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Chapter Thirteen

 

When Kyle and his companions got back to lonesti and the inn, they found Irma Dobresti pacing the floor of their suite, nervously massaging her long hands. Her relief when she saw them was obvious. Likewise her delight when they told her the operation had been a complete success. They weren't eager, however, to detail much of what had happened in the foothills; looking at their drawn faces, she was wise enough not to pry. They might tell her later, in their own time.

'So,' she said, after they'd had a drink, 'the job is done here. We are not needing to stay any longer in lonesti. It is ten-thirty - late, I know, but I am suggesting we go now. These red tape dolts will arrive soon. Is better if we are not here.'

'Red tape?' Quint looked surprised. 'I didn't know you used that term, er, over here!'

'Oh, yes,' she answered, unsmiling. 'Also "Commie", and "Zurich Gnome", and "Capitalist dog"!'

'I agree with Irma,' said Kyle. 'If we wait we'll only be obliged to brazen it out - or tell the truth. And the truth, while it is verifiable in the long term, isn't immediately believable. No, I can see all kinds of problems coming up if we stay here.'

'All true.' She nodded, sighing her relief that the Englishman was of a like mind. 'Later, if they are determined to talk about this, they can contact me in Bucharest. There I am on my own ground, with the backing of my superiors. I am not for blaming. This was a matter of national security, a liaison of a scientific, preventative nature between three great countries, Romania, Russia, and Great Britain. I am secure. But right now, here in lonesti, I do not feel secure.'

'So let's get to it,' said Quint, with his usual efficiency.

Irma showed her yellow teeth in one of her infrequent smiles. 'No need for getting to it,' she informed. 'Nothing to get to. I took the liberty of packing your bags! Can we go now, please?'

Without more ado, they paid the bill and left.

Krakovitch opted to drive, giving Sergei Gulharov a break. As they sped back towards Bucharest on the night roads, Gulharov sat beside Irma in the back of the car and quietly filled her in as best he could on the story of what had happened in the hills, the monstrous thing they had burned there.

When he was finished she said simply, 'Your faces told me it must have been like that. I am glad I not seeing it . .

After his last painful visit, at about 10.00 P.M., Darcy Clarke had slept like a log in his hotel bedroom for nearly three hours solid. When he woke up he felt fighting fit. All very mysterious; he'd never known an attack of gastro-enteritis to come and go so quickly (not that he was sorry it had gone) and he had no idea what he could have eaten to cause it. Whatever it had been, the rest of the team had felt no ill effects. It was because he didn't want to let that team down that Clarke dressed quickly and went to report himself fit for duty.

In the control room (the living area of their main suite of rooms), he found Guy Roberts slumped in his swivel chair, head on his folded arms where he sprawled across his 'desk': a dining table, cluttered with notes, a log book and a telephone. He was fast asleep with an ashtray piled full of dog-ends right under his nose. A tobacco addict, he probably wouldn't be able to sleep comfortably without it!

Trevor Jordan snoozed in a deep armchair while Ken Layard and Simon Gower quietly played their own version of Chinese Patience at a small green-baize card table. Gower, a prognosticator or augur of some talent, played badly, making too many mistakes. 'Can't concentrate!' he growlingly complained. 'I have this feeling of bad stuff coming lots of it!'

'Stop making excuses!' said Layard. 'Hell, we know bad stuff is coming! And we know where from. We don't know when, that's all.'

'No,' Gower frowned, tossed in his hand, 'I mean not of our making. When we go against Harkley and Bodescu, that will be different. This thing I'm feeling is - ' he shrugged uneasily, 'something else.'

'So maybe we should wake up the Fat Man there and tell him?' Layard suggested.

Gower shook his head. 'I've been telling him for the last three days. It isn't specific it never is - but it's there. You could be right: I'm probably feeling the ding-dong coming up at Harkley House. If so, then believe me it's going to be a good one! Anyway, let old Roberts kip. He's tired and when he's awake the place stinks of bloody weed! I've seen him with three going at once! God, you need a respirator!'

Clarke stepped round Roberts's snoring form to-check the roster. Roberts had only mapped it out until the end of the afternoon shift. Keen was on now, to be relieved by Layard, a locator or finder, who in turn would watch Harkley till 8.00 A.M. Then it would be Gower's turn until 2.00 P.M., followed by Trevor Jordan. The roster went no farther than that. Clarke wondered if that was significant...

Maybe that was what Gower was feeling: a ding-dong, as he had it, but a little closer than he thought.

Layard cocked his head on one side, looked at Clarke where he studied the roster. 'What's up, old son? Still got the runs? You can stop worrying about shift work at Harkley. Guy has pulled you off it.'

Gower looked up and managed a grin. 'He doesn't want you polluting the bushes out there!'

'Ha-ha!' said Clarke, his face blank. 'Actually, I'm fine now. And I'm starving! Ken, you can go and jump in your bed if you like. I'll take the next shift. That'll adjust the roster back to normal.'

'What a hero!' Layard gave a soft whistle. 'Great! Six hours in bed will suit me just fine.' He stood up, stretched. 'Did you say you were hungry? There are sandwiches under the plate on the table there. A bit curly by now, but still edible.'

Clarke started to munch on a sandwich, glancing at his watch. It was 1.15 P.M. 'I'll have a quick shower and get on my way. When Roberts wakes up, tell him I'm on, right?'

Gower stood up, went to Clarke and stared hard at him. 'Darcy, is there something on your mind?'

'No,' Clarke shook his head, then changed his mind. 'Yes... I don't know! I just want to get out to Harkley, that's all. Do my bit.'

Twenty-five minutes later he was on his way.

Shortly before 2.00 A.M. Clarke parked his car on the hard shoulder of the road maybe quarter -of a mile from Harkley House and walked the rest of the way. The mist had thinned out and the night was starting to look fine. Stars lit his way, and the hedgerows had a nimbus of foxfire to sharpen their silhouettes.

Oddly enough, and for all his terrifying confrontation with Bodescu's dog, Clarke felt no fear. He put it down to the fact that he carried a loaded gun, and that back there in the boot of his car was a small but quite deadly metal crossbow. After he had seen Peter Keen off duty, he'd bring up his car and park it in Keen's spot.

On his way he met no one, but he heard a dog yapping across the fields, and another answering bark for bark, apparently from miles away. A handful of hazy lights shone softly on the hills, and just as he came in sight of Harkley's gates a distant church clock dutifully gonged out the hour.

Two o'clock and all's well, thought Clarke except he saw that it wasn't. There was no sign of Keen's unmistakeable red Capri, for one thing. And for another there was no sign of Keen.

Clarke scratched his head, scuffed the grass where Keen's car should be parked. The wet grass gave up a broken branch, and... no, it wasn't a branch. Clarke stooped, picked up the snapped crossbow bolt in fingers that were suddenly tingling. Something was very, very wrong here!

He looked up, staring at Harkley House standing there like a squat sentient creature in the night. Its eyes were closed now, but what was hiding behind the lowered lids of its dark windows?

All of Clarke's senses were operating at maximum efficiency: his ears picked up the rustle of a mouse, his eyes glared to penetrate the darkness, he could taste, almost feel the evil in the night air, and something stank. Literally. The stink of a slaughterhouse.

Clarke took out a pencil-slim torch and flashed it on the grass which was red and wet and sticky! The cuffs of his trousers were stained a dark crimson with blood. Someone (God, let it not be Peter Keen!) had spilled pints of the stuff right here. Clarke's legs trembled and he felt faint, but he forced himself to follow a track, a bloody swath, to a spot behind the hedgerow, hidden from the road. And there it was much worse. Did one man have that much blood!

Clarke wanted to be sick, but that would incapacitate him and right now he dare not be incapacitated. But the grass... it was strewn with clots of blood, shreds of skin and gobbets of... of meat! Human flesh! And under the narrow beam of his torch there was something else, something which might just be God, a kidney!

Clarke ran - or rather floated, fought, swam, drifted, as in a dream or nightmare back to his car, drove like a madman back to Paignton, hurled himself into INTESP's suite of rooms. He was in shock, remembered nothing of the drive, nothing at all except what he'd seen, which had seared itself onto his mind. He fell into a chair and lolled there, gasping, trembling: his mouth, face, all of his limbs, even his mind, trembling.

Guy Roberts had come half-awake when Clarke rushed in. He saw him, the state of his trousers, the dead white slackness of his face, and was fully alert in an instant. He dragged Clarke to his feet and slapped him twice, ringing blows that brought the colour back to Clarke's cheeks - and blood to his previously blank eyes. Clarke drew himself up and glared; he growled and showed his gritted teeth, went for Roberts like a madman.

Trevor Jordan and Simon Gower dragged him off Roberts, held him tight and at last be broke down. Sobbing like a child, finally he told the whole story. The only thing he didn't tell was the one which must be perfectly obvious: why it had affected him so very badly.

'Obvious, yes,' said Roberts to the others, cradling Clarke's head and rocking him like a child. 'You know what Darcy's talent is, don't you? That's right: he has this thing that looks after him. What? He could walk through a minefield and come out unscathed! So you see, Darcy's blaming himself for what happened. He had the shits tonight and couldn't go on duty. But it wasn't anything he ate that queered his guts it was his damned talent! Or else it would be Darcy himself minced out there and not Peter Keen. .

Tuesday, 6.00 A.M.: Alex Kyle was shaken rudely awake by Carl Quint. Krakovitch was with Quint, both of them hollow-eyed through travel and lack of sleep. They had stayed overnight at the Dunarea, where they'd checked in just before 1.00 A.M. They had had maybe four hours' sleep; Krakovitch had been roused by night staff to answer a call from England on behalf of his English guests; Quint, knowing by means of his talent that something was in the air, had been awake anyway.

'I've had the call transferred to my room,' said Krakovitch to Kyle, who was still gathering his senses. 'It is someone called Roberts. He is wishing to speak to you. Most important.'

Kyle shook himself awake, glanced at Quint.

'Something's up,' Quint said. 'I've suspected it for a couple of hours. I tossed and turned, sleep all broken up but too tired to respond properly.'

All three in pyjamas, they went quickly to Krakovitch's room. On the way the Russian inquired, 'How do they know where you are, your people? It is them, yes? I

mean, we had not planned to be here tonight.'

Quint raised an eyebrow in his fashion. 'We're in the same business as you, Felix, remember?'

Krakovitch was impressed. 'A finder? Very accurate!'

Quint didn't bother to put him right. Ken Layard was good, all right, but not that good. The better he knew a person or thing the easier he could find him or it. He'd have located Kyle in Bucharest; they'd have systematically checked out the major hotels. Since the Dunarea was one of the biggest, it must have come up high on the list.

In Krakovitch's room Kyle took the call. 'Guy? Alec here.'

'Alec? We have a big problem. It's bad, I'm afraid. Can we talk?'

'Can't it go through London?' Kyle was fully awake now.

'That'll take time,' Roberts answered, 'and time's important.'

'Wait,' said Kyle. He said to Krakovitch: 'What are the odds this is being monitored?'

The Russian shrugged, shook his head. 'None at all, that I can see.' He stepped to the window, opened the curtains. It would soon be dawn.

'OK, Guy,' Kyle spoke into the phone. 'Let's have it.'

'Right,' said Roberts. 'It's just about four A.M. here. Now go back two hours...' He told Kyle the entire story, then detailed the action he'd taken since Clarke's hag-ridden drive back to the hotel in Paignton.

'I got Ken Layard in on it. He was great. He fixed Keen's location somewhere on the road between Brixham and Newton Abbot. Keen and his car, smashed up, burned out. I scried out Layard's fix and he was right, of course; we were able to say quite definitely that Peter was that he was dead.

'I contacted the police in Paignton, told them I was waiting for a friend who was a little overdue, gave them his name, description, a description of his car. They said there'd been an accident; he was being cut out of the car; they could tell me no more, but an ambulance was on the scene and the driver of the car would be taken to the emergency hospital in Torquay. For me that was a ten minute drive. I was there when he was brought in. I identified him...' He paused.

'Go on,' said Kyle, knowing there must be worse to come.

'Alec, I feel responsible. We should have been tighter. The trouble with this game is that we rely on our talents too damned much! We've almost forgotten how to use simple technology. We should have had walkie-talkies, better contact. We should have given this damned monster more credit for mayhem! I mean, Christ, how could I let this happen? We're espers; we have special talents; Bodescu is only one man and we're - '

'He's not just a man!' Kyle snapped. 'And we don't have a monopoly on talent. He has it, too. It's not your fault. Now please tell me the rest of it.'

'He... Peter was... hell, he didn't get those injuries in any car smash! He'd been opened up... gutted! Everything was exposed. His head was... God, it was in two halves!'

Despite the horror conjured by Roberts's description, Kyle tried to think dispassionately. He'd known Peter Keen well and liked him. But now he must put that aside and think only of the job. 'Why the car smash? What did that bastard hope to get out of it?'

'The way I see it,' Roberts answered, 'he was just covering up the murder, and what he'd done to Peter's poor body. The police said there was a strong petrol smell all around and inside the car. I reckon Bodescu drove Peter out there, put the car in top gear, pointed it downhiIl and let it roll. Being what he is, a few grazes and cuts wouldn't matter much when he jumped for it. And he probably splashed a lot of petrol around inside the car first, so as to bum the evidence. But the way he'd cut that poor lad up was... Jesus, it was horrible! I mean, why? Peter must have been dead long before that ghoul was finished. If he was torturing him at least there'd be some sense in it. I mean, however horrible, at least I could understand it. But you can't learn anything from a dead man, now can you?'

Kyle almost dropped the telephone. 'Oh, my God!' he whispered.

'Eh?'

Kyle said nothing, stood frozen in sudden shock.

'Alec?'

'Yes you can,' Kyle finally answered. 'You can learn an awful lot from a dead man - everything, in fact if you're a necromancer!'

Roberts had had access to the Keogh file. Now it all came back to mind and he saw Kyle's meaning. 'You mean like Dragosani?'

'I mean exactly like Dragosani!'

Quint had caught most of this. 'Good Lord!' He grabbed Kyle's elbow. 'He knows all about us. He knows - '

'Everything!' Kyle said, to Quint and to Roberts. 'He knows the lot. He dragged it out of Keen's guts, out of his brains, his blood, his poor violated organs! Guy, now listen, this is important. Did Keen know when you plan to move in on Harkley House?'

'No. I'm the only one who knows that. Those were your instructions.'

'That's right. Good! Well, we can thank God we got that right, anyway. Now listen: I'm coming home. Tonight I mean today! On the first possible flight. Carl Quint will stay out here and see this end sewn up, but I'm coming back. Don't wait for me if I can't get down to Devon in time. Go in as planned. Have you got that?'

'Yes.' The other's voice was grim. 'Oh, yes, I've got that! Christ, and I'm looking forward to it!'

Kyle's eyes narrowed, grew very bright and fierce. 'Have Peter's body burned,' he said, 'just in case . .

And then burn Bodescu. Burn all the blood-sucking bastards!'

Quint gently took the phone from him and said, 'Guy, Carl here. Listen, this is top priority. Get a couple of our best men up to Hartlepool A.S.A.P. Darcy Clarke especially. Do it now, even before you move on Harkley.'

'Right,' Roberts answered. 'I'll do it.' Then he got the point. His gasp was perfectly audible, even over the none too clear connection. 'Hell, of course I'll do it right now!'

Wide-eyed and pale, Kyle and Quint stared at each other. There was no need to give voice to what was on their minds. Yulian Bodescu had learned almost everything there was to know about them. Keen had access, as had they all, to the Keogh file. A vampire's greatest fear is to be discovered for what he is. He will try to destroy anyone who even suspects him.

INTESP knew what he was, and the focus the jinni loci of INTESP was someone called Harry Keogh.

Darcy Clarke had swallowed two double brandies in quick succession before insisting on going back on duty. That had been shortly before Roberts's call to the Hotel Dunarea in Bucharest. Roberts, at first dubious, had finally let Clarke go back to Harkley, but with this warning: 'Darcy, stay in your car. Don't leave it, no matter what. I know you have your juju working, but in this case it mightn't be enough. But we do need someone watching that hell-house, at least until we can get fully mobilised, and so if you're volunteering. .

Clarke had driven carefully, coldly back to Harkley House and parked on the stiff black grass close to where Keen's car had stood. He tried not to think about the ground where his car stood, or what had happened there.

He was aware of it would never forget it but he kept it on the periphery of his consciousness, didn't let it interfere. And so with his gun and loaded crossbow beside him he'd sat there watching the house, never taking his eyes off it for a moment.

Fear had turned to hatred in Clarke's heart; he was here as a duty, yes, but it was more than that. Bodescu might just come out, might just show his face, and if he did... Clarke needed desperately to kill him.

In the house Yulian sat in darkness by his garret window. He, too, had known a little fear, something of panic. But now, like Clarke, he was cold, calm, calculating. For now, with one very important exception, he knew all there was to know about the watchers. The one thing he didn't know was when. But certainly it would be soon. He gazed out into the darkness and could sense the approaching dawn. Down there, beyond the gate, in a car in the field across the road, someone else watched. Ah, but this one would be better prepared. Yulian sent his vampire senses reaching into the cold and misty pre-dawn gloom, touched lightly upon a mind. Hatred lashed out at him before the mind closed itself - but not before he recognised it. Yulian merely grinned. He sent his telepathic thoughts down to the vaulted cellars: Vlad, an old friend of yours is keeping a vigil on the house. 1 want you to watch him. But don't let him see you, and don't try to hurt him. They are wary now, these watchers, and coiled like springs. If you are seen it may not go well for you. So just watch him, and let me know if he moves or does anything other than watch us! Now go. .A huge black shadow, slope-eared, feral-eyed, padded silently up the narrow steps in the small building standing towards the rear of the house. It came out into the grounds, turned towards the gates, kept to the darker areas of trees and shrubbery. Tongue lolling, Vlad hastened to obey. .

Yulian called the women down into the main living room on the ground floor. It was totally dark in that room, but each present could see the others perfectly well. Like it or not, night was now their element. When they were assembled, Yulian seated himself beside Helen on a couch, waited a moment to be sure he had the full attention of the women, then spoke.

'Ladies,' he commenced, mockingly, his voice low and sinister, 'it will soon be dawn. I can't be certain but I rather fancy that it will be one of the last dawns you ever see. Men will come and they will try to kill you. That may not be easy, but they're determined and they'll try very hard.'

'Yulian!' His mother at once stood up, her voice shocked; fearful. 'What have you done?'

'Sit down!' he commanded, glaring at her. She obeyed, but reluctantly. And when she was perched again on the edge of her chair, he said, 'I have done what I must do to protect myself. And you all of you - shall be obliged to do likewise, or die. Soon.'

Helen, simultaneously fascinated and horrified by Yulian, her skin crawling with her fear of him, timorously touched his arm. 'I shall do whatever you ask of me, Yulian.'

He thrust her away, almost hurled her from the couch. 'Fight for yourself, slut! That is all I ask. Not for me but for yourself - if you desire to live!'

Helen cringed away from him. 'I only - ,

'Only be quiet!' he snarled. 'You must fight for yourselves, for I shall not be here. I'm leaving with the dawn, when they'd least expect me to leave. But you three will remain. While you are here they may be fooled into thinking that I am still here.' He nodded and smiled.

'Yulian, look at you!' his mother suddenly hissed, her voice venomous. 'You were always a monster inside, and now you're a monster outside, too! I don't want to die for you, for even this half-life is better than none, but I don't intend to fight for it. Nothing you can say or do shall make me kill to preserve what you've made of me!'

He shrugged. 'Then you'll die very quickly.' He turned his eyes on Anne Lake. 'And you, Auntie dear? Will you go to your maker so passively?'

Anne was wild-eyed, dishevelled. She looked mad. 'George is dead!' she babbled, her hands flying to her hair. 'And Helen is... changed. My life is finished.' She stopped fussing, leaned forward in her chair and glowered at Yulian. 'I hate you!'

'Oh, I know you do,' he nodded. 'But will you let them kill you?'

'I'd be better off dead,' she answered.

'Ah, but such a death!' he said. 'You saw George go, Auntie dear, and so you know how hard it was. The stake, the cleaver, and the fire.'

She sprang to her feet, shook her head wildly. 'They wouldn't! People... don't!'

'But these people do,' he gazed at her wide-eyed, almost innocently, aping her expression. 'They will, for they know what you are. They know that you're Wamphyri!'

'We can leave this place!' Anne cried. 'Come on, Georgina, Helen we'll leave right now!'

'Yes, go!' Yulian snapped, as if done with them, utterly sick of them. 'Do go, all of you. Leave me - go now. .

They looked at him uncertainly, blinking their yellow eyes in unison. 'I won't stop you,' he told them with a shrug. He got to his feet, made to leave the room. 'No, not I. But they will! They'll stop you dead! They're out there now, watching - and waiting.'

'Yulian, where are you going?' His mother stood up, looked as if she might even try to take hold of him, detain him. He forced her back with nothing but a growl of warning, swept by her.

'I have preparations to make,' he said, 'for my departure. I imagine that you, too, will have certain final things you want to do. Prayers to some non-existent god, perhaps? Cherished photographs to look at? Old friends and lovers to remember, while you may?' And sneering, he left them to their own devices.

Tuesday, 8.40 A.M. middle-European time, the airport in Bucharest.

Alec Kyle's flight was due to leave in twenty-five minutes and the passengers had just been called forward. Kyle would be in Rome in two-and-a-half hours; given that there would be no problems with his connection, he'd be into Heathrow around 2.00 P.M. local time. With a bit of luck he would reach his destination in Devon with half an hour to spare before Guy Roberts and his team went in and 'cleaned up' at Harkley House. Even if his timings were wrong, Roberts should still be in situ at the house when- finally he did arrive. The last stages of his journey would be by MOD helicopter from Heathrow down to Torquay, and on to Paignton in an air-sea rescue chopper courtesy of the Torbay coastguard.

Kyle had made these final arrangements by telephone from the airport via John Grieve in London as soon as he'd discovered that he couldn't get a flight until now. And mercifully, for once, he'd got the call through without too much difficulty.

On hearing the call for embarkation, Felix Krakovitch stepped forward and took Kyle's hand. 'A lot has happened in a short time,' the Russian psychic said. 'But to know you has been... my pleasure.' They shook hands awkwardly, but both men meant it. Sergei Gulharov was much more open: he hugged Kyle close and kissed his cheeks. Kyle shrugged and grinned, he hoped not too sheepishly. He was only glad he'd said his farewells to Irma Dobresti the previous night. Carl Quint nodded and gave him a thumbs-up signal.

Krakovitch carried Kyle's hand luggage to the departure gate. From there Kyle went on alone, through the gates and out onto the asphalt, finding a space in the jostling line of passengers. He looked back once, waved, turned and hurried on.

Quint, Krakovitch and Gulharov watched him go, waiting until he rounded the corner of the massive air control tower and so out of sight. Then they quickly left the airport. Now they were ready to commence their own journey: up into old Moldavia, where they'd cross the Russian border by car over the River Prut. Krakovitch had already made the necessary arrangements - through his Second in Command, of course, at the Château Bronnitsy.

Out on the airfield, Kyle approached his plane. Close to the foot of the mobile boarding stairway, uniformed aircrew saluted him and checked his boarding pass one last time. A smiling official stepped forward, glanced at Kyle's boarding pass. 'Mr Kyle? One moment please.' His voice was bland, conveyed nothing. Nor did Kyle's in-built warning system. Why should it? There was nothing outside of nature here. On the contrary, what was coming was very down-to-earth but terrifying for all that.

As the last of the passengers disappeared into the body of the aircraft, three men emerged from behind the stairs.

- They wore lightweight overcoats and dark grey felt hats. though their clothes were intended to lend anonymity, hey were almost a uniform in their own right, an unmistakeable mode of identification. Even if Kyle hadn't known them, he would have recognised the cases one of them was carrying. His cases.

Two of the KGB men, unsmiling, restrained him while the third moved up very close, put down his suitcases and took his cabin luggage. Kyle felt a stab of fear, a moment of panic.

'Need I introduce myself?' The Russian agent's eyes bored into Kyle's.

Kyle found his nerve, shook his head and managed a rueful smile. 'I think not,' he answered. 'How are you this morning, Mr Dolgikh? Or should I simply call you Theo?'

'Try "Comrade",' said Dolgikh without humour. 'That will suffice . .

Whatever Yulian Bodescu's intentions had been, he had not left Harkley House at dawn.

At 5.00 A.M. Ken Layard and Simon Gower arrived to relieve Darcy Clarke, who then returned to Paignton. At 6.00 A.M. Trevor Jordan joined Layard and Gower; the three split up, formed points of triangulation. An hour later there were two more men, reinforcements Roberts had earlier called down from London. All of these arrivals were dutifully reported by Vlad, until Yulian cautioned the huge dog and ordered him down to the cellars. It was broad daylight now and Vlad would be seen coming and going. The Alsatian was Yulian's rearguard and no harm must come to him just yet.

The enemy's numbers had penned Yulian in; but just as bad from his point of view was the fact that the day was cloudless, the risen sun bright and strong. The mists of the night had soon been steamed away, and the air was clear and smelled fresh. Behind the house, beyond the wall that marked the boundary of the grounds, woods rose to the top of a low hill. There was a track through the woods and one of the watchers had somehow managed to get his vehicle up there. He sat there now, watching the house through binoculars. Yulian could easily have seen him through one of the upper storey rear windows, but he didn't need to. He sensed that he was there.

At the front of the house were two more watchers: one not far from the gate, standing beside his car, the other fifty yards away. Their weapons were not visible but Yulian knew they had crossbows. And he knew the agony a hardwood bolt would cause him. Two more men guarded the flanks, one at each side of the house, where they could look into the grounds across the walls.

Yulian was trapped - for the moment.

Fight? He couldn't even leave the house without them seeing him. And those crossbows of theirs would be deadly accurate. The day wore on through midday and into the afternoon, and Yulian began to sweat. At 3.00 P.M. a sixth man came on the scene - driving a truck. Yulian watched carefully from behind the curtains at his garret window.

The driver of the truck must be the leader of these damned psychic spies. The leader of this group, anyway. He was fat, but in no way clumsy; his mind would be hard and clear, except he guarded his thoughts like gold. He began to distribute indeterminate items of heavy equipment in canvas containers, also jerrycans, food and drink, to the other men. He spent a little time with each of them, talking to them, demonstrated with certain pieces of equipment, gave instructions. Yulian sweated more yet. He knew now that it would be this evening. Traffic rolled as usual on the autumn road; couples walked together in the sunshine hand in hand; birds sang in the woods. The world looked the same as it always looked - but those men out there had determined that this would be Yulian Bodescu's last day.

Using what cover he could find, the vampire risked his neck making excursions outside the house. He used a rear ground floor window where it was shrouded by shrubbery, also the cellar exit through the out-building. Twice, if he'd been fully prepared, he might have made a break for it, when the watchers to the rear and at one side of the house went down to the road for their supplies; on both occasions they returned while he was still calculating the odds. Yulian grew still more nervous, his thinking becoming very erratic.

Back in the house, whenever he crossed tracks with one of the women, he would lash out, shout, curse. His nervousness transferred itself to Vlad and the great dog prowled the empty cellars to and fro, to and fro.

Then, about 4.00 P.M., suddenly Yulian was aware of a weird psychic stillness, the mental lull before the storm. He strained his vampire senses to- their fullest extent and could detect... nothing! The watchers had screened their minds, so that not even a trace of their thoughts their intentions could escape. In so doing they gave away their final secret, they told Yulian the time they had planned for his death.

It was to be now, within the hour, and the light only just beginning to fade as the sun lowered itself towards the horizon.

Yulian put fear aside. He was Wamphyri! These men had powers, yes, and they were strong. But he had powers too. And he might yet prove to be stronger.

He went down into the cellars and spoke to Vlad:

You've been faithful to me as only a dog can be, he said, facing the great beast, their yellow eyes locked, but you are more than a dog. Those men out there might suspect that, and they might not. Whichever, when they come, you go out first to meet them. Give no quarter. if you survive, seek me out. .

And then he 'spoke' to the Other, that loathsome extrusion of himself. It was the implanting of suggestions in a blank space, the imprinting of an idea upon a void, the burning of a brand into a beast's hide. Floor flags buckled in one dark corner, the ground underfoot shifted and dust fell in rills from the low vaulting. That was all. Perhaps it had understood, and perhaps not .

Finally Yulian returned to his room. He changed his clothes, put on a neutral grey track-suit and shoved his wide-brimmed hat into the waistband. He neatly folded a suit of clothes into a small travelling case, along with a wallet containing a good deal of money in large notes. That was that; he needed nothing more.

Then, as the minutes ticked by, he sat down, closed his eyes and pitted his own dark nature against the great Mother Nature herself in one final test of his now mature vampire powers. He willed a mist, called up a wreathing white screen from the earth and the streams and the woods, a clinging fog down from the hillsides.

The watchers, tense now and taut as the strings of their crossbows, scarcely noticed the sun slipping behind the clouds and the ground mist creeping at their ankles; as a man, their attention was riveted on the house.

And time moved inexorably towards the appointed hour .

I Darcy Clarke drove furiously north. He had cursed aloud until his throat was raw,. and then silently until his cursing had come down to one four-letter word repeated over and ver again in his fuming mind. What his fury amounted to was this: he wouldn't be in on the kill. He was out of the attack on Harkley. Now, instead, he was to be minder in-chief to a... a tiny infant!

Clarke was well aware of the importance of his new task and understood the purpose of it: with his talent it is unlikely that any harm would come to him. And so, if he was shielding the young Harry Keogh, the baby should likewise be safe. But to Darcy's way of thinking, prevention was better than cure. Stop Bodescu dead at Harkley House, and you wouldn't have to worry about the baby at all. And if he, Darcy Clarke, was at Harkley - if only he was there then guarantee Bodescu would be stopped!

But he wasn't there, he was here, driving north for that godforsaken hole Hartlepool.

On the other hand, he knew that every single man of them back there was equally dedicated to Bodescu's destruction. Which helped a little.

Clarke had got back to Paignton before 6.00 A.M. and Roberts had ordered him straight into bed. Later, he said, he would have a big job for him and wanted him to get at least six hours' sleep. Finally Clarke had dozed off, and though he'd feared the very worst dreams none had come. At noon Roberts had shaken him awake, told him what his new job was. Since when Clarke had been driving, and cursing.

He had joined the M1 at Leicester, then picked up the A19 at Thirsk. He was now something less than an hour from his destination, and the time was (he glanced at his watch) - 4.50P.M.

Clarke stopped cursing. God! What would it be like right now, down there?

'Where the hell did this mist spring from?' Trevor Jordan shivered, turning up the collar of his coat. 'Hell, it was a nice day, from the weather point of view, anyway.' For all his vehemence, Jordan had spoken in a whisper.

All of the INTESP agents, at their various stations around Harkley House, had been speaking in whispers for the last twenty minutes. At 4.30, working to Roberts's instructions, they'd formed pairs - which was as well, for the mist had thickened up and started to threaten their individual security. It felt nice to have someone really close to you.

Jordan's 'buddy' in the system was Ken Layard the locator. He was shivering, too, despite the fact that he carried seventy-eight pounds of Brissom Mark III flame-thrower on his back. 'I'm not sure,' he finally answered Jordan's question, 'but I think it's from him.' He nodded towards the house where it stood swathed in mist.

They were just inside the north wall, at a place where they'd found a gap in the stonework. Just a minute ago, at 4.50, they'd checked their watches and squeezed through, and Jordan had helped Layard into his asbestos leggings and jacket. Then they'd strapped the tank on his back and he'd checked the valve on the hose and trigger mechanism. With the valve open, all he had to do was squeeze the trigger and he could conjure up an inferno. And he fully intended to.

'Him?' Jordan frowned. He looked around at the mist. It crept everywhere. From here the rear wall up the hillside was invisible; likewise the wall fronting onto the road. Harvey Newton and Simon Gower would be making their way down from the hill, Ben Trask and Guy Roberts coming up the drive from the gate. They would all converge on the house together, at 5.00 P.M. sharp. 'Who do you mean, "him"? Bodescu?' Jordan led the way through shrubbery towards the dimly looming mass of the house. .

'Bodescu, yes,' Layard answered. 'I'm a locator, remember? It's my thing.'

What's that got to do with the mist?' Jordan's nerves were starting to jump. He was a telepath of uncertain kill, but Roberts had warned him not to try it on Bodescu and certainly not at this crucial stage of play.

'When I try to find him in my mind's eye,' Layard attempted to explain, 'inside the house there, I can't zero in on him. It's as if he were part of the mist. That's why I think he's somehow behind it. I sense him as a huge amorphous cloud of fog!'

'Jesus!' Jordan whispered, shivering again. In utter, eerie silence they moved towards the small outbuilding, whose open door led down to the cellars.

Simon Gower and Harvey Newton approached the house from the gently sloping field of shrubs at its rear. There wasn't too much cover so the mist was a boon to them. So they thought. Newton was a telepath, called down from London along with Ben Trask as reinforcements. Newton and Trask weren't quite as au fait with the situation as the rest, which was why they'd been split up.

'What a team we make, eh?' said Newton nervously as the ground levelled out and the mist billowed up more yet. 'You with that bloody great torch on your back and me with a crossbow? You know, if this stake-out is a dud, we're going to look awfully - '

'God!' Gower cut him short, dropped to one knee and worked furiously at the valve on his hose.

'What?' Newton gave a massive start, glared all about, held his loaded crossbow out in front of him like a shield. 'What?' He couldn't see anything, but he knew Gower's talent lay in reading the future - especially the immediate future!

'It's coming!' Gower no longer whispered. In fact, he was shouting. 'It's coming - NOW!'

At the front of the house, where Guy Roberts and Ben Trask pulled up in Roberts's truck, Gower's shouting wasn't heard over the throbbing of the vehicle's engine.

But on the north-facing side of the house it was. Trevor Jordan instinctively crouched down, then began to run at an angle towards the rear of the building. Ken Layard, hampered by his flame-thrower load, was slower off the mark.

Layard, stumbling through damp shrubbery, saw Jordan's figure swallowed into a rolling bank of mist where he ran past the open door in the small outbuilding

- then saw something erupt from that door in a snarling, slavering frenzy! Bodescu's great dog! Without pause the flame-eyed brute hurled itself into the mist after Jordan.

'Trevor, behind you!' Layard yelled at the top of his voice. He yanked open the valve on his hose, jerked the trigger, prayed: God, please don't let me burn Trevor!

A roaring, gouting stream of yellow fire tore open the curtain of mist like a blowtorch through cobwebs. Jordan was already round the corner of the house, but Vlad was still in view, bounding purposefully after him. The expanding, blistering 'V' of heat reached after the dog, touched him, enveloped him but briefly. Then he, too, was round the corner. -

By now, at the front of the house, Guy Roberts and Ben Trask were down from the truck. Roberts heard shouting, the roar of a flame-thrower. It was still a minute or two to five but the attack had started which probably meant that the other side had started it. Roberts put a police whistle to his lips, gave one short blast. Now, whatever else was happening, all six INTESP agents would move on the house together.

Roberts had the third flame-thrower; he headed straight for the main door of the house where it stood ajar in the shadow of a columned portico. Trask followed. He was a human lie-detector; his talent had no application here, but he was also young, quick-thinking and he knew how to look after himself. As he made to follow Roberts something caught his attention: a furtive movement glimpsed in the very corner of his eye.

'Twenty-five yards away between billowing banks of mist, a flowing figure had passed swiftly, silently inside the shell of the old barn. Who or whatever had gone in there, there would be nothing to stop it from clearing off out of the grounds once Roberts and Trask were inside the house. 'Oh no you don't!' Trask grunted. And raising his voice: 'Guy, in the barn there.'

Roberts, at the door of the house, turned to see Trask running at a crouch towards the barn. Cursing under his breath, he strode after him.

At the back of Harkley House, Vlad came coughing and mewling out of the mist and attempted to spring at the three men he found there. The dog was a blackened silhouette sheathed in smoke and flame, burning even as he launched himself lopsidedly at Jordan's back.

As Jordan had come running round the corner of the building, Gower had very nearly triggered his flame-thrower; he'd recognised Jordan only at the last possible moment. Harvey Newton, on the other hand, had actually -drawn a bead on the misted figure and was in the act of firing his bolt when Gower cried a warning and shouldered him aside. The bolt flashed harmlessly off at a tangent and disappeared in mist and distance. Fortunately Jordan had seen the two men saw them apparently aiming at him and thrown himself flat. He hadn't seen what pursued him, however, which even now overshot his sprawled body and arced overhead in a cloud of sparks and smoulder. Vlad landed awkwardly, gathered himself to spring at Newton and Gower, and discovered himself forging head-on into a withering jet of flame from Gower's torch. The dog crumpled to earth, a blazing, crackling, screaming ball of fire that tried to run in all directions at once and ran nowhere.

Jordan got to his feet and the three men stood panting, watching Vlad burn. Newton had fumblingly reloaded his crossbow; he thought he saw something move in the mist and turned in that direction. What was that? A loping shape? Or... just his imagination? The others didn't seem to have noticed; they were watching Vlad.

'Oh my God!' Jordan gasped. Newton saw the look on Jordan's face, forgot the thing he thought he had seen, turned to watch the death agonies of the incandescent dog.

Vlad's blackened body throbbed and vibrated, burst open, put up a nest of tentacles that twined like alien fingers four or five feet into the air. Mouthing obscenities, eyes bulging, Gower hosed the thing down with fire. The tentacles steamed, blistered and collapsed but the dog's body continued to pulsate.

'Jesus Christ!' Jordan moaned his horror. 'He changed the dog, too!' He unhooked a cleaver from his belt, moved forward, shielded his eyes against the blaze and severed Vlad's head from his body with one single clean stroke. Jordan backed off, shouted at Gower: 'You finish it make sure you finish it! I heard Roberts's whistle just now. Harvey and me will go on in.'

As Gower continued to burn the remains of the dog-thing, Jordan and Newton went stumbling through smoke and reek to the rear wall of the house, where they found an open window. They looked at each other, then licked their lips nervously in unison. Both of them were breathing raggedly of the sodden, stinking air.

'Come on,' said Jordan. 'Cover me.' He aimed his crossbow in front of him, swung his leg across the window sill . .

In the barn Ben Trask pulled up short, his square face alert, ears attentive to the silence. The silence said there w as no one here, but it was lying. Trask knew it as surely is if he sat behind a one-way window and listened in on an important interrogation by police of big-time criminals. The picture here was false, a lie.

Old farm implements were strewn everywhere. The mist, billowing in through the open ends of the building, had turned old steel slick with a sort of metallic sweat; chains and worn tyres hung from hooks in the walls; a stack of tongue-and-groove boards teetered uncertainly, as if recently disturbed. Then Trask saw the wooden steps ascending into gloom, and at the same time a single stem of straw where it came drifting down.

He drew air in a sharp gasp, turned his face and crossbow up towards the badly gapped boarding overhead - and was just in time to see a woman's insanely working face framed there, and hear her hiss of triumph as she launched a pitchfork at him! Trask had no time to aim but simply pulled the trigger.

The pitchfork's sharp offside tine missed him but its twin scraped under his collar bone and passed through his right shoulder, driving him down and backwards. At the same time there came a mad, babbling shriek to end all shrieks, and Anne Lake crashed through rotten boards in a cloud of dust and powdery straw. She landed square on her back, with Trask's bolt sticking out of her chest dead centre. The bolt alone should have done for her, and the fall certainly, but she was no longer entirely human.

Trask lay against the side wall and tried to pull the pitchfork out of his shoulder. There was no strength in him; he couldn't do it; pain and shock had left him weak as a kitten. He could only watch and try to keep from blacking out as Yulian Bodescu's 'auntie' crept towards him on all fours, grabbed the pitchfork and yanked it viciously free. And then Trask did black out.

Anne Lake drew back the pitchfork, growling like a big cat as she aimed it at Trask's heart. Behind her, Guy Roberts grabbed the fork's wooden handle, hauled on it and threw her off balance. She howled her frustration, fell on her back again, grasped the bolt in her chest with both hands and tried to draw it out. Roberts, impeded by the apparatus on his back, lumbered by her, took hold of Trask by the front of his jacket and somehow managed to drag him clear of the barn. Then he turned back, aimed his hose, and applied a firm and steady pressure to the trigger.

The barn was at once transformed into a gigantic oven; heat and fire and smoke filled it floor to tiled roof, spilling out of its open ends. And in the middle of it all something screamed and screamed, a wildly hissing, rising scream that finally shut itself off as the upper floor collapsed and tipped blazing hay down into the roaring inferno. And still Roberts kept his finger on the trigger, until he knew that nothing - nothing - could have survived in there .

At the back of -the house Ken Layard found Gower burning Vlad. Jordan had just stepped in through the open window and Newton was about to follow him. 'Hold it!' Layard shouted. 'You can't work two crossbows together!' He came forward. 'I'll go in this way,' he told Newton, 'with Jordan. You stick with Gower and go round the front. Go now!'

As Layard clambered awkwardly in through the window, Newton dragged Gower away from the cindered, smoking thing that had been Vlad and jerked his thumb towards the far corner of the house. 'That thing's finished,' he shouted, 'so now get a grip of yourself! Come on the others will be inside by now.'

They quickly made their way through the mist-wreathed gardens on the south side of the house, and saw Roberts turn away from the blazing barn and drag Trask out of the danger area. Roberts saw them, yelled: 'What the hell's going on?'

'Gower burned the dog,' Newton yelled back. 'Except it wasn't... wasn't a dog not any more!'

Roberts's lips drew back from his teeth in a half-snarl, half-grimace. 'We got Anne Lake,' he said, as Newton and Gower came closer. 'And, of course, she wasn't all woman! Where're Layard and Jordan?'

'Inside,' said Gower. He was shaking, rivered in sweat. 'And it's not finished yet, Guy. Not yet. There's more to come!'

'I've tried scanning the house,' Roberts said. 'Nothing! Just a fog in there. A mental fucking fog! Pointless trying, anyway. Too damned much going on!' He grabbed Gower. 'You OK?'

Gower nodded. 'I think so.'

'Right. Now listen. Thermite bombs in the truck; plastic explosive, too, in haversacks. Dump 'em in the cellars. Spread 'em out. Try to take 'em all down in one go. And no torching while you're holding the stuff! In fact get out of that kit and take a crossbow like Newton. The stuff's all set to go off from excessive heat or naked flame. Plant it and get out and then stay out! Three of us in the house itself should be enough. If not the fire will be.'

'You're going in there?' Gower looked at the house, licked his lips.

'I'm going in, yes,' Roberts nodded. 'There's still Bodescu, his mother and the girl to account for. And don't worry about me. Worry about yourself. The cellars could be far worse than the house.' He headed for the open door under the columned portico . .

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