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Chapter Fifteen

 

Back in London at INTESP HO, Guy Roberts and Ken Layard had traced Alec Kyle, Carl Quint and Yulian Bodescu. The Devon-based team of espers had travelled back to the capital by train, leaving Ben Trask to mend in the Torquay hospital. Having used the journey to catch up on some sleep, they'd got into HO just before midnight. Layard had roughly 'located' the three figures in question, and Roberts had attempted to scry their whereabouts a little more precisely. Desperation had seemingly honed their talents and the familiarity of their surroundings had helped them to get results - of a sort.

Now Roberts held a briefing: in attendance were Layard, John Grieve, Harvey Newton, Trevor Jordan, and three others who were permanent members of the HO's staff. Roberts was red-eyed, unshaven and itchy; his breath reeked of an endless chain of cigarettes. He glanced around the table and nodded to each man in turn, then got straight into it.

'We've been trimmed back a bit,' he said, untypically phlegmatic. 'Kyle and Quint are out of it, perhaps permanently; Trask is banged up a bit; Darcy Clarke's up north, and... and then there's poor Simon Gower. And the result of our outing? Our job isn't only that much harder, it's that much more important! Yes, and we've less men to do it. We could certainly use Harry Keogh now - but Alec Kyle was Keogh's main man, and Alec's not here. And as well as the danger we know exists - out there, loose - there's now a second problem which could be just as big. Namely, the espers of the Soviet E-Branch have got Kyle on ice at the Château Bronnitsy.'

This was news to everyone except Layard. Lips tightened and heartbeats stepped up. Ken Layard took up the briefing. 'We're pretty sure he's there,' he said. 'I located him - I think - but only with the greatest difficulty. They've got espers blocking everything in there, far more concentrated than we've ever known it before. The place is a mental miasma!'

'That's a fact,' Roberts nodded. 'I tried to pin-point him, get a picture of him - and failed miserably! Just a general mind-smog. Which doesn't bode at all well for Alec. If his being there was all above board, they'd have nothing to hide. Also, he's not supposed to be there at all but here. My guess is, they'll be milking him for all he's worth. And for all we're worth. If I'm cold-blooded about it, believe me it's only to save time.'

'What about Carl Quint?' John Grieve put the question. 'How's he faring?'

'Carl's where he should be,' Layard said. 'Near as I can make out, in a place called Chernovtsy under the Carpathians. Whether he's there willingly is another matter.'

'But we think willingly,' Roberts added. 'I've managed to reach and see him, however briefly, and I think he's with Krakovitch. Which only serves to confuse things further. If Krakovitch is straight up, then why is Kyle in trouble?'

'And Bodescu?' Newton asked. He now felt he had a personal vendetta with the vampire.

'That bastard is heading north,' Roberts grimly answered. 'It could be coincidence, but we don't think so. Ultimately, we think he's after the Keogh child. He knows everything, knows the guiding force behind our organisation. Bodescu has been hit, and now he wants to hit back. The one mind in this entire world which is an authority on vampires - particularly Yulian Bodescu - is housed in that child. That has to be his target.'

'We don't know how he's travelling,' Layard carried on. 'Public transport? Could be. He could even be thumbing lifts! But he's certainly not in any sort of hurry. He's just taking it easy, taking his time. He got into Birmingham an hour ago, since when he's been static. We think he's put up for the night. But it's the same story as before:

he exudes this mental swamp. That's what it's like:

groping around in the heart of a foggy swamp; You can't pinpoint him at all, but you know there's a crocodile in there somewhere. At the moment, Birmingham is the centre of it . .

'But do we have any plans?' Jordan couldn't stand the inactivity. 'I mean, are we going to do something? Or do we just sit here playing with ourselves while everything goes to hell?'

'There are jobs for everybody.' Roberts held up a huge, controlling hand. 'First I need a volunteer to go up and help Darcy Clarke in Hartlepool. Apart from a couple of Special Branch men - who are good blokes but simply can't be expected to know what they're on - Darcy's on his own. The ideal thing would be to send a spotter, except we don't have one right now. So it will have to be a telepath.' He looked pointedly at Jordan.

Harvey Newton got in first, however, saying: 'That's me! I owe Bodescu that much. He got by me last time, but he won't do it again.'

Jordan shrugged and no one else objected. Roberts nodded. 'OK - but stay sharp! Go now, by car. The roads will be empty, so you should be able to go flat out. Depending on how things go at this end, I'll probably be joining you sometime tomorrow.'

That was all Newton had wanted. He stood up, nodded once to all in general, got on his way. 'Take a crossbow,' Roberts called after him. 'And Harvey, next time you "shoot your bolt" make sure you hit the target!'

'What's my job?' Jordan asked.

'You'll work with Mike Carson,' Roberts told him.

'And with me and Layard. We'll try to locate Quint again, and you telepaths can take a stab at sending to him. It's a long shot, but Quint's a spotter, he's a psychic sensitive; he might just feel you. Your message to him will be simple: if he can he's to get in touch with us. If we can get him on the phone, we can perhaps find out about Kyle. And if he doesn't know about Kyle - well, that in itself will answer one question. Also, if we do manage to contact him, it might be a good idea to tell Quint to get the hell out of there - if and while he can! So that's the four of us tied up for the night.' He looked round the table.

'The rest of you can concentrate on the proper running of this place before it comes apart at the seams. Every man Jack is on duty full time as of now. Right, are there any questions?'

'Are we the only ones in on this?' John Grieve asked. 'I mean, are the public, the authorities, still entirely in the dark?'

'Totally. What do we tell them - that we're chasing a vampire through the countryside from Devon to British West Hartlepool? Listen, even the people who fund us and know we exist don't wholly believe in us! How do you think they'd react to the facts about Yulian Bodescu? And as for Harry Keogh... of course the public is in the dark about it.'

'With a single exception, anyway,' said Layard. 'We've had the police alerted to the fact that there's a mad killer on the loose - Bodescu's description, of course. We've told them he's heading north, possible destination the Hartlepool area. They've been warned that if he's spotted they're not to apprehend him but get in touch with us first, then the Special Branch lads who are up there on the job. As and when Bodescu gets closer to his target, then we'll be more specific. That's as much as we dare do for now.'

Roberts looked from face to face. 'Any more questions?' he asked. There were none

3.30 A.M. at Brenda Keogh's tiny but immaculate garret flat overlooking the main road through the town and, across the road, an old, old cemetery. Harry Jnr lay in his cot sleeping and dreaming baby dreams, and his father's mind slept with him, exhausted from a struggle he now knew he had no hope of winning. The child had him, it was as simple as that. Harry was the baby's sixth sense.

In the wee small hours of the misty morning, with dawn still half a night away, a thicker mist was forming in slumbering minds, bringing horror as it swirled and eddied in subconscious caverns of dream. And out of nowhere, telepathic fingers were reaching, probing, discovering!

Ahhh! came that gurgling, clotted mental voice in the two Harrys' minds. Is that you, Haarrryyy? Yesss, I see it is! Well, i'm coming for you, Haarrryyy - I'm coming.

for... you! -

The baby's scream of terror ripped his mother from her bed as if it were the hand of some cruel giant. She stumbled to his tiny room, shook herself awake as she entered and went to him. And how he cried, cried, cried when she took him in her arms, cried like she'd never heard before. But he wasn't wet, and no nappy pins were sticking in him. Was he hungry? No, it wasn't that either.

She rocked him in her arms, but still he sobbed, and his little eyes wide and wild and full of fear. A dream, maybe? 'But you're too tiny, Harry,' she told him, kissing his hot little head. 'Far too tiny and sweet and so very, very young to be dreaming naughty dreams! That's all it was, baby, a naughty dream.'

She carried him back to her own bed, thinking: Yes, and 1 must have been dreaming, too! She must have been, for the baby's scream when it woke her hadn't sounded like the scream of a child at all but that of a terrified man.

It was 3.30 in London, where Guy Roberts and Ken Layard, assisted by the telepaths Trevor Jordan and Mike Carson, had spent the last ninety minutes trying to 'get through' to Carl Quint - without any success that they could measure.

They were working in Layard's private locations room, an office or study set by solely for his use. Wall racks carried maps and charts of the entire world, without which Layard's work for INTESP would be almost impossible. The map which had been spread on his desk for the last two hours was a blown-up aerial recce photograph of the Russo-Moldavian border, with Chernovtsy circled in red felt-tip.

The air was blue and acrid from Roberts's endless chain-smoking, and steam whistled from an electric kettle in one corner where Carson was making yet another cup of instant coffee. 'I'm knackered,' Roberts admitted, stubbing out his half-smoked cigarette and lighting another. 'We'll take a break, find somewhere quiet and try to snatch forty winks. Start up again in an hour's time.' He stood up, stretched, said to Carson, 'Stow the coffee for me, Mike. One addiction's enough, thanks!'

Trevor Jordan pushed his chair away from the desk, went over to the room's small window and opened it as far as possible. He lowered himself into a chair beside it and hung his head out into the night.

Layard yawned, rolled up the map and pigeon-holed it in a rack behind him. In doing so he exposed the huge 1:625,000 scale map of England which they had worked on earlier. At ten miles to an inch the thing covered the desk. He glanced at it, at Birmingham's grey blot, let his talent reach out and touch that sleeping city - and . .

'Guy!' Layard's whisper stopped Roberts half-way out of the door.

He looked back. 'Eh?'

Layard jerked stiffly to his feet, crouched over the map. His eyes searched frantically and he licked suddenly dry lips. 'Guy,' he said again, 'we thought he was down for the night, but he's not! He's off and running again - and for all we know he's been on the move for the last hour and a half!'

'What the hell...?' Roberts's tired mind could barely grasp it. He came lurching back to the desk, Jordan too. 'What are you talking about? Bodescu?'

'Right,' said Layard, 'that bloody thing! Bodescu! He's cleared off out of Birmingham!'

Grey as death, Roberts slumped down into his chair as before. He put a meaty hand over Birmingham on the map, closed his eyes, forced his talent into action. But no use, there was nothing: no mind-smog, no slightest suggestion that the vampire was there at all. 'Oh, Christ? Roberts hissed through grating teeth.

Jordan looked across the room at Carson where he was stirring sugar into three cups of coffee. 'Square one, Mike,' he said. 'You'd better make it four after all . .

It had been Harvey Newton's first choice to take the Al north, but in the end he'd settled for the motorway. What he lost in actual distance he'd get back in speed, comfort, three-lane running, and the Ml's ruler-straight road.

At Leicester Forest East he stopped for a coffee break, answered the call of nature, picked up a can of Coke and a wrapped sandwich. And breathing the cool, moist night air he turned up his coat collar and made his way back across the almost deserted car park to his car. He had left the door open but had taken his keys with him. The whole stop had taken no more than ten minutes. Now he'd top up with petrol and get on his way again.

But as he approached his car he slowed down, stopped. His footsteps, echoing back to him, seemed to pause just a moment too late. Something niggled at the back of Newton's mind. He turned, looked back towards the friendly lights of the all-night eater. For some reason he was holding his breath, and maybe it was a very good reason. He turned in a slow circle, took in the entire car park, the squat, hulking snail-shapes of parked cars. A heavy vehicle, turning off the motorway, lit him up in the glare of its thousand watt eyes. He was dazzled, and after the lorry angled away the night was that much darker.

Then he remembered the upright, forward-leaning dog-thing he thought he'd seen - no, which he had seen - at Harkley House, and that brought his mission back into focus. He shook off his nameless fears, got into his car and started the engine.

Something closed on Newton's brain like a clamp, a mind warped and powerful and growing ever more powerful! He knew it was reading him like a stolen book, reading his identity, divining his purpose. 'Good evening,' said a voice like hot tar in Newton's ear. He gave a gasp of shock and terror combined, an inarticulate cry, and turning looked into the back of the car. Feral eyes fixed him in a glare far more penetrating, far worse than the lorry's lamps. Beneath them, the darkness was agleam with twin rows of white daggers.

'Wha - !?' Newton started to say. But there was no need even to ask. He knew that his vendetta with the monster had run its course.

Yulian Bodescu lifted Newton's crossbow, aimed it directly into his gaping, gasping mouth - and pulled the trigger.

It had been Felix Krakovitch's plan to stay overnight in Chernovtsy; in the event, however, he had ordered Sergei Gulharov to drive straight on to Kolomyya. Since Ivan Gerenko had known that Krakovitch's party was scheduled to stop over in Chernovtsy, it had seemed a very good idea not to. Thus, after Theo Dolgikh got into Chernovtsy at about 5.00 A.M. it had taken him a futile and frustrating two hours simply to discover that the men he sought were not there. After another delay while he contacted the Château Bronnitsy, Gerenko had finally suggested that he go on to Kolomyya and try again.

Dolgikh had been flown from Moscow to a military airport in Skala-podolskaya where he'd been required to sign for a KGB Fiat. Now, in the somewhat battered but unobtrusive car, he drove to Kolomyya and arrived there just before 8.00 A.M. Discreetly checking out the hotels, it was a case of third time lucky - and also unlucky. They had put up at the Hotel Carpatii, but they had been up and on their way again by 7.30. He had missed them by half an hour. The proprietor was only able to tell him that before leaving they'd inquired the address of the town's library and museum.

Dolgikh obtained the same address and followed after them. At the museum he found the curator, a bustling, beaming little Russian in thick-lensed spectacles, in the act of opening the place up. Following him inside the old cupolaed building, where their footsteps echoed in musty air, Dolgikh said, 'Might I enquire if you've had three men in to see you this morning? I was supposed to meet them here, but as you see I'm late.'

'They were fortunate to find me working so early,' the other replied. 'And luckier still that I let them in. The museum doesn't really open until 8.30, you see. But since they were obviously in a hurry...' He smiled and shrugged.

'So I've missed them by... how much?' Dolgikh put on a disappointed expression.

The curator shrugged again. 'Oh, ten minutes, maybe. But at least I can tell you where they went.'

'I would be very grateful, Comrade,' Dolgikh told him, following him into his private rooms.

'Comrade?' The curator glanced at him, his eyes bright and seeming to bulge behind the dense glass of his spectacles. 'We don't hear that term too much down here on the border, so to speak. Might I inquire who you are?'

Dolgikh presented his KGB identification and said, 'That makes it official. Now then, I've no more time to waste. So if you'll just tell me what they were looking for and where they went. .

The curator no longer beamed, no longer seemed happy. 'Are they wanted, those men?'

'No, just under observation.'

'A shame. They seemed pleasant enough.'

'One can't be too careful these days,' said Dolgikh. 'What did they want?'

'A location. They sought a place at the foot of the mountains called Moupho Aide Ferenc Yaborov.'

'A mouthful!' Dolgikh commented. 'And you told them where to find it?'

'No,' the other shook his head. 'Only where it used to be - and even then I can't be sure. Look here.' He showed Dolgikh a set of antique maps spread on a table. 'Not accurate, by any means. The oldest is about four hundred and fifty years old. Copies, obviously, not the originals. But if you look there' - he put his finger on one of the maps - 'you'll see Kolomyya. And here - ,

'Ferengi?'

The curator nodded. 'One of the three - English, I believe - seemed to know exactly where to look. When he saw that ancient name on the map, "Ferengi", he grew very excited. And shortly after that they left.'

Dolgikh nodded, studied the old map very carefully. 'It's west of here,' he mused, 'and a little north. Scale?'

'Roughly one centimetre to five kilometres. But as I've said, the accuracy is very suspect.'

'Something less than seventy kilometres, then,' Dolgikh frowned. 'At the foot of the mountains. Do you have a modern map?'

'Oh, yes,' the curator sighed. 'If you'll just come this way...'

Fifteen miles out of Kolomyya a new highway, still under construction, sped north for Ivano-Frankovsk, its tarmac surface making for a smooth ride. Certainly to Krakovitch, Quint and Gulharov the ride was a delightful respite, following in the wake of their bumpy, bruising journey from Bucharest, through Romania and Moldavia. To the west rose the Carpathians, dark, forested and brooding even in the morning sunlight, while to the east the plain fell gently away into grey-green distance and a far, hazy horizon.

Eighteen miles along this road, in the direction of Ivano-Frankovsk, they passed a fork off to the left which inclined upwards directly into misty foothills. Quint asked Gulharov to slow down and traced a line on a rough map he'd copied at the museum. 'That could be our best route,' he said.

'The road has a barrier,' Krakovitch pointed out, 'and a sign forbidding entry. It's disused, a dead end.'

'And yet I sense that's the way to go,' Quint insisted.

Krakovitch could feel it too: something inside which warned that this was not the way to go, which probably meant that Quint was right and it was. 'There's grave danger there,' he said.

'Which is more or less what we expected,' said Quint. 'It's what we're here for.'

'Very well.' Krakovitch pursed his lips and nodded. He spoke to Gulharov, but the latter was already slowing down. Up ahead the twin lanes narrowed into one where a construction gang worked to widen the road. A steam roller flattened smoking tarmac in the wake of a tar spraying lorry. Gulharov turned the car about-face and, at Krakovitch's command, brought it to a halt.

Krakovitch got out, went to find the ganger and speak to him. Quint called after him, 'What's up?'

'Up? Oh! I mean to see if these people know anything about this area. Also, perhaps I am able to enlist their aid. Remember, when we find what we're looking for, we still have to destroy it!'

Quint stayed in the car and watched Krakovitch stride towards the workmen and speak to them. They pointed along the deserted road to a construction shack. Krakovitch went that way. Ten minutes later he came back with a bearded giant of a man in faded overalls.

'This is Mikhail Volkonsky,' he said, by way of introduction. Quint and Gulharov nodded. 'Apparently you are right, Carl,' Krakovitch continued. 'He says that back there, up in the mountains, that's the place of the gypsies.'

'Da, da!' Volkonsky growled and nodded his concurrence. He pointed westward. Quint got out of the car, Gulharov too. They looked where the ganger pointed. 'Szgany!' Volkonsky insisted. 'Szgany Ferengi!'

Beyond the foothills, rising out of the thin morning mist, the blue smoke of a wood fire climbed almost vertically into the still air. 'Their camp,' said Krakovitch.

'They... they still come.' Quint shook his head in disbelief. 'They still come!'

'Their homage,' Krakovitch nodded.

'What now?' asked Quint, after a moment's silence.

'Now Mikhail Volkonsky will show us the place,' said Krakovitch. 'That blocked off road we passed back there goes to within half a mile of the castle's site. Volkonsky has actually seen the place.'

All three searchers got back into the car, the huge foreman with them, and Gulharov began to drive back the way they'd come.

Quint asked, 'But where does the road go?'

'Nowhere!' Krakovitch answered. 'It was meant to cut through the mountains to the railhead at Khust. But a year ago the pass was declared unworkable because of shale, sliding scree and badly fractured rock. To force it through would constitute a major engineering feat, and there'd be little real benefit to show from it. As an alternative, and to save face, the road will be driven through to Ivano-Frankovsk instead; that is, the existing road will be widened and improved. All on this side of the mountains. There is already a railway route, however tortuous, from Ivano-Frankovsk through the mountains. As for the fifteen miles of new road already built' - he shrugged - 'eventually there may be a town out there, industrial sites. It won't have been a total waste. Very little is wasted in the Soviet Union.'

Quint smiled, however wryly.

Krakovitch saw it, said, 'Yes, I know - dogma. It's a disease we all seem to catch sooner or later. Now it appears I have it too. There is great waste, not least in the mass of words from which we build our excuses. .

Gulharov stopped the car at the new road's barrier; Volkonsky got out, swivelled the barrier to one side, waved them through. They picked him up again and headed up into the mountains.

No one noticed the battered old Fiat parked a half-mile down the road back towards Kolomyya, or the blue exhaust fumes and cloud of dust as it rumbled into life and followed in their tracks . .

Guy Roberts had eaten two British Rail breakfasts, washed down with pints of coffee, and by the time his train pulled out of Grantham he was half-way through the day's first packet of Marlborough Kings. He was huge, red eyed and whiskery, and no one bothered him much. He had his corner of the carriage all to himself. No one looking at him would ever have guessed he possessed the talent of some primal wizard, or that his mission was to slay a twentieth-century vampire. Indeed the thought might be amusing - if it wasn't so very desperate. There were too many desperate things, too much to do, and no time to do it all. It was so very tiring.

Thinking back on the events of last night, he lay back in his seat and closed his eyes. He and Layard had stayed with it right through the night, and it had been one strange, strange night for both of them. Kyle, for instance, at the Château Bronnitsy. As the sky had brightened into dawn, so Layard had found it increasingly difficult to locate Alec Kyle. In his own words it had been like 'the difference between finding a live man and a dead one, with Kyle somewhere in between'. That didn't bode at all well for INTESP's Number One.

Roberts, too, had been unable to penetrate the Château's mind blocks. He should have been able to 'scry' Kyle, but all he'd got on those few occasions when he had actually penetrated the mental defences of Bronnitsy's espers had been... well, an echo of Kyle. A fast-fading image. Roberts didn't know for sure what E-Branch was doing to Kyle, and he didn't much care to guess.

Then there'd been Yulian Bodescu; or rather, there hadn't been him. For try as they might, Layard and Roberts hadn't been able to relocate the vampire. It was as if he'd simply vanished off the face of the map. There was no 'mind-smog' in or around Birmingham, none anywhere in the whole country, so far as the British espers were able to discover. But after they'd thought about it for a little while, then the answer had seemed obvious. Bodescu knew they were tracking him, and he had talents, too. Somehow he was screening himself, making himself 'disappear' out of mindscan.

But at 6.30 in the morning, Layard had picked him up again. Very briefly he'd made contact with a reeking, writhing mind-smog, an evil something that had sensed him at once, snarling its mental defiance before disappearing once more. And Layard had located it somewhere in the vicinity of York.

That had been enough for Roberts. It had seemed to him that if there'd ever been any doubt as to where Bodescu was heading, his destination was now confirmed. Leaving INTESP HQ once more in the capable hands of John Grieve, the permanent Duty Officer, he'd prepared to head north.

It was only as he was actually making his exit from the HQ that word of Harvey Newton came in: how his car had been discovered in an overgrown ditch just off the motorway at Doncaster, and how his mutilated body had been found in the boot with a crossbow bolt transfixing the head. That had clinched it, not only for Roberts but for everyone else involved. They didn't even consider that there might be some other explanation apart from Bodescu. From now on it would be outright warfare - no quarter asked and none given - until the fiend was staked, decapitated, burned and definitely dead!

At this juncture of Roberts's reflections, someone 'ahemmed' and stepped over his outstretched feet. He opened his eyes briefly, saw a slim man in a hat and overcoat claiming the seat beside him. The stranger took off his hat, shrugged out of his coat and sat down. He produced a paperback book and Roberts saw that it was Dracula, by Bram Stoker. He couldn't help but grimace.

The stranger saw his expression, shrugged almost apologetically. 'A little fantasy doesn't hurt,' he said, in a thin, reedy voice.

'No,' Roberts growled his agreement before closing his eyes again. 'Fantasy doesn't hurt anyone.' And to himself:

But the real thing is something else entirely!

It was 4.00 P.M. on the Russian side of the Carpathians, and Theo Dolgikh was weary as a man could be, but he drew strength from the sure knowledge that his job was almost done. After this he'd sleep for a week, then indulge himself in as many pleasurable diversions as he could manage before seeking a new assignment. Assuming, that was, that he hadn't already been assigned some new task. But pleasure can take many forms, depending on the man, and Dolgikh's work had its moments. His missions were often very... satisfying? Certainly he was going to enjoy the end of this one.

He looked out and down from his vantage point in a clump of pines on the north face of the mountainside where it wound back into the gorge, and trained his binoculars on the four men who climbed carefully along the last hundred yards of boulder- and scree-littered ledge weathered into the sheer cliff which formed the south face. They were less than three hundred yards away, but Dolgikh used his binoculars anyway.

He enjoyed close-up the strain in their sweating faces, imagined he could feel their aching muscles, tried to picture their thoughts as they headed one last time for the old creeper-grown ruins up there where the ravine bottle-necked and the stream rushed and gurgled unseen in the depths of the gorge. They'd be congratulating themselves that their quest - their mission - was almost concluded; ah, but they could hardly imagine that they themselves were also at an end!

This was the part that Dolgikh was going to enjoy:

bringing them to their conclusion, and letting them know that he was their executioner.

Most of the time the four moved in clear light, free of shadows: Krakovitch and his man, the British esper, and the big construction boss. But where the cliff overhung, there they merged with brown and green shade and black darkness. Dolgikh squinted into the sky. The sun was well past its zenith, sinking slowly beyond the looming mass of the Carpathians. In just two more hours it would be twilight, the Carpathian twilight, when the sun would abruptly slip down behind the peaks and ridges. And that was when the 'accident' would happen.

He trained his binoculars on them again. The huge Russian foreman carried a haversack with its strap across one shoulder. A T-shaped metal handle protruded: the firing box for gelignite charges. Dolgikh nodded to himself. Earlier in the day he'd watched them lay charges in and around the old ruins; now they were going to blow the place and whatever it contained - a fabulous weapon, according to that twisted dwarf Ivan Gerenko - to hell! So they thought, but that was what Dolgikh was here to prevent.

He put his binoculars away, waited impatiently until they were safely off the ledge and into the woods of the overgrown slope beyond, then quickly moved in pursuit - for the last time. The cat and mouse game was over and it was time for the kill. They were out of sight in the-trees now, with perhaps a mile to go to the ruins, and so Dolgikh must make haste.

He checked his blunt, blued-steel, standard issue Malatukov automatic, shoved home the clip of snub-nosed rounds and reholstered the heavy weapon under his arm. Then he stepped out from cover. Directly opposite his position, across the narrow gorge, the new road came to an abrupt end. This was the point at which someone had decided it wouldn't be cost effective to proceed further. Rubble from the blasted cliff filled the depression, forming a dam for the mountain stream. A small lake lay smooth as a mirror behind it. Beneath the dam the water had forced a route, erupting in a torrent where the much reduced stream continued its course down towards the plain.

Dolgikh scrambled down to the jumbled debris which formed the bridge of the dam and nimbly made his way across and up on to the road. A minute more and he'd left the tarmac behind for the narrow, treacherous surface of the scree-littered ledge. And without further pause he followed in the tracks of his quarry. As he went, he thought back on the events of the day.

This morning he'd followed them when they first came up here. Finding their car parked on the road, he'd hidden his Fiat in a dense clump of bushes and tracked them on foot along this very ledge. Then, at the apex of the gorge where the two sides almost came together, they'd entered crumbling old ruins and searched through them. Dolgikh had observed, keeping well back. For maybe two hours they'd busied themselves digging in the ruins. By the time they were ready to leave they all seemed much subdued. Dolgikh didn't know what they'd found, or failed to find, but in any case he'd been told that it was probably dangerous and warned to steer clear.

Seeing them about to leave, he'd quickly hurried back to his car, waited for them to show up. And in passing, so as to be on the safe side, he'd fitted their vehicle with a magnetic bug. They'd driven back into Kolomyya then, with Dolgikh close behind but keeping just out of sight. He'd almost caught up with them where they stopped, half-way back along the new road, to talk with a party of gypsies in their encampment. But in a few minutes they'd been on their way again, and still they hadn't seen him.

Kolomyya was a railhead and meeting point for four tracks, from Khust, Ivano-Frankovsk, Chernovtsy and Gorodenka; every other building seemed to be a warehouse or storage depot. It wasn't hard to find one's way about; the industrial and commercial sides of the town were distinctly separate. The four men Dolgikh followed had driven to the town's main telephone exchange, parked outside and gone in.

Dolgikh parked his Fiat, stopped a passerby and asked about public call boxes. 'Three!' the man told him, obviously disgusted. 'Only three public telephones in a town as big as this! And all of them constantly in use. So if you're in a hurry you'd best make your call here, at the exchange. They'll put you through quick as a flash.'

In about ten minutes Krakovitch and his party had left the exchange, got into their car and driven off. Their tracker had been torn two ways: to follow them, or find out who they'd contacted and why. Since their car was bugged and he could always find them later, he'd decided on the latter course. Inside the small but busy exchange he'd wasted no time but asked for the manager. His KGB ID had guaranteed immediate co-operation. It turned out that Krakovitch had called Moscow - but not a number Dolgikh was familiar with. It seemed that the head of E-Branch had required higher authorisation for something or other; there had been some talk of blasting, and the big man in overalls had been very much involved. Krakovitch had allowed him also to use the phone. That was as much as anyone at the exchange knew of the matter. Dolgikh had then asked to be put through to Gerenko at the Château Bronnitsy, to whom he'd passed on all that he had learned.

At first Gerenko had seemed confused, but then:

'They're working directly through Brezhnev's contact!' he'd snapped. 'Not through me. Which can only mean that they suspect! Theo, make sure you get them all. Yes, including that construction foreman. And when it's done let me know at once.'

Tracking the bug he'd planted, Dolgikh had arrived at the depot of a local civil engineering firm in the town just in time to see Gulharov and Volkonsky loading a box of explosives into the boot of their car while Krakovitch and Quint looked on. Obviously the big Russian foreman was now a member of their team. Equally obvious, their contact in Moscow had cleared the use of materials for blasting. While Dolgikh still did not know what they intended to destroy, he did have an idea where it was. And what was more, that was as good a place as any for them to die.

While Theo Dolgikh was thinking back on the day's events, Carl Quint's mind was similarly engaged; and now that the broken fangs of Faethor Ferenczy's castle once more appeared through the dark, motionless pines, so his memory instinctively homed in on what he and Felix Krakovitch had found there during their first visit this morning. All four of them had been present, but only he and Krakovitch had known where to look.

The place had been almost magnetic in their psychically enhanced minds: the exact spot had drawn them like iron filings to a magnet. Except they were not filings, and it was not their intention to get stuck here. Quint remembered now how it had been .

'Faethor's castle,' he'd breathed, as they came to a halt at the very rim of the ruins. 'The mountain fastness of a vampire!' And in the eye of his mind he'd seen it again as it must have been a thousand years ago.

Volkonsky would have gone clambering into and amongst the crumbling stone blocks, but Krakovitch had stopped him. The ganger knew nothing at all of what was buried here, and Krakovitch didn't intend to tell him. Volkonsky was down to earth as any man could be. At the moment he was committed to assist them, but that might change if they tried to tell him what they were doing here. And so Krakovitch had simply warned, 'Be careful! Try not to disturb anything...' And the big Russian had shrugged and climbed down again from the tumbled mass of the decaying old pile.

Then Quint and Krakovitch together had simply stared at the place and touched its stones, and let the aura of its antiquity and its immemorial evil wash over them. They'd breathed its essence, tasted of its mystery and let their talents lead them to its innermost secret. As they had picked their way carefully, almost timidly through the fallen rubble of ancient masonry, suddenly Quint had come to an abrupt halt and said huskily, 'Oh, yes, it was here all right. It still is here! This is the place.'

And Krakovitch had agreed: 'Yes, I sense it too. But I only sense it - I don't fear it. There's no warning to bar me from this place. I'm sure that there was a great evil here, but it's gone now, extinct, utterly lifeless.'

Quint had nodded, sighed his relief. 'That's my feeling, too: still here, but no longer active. It's been too long. There was nothing to sustain it.'

Then they had stared at each other, both of them thinking the identical thought. Finally Krakovitch had given it voice. 'Dare we try to find it, perhaps disturb it?'

For a moment Quint had known fear, but then he'd answered, 'If I don't at least discover what it was like - at the end, I mean - then I'll wonder about it for the rest of my life. And since we're both agreed that it's harmless now..

And so they had called up Gulharov and Volkonsky to the place where they stood, and all four of them had set to work. At first the going was easy and they used makeshift implements and their bare hands to clear away masses of loose dirt and rubble. Soon they'd revealed the inner core of an ancient stone staircase, with the steps winding on the outside. The stone had been scorched black with fire and was scarred by jagged cracks as from great heat. Apparently Thibor's plan had worked: the spiral stairwell leading downstairs had been blocked by blazing debris, burying the vampire women and the unfortunate Ehrig alive. Yes, and the burrowing proto-thing too. All of them, buried alive - or undead. But a thousand years is a long time, in which even the undead might truly die.

Then Volkonsky had got his massive arms around a great block of fractured rock and eased it upwards from the rubble which seemed to completely choke the stairwell. Suddenly it had come loose, at which Gulharov had added his own not inconsiderable muscle to the task. Together they'd heaved the block up and over the rim of the excavation - at which the debris at their feet had sighed and settled down a little, and a blast of foul air had rushed up into their faces!

They'd jumped back, startled, but still there had been no threat in it, no sense of impending danger. After a moment, taking Gulharov's arm to steady himself, the big Russian foreman had stepped down from the already uncovered stone steps onto the now dubious surface of the material blocking the descent. Still clinging to Gulharov he'd stamped first one foot, then the other - and at once gone down with a cry of alarm up to his waist in the stuff as it suddenly shifted and gave way under him!

Then the earth had seemed to rumble and shudder a little; Volkonsky had clung to Gulharov for dear life; Quint and Krakovitch had thrown themselves flat and reached down from above to grab hold of the ganger under his armpits. But he'd been quite safe, for already his feet had found purchase on unseen steps below.

And as they'd all four watched in astonishment, so the choking debris around Volkonsky's thighs had settled down, collapsing in upon itself, sinking like quicksand into the hollow depths of the stairwell. Hollow, yes! The stairs had not been completely choked but merely plugged, and now the plug had been removed.

'Now it's our turn,' Quint had said when the dust had settled and they could breathe freely. 'You and me, Felix. We can't let Mikhail go down there ahead of us, for he has no idea what he's up against. If there is still an element of danger attached to it, we should be the first ones down there.'

They'd climbed down beside Volkonsky, paused and looked at each other. 'We're unarmed,' Krakovitch had pointed out.

Up above, Sergei Gulharov had produced an automatic pistol, passed it down to them. Volkonsky saw it, laughed. He spoke to Krakovitch who smiled.

Quint asked, 'What did he say?'

'He said, why do we need a gun if we're seeking treasure?' Krakovitch answered.

'Tell him we're scared of spiders!' said Quint; and taking the gun, he had started down the littered steps. What good bullets would be if the vampires were still extant he couldn't have said, but at least the feel of the weapon in his hand was a comfort.

Blackened chunks of rock, large and small, cluttered the stairs so badly that Quint was often obliged to climb over them; but after turning through another full spiral, at last the steps were clear of all but small pieces of rubble, pebbles and sand sifted down from above. And at last he had been at the bottom, with Krakovitch and the others close on his heels. Light filtered down from above, but not much.

'It's no good,' Quint had complained, shaking his head. 'We can't go in there, not without proper light.' His voice had echoed as in a tomb, which was what the place was. The place he spoke of was a room, a dungeon - the dungeon, for it could be no other place than Thibor's prison - beyond a low, arched stone doorway. Maybe Quint's reluctance had been his final attempt to back away from this thing, maybe not; whichever, the resourceful Gulharov had the answer. He'd produced a small, flat pocket torch, passed it to Quint who shone its beam ahead of him. There under the arch of the doorway, fossilised timber - age-blackened fragments of oak - lying in a pile, with red splashes of rust marking the passing of defunct nails and bands of iron: all that remained of a once stout door. And beyond that, only darkness.

Then, stooping a little to avoid a keystone which had settled somewhat through the centuries, Quint had stepped warily under the archway, pausing just inside the dungeon. And there he'd aimed his torch in a slow circle to illumine each wall and corner of the place. The cell was quite large, larger than he'd expected; it had corners, niches, ledges and recesses where the beam of light couldn't follow, and it seemed cut from living rock.

Quint aimed the beam at the floor. Dust, the filtered dust of ages, lay uniformly thick everywhere. No footprint disturbed it. In roughly the centre of the floor, a humped formation of stone, possibly bedrock, strained grotesquely upwards. It seemed there was nothing here, and yet 'Quint's psychic intuition told him otherwise. His, and Krakovitch's too.

'We were right,' Krakovitch's voice had echoed dolefully. He'd moved to come up alongside Quint. 'They are finished. They were here and we sense them even now, but time has put paid to them.' He'd moved forward, leaned his weight on the anomalous hump of rock - which at once crumbled under his hand!

In the next moment he'd jumped back with a cry of sheer horror, colliding with Quint, grabbing him and hugging him close. 'Oh God! Carl - Carl! It's not... not stone!'

Gulharov and Volkonsky, both of them suddenly electrified, had steadied Krakovitch while Quint shone his torch directly at the humped mass. Then, mouth gaping and heart fluttering, the Englishman had breathed, 'Did you sense... anything?'

The other shook his head, took a deep breath. 'No, no. My reaction, that was simply shock - not a warning. Thank God for that at least! My talent is working - believe me it is working - but it reveals nothing. I was shocked, just shocked. .

'But just look at this... this thing!' Quint had been awed. He'd moved forward, carefully blown dust from the surface of the mass and used a handkerchief to dust it down. Parts of it, anyway. For even a perfunctory dusting had revealed - total horror!

The thing was slumped where in uncounted years past it had groped one last time upwards from the packed earth of the floor. It was one mass now - the mummied remains of one creature - but clearly it was composed of more than one person. Hunger and possibly madness had forced the issue: the hunger of the proto-flesh in the earth, the madness of Ehrig and the women. There had been no way out and, weak with hunger, the vampires had been unable to resist the advances of the mindless, subterranean 'creeper'. It had probably taken them one by one, adding them to its bulk. And now that bulk lay here, fallen where it had finally, mercifully 'died'. In the end, governed only by weak impulse and indeterminate instinct, perhaps it had attempted to reconstitute the others. Certainly there was evidence to that effect.

It had the breasts of women, and a half-formed male head, and many pseudohands. Eyes, bulging behind their closed lids, were everywhere. And mouths, some human and others inhuman. Yes, and there were other features much worse than these.

Emboldened, Gulharov and Volkonsky had come forward; the latter, before he could be cautioned, had reached out a hand and laid it upon a cold, shrivelled breast where it protruded alongside a flabby-lipped mouth. All was the colour of leather and looked solid enough, but no sooner had the big ganger touched the teat than it crumbled into dust. Volkonsky snatched back his hand with an oath, stepped back a pace. But Sergei Gulharov was much less timid. He knew something of these horrors, and the very thought of them infuriated him.

Cursing, he lashed out with his foot at the base of the thing where it sprouted from the floor, lashed out again and again. The others had made no attempt to stop him; it was his way of working it out of his system. He waded into the crumbling monstrosity, fists and feet pounding at

it. And in a very little while nothing remained but billowing dust and a few fretted bones.

'Out!' Krakovitch had choked. 'Let's get out of here before we suffocate. Carl.' He'd clutched the other's arm, 'thank God it was dead!' And with their hands to their mouths, finally they'd climbed back up the stairwell into clean, healthy daylight.

'That... whatever it was, should be buried,' Volkonsky had growled to Gulharov as they moved away from the ruins.

'Exactly!' Krakovitch had taken the opportunity to agree with him. 'So as to be absolutely certain, it has to be buried. And that's where you come in. .

The four had been back to the ruins a second time since then, when Volkonsky had drilled holes, laid charges, unrolled a hundred yards of detonating cable and made electrical connections. And now they'd returned for the third and last time. And as before, Theo Dolgikh had followed them, which was why this would be the last time.

Now, from the cover of bushes back along the overgrown track near the cliff and its precarious ledge, the KGB man watched Volkonsky put down his firing box at the end of the prepared cable, watched as the party moved on towards the ruins, presumably for one last look.

This was Dolgikh's best chance, the moment the Russian agent had been waiting for. He checked his gun again, took off the safety and reholstered it, then quickly scrambled up the scree slope on his left and into a straggling stand of pines where the trees marched at the foot of the gaunt cliffs. If he used his cover to its best advantage, he could stay out of sight until the last minute.

And so, moving with some agility beneath the trees, he quickly closed the distance between him and his intended victims as they approached the gutted ruins.

In order to maintain his cover in this way, Dolgikh occasionally had to lose sight of his quarry, but finally he reached the furthest extent of the cliff-hugging trees and was forced back down into the lesser undergrowth of the old track. From here the group of men at the ancient castle's walls were plainly visible, and if they should happen to look in Dolgikh's direction, they might also see him. But no, they stood silent one hundred yards away, lost in their own thoughts as they gazed upon that which they intended to destroy. All three of them were deep in thought.

Three? Dolgikh squinted, frowned, glanced quickly all about. He saw nothing out of the ordinary. Presumably the fourth man - that young fool, that traitor Gulharov - had entered through the broken exterior wall of the ruins and so passed out of sight. Whichever, Dolgikh knew that he now had all four men trapped. There was no way out at their end of the defile, and in any case they had to come back here to detonate the charges. Dolgikh's leering expression changed, turned into a grim smile. An especially sadistic thought had just occurred to him.

His original plan had been simple: surprise them, tell them he was investigating them for the KGB, have them tie each other up - finally hurl them one at a time from the castle's broken rim. It was a hell of a long way down. He'd make sure that part of the rotten wall went with them, to make it more convincing. Then, at a safe place, he'd climb down, make his way back to them and carefully remove their bindings. An 'accident', as simple as that. There'd be no escape for them: the nylon cord in Dolgikh's pocket had a 2001b breaking strain! They probably wouldn't even be found for weeks, months, maybe never.

But Dolgikh was something of a vampire in his own right, except he fed on fear. Yes, and now he saw the opportunity to give his plan an elaborate twist. A little extra something for his own amusement.

He quickly kneeled, used his strong square teeth to strip the cable down to its copper cores, and connected up the firing box. Then, still on one knee, he called out loudly up the trail: 'Gentlemen!'

The three turned, saw him. Quint and Krakovitch recognised him at once, looked stunned.

'Now what are we having here?' he laughed, holding up the box for them to see. 'See? Someone is forgetting to make the connections - but I have done it for him!' He put down the box and drew up the plunger.

'For God's sake, be careful with that!' Carl Quint threw up his arms in warning, stumbled out of the ruins.

'Stay right where you are, Mr Quint,' Dolgikh shouted. And in Russian: 'Krakovitch, you and that stupid ox of a foreman come to me. And no tricks, or I blow your English friend and Gulharov to bits!' He gave the T-shaped handle two savage right-hand twists. The box was now armed; only depress the plunger, and - 'Dolgikh, are you mad?' Krakovitch called back. 'I'm here on official business. The Party Leader himself - '

' - Is a mumbling old fool!' Dolgikh finished for him. 'As are you. And you'll be a dead fool if you don't do exactly as I say. Do it now, and bring that lumbering engineer with you. Quint, Mr English mind-spy, you stay right there.' He stood up, took out his gun and the nylon cord. Krakovitch and Volkonsky had put up their hands in the air, were slowly leaving the area of the ruins.

In the next split second Dolgikh sensed that something was wrong. He felt the tug of hot metal at his sleeve before he heard the crack of Sergei Gulharov's automatic. For when the others had gone forward to the ruins, Gulharov had stepped into a clump of bushes to answer a call of nature. He had seen and heard everything.

'Put up your gun!' he now yelled, coming at Dolgikh at a run. 'The next shot goes in your belly!'

Gulharov had been trained, but not nearly as thoroughly as Theo Dolgikh, and he lacked the agent's killer instinct. Dolgikh fell to his knees again, straightened his gun arm toward Gulharov, aimed and squeezed the trigger of his weapon. Gulharov was nearly on him. He, too, had fired again. His shot went inches wide, but Dolgikh's was right on target. His snub-nosed bullet blew away half of Gulharov's head. Gulharov, dead on the instant, jerked to a halt, then took another stumbling step forward and crashed over like a felled tree - directly on to the firing box and its extended plunger!

Dolgikh hurled himself flat, felt a hot wind blow on him as hell opened up just one hundred yards away. Deafening sound blasted his ears, left them ringing with wild peals. He didn't see the actual explosion, or simultaneous series of explosions, but as the spray of soil and pebbles subsided and the earth stopped shaking he looked up - and then he did see the result. On the far side of the gorge the ruins of Faethor's castle stood much as before, but on this side they had been reduced to so much rubble.

Craters smoked where the castle's roots were bedded in the mountain. A landslide of shale and fractured rock was still tumbling from the cliff onto the wide, pitted ledge, burying deep the last traces of whatever secrets had been there. And of Krakovitch, Quint and Volkonsky - Nothing whatsoever. Flesh isn't nearly as strong as rock.

Dolgikh stood up, brushed himself down, heaved Gulharov's corpse off the detonating box. He grabbed Gulharov's legs and dragged his body to the smouldering ruins, then toppled him from the cliff. An 'accident', a genuine accident.

On his way back down the track, the KGB man rolled up what was left of the cable; he also collected Gulharov's gun and the box. Half-way down the ledge where it hugged the cliff he threw all of these things into the dark gurgling ravine. It was finished now, all of it. Before he got back to Moscow he would have thought up an excuse, a reason why Gerenko's supposed 'weapon', whatever it had been, no longer existed. That was a pity.

But on the other hand - Dolgikh congratulated himself that at least half of his mission had been accomplished successfully. And very satisfactorily.

8.00 P.M. at the Château Bronnitsy.

Ivan Gerenko lay in a shallow sleep on a cot in his inner office. Down below, in the sterility of the brain-washing laboratory, Alec Kyle also lay asleep. His body, anyway. But since there was no longer a mind in there, it was hardly Kyle any longer. Mentally, he had been drained to less than a husk. The information this had released to Zek Foener had been staggering. This Harry Keogh, if he had still lived, would have been an awesome enemy. But trapped in the brain of his own child, he was no longer a problem. Later, maybe, when (and if) the child had grown into a man .

As for INTESP: Foener was now privy to that entire organisation's machinery. Nothing remained secret. Kyle had been the controller, and what he had known Zek Föener was heir to. Which was why, as the technicians dismantled their instruments and left Kyle's body naked and drained even of instinct, she hurried to report something of her findings - and one thing in particular - to Ivan Gerenko.

Zekintha Föener's father was East German. Her mother had been Greek, from Zakinthos in the Ionian Sea. When her mother died, Zek had gone to her father in Posen, to the university where he worked in parapsychology. Her psychic ability, which he had always suspected in her when she was a child, had become immediately apparent to him. He had reported the fact of her telepathic talent to the College of Parapsychological Studies on Brasov Prospekt in Moscow, and had been summoned to attend with Zek so that she could be tested. That was how she had come to E-Branch, where she had rapidly made herself invaluable.

Föener was five-nine, slim, blonde and blue-eyed. Her hair shone and bounced on her shoulders when she walked. Her Château uniform fitted her like a glove, accentuating the delicate curves of her figure. She climbed the stone stairs to Krakovitch's (no, she corrected herself, to Gerenko's) office, entered the anteroom and knocked firmly on the closed inner door.

Gerenko heard her knock, forced himself awake and struggled to sit up. In his shrivelled frame he tired easily, slept often but poorly. Sleep was one way of prolonging a life which doctors had told him would be short. It was the ultimate irony: men could not kill him, but his own frailty surely would. At only thirty-seven he already looked sixty, a shrunken monkey of a man. But still a man.

'Come in,' he wheezed, as he sucked air into his fragile lungs.

Outside the door, while Gerenko had come more surely awake, Zek Föener had broken a trust. It was an unwritten rule at the Château that telepaths would not deliberately spy on the minds of their colleagues. That was all very well and only decent in normal conditions, normal circumstances. But on this occasion there were gross abnormalities, things which Föener must track down to her satisfaction.

For one, the way Gerenko had literally taken over Krakovitch's job. It wasn't as if he stood in for him at all, but had in fact replaced him - permanently! Föener had liked Krakovitch; from Kyle she had learned about Theo Dolgikh's surveillance activities in Genoa; Kyle and Krakovitch had been working together on - 'Come in!' Gerenko repeated, breaking her chain of thought, but not before everything had fallen together. Gerenko's ambition burned bright in her mind, bright and ugly. And his intention, to use those... those Things which Krakovitch was quite rightly bent on destroying .

She drew air deeply and entered the office, staring at Gerenko where he lay in the dark on his cot, propped up on one elbow.

He put on a bedside lamp and blinked as his weak eyes accustomed themselves. 'Yes? What is it, Zek?'

'Where's Theo Dolgikh?' she waded straight in. No preliminaries, no formalities.

'What?' He blinked at her. 'Is something wrong, Zek?'

'Many things, perhaps. I said - '

'I heard what you said,' he snapped. 'And what has it to do with you where Dolgikh is?'

'I saw him for the first time, with you, on the morning that Felix Krakovitch left for Italy - after he left,' she answered. 'Following which he was absent until he brought Alec Kyle back here. But Kyle wasn't working against us. He was working with Krakovitch. For the good of the world.'

Gerenko swung his brittle legs carefully off the cot onto the floor. 'He should only have been working for the good of the USSR,' he said.

'Like you?' she came back at once, her voice sharp as broken glass. 'I know now what they were doing, Comrade. Something that had to be done, for safety and sanity. Not for themselves, but for mankind.'

Gerenko eased himself to his feet. He wore child's pyjamas, looked frail as a twig as he made for his great desk. 'Are you accusing me, Zek?'

'Yes!' She was relentless, furious. 'Kyle was our opponent, but he personally had not declared war on us. We aren't at war, Comrade. And we've murdered him. No, you have murdered him - to foster your own ambitions!'

Gerenko climbed into his chair, put on a desk lamp and aimed its light at her. He steepled his hands in front of him, shook his head almost sadly. 'You accuse me? And yet you were party to it. You drained his mind.'

'I did not!' She came forward. Her face was working, full of anger. 'I merely read his thoughts as they flooded out of him. Your technicians drained him.'

Unbelievably, Gerenko chuckled. 'Mechanical necromancy, yes.'

She slammed her hand flat down on the desk top. 'But he wasn't dead!'

Gerenko's shrivelled lips curled into a sneer. 'He is now, or as good as. .

'Krakovitch is loyal, and he's Russian.' She wouldn't be stopped. 'And yet you'll murder him too. And that really would be murder! You must be mad!' And in that she had hit upon the truth. For Gerenko's warps weren't only in his body.

'That - is - enough!' he snarled. 'Now you listen to me, Comrade. You speak of my ambition. But if I grow strong, Russia herself grows that much stronger. Yes, for we are one and the same. You? You've not been Russian long enough to know that. This country's strength lies in its people! Krakovitch was weak, and - ,

'Was?' Her arms trembled where she leaned forward, knuckles white on the edge of his desk.

He suddenly felt that she had grown very dangerous.

He would make one last effort. 'Listen, Zek. The Party Leader is a weak old man. He can't go on much longer.

The next leader, however - '

'Andropov?' Her eyes went wide. 'I can read it in your mind, Comrade. Is that how it will be? That KGB thug? The man you already call your master!'

Gerenko's faded eyes suddenly narrowed, their slits blazing with his own anger. 'When Brezhnev is gone - '

'But he isn't, not yet!' She was shouting now. 'And when he learns of this . .

That was an error, a bad one. Even Brezhnev couldn't harm Gerenko, not personally, not physically. But he could have it done for him - at a distance. He could have Gerenko's state flat in Moscow booby-trapped. Once a booby-trap is set, no man's hand is involved. From then on the thing is entirely automatic. Or Gerenko could wake up one morning and find himself behind bars - and then they could forget to feed him! His talent did have certain limitations.

He stood up. In his child's hand was an automatic, taken from a drawer in the desk. His voice was a whisper. 'Now you will listen to me,' he said, 'and I will tell you exactly how it is going to be. First, you won't speak of this matter or even mention it again, not to anyone. You've been sworn to secrecy here at the Château. Break your trust and I'll break you! Second: you say we are not at war. But you have a short memory. The British espers declared war against E-Branch nine months ago. And they came close to destroying the organisation utterly! You were new here then; you were away somewhere, holidaying with your father. You saw nothing of it. But let me tell you that if this Harry Keogh of theirs were still alive...' He paused for breath, and Föener bit her tongue to keep from telling him the truth: that indeed Harry Keogh was still alive, however helpless.

'Third,' he finally continued, 'I could kill you now - on the spot, shoot you dead - and no one would even question me about it. If they did, I would say that I had had my suspicions about you for a long time. I would tell them that your work had driven you mad, and that you threatened me, threatened E-Branch. You are quite correct, Zek, the Party Leader puts a deal of faith in the branch. He is fond of it. Under old Gregor Borowitz it served him well. What, a woman, mad, running around loose here, threatening irreparable damage? Of course I should shoot her! And I will - if you don't mark each word I say most carefully. Do you think anyone would believe your accusation? Where's the proof? In your head? In your addled head! Oh, they just might believe, I'll grant you that - but what if they didn't? And would I sit still and simply let you have it all your own way? Would Theo Dolgikh sit still for that? You have any easy time here, Zek. Ah, but there are other jobs in other places for a strong young woman in the USSR. After your - rehabilitation? - doubtless they'd find you one . .

Again he paused, put away the gun. He saw that he had made his point.

'Now get out of here, but don't leave the Château. I want a report on everything you learned from Kyle. Everything. The initial report may be brief, an outline. I'll have that by midday tomorrow. The final report will be detailed down to the last minutia. Do you understand?'

She stood looking at him, bit her lip.

'Well?'

Finally she nodded, blinked away tears of frustration, turned on her heel. On her way out, he softly said, 'Zek,' and she paused. But she didn't face him. 'Zek, you have a great future. Remember that. And really, that's the only choice you have. A great future - or none at all.'

Then she left and closed the door behind her.

She went to her own small suite of rooms, the austere quarters she used when she was not on duty, and threw herself down on her bed. To hell with his report. She'd do it in her own time, if she did it at all. For what use would she be to Gerenko once he knew what she knew?

After a little while she managed to compose herself and tried to sleep. But though she was weary to death, she tried in vain . .
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