The Hunters and the Hunted

Harry Keogh, Necroscope and would-be avenger, had thought at first that it would not be especially difficult to track down his quarry: a young driver working for Frigis Express, who also happened to be a necromancer, sex monster, and the insane serial killer of (to date) six young women. But he'd soon discovered that it wouldn't be nearly as simple as he'd thought. Frigis had a dozen branches up and down the country, with a like number of warehouses and freezer depots, and over two hundred trucks of which fifty per cent were on the roads at any given hour of the day or night. The firm must therefore employ quite a few drivers who would fit the vague description in Harry's possession; (vague, yes, for he suspected that the bloated, lusting creature he'd been shown was more a figure of terrified imagination than of the real man). Also, it seemed likely that Frigis would use casual labour, and it could be that Harry's man was one of these; but somewhere there should be a list of regular employees at least. Harry hoped to find that list, and also that the John or 'Johnny' he was looking for would be on it.

On the third Wednesday in May at 3:30 in the morning, he paid a visit to Frigis's main office in London to have a look at the company's books. He went there via the Möbius Continuum, making several stops at well-known exit points before finally emerging in a shop doorway in Oxford Street. At that hour the normally polluted air was almost wholly free of traffic fumes and even bracing, and the night-lighting loaned the street a certain alien luminosity. Large, lethargically flapping pages from a discarded, dismembered newspaper fluttered like strange slow birds on buffets of blustery air along the gutters.

The offices Harry was looking for were directly opposite; no lights showed within the building; he hoped there'd be no night watchman to complicate matters. And there wasn't.

Entering the building by the Möbius route, Harry let his burgeoning vampire instincts guide him to the correct floor and then to the records office. Locked doors were no trouble at all to the Necroscope, who used numbers to conjure doors of his own out of the thin air. But twice, purely out of habit, he went to switch on lights before realizing that he no longer had need of them; and once he came face to face with a full-length mirror, which both shocked and fascinated him with its picture of a gaunt-faced man with luminous, red-tinged eyes. He had known of course that the change was taking place in him, but only then realized how quickly it was happening. It filled him with mixed emotions and alien longings; it was the night and the mystery, and the going in strange places, as if in search of prey. Well, and so he was. Except there is prey and there is prey...

The records office was dirty and untidy, and smelled of strong coffee and stale cigarette smoke. It had an antiquated system of filing cabinets, all open for Harry's inspection. He quickly turned up a list of branch and depot managers, but no information on rank-and-file employees. There was, however, a list of addresses and telephone numbers of all Frigis Express's subsidiary offices, which Harry pocketed. That should save him a little time, at least. But that was all there was, which was hardly satisfactory.

Disgruntled, Harry pondered over his next move: presumably to start at the top of the list of branches and work down it. But then, out of nowhere, he found himself wondering if maybe Trevor Jordan was up and about. He could use a cup of coffee, a little companionship and friendly conversation, someone... to be with - briefly, anyway - if only to work the weirdness out of his system.

It was unlikely Jordan would be awake, but just on the off chance Harry reached out with his telepathic mind and searched for him - and immediately found him.

Harry? Jordan's unmistakable 'voice' sounded in Harry's mind as clearly as if he'd whispered the words in his ear. Is that you?

Harry found telepathy similar to and yet quite different from deadspeak. He had used something like it before - a sort of reverse deadspeak, he supposed - but that had been quite a few years ago in his incorporeal days and also very different. Telepathy was therefore new to him. Even so, still it struck him as being... more natural? Well, and he supposed it was more natural. For after all, almost anything in the world would be. But telepathy: it was something like a telephone conversation, even down to the hiss and crackle of psychic 'static'; whereas dead-speak was the wind whistling eerily down a bleak desert canyon under a full, floating moon. In short, it was the difference between talking mind-to-mind with living people, and conversing metaphysically with dead ones.

And yet Jordan had seemed wary, unsure of Harry's identity and even unwilling to reveal his own. Just why that should be the Necroscope couldn't guess. He frowned and asked, Who else would it be, Trevor?

And hearing his voice, Jordan knew him at once. But his mind-sigh (of relief?) warned Harry that something was very wrong. Likewise what he said next: Harry, you know my old place in Barnet? That's where I am. But I can't say for how long. I'd like to get out of here. I don't want to explain right now - it mightn't even be safe to - but do you think you could get round here? I mean, like now?

What's the trouble? Harry was switched on now, alert to danger. And he could still sense Jordan's uncertainty.

Harry, I don't know. I came down to London to see if I could maybe find something out for you, but I've been blocked all along the line, almost from the start. I came here to watch them, E-Branch, but hell... I didn't think there'd be anyone watching me!

Right now?

Right now, yes.

I'm on my way, said Harry.

Air made a small implosion into the empty space where he stepped through a Möbius door, its draught causing papers to rustle in a filing cabinet he'd left standing open. But before the papers had stopped rustling Harry had tracked down Jordan's thoughts to Barnet.

He emerged silently into the resurrected telepath's front room, whose first-floor bay windows overlooked a cobbled cul-de-sac, the end wall of a park, and the dark, gently mobile silhouette of trees beyond. The room was in darkness and Jordan was at the window, looking out through a crack in the curtains on a street shining dull yellow in electric lamplight. Harry reached out to a wall switch and put on the light, and Jordan hissed, fell into a crouch and whirled to face him. There was a gun in his hand.

'It's OK,' the Necroscope told him. 'It's just me.'

Jordan drew a deep breath and almost fell into a chair. He waved his hand to indicate Harry should also sit down. 'It's just the way you come and go,' he said.

'You invited me,' Harry reminded him.

Jordan nodded. 'Here I am a bag of nerves, looking out into the street - and then the light going on like that!'

Harry said, 'It wasn't deliberate; or rather, it was. If I had spoken you'd have turned and seen me. I'm not sure which would have shocked you more: the light going on suddenly, or seeing my eyes in the dark.'

'Your eyes?'

Harry grimaced, nodding. 'They're red as hell, Trevor. And there's nothing to stop it now. What's in me is a strong one.'

'But... you still have a little time?'

Harry shrugged. 'I don't know how long. Long enough to do one last thing, I hope, and then I'll be on my way.' He finally sat down. 'Now, would you like to put your gun away and tell me what's on your mind?'

Jordan looked at the gun in his hand as if he'd forgotten it was there. He gave a snort and replaced it in its shoulder holster. 'Nervous as a cat,' he explained. 'Or rather, as a mouse watched by a cat!'

'Are you watched?' Harry didn't know where to aim his thoughts to check. Searching for Jordan had been different, for he'd known what he was looking for; likewise Paxton. But looking for someone he wasn't used to -some unknown someone - was a trick he'd yet to master. 'Are you sure?'

Jordan got up and put out the light, went to the curtains again. 'I've never been so sure. He or they are out there right now, not too far away, scanning me. Or if not scanning, obscuring. They're blocking me. I can't read past them. I keep thinking it can only be E-Branch, but how the hell would they know I was back? Alive, I mean?' He looked back from the curtains, saw Harry's alien face and said, 'I ... I see what you mean.'

Harry, a tall, dark silhouette whose eyes made his face a mask from hell, nodded. But there were other things to worry about than the glare of his blood-hued eyes. 'What does it feel like, to have someone watching you, blocking your mind?'

'Being watched is how it felt with Paxton; blocking is mental interference. A screen of static.'

'But I wasn't even sure Paxton was there until you told me. He was just an itch. And as for mental interference...'

'OK.' The other matched Harry's shrug. 'I'll give you an example. Try aiming your thoughts right at me.'

Harry did it and met a buzzing wall of interference. If he hadn't known it was Jordan, then he wouldn't have known what it was. Jordan said, 'Find something like that, and you know someone's scrambling you. Deliberately. I know because I've had practice. When the Russian espers used to cover the Chateau Bronnitsy, it was like this all the time. We used to try and break through, and they were always trying to get through to us.' He looked at Harry again, penetratingly. 'Incidentally, you do it all the time, Harry, except when you're wanting to read someone, or wanting someone to read you. But with you it's different. Something that's permanent and getting stronger all the time. It isn't static but something else, and it comes natural to you. So natural you didn't even know about it, did you? Or maybe "natural" is the wrong word for it. What you have is ... well, in E-Branch we used to call it mind-smog.'

The Necroscope nodded. 'I wondered about that. It's a dead giveaway. By now Darcy's espers must know what I am. Or if not he should fire the lot of them! So it looks like the talent Wellesley gave me is going to be redundant ... or maybe not.' And after a moment's thought: 'No definitely not. Wellesley's thing is a total blanket: it doesn't just make my mind unreadable but blanks it out entirely. The vampire thing is just mind-smog, like you said. But it makes me wonder: how come Paxton didn't discover what was happening to me earlier? How was he able to get to me at all?'

'It was only just starting then,' Jordan answered. 'Your vampire thing wasn't fully developed. It still isn't, but sufficiently so that it stopped me. I've tried to reach you half a dozen times this last couple of days but was only able to make it when you wanted to contact me. Oh, and something else. You mentioned Darcy Clarke, right? Well -'

Suddenly he paused and held up a cautioning hand. 'Wait!' And in another moment: 'Did you feel that?'

Harry shook his head.

'A probe,' said Jordan. 'Someone trying to get in to me. The moment I relax, they're there.'

Harry stepped toward Jordan and the large, curved windows, but held himself back a little in the shadows. 'You said it was on your mind to get out of here. What did you mean?'

'Only that I don't know what's on their minds,' the other told him. 'I mean, I know it can only be E-Branch out there, but I don't know what they're up to or what they're planning. Do they know it's me? That seems unlikely: what, that I'm back from the dead? But on the other hand, and from their point of view, who else can I be if I'm a telepath using Trevor Jordan's flat? And this watch they're keeping on me: it reminds me of that time we were covering Yulian Bodescu. I mean, who the hell do they think I am, Harry?'

Very slowly, Harry nodded. T begin to understand,' he said. And he gripped Jordan's elbow. 'And you're right: it's exactly like that time they were covering Yulian Bodescu. Which means that it's not so much a case of who they think you are but what they think you are!'

Jordan gasped. 'You mean they think I'm...?'

'It's possible. You're back from the dead, aren't you?'

'But I have no mind-smog.'

'Neither did I, until recently.'

Again Jordan's gasp. 'They're waiting to see how things develop before they move in! Which would explain just about everything. Certainly it would explain why I'm shit-scared of them! I'm picking up something of their suspicions, their intentions. I'm sensing the hunters hot on my track. Harry, they think - they suspect - that I'm a vampire!'

The Necroscope tried to calm him down. 'But you're not, and it's easy to prove that you're not. Also, Darcy Clarke's in charge of E-Branch, and... what were you going to tell me about Darcy, anyway?'

Jordan came away from the window. Another look at Harry's face convinced him the light would be better on. He tripped the switch on the wall, then sat down heavily. 'Darcy's at home,' he said, 'and very unhappy about something. He was the one I was supposed to be watching, remember? Because he's the boss and would know which ways things are jumping. But now he seems to have been taken off the job. And while he isn't a telepath himself, still somebody is throwing up a pretty good shield around him, making it hard to get anything.'

That felt ominous. Harry said, 'Maybe we should go and see him. Maybe we should confront him, ask him straight out what's going on. I'm pretty sure I know already - that the Branch is just waiting for me to put a foot wrong - but if we hear it from Darcy then we'll know it for sure.'

Jordan shrugged. 'At least it would get me out of here. I feel that if I don't get out, then I'll go nuts! God, I don't like being watched and not know what they're thinking.'

'OK,' said Harry. 'And afterwards? Will you come back here or what? The thing is, I could use some help on this serial killer thing. And we can use my place in Bonnyrig as a base. For the time being, anyway. That way we'll be able to spell each other watching out for the watchers. And when this task I've set myself is done, then, before I leave - I mean before I really leave everything - we'll find a way to square it with E-Branch and put your own record straight.'

That all sounds good to me.' Jordan breathed a sigh of relief. 'Just say the word, Harry, and I'm your man.'

The other nodded. 'The word is we go and see Darcy. He's single, isn't he, like most of you espers? I know he used to live in Hoddesdon; is he still there? And will he be on his own, or is there a woman? Darcy isn't likely to buckle under a shock or two, I'm sure, but I don't want to go scaring any women.'

Jordan shook his head. 'No woman that I know of. Darcy's been married to the job too long. But he's not in Hoddesdon any more. He got himself a house in Crouch End, just a mile or two away. A nice place with a garden in Haslemere Road. Only been there a couple of weeks. He moved in right after the Greek job.'

Again Harry's nod. 'I don't know the area but you can show it to me. Is there anything you want to take with you?'

'My suitcase is already packed.'

Then we can go right now.'

'At 4:20 in the morning? If you say so. I don't have a car, though, so we either walk it or I'll need to call a - ' But Jordan knew his mistake at once, as soon as he saw Harry's strange wan smile.

'A taxi's not necessary,' the Necroscope told him. 'I have my own transport...'

Darcy Clarke was still up, pacing the floor as he'd paced it all night. It wasn't his talent that was bothering him - he himself wasn't in any danger - he was just worried about the Branch and the job he suspected was being planned right now, at this very moment. About that, and about Harry Keogh. But in fact the two were one and the same thing.

The ground-floor lights of Clarke's house were bright behind a facade of shrubs and trees as Harry guided Jordan out through a Möbius exit and back into the real world. 'You can open your eyes now,' he told the telepath as Jordan staggered under the briefly suspended, now renewed, pull of gravity. It was like the feeling in the pit of your stomach when an elevator descends to the level you want and jerks to a halt there, except this elevator had no walls, floor or ceiling and you 'fell' in every direction at once. Which was why Harry had asked Jordan to close his eyes a moment.

'My God!' Jordan whispered, swaying a little as he looked all around at the night street.

Harry thought: God? The Möbius Continuum? Well, and you could be right. August Ferdinand thinks so, anyway! He steadied the telepath and said, 'I know. It's a weird sensation, isn't it?'

Jordan looked at Harry and felt himself in awe of him. He talked about the immundane, the utterly unbelievable, as if it were merely odd. But finally Jordan gathered his senses to say, 'Nice shot, Harry. That's Darcy's place right there.'

They let themselves in through the garden gate and walked up a path between the shrubs. The glowing white globe of a lamp drew a cloud of moths where it hung like a small moon over the front door. Harry directed Jordan to stand to one side, put on his dark glasses and pushed the doorbell; in a little while footsteps sounded from within.

The door was equipped with a peephole lens; Clarke used it and saw Harry standing on his doorstep, staring right at him. His talent made no objection as he opened the door, which told him a lot. 'Harry!' he said. 'Come in, come in!'

'Darcy,' Harry said, taking hold of his arm, 'listen, take it easy - but there's someone with me.'

'Someone with - ?' Darcy started to say as Jordan stepped into view. He saw him and said, 'Trevor...?' Then he started violently and took a pace to the rear.

Harry, following him in, said: 'It's OK, it's OK!'

'Trevor!' Clarke breathed, his eyes bulging in his suddenly pale face. 'Trevor Jordan! Oh, my God! Oh, sweet Jesus!'

Harry wished people wouldn't keep using these Names of Power so casually, but on this occasion he understood and made nothing of it.

Trevor Jordan pushed past Harry and took Clarke's other arm; Clarke at once strained back and away from both of them. But again it was a 'normal' reaction, nothing to do with his talent. Jordan said, 'Darcy, it really is me. And I'm OK.'

'OK?' Clarke's mouth open and closed and the word came out like a croak. He tried again. 'Really you? Yes, I can see that. But I know you're dead. I was with you in that Rhodes hospital, remember, when you put a bullet in your brain!'

Harry said, 'Can we go inside, sit down, talk?'

Talk?' Clarke looked at him - at both of them - as if they were mad, or as if he was. But then he nodded. 'Sure, why not? And then I might wake up!'

In the living room Clarke pointed to chairs, poured drinks like a robot, actually apologized for the untidiness and said he wasn't quite settled in yet. And then he very carefully sat down and tossed back his large whisky in one... and at once sprang to his feet again and said, 'So for fuck's sake, talk! Convince me that I haven't cracked!'

Harry calmed him down and very quickly explained everything - or almost everything - but without going into the fine details. And when he was through: 'So we've come to see you to find out what's going on, what it is that you and E-Branch are up to. Actually I'm pretty sure I already know. So I'm counting on you to keep them off my back until I get done with what I'm pledged to do.'

Finally Clarke closed his mouth and turned to stare hard at Jordan. Jordan, yes - looking exactly as Clarke had always known him - but still he took the other's hand and squeezed it, and stared even harder just to be one hundred per cent sure. But in the end there was no way round it; this could only be Trevor Jordan. The telepath suffered Clarke's astonished scrutiny and made no complaint as this old friend of so many years' standing checked him out, checked every well-remembered line of his face and form.

Jordan's face was fresh, oval and open, and with his fair, thinning hair falling forward over grey eyes, it would normally look boyish; except that now it was lined with worry and not a little astonishment of his own. His feelings were reflected in the line of his mouth: naturally crooked, it would tighten and straighten out if something was wrong. Which was how it looked now, straight and tight. Well, and Clarke could well understand that.

And Clarke thought: Good old easy-going Trevor! Transparent as a window, readable as an open book. Such has always been your guise, anyway. As if you'd like people to be able to read you as easily as you read them, like you were trying to compensate for your metaphysical talent, or even apologize for it. Trevor Jordan: sensitive but always determined, I never met the man who didn't like you. And if there was such a one, why, you'd simply avoid him. And if you really are you, you'll know exactly what I'm thinking.

Jordan grinned and said, 'You missed out the handsome, rangy-limbed, athletic bit! But what's this about "boyish"? Are you calling me a big kid, Darcy?'

Clarke sat back in his chair and touched his feverish brow with a trembling hand. He didn't know which one of them to look at, Harry Keogh or Trevor Jordan. Finally he said, 'What can I say? Except... welcome back, Trevor!'

After more drinks, it was Darcy's turn. He told them what he knew, which wasn't much, and finished up: 'So Paxton must have reported how I sent you the files on those girls, Harry, which was sufficient to get me suspended. As for them coming after you: you know how the Branch works almost as well as I do. Of course they'll be coming after you, sooner or later.'

Trevor said, 'And me?'

'No,' Darcy told him, 'because tomorrow first thing, I'll go into town and put them in the picture. I could 'phone the Minister Responsible right now, but at this hour he wouldn't thank me for that. So I'll go in and speak to everyone who is anyone in E-Branch, and make sure they fully understand what's going on. It might do the trick and get them off Harry's back for a while.'

'I hope it gets them off my back,' said the Necroscope, unemotionally. 'I really do.' And he took off his dark-lensed glasses and asked Darcy to dim the lights.

When E-Branch's suspended boss saw Harry's face in the darkened room, he quietly said, 'Harry, I hope so too ... for their sake, every last one of them!'

Harry supposed that Darcy was genuine, supposed he was one of only a very few men in the entire world whom he could trust; but the Necroscope's vampire weirdness was strong in him now, and looking at Darcy Clarke he saw a man who was half-friend and half-enemy. Harry couldn't read the future, not with any certainty - and in any case he knew that prognostication was a dangerous game, fraught with paradoxes - but he could make a damn good guess at what was coming. If he had to stay here in this world longer than he'd planned, if this task he'd set himself took longer than just a few more days, then it could well be that Darcy would be obliged to join the other team. Darcy was an expert, and as Harry's metamorphosis progressed the Branch would need all the expert help it could get. Eventually, one way or another, even Darcy would turn against him. He'd have no choice: sooner or later the plague carrier would have to be destroyed. It was as simple as that.

'Darcy,' Harry said, as he turned the lights up again, 'if we ever did come up against one another, why, you'd be just about the only one who could stop me! For which reason I'm half afraid of you. You know I'm a telepath now? Well, I am. And I wonder: would it bother you if I took a closer look into your mind?'

Darcy's talent sensed no danger. Of course not, for Harry intended him no harm. What he did intend was to take out a sort of insurance policy, one which could be cancelled later, when the danger was past. No harm at all to Darcy Clarke the man, only to his talent itself. For that was what the Necroscope feared: to come up against Clarke knowing he couldn't win, that the deflector's guardian angel would protect him. But with his talent taken away from him, Clarke would be impotent. At least for what remained of Harry's term here. Afterwards... he would give it back to him.

'Look into my mind?' Darcy repeated him.

'With your permission,' Harry nodded. 'But it has to be of your own free will.'

Darcy read nothing into the Necroscope's words. 'But can't you read my mind, just like Trevor here?'

This is different,' said Harry. 'For this you need to invite me in, as if your mind was a door which you were opening for me.'

'Anything you say.' Darcy shrugged; and his eyes met the other's and locked on them, and in another moment Harry was into his mind.

The mechanism Harry sought wasn't difficult to find, and he saw at once that it was a freak, a mutation. It was Clarke's unique talent, which all of his life had protected him from external dangers but was impotent to save itself from the internal danger which was Harry Keogh. And even if it could save itself it did nothing, because Harry meant no harm.

There was no trigger Harry could jam, so he simply wrapped the entire mechanism in a fragment of Wellesley's blanket. The job took as long as it takes to tell and then he was out again. And he was satisfied that Clarke's guardian angel had been gagged, for the time being at least.

'Is that it?' Darcy frowned. 'Are you satisfied I'll do you no harm?'

Absolutely, Harry said to himself, while outwardly he merely nodded. Because if you try you'll have no protection, which means I'll at least be able to protect myself.

And then he heard another voice in his head, Jordan's saying: Which means he's no longer protected from anything. Won't you at least tell him what you've done?

No, Harry answered. You know Darcy: he'd become paranoid about his safety in a moment. That was always his paradox, that despite this weird talent of his, still he looked after himself like he was accident-prone or something.

I hope he'll be all right, that's all, said the other.

'Well?' Darcy prompted Harry.

'I'm satisfied you won't go against me,' the Necroscope told him. 'And now we have to be on our way.'

Jordan said, 'It strikes me as likely that the Branch will know we've been here. If you want to stay on their good side, Darcy, you might like to call the Duty Officer and confirm it. Let them see that you're not in collusion with us. And at the same time you might use your good offices to clear me.'

Darcy pulled a wry face. 'Actually, my "offices" aren't looking any too hot right now,' he said. 'But certainly I'll give it a try.' He looked at Harry. 'So where are you two off to now? Or shouldn't I ask?'

'You shouldn't ask - ' Harry answered. ' - but I'll tell you anyway: we're tracking your serial killer. I sort of got hooked up on it. That's the job I want finished before I move on.'

Darcy nodded. 'That way you'll leave a clean sheet behind you, Harry, which is the way it should be. You'll always be the right sort of legend: famous instead of infamous.'

Harry said nothing. Fame, even infamy, didn't concern him. All that mattered was his obsession. What was more, he knew why it had become an obsession. He was being chased off his territory, forced to vacate his very own world, which he had fought for. Not physically driven out - not yet, anyway - but soon. And the vampire, especially one of the Wamphyri, is tenacious and territorial. Frustrated almost beyond endurance, Harry was fighting back. But if he must take it out on someone, then at least let that someone be a fiend in his own right. Namely, the serial killer, the necromancer, the torturer of Penny and those other poor innocents. Even Pamela Trotter, innocent, yes. Compared to him, anyway.

It was time Harry and Trevor Jordan were on their way. They said the usual farewells, very simply, and Harry told Jordan to close his eyes again. Darcy Clarke watched them go and when they were no longer there held out his trembling hand into the space where they'd passed through a Möbius door into nothing.

And that was all he found there.

Nothing...
    
 

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