd be suspect! I do have a file on you, true, but it's pretty sketchy and obviously incomplete - and actually I'm the only one who could have vouched for you! So you see, by the time our side had cleared you the other side would have raced ahead. Time is of the essence, Harry, and not to be wasted. So what I propose is this: you won't attempt to join E-Branch right now but work on your own. After all, the only ones who know anything at all about you at this time are Dragosani and Batu. The trouble with that, of course, is that Dragosani knows everything about you, for he stole it directly from me! What we must ask ourselves is this: why did Borowitz send these two here? Why now? What's brewing? Or is he just stretching his tentacles a bit? Oh, he's had agents here before, certainly, but they were only intelligence gatherers. They were enemy, and they sought information - but they weren't killers! So what has happened that Borowitz has decided to turn a cold ESP war into a hot one?'
Harry told him about Shukshin, gave him a brief overview of things as he saw and understood them.
Gormley's thoughts were wry indeed when he answered: 'So you've been working for us for some time, it appears! What a pity I didn't know all of this that time I came to see you. We could have done the job that much more quickly. Shukshin might have been import-
ant to you, Harry, but in reality he was very small fry. We might even have been able to use him.'
'I wanted him for myself,' said Harry viciously. 'I wanted him used up! Anyway, I didn't know there was any connection. I only found that out after I killed him. But that's done with and now we have to get on. So ... you want me to work on my own. But there's the rub: see, I don't have the foggiest idea of how to be an agent! I know what I want to do: I have to kill Dragosani, Batu, Borowitz. That is my priority - but I can't even begin to think how to go about it.'
Gormley seemed to understand his problem. That's the difference between espionage and ESPionage, Harry. We all understand the first. All the cloak-and-daggery, the thud-and-blundering, the DTB - or Dirty Tricks Brigade - it's all old hat. But none of us really knows a lot about the second. You do what your talent tells you to do. You find the best possible ways to use it. That's all any of us can do. For some of us it's easy: we don't have sufficient talent to worry about, we can't expand it. Myself, for example. I can spot another ESPer a mile away; but that's it, end of story. In your case, however -'
Harry began to grow frustrated. His task seemed huge, impossible. He was oneman, one mind, one barely mature talent. What could he do?
Gormley picked him up on that: 'You weren't listening, Harry. I said you have to find the best way to use your talent. Until now you haven't been doing that. Let's face it, what have you achieved?'
'I've talked to the dead!' Harry snapped. "That's it, it's what I do. I'm a necroscope.'
Gormley was patient. 'You've scratched the surface, Harry, and that's all. Look, you've written the stories a dead man couldn't finish. You've used the formulae
that a mathematician never had time to develop in life. Dead men have taught you how to drive, how to speak Russian and German. They've improved your swimming and your fighting and one or two other things. But what do you personally reckon all of this amounts to?'
'Nothing!' Harry answered, after only a moment's thought.
'Right, nothing. Because you've been talking to the wrong people. You've been letting your talent guide you, instead of you guiding your talent. Now I know these are probably bad examples, but you're like a hypnotist who can only hypnotise himself, or a clairvoyant who forecasts his own death - for tomorrow! You have a ground-breaking talent, but you're not breaking any ground. The problem is that you're entirely self-taught. So in a way you're ignorant: like a heathen at a banquet, stuffing yourself full of everything and savouring none of it. And not recognising the good stuff because of the way it's dressed up. But if I'm right you had the answer at your fingertips way back when you were a kid. Except your kid's mind failed to see the possibilities. But you're a man now and the possibilities should be starting to make themselves obvious. Not obvious to me but to you! After all, it's your talent. You have to learn how best to use it, that's all...'
What Gormley said made sense and Harry knew it. 'But where do I start?' He was desperate.
'I have what might just be a clue for you,' Gormley was careful not to be too optimistic. 'The result of an ESP game I used to play with Alec Kyle, my second in command. I didn't mention it before because there might not be anything in it, but if we have to have a starting point - '
'Go on,' said Harry.
And with his mind, Gormley drew him this mental picture:
'What the hell's that?' Harry was nonplussed.
'It's a Mobius strip,' said Gormley. 'Named after its inventor, August Ferdinand Mobius, a German mathematician. Just take a thin strip of paper, give it a half-twist and join up the ends. It reduces a two-dimensional surface to only one. It has many impli­cations, I'm told, but I wouldn't know for I'm not a mathematician.'
Harry was still baffled, not by the principle but by its application. 'And this is supposed to have something to do with me?'
'With your future - your immediate future - possibly,' Gormley was deliberately vague. 'I told you there mightn't be anything in it. Anyway, let me tell you what happened.' He told Harry about his and Kyle's word-association game. 'So I started off with your name, Harry Keogh, and Kyle came back with "Mobius". I said, "Maths?" - and he answered, "Space-time"!'
'Space-time?' Harry was at once interested. 'Now that might well fit in with this Mobius strip thing. It seems to me that the strip is only a diagram of warped space, and space and time are inextricably linked.'
'Oh?' said Gormley, and Harry pictured his surprised expression. 'And is that an original thought, Harry, or do you have... outside help?'
This gave Harry an idea. 'Wait,' he said. 'I don't know your Mobius, but I do know someone else.' He got in touch with James Gordon Hannant in the cemetery in Harden, showed him the strip.
'Sorry, can't help you, Harry,' said Hannant, his thoughts clipped and precise as ever. 'I've gone in an entirely different direction. I was never into curves anyway. By that I mean that my maths was - is - all very practical. Different but practical. But of course you know that. If it can be done on paper, I can probably do it; I'm more visual, if you like, than Mobius. A lot of his stuff was in the mind, abstract, theoretical. Now if only he and Einstein could have got together, then we really might have seen something!'
'But I have to know about this!' Harry was desperate. 'Can't you suggest anything?'
Hannant sensed Harry's urgency, raised a mental eyebrow. In that emotionless, calculating fashion of his, he said: 'But isn't the answer obvious, Harry? Why don't you ask him, Mobius himself? After all, you're the only one who can...'
Suddenly excited, Harry crossed back to Gormley. 'Well,' he told him, 'at least I have a place to start now. What else came out of this game of yours with Alec Kyle?'
'After he came up with "Space-time" I tried him with "necroscope",' said Gormley. 'He immediately came back with "necromancer".'
Harry was silent for a moment, then said:'So it
looks like he was reading your future as well as mine....'
'I suppose so,' Gormley answered. 'But then he said something that's got me stumped even now. I mean -even assuming that all we've just mentioned is somehow connected - what on earth am I supposed to make of "vampire", eh?'
Cold fingers crept up Harry's spine. What indeed? Finally he said:
'Keenan, can we stop there? I'll get back to you as soon as possible, but right now there are one or two things I have to do. I want to give my wife a call, find a reference library, check some things out. And I want to go and see Mobius, so I'll probably be booking a flight to Germany. Also, I'm hungry! And ... I want to think about things. Alone, I mean.'
'I understand, Harry, and I'll be ready when you want to start again. But by all means see to your own needs first. Let's face it, they have to be greater than mine. So go ahead, son. You see to the living. The dead have plenty of time.'
'Also,' Harry told him, 'there's someone else I want to speak to - but that's my secret for now.'
Gormley was suddenly worried for him. 'Don't do anything rash, Harry. I mean - '
'You said I should go it alone, do it my way,' Harry reminded him.
He sensed Gormley's nod of acquiescence. That's right, son. Let's just hope you do it right, that's all.'
Which was one sentiment Harry could only agree with.
Late that same evening, at the Russian Embassy Dragosani and Batu had finished their packing and were looking forward to their morning flight out. Dragosani had not yet started to commit his knowledge to paper; this was the last place for that sort of undertaking. One might as well write a letter direct to Yuri Andropov himself!
The two Russian agents had rooms with a linking door and only one telephone, which was situated in Batu's apartment. The necromancer had just stretched himself out on his bed, lost in his own strange, dark
thoughts, when he heard the phone ring in Batu's room. A moment later and the squat little Mongol knocked on the joining door. 'It's for you,' his muffled voice came through the stained, dingy oak panels. The switchboard. Something about a call from outside.'
Dragosani got up, went through into Batu's room. Sitting on the bed, Batu grinned at him. 'Ho, Comrade! And do you have friends here in London? Someone seems to know you.'
Dragosani scowled at him, snatched up the telephone. 'Switchboard? This is Dragosani. What's all this about?'
'A call for you from outside, Comrade,' came the answer in a cold, nasal, female voice.
'I doubt it. You've made a mistake. I'm not known here.'
'He says you'll want to speak to him,' said the operator. 'His name is Harry Keogh.'
'Keogh?' Dragosani looked at Batu, raised an eye­brow. 'Ah, yes! Yes, I do know of him. Put him through.'
'Very well. Remember, Comrade: speech is insecure.' There came a click and a buzzing, then:
'Dragosani, is that you?' The voice was young but strangely hard. It didn't quite fit the gaunt, almost vacant face that Dragosani had seen staring at him from the frozen river bank in Scotland.
'This is Dragosani, yes. What do you want, Harry Keogh?'
'I want you, necromancer,' said the cold, hard voice. 'I want you, and I'm going to get you.'
Dragosani's lips drew back from his needle teeth in a silent snarl. This one was clever, daring, brash -dangerous! 'I don't know who you are,' he hissed, 'but you're obviously a madman! Explain yourself or get off the phone.'
'The explanation's simple, "Comrade",' the voice had
grown harder still. 'I know what you did to Sir Keenan Gormley. He was my friend. An eye for an eye, Dragosani, and a tooth for a tooth. That's my way, as you've already seen. You're a dead man.'
'Oh?' Dragosani laughed sardonically. 'I'm a dead man, am I? And you, too, have ways with the dead, don't you, Harry?'
'What you saw at Shukshin's was nothing, "Comrade",' said the icy voice. 'You don't know all of it. Not even Gormley knew all of it.'
'Bluff, Harry!' said Dragosani. 'I've seen what you can do and it doesn't frighten me. Death is my friend. He tells me everything.'
'That's good,' said the voice, 'for you'll be speaking to him again soon - but face to face. So you know what I can do, do you? Well think about this: next time I'll be doing it to you!'
'A challenge, Harry?' Dragosani's voice was dangerously low, full of menace.
'A challenge,' the other agreed, 'and the winner takes all.'
Dragosani's Wallach blood was up; he was eager now: 'But where? I'm already beyond your reach. And tomorrow there'll be half a world between.'
'Oh, I know you're running now,' said the other contemptuously. 'But I'll find you, and soon. You, and Batu, and Borowitz...'
Again Dragosani's lips drew back in a hiss. 'Perhaps we should meet, Harry - but where, how?'
'You'll know when it's time,' said the voice. 'And know this, too: it will be worse for you than it was for Gormley.'
Suddenly the ice in Keogh's voice seemed to fill Dragosani's veins. He shook himself, pulled himself together, said: 'Very well, Harry Keogh. Whenever and wherever, I'll be waiting for you.'
'And the winner takes all,' said the voice a second time. There came a faint click and the dead line began its intermittent, staccato purring.
For long moments Dragosani stared at the receiver in his hand, then hurled it down into its cradle. 'Oh, I surely will!' he rasped then. 'Be sure I'll take everything, Harry Keogh!'
P/S: Copyright -->www_novelfreereadonline_Com