Necroscope V: Deadspawn
At midnight Harry was still seething.
He invoked Wellesley's talent, crept out into his garden and down the path to where the old gate in the wall sagged on its rusting hinges. The night was his friend and like a cat he became one with the shadows, until it would seem there was no one there at all. Looking through the gapped gate, across the river, his night-sensitive eyes could plainly see the motionless figure under the trees: the mind-flea, Paxton.
The word was like poison on Harry's lips and in his mind ... his mind, or that of the creature which was now a growing part of him. For Harry's vampire recognized the threat even as did the Necroscope himself, except it might deal with it differently. If he would let it.
'Paxton.' He breathed the name into the cool night air, and his breath was a mist that drifted to the path and swirled around his ankles. The dark essence of Wamphyri was strong in him now, almost overpowering. 'You can't hear me, you bastard, can you?' He breathed mist which flowed under the gate, across the overgrown river path, down among the brambles and on to the glassy water itself. 'You can't read me; you don't know I'm here at all, do you?'
But suddenly, coming from nowhere, there was a gurgling, monstrous voice - unmistakably that of Fathor Ferenczy - in Harry's mind: Instead of shrinking back when you sense him near, seek him out! He would enter your mind? Enter his! He will expect you to be afraid; be bold! And when he yawns his jaws at you, go in through them, for he's softer on the inside!
A nightmare voice, but one which Harry himself had drawn from memory. For Wellesley's talent made any other sort of intrusion impossible; Fathor was gone now where no man could ever reach him; he was lost for ever in future time.
That father of vampires had been talking about his bloodson Janos, but it seemed to the Necroscope that the same techniques might well apply right here, right now. Or perhaps it didn't seem so to Harry, but to the thing inside him. Paxton was here to prove Harry was a vampire. Since he was a vampire, there seemed no way he could disprove it. But must he simply sit still and wait for the consequences of this flea's reports? The urge was on him to even the score a little, to give the mindspy something to think about.
Not actually to 'scratch' his itch, no, for that would be conclusive proof in itself and could only drag the Necroscope further into an already unwelcome light, ultimately to the minute scrutiny of bigger fleas, whose bite might even prove fatal. Also (Harry was obliged to forcibly remind himself) it would be murder.
The thought of that evoked visions of blood, and the thought of that was something he must put aside entirely!
He stepped back from the gate in the old stone wall, conjured a door and passed through it into the Möbius Continuum... and out again onto a second-class road where it paralleled the river on its far side. There was no one in sight; the sky was clouded over; down through the flanking trees the river was seen as a ribbon of lead carelessly let fall in the darkness.
A car, Paxton's car, stood half-on, half-off the road under overhanging branches. A recent model and expensive, its paintwork gleamed in the dark; its doors were locked, windows wound up tight. It pointed slightly downhill, towards a walled bend where the access road joined the main road into Bonnyrig.
Harry stepped from the potholed tarmac, past the car and into the cover of the trees, and where he went the mist followed. No, it didn't simply follow, for he was the source and the catalyst. It boiled up from the ground where he walked, fell from his dark clothes like weird evaporation, poured from his mouth as breath. He went silently, flowingly, unaware of his own feet unerringly seeking soft ground, stepping between the places where brittle, betraying twigs lay in wait for him. And he felt his tenant flexing its muscles and securing its hooks more deeply in his will.
It would be a fine test of the thing's power over him, to take control here and now, causing him to do that from which there could be no return.
Until now Harry's fever had been more or less controlled. His angers had been more violent, true, his depressions deeper and his snatches of joy poignant, but on the whole he had felt no real craving or compulsion, or at least nothing he couldn't fight. But now he felt it. It was as if Paxton had become the centre of all that was wrong with his life, a point he could focus upon, a large wen on the already imperfect complexion of existence.
Some surgery was required.
Harry's mist crept ahead of him. It sprang up from the bank of the river and the boles of trees where they joined the damp earth, and cast swirling tendrils about Paxton's feet. The telepath sat on a tree stump close to the river's rim, his gaze fixed firmly on the dark shape of the house across the water, where light spilled out from an upstairs window. Harry had left that light on, deliberately.
But while the Necroscope was unaware of it, still there was a half-scowl, half-frown on Paxton's face; for the mindspy had lost his quarry's aura. He supposed that Harry was still in the house, but for all his mental concentration he no longer had contact with him. Not even the tenuous contact which was his minimum requirement.
It didn't mean a great deal, of course not, because Paxton was well aware of Harry's talents: the Necroscope could be literally anywhere. Or on the other hand it could mean quite a bit. It isn't everyone who will just go flitting off in the midnight hour, putting himself beyond the reach of men and mentalists alike. Keogh could be up to almost anything.
Paxton shivered as a ghost stepped on his grave. Only an old saying, that, of course; but for a moment just then he'd felt something touch him, like an unseen presence come drifting across the water to stand beside him in the silence of the mist-shrouded river bank. Mist-shrouded? Where in hell had that sprung from?
He stood up, looked to left and right and began to turn around. And Harry, not five paces away, stepped silently into darkness. Paxton turned through a full, slow circle, shivered again and shrugged uncomfortably, and continued to stare at the house across the river. He reached inside his coat and brought out a leather-jacketed flask, tilted it and let strong liquor gurgle into his throat in a long pull.
Watching the esper empty the flask, Harry could feel something dark swelling inside him. It was big, maybe even bigger than he was. He flowed forward, came to a halt directly behind the unsuspecting telepath. What a joke it would be, to let go of Wellesley's shield right now and deliberately aim his thoughts into the back of Paxton's head! Why, the esper would probably leap straight into the river!
Or perhaps he'd just turn round again, very slowly, and see Harry standing there looking right at him, into him, into his quivering, quaking soul. And then, if he went to scream...
The dark, alien, hate-swollen thing was in Harry's hands now, lifting them towards the back of Paxton's neck. It was in his heart, too, and his eyes, and his face. He could feel it pulling back his lips from drooling teeth. It would be so easy to sweep Paxton up and into the Möbius Continuum, and... and deal with him there. There, where no one would ever find him.
Harry's hands only had to close now and he could wring the esper's neck as if he were a chicken. Ahhh!
The thing inside sang of emotions as yet unattained, which could be his. He thrilled to its message, to the ringing cry which echoed through his innermost being even now: Wamphyri! Warn -
- And Paxton hitched back the sleeve of his overcoat and glanced at his watch.
That was all: his movement had been such a natural thing, so mundane, so much of this world, that the spell of an alien plane of existence was broken. And Harry felt like a twelve-year-old boy again, masturbating furiously over the toilet bowl and ready to come, and his uncle had just knocked on the bathroom door.
He drew back from Paxton, conjured a Möbius door and almost toppled through it. Too late (and mercifully so), the mindspy sensed something and whirled about -
- And saw nothing there but a swirl of fog.
Drenched in his own pungent sweat, the Necroscope vacated the Möbius Continuum into the back seat of Paxton's car. And he sat there shuddering, retching and being physically ill on to the floor until he'd sicked the thing right out of himself. At last, looking at the stinking mess of his own vomit, his anger gradually returned. But now he was mainly angry with himself.
He'd set out to teach the esper a lesson and had almost killed him. It said a hell of a lot for his control over the thing inside him, which as yet was... what? A baby? An infant? What hope would he have later, then, when the thing was full-fledged?
And still Paxton was there under the trees by the river bank, there with his thoughts and his cigarettes and whisky. And he'd probably be there tomorrow, too, and the day after that. Until Harry made a mistake and gave himself away. If he hadn't done so already.
'Fuck him!' Harry said out loud, bitterly.
Yes, screw him, shaft the bastard! Which had to be better than murdering him, at least.
He climbed over into the front seat of the car and took off the brake, and felt the wheels slowly turn as she began to roll. He guided the car fully on to the road and let gravity take her along. Rolling down the gentle gradient, the vehicle gained momentum.
Harry pumped at the accelerator until he could smell the heavy petrol fumes, pulled out the choke and pumped some more. A quarter-mile later he was still pumping and the car was doing maybe twenty-five, thirty. The curve was corning up fast, with its grass verge and high stone wall. Harry let go the wheel, conjured a Möbius door out of the seat beside him and slid over into it.
And two seconds later Paxton's car mounted the verge, hit the wall and went off like a bomb!
Just that moment returning from the river to the road, the esper stared uncomprehendingly at the spot where his car had stood - then heard the explosion farther down the road and saw a ball of fire rising into the night. And: 'What...?' he said. 'What?'
By then Harry was home again, dialling 999. He got an emergency operator in Bonnyrig who put him through to the police station.
'Police - how can we help ye?' The voice was heavily accented.
There's a car just burst into flames on the access road to the old estate behind Bonnyrig,' Harry said, breathlessly, and passed on full details of the location. 'And there's a man there drinking from a hip flask and warming his hands on the fire.'
'Who's speaking, please?' The voice was more authoritative now, alert and very official-sounding.
'Can't stop,' said Harry. 'Have to see if anyone's hurt.' He put the phone down.
From his upstairs bedroom window the Necroscope watched the fire steadily brightening, and ten minutes later saw the Bonnyrig fire-engine arrive along with its police escort. And for a little while there was the eerie wailing of sirens where blue- and orange-flashing lights clustered around the central leap of flames. Then the fire winked out and the sirens were silenced, and a little after that the police car drove off ... with a passenger.
Harry would have been happy to know that the passenger was Paxton, furiously swearing his innocence and breathing whisky fumes all over the hard-faced officers. But he didn't because by then he was fast alseep. Whether sleep at night was right or wrong for his character made no difference: Trevor Jordan's advice had been sound...
In the morning the rising sun scorched Harry from his bed. Coming up beyond the river, it crept in through his window and seared a path across a twitching left hand which he dreamed was trapped in one of Hamish McCulloch's kilns. Starting awake, he saw the room flooded with glowing yellow sunlight where he'd mistakenly left the curtains open.
He breakfasted on coffee - just coffee - and immediately proceeded to the cool cellar. He didn't know how long he had left, so it might well be a case of now or never. And anyway he'd promised Trevor Jordan it would be today. Jordan's and Penny's urns were already down below, along with the chemicals Harry had taken from the Castle Ferenczy.
Trevor,' he said as he weighed and mixed powders. 'I went after Paxton last night ... no, not seriously, but almost. All I did in the end was toss a spanner in his works, which should keep him out of our hair a while. I certainly don't feel him near, but that could be because it's morning and the sun is up. Can you tell me if he's out there?'
The newsagent in Bonnyrig has just opened his shop and there's a milkman doing his rounds, Jordan answered. Oh, and a lot of perfectly ordinary people in the village are having breakfast. But no sign of Paxton. It seems a pretty normal sort of morning to me.
'Not exactly normal,' Harry told him. 'Not for you, anyway.'
I've been trying not to hope too hard, Jordan answered, his deadspeak shivery. Trying not to pray. I still keep thinking I'm dreaming. I mean, we actually do shut down and sleep sometimes. Did you know that?
The Necroscope nodded, finished with his powders and took up Jordan's urn. 'I was incorporeal myself one time, remember? I used to get tired as hell. Mental exhaustion is far worse than physical.'
For a while, as he carefully poured Jordan's ashes, there was silence. Then: Harry, I'm too scared to talk!
'Scared?' Harry repeated the word almost automatically, concentrated on breaking the urn with a hammer and lying its pieces with the insides uppermost around the heap of mortal remains and chemical catalysts, so that anything clinging to them would get caught up in it when he spoke the words.
Scared, excited, you name it... but if I had guts I'd throw them up, I'm sure!
It was time. Trevor, you have to understand that if you're not right ... I mean - '
I know what you mean. I know.
'OK.' Harry nodded, and moistened his dry lips. 'So here we go.'
The words of evocation came as easy as his mother tongue, and yet with a growl which denied his human heritage. He used his art with - pride? Certainly in the knowledge that it was a very uncommon thing, and that he was a most uncommon creature.
'Uaaah!' The final exclamation wasn't quite a snarl - and it was answered a moment later by a cry almost of agony!
The Necroscope stepped back as swirling purple smoke filled the cellar, stinging his eyes. It gouted, mushroomed, spilled from or was residue of the chemical materia. It was the very essence of jinni: its massive volume spilling from such a small source. And staggering forward out of it, crying out the pain of his rebirth, came the naked figure of Trevor Jordan. But the Necroscope was ready, in case this birth must be aborted.
For a moment Harry could see very little in the swirl of chemical smoke, and for another only a glimpse: a wild, staring eye, a twisted, gaping mouth, head only partly visible. Only partly there?
Jordan's arms were reaching for Harry, his hands shuddering, almost vibrating. His legs gave way and he fell to one knee. Harry felt the chill of absolute horror and the words of devolution sprang into his mind, were ready on his desiccated lips. Then -
- The smoke cleared and it was... Trevor Jordan kneeling there.
Harry sank to his knees and embraced him, both of them crying like children...
Then it was Penny's turn. She, too, thought she was dreaming, couldn't believe what the Necroscope told her with his deadspeak. But it was one dream from which he soon awakened her.
She fell into his arms crying, and he carried her up out of the cellar to his bedroom, laid her between the sheets and told her to try to sleep. All useless: there was a maniac in the house, running wild, laughing and crying at the same time. Trevor Jordan came and went, slamming doors, rushing here and there - pausing to touch himself, to touch Harry, Penny - and then laughing again. Laughing like crazy, like mad. Mad to be alive!
Penny, too, once the truth sank in, once she believed. And for an hour, two hours, it was bedlam. Stay in bed? She dressed herself in Harry's pyjamas and one of his shirts, and... danced! She pirouetted, waltzed, jived; Harry was glad he had no neighbours.
Eventually they wore themselves out, almost wore the Necroscope out, too.
He made plenty of coffee for them. They were thirsty; they were hungry; they invaded his kitchen. They ate ... everything! Now and then Jordan would leap to his feet, hug Harry until he thought his ribs must crack, rush into the garden and feel the sunshine, and rush back again. And Penny would burst into a fresh bout of tears and kiss him. It made him feel good. And it disturbed him. Even now their emotions were no match for his.
Then it was afternoon, and Harry said: 'Penny, I think you can go home now.'
He had told her what she must say: how it couldn't have been her body the police found but someone who looked a lot like her. How she had suffered amnesia or something and didn't know where she'd been until she found herself in her own street in her own North Yorkshire village. That was all, no elaboration. And no mention, not even a whisper, of Harry Keogh, Necroscope.
He made a note of her sizes, Möbius-tripped into Edinburgh and bought her clothes, waited while she frantically dressed herself. He had forgotten shoes: no matter, she'd go barefoot. She would go naked, if that were the only way!
He took her home - almost all the way, only breaking the jump for a final word of warning on the rolling moors - via the Möbius Continuum, which was something else for her not to believe in. And he cautioned her: 'Penny, from now on things will be normal for you, and eventually you may even come to believe this story we've concocted for you. Better for you, me, everyone, if you do believe it. Most certainly better for me.'
'But... I'll see you again?' (The realization of what she had found, and what she must lose. And for the first time the question: did she have the better of the bargain?)
He shook his head. 'People will come and go, Penny, through all your life. It's the way it is.'
'And through death?'
'You've promised me you'll forget that. It isn't part of our story, right?'
And then the rest of the jump, to a street corner she'd known all her life. 'Goodbye, Penny.'
And when she looked around...
As a small child she'd followed the rerun adventures of the Lone Ranger. Who was that invisible man...?
Back at the house near Bonnyrig, Jordan was waiting. He was calmer now but still radiated awe and wonder, which made him look beautiful, fresh-scrubbed, newly returned from a holiday in the sun or a swim in a mountain stream. All of these things. 'Harry, I'm ready any time you are. Just tell me what I must do.'
'You, nothing. Just don't shut me out, that's all. I want to get into your mind, and learn from it.'
'Like Janos did?'
Harry shook his head. 'Unlike Janos. I didn't bring you back to hurt you. I didn't even bring you back for me. It's still up to you. If you don't like the idea of me going in there just say so. This has to be of your own free will.' Very significant words.
Jordan looked at him. 'You didn't just save my life,' he said, 'but returned it to me! Anything you want, Harry.'
The Necroscope sent his developing Wamphyri thoughts directly into Jordan's head, and the other cleared the way for him, drew him in. Harry found what he wanted: it was so like deadspeak that he knew it at once. The mechanism was easy, a part of the human psyche. Mental in action, it was purely physical in operation, a part of the mind people - most people - haven't learned how to use. Identical twins sometimes have it, because they come from the same egg. But discovering it wasn't the same as making it work.
Harry withdrew, said: 'Your turn.'
For Jordan it was easy. He already was a telepath. He looked inside Harry's mind and found the trigger which the Necroscope had pictured for him. It only required releasing. After that, like a switch, Harry could throw it any time it was required.
And: Try it,' Jordan said, when he'd withdrawn.
Harry pictured Zek Föener, a powerful telepath in her own right, and reached out with his new talent.
He (no, she) was swimming in the blue warm waters of the Mediterranean, spear-fishing off Zakinthos where she lived with her husband Jazz Simmons. She was twenty feet down and had lined up a fish in her sights, a fine red mullet where it finned on the sandy bottom and ogled her.
Testing... testing... testing,' said Harry, with more than a hint of dry humour.
She sucked in salt water down the tube of her snorkel, triggered off her spear and missed, dropped her gun and kicked frantically for the surface. And she trod water there, coughing and spluttering, staring wildly all about. Until suddenly it came to her that the words could only have been in her head. But the mental voice had been unmistakable.
Finally she had her breath back, and got her thoughts together. Ha - Ha - Harry?
And from his house in Bonnyrig, fifteen hundred miles away: The one and only,' he answered.
Harry, you... you... a telepath? Her confusion was total.
'I didn't mean to startle you, Zek. Just wanted to find out how good I am.'
Well, you're good! I might have... I might have drowned! A swimmer like Zek? There was no way she might have drowned. But suddenly she backed off, and the Necroscope knew that she'd sensed the other thing that was Harry Keogh. She tried to shut it out of her thoughts but he cut right through her confusion with:
'It's OK, Zek. I know that you know about me. I just think you should also know that it won't be like that with me. I'm not staying here. Not for long, anyway. I have a job to do, and then I'll be on my way.'
Back there? She'd read it in his mind.
To begin with. But there may be other places. You of all people know I can't stay here.'
Harry, she was quick, anxious to return, you know I won't go up against you.
'I know that, Zek.'
She was silent for a long time; then Harry had a thought. 'Zek, if you'll swim back to the beach, there's someone here would like a word with you. But better if you have your feet firmly on the beach, because you won't believe who it is and what he has to say. And this time you really might drown!'
And he was right, she didn't believe it. Not for quite some time...
About the middle of the afternoon, when Jordan had finally accepted everything and the glow had gone off him a little, he said: 'What about me, Harry. Can I just go home?'
'I may have made a mistake,' the Necroscope told him then. 'Darcy Clarke knows I had that girl's ashes. He might figure it out. If he does he'll know I have a couple more talents now. Which will be confirmed - and how - if you show up! And anyway I have this feeling that everything is going to blow up, soon. You can go any time you like, Trevor, but I'd appreciate it if you'd stay here and out of sight a while longer.'
Harry shrugged. 'I have a job to do. That long. Not much more than four or five days, I should think.'
That's OK, Harry,' Jordan nodded. 'I can stand that. Or four or five weeks if I have to!'
'What will you do, anyway? Back to the Branch?'
'It was a good living. It paid the bills. We got things done.'
Then it's best that you leave it until I've gone. You have to know that they'll be coming after me?'
'After all you've done for us. For everybody?'
Again Harry's shrug. 'When an old, faithful dog savages your child, you have him put down. His services in the past don't cut it. What's more, if you knew for certain he was going to savage the child, you'd put him down first, right? And afterwards you might even feel sorry for the old guy and cry a little. But hell, if you also knew he had rabies, why, you wouldn't even think twice! You'd do it for him as much as for anyone else.'
Jordan played it straight, face to face. 'Does it really worry you that much? I mean, let's face it, Harry: it won't be an easy job, taking you out. Janos Ferenczy had a lot going for him, but he wasn't in the same league as you are now!'
'That's why I have to go. If I don't I'll be forced to defend myself, which can only hasten things. And then there'd be a chance for this curse to go on for ever. I didn't spend all that time doing all of that - Dragosani, Thibor, Janos, Fathor, Yulian Bodescu - just to end up the same way they did.'
'In that case... maybe I should go. I mean now.'
'I can stay out of sight, keep an eye on them for you. They have Paxton watching you, but they won't know that I'm watching them. They don't even know I'm alive. I mean, they do know I'm dead!'
Harry was interested. 'Go on.'
'Darcy will be the man to watch, not in the office but when he's home. I know where he lives, and I know how he thinks. You'll be on his mind a lot, both ways: because of what you are, but also because he's a good sort of bloke and he'll just be, well, thinking about you. So when everything looks set to go down I'll know it, and then I'll get back to you.'
'You'd do that for me?' Harry knew he would.
'Don't I owe you?'
Harry nodded, slowly. 'It's a good idea,' he finally said. 'OK, go after nightfall. I'll drive you into Edinburgh, and then you're on your own.'
And he did. And then the Necroscope was on his own, too. But not for long.
The next morning Paxton was back.
His presence turned Harry's mood sour in a moment, but he promised himself that later he would turn the tables and take a look inside Paxton's mind for a change. He relished the thought of that. But first he would go and see his Ma and find out if she had anything for him.
The sky was overcast and he stood on the bank of the river with his coat collar turned up against a thin but penetrating, persistent drizzle. 'Any success, Ma?'
Harry? Is that you, son? Her deadspeak was so thin, so far-off sounding, that for a moment the Necroscope thought it was simply background 'static', the whispers of the teeming dead conversing in their graves.
'It's me, Ma, yes. But... you're awfully faint.'
I know, son, she answered from afar. Just like you, I don't have a lot of time now. Not here, anyway. It's all fading now, everything... Did you want something, Harry?
She seemed very weary and wandering. 'Ma,' (he was patient with her, just like in the old days), 'since I've been having some difficulty with the dead, we'd decided that you would help me out and see if they'd be a bit more forthcoming with you... about those poor murdered girls, I mean. You said I should give you a little time, then come and see you again. So here I am. I still need that information, Ma.'
Murdered girls? She repeated him, however vaguely. But then Harry sensed the sudden focusing of her attention as her deadspeak sounded sharper in his unique mind. Of course, those poor murdered girls! Those innocents. Except... well, they weren't all innocents, Harry.
'In my book they were, Ma. For my purposes, they were. But tell me, what do you mean?'
Well, most of them wouldn't speak to me, she answered. It seemed they'd been warned off, warned about you. When it comes to vampires, the dead aren't very forgiving, Harry. The one who would speak to me, she'd been one of the first of his victims - whoever he is - but by no means an innocent. She was a prostitute, son, foul-mouthed and foul-minded. But she was willing to talk about it and said she wouldn't mind talking to you. In fact, she said more than that.
Yes, she said that it would make a nice change to just... to just talk to a man! Harry's Ma tut-tutted. And so young, so very young.
'Ma,' said Harry, 'I'm going to go and see that one -soon. But you're getting so faint that I don't know if we'll ever get to talk again. So I just thought I'd tell you right now that you've been the best mother anyone could ever have, and...'
- And you've been the best son, Harry, she cut him off. But listen, don't you cry for me. And I promise I won't cry for you. I lived a good life, son, and despite a cruel death I've not been too unhappy in my grave. You were responsible for what happiness I found, Harry, just as you've been for so much of what passes for happiness in this place. That the dead no longer trust you... well, that's their loss.
He blew her a kiss. 'I missed a lot when you were taken from me. But of course, you missed a lot more. I hope there is a place beyond death, Ma, and that you make it there.'
Harry, there's something else. She was fading very quickly now, so that he must give her all of his attention or lose her deadspeak entirely. About August Ferdinand.
'August Ferdi - ? About Möbius?' Harry remembered his last conversation with the great mathematician. 'Ah!' He chewed his lip. 'Well, it could be that I insulted Möbius, Ma... inadvertently, you understand? I mean, I wasn't quite myself that time.'
He said you weren't, son, and that he wouldn't be speaking with you again.
'Oh,' said Harry, a little crestfallen. Möbius had been one of his very best and closest friends. 'I see.'
No, you don't see, Harry, his mother contradicted him. He won't be speaking to you because he won't be there... I mean here. He, too, has somewhere else to go, or believes he has. Anyway, he talked about a lot of things I didn't much understand: space and time, space-time, the cone-shaped universes of light? I think that covers everything. And he said your argument left one big question unanswered.
Yes. The question of the... ius Continuum itself. He said... thinks... knows what it is. He said... was... mind... She was breaking up, her deadspeak scattering, for the last time, Harry knew.
'Ma?' He was anxious.
Möbius... said... was... The Mind, Harry...
'The Mind? Ma, did you say The Mind?'
She tried to answer but couldn't quite make it. All that came back was the faintest of all far-distant, fading whispers.
Paxton had read the Necroscope's case-files and knew quite a lot about him. Most of it would seem unbelievable, to people of entirely mundane persuasions. But of course Paxton wasn't one of them. On the far bank of the river, he watched Harry through a pair of binoculars and thought: The strange sod's talking to his mother, a woman dead for quarter of a century and long since turned to slop! Jesus! And they say telepathy is weird!
Harry 'heard' him and knew that he'd been eavesdropping on his conversation with his mother; on Harry's part of it, anyway. And suddenly he was furious, but coldly furious, not like the other night. And again Fathor's words of advice sprang to memory: 'He would enter your mind. Enter his!'
Paxton saw the Necroscope step behind a bush and waited for him to come out on the other side. But he didn't. Taking a leak? the esper wondered.
'Actually, no,' said Harry softly, from directly behind him. 'But when I do I'd like to think it's in private.'
'Who - ?' The mindspy whirled about, stumbled, staggered on the very rim of the river. Harry reached out easily and caught the front of his jacket, steadied him, grinned an utterly mirthless grin at him. He looked him up and down: a small, thin, withered-looking stick of a man in his middle to late twenties, with the face and eyes of a weasel. His telepathy must be Old Ma Nature's way of making up for several sorts of deficiency.
'Paxton,' Harry said, his voice still dangerously soft, a hot breath squeezed out of burning bellows lungs, 'you're a scum-sucking little mind-flea. I reckon that when your father made you the best part leaked from a ruptured rubber down your Ma's leg onto the floor of the brothel. You're a scumbag bastard who has invaded my territory, stepped on my toes and is making me itch. And I have every right to do something about you. Don't you agree?'
Paxton flapped his mouth like a landed fish, finally got his breath and his nerve back. 'I ... I'm doing my job, that's all,' he gasped, trying to free himself from Harry's grip. But the Necroscope just held him there at arm's length - held him that much tighter - with no real expenditure of energy at all.
'Doing your job?' He repeated Paxton's words. 'Who for, scumbag?'
'That's none of your busin - ' Paxton started to say.
Harry shook him, glared at him, and for the first time the esper noticed a flush of red light colouring the Necroscope's gaunt cheeks where it escaped from behind the thick lenses of his dark glasses. An angry red light - from his eyes!
'For E-Branch?' Harry's voice was lower still, a rumble, almost a growl.
'Yes - no!' Paxton blurted the words out. Soft as jelly, all he wanted now was to get away from here; to that end he'd say anything at all, the first thing that came to mind. Harry knew it, could read it in his pale face and trembling lips; but where lips may lie the mind usually tells the truth. He went inside, scanned it all and more, and got out again like squelching from the sucking quag of a sewer. Even through the acrid odour of Paxton's fear, still he'd been able to smell the shit.
It was a relief to know that such minds were in the minority; otherwise the Necroscope might be tempted to declare war on the entire human race, right now!
But Paxton knew he'd been in: he'd felt Harry in there, like slivers of ice in his mind. He started imitating a fish again.
'So now you know for sure,' said Harry. 'And now you'll report to your boss. Well, you go and tell the Minister that his worst nightmare has come true, Paxton. Tell him that, and then quit. Get out and stay out. I know you don't warn too easily, but this time take some good advice and run while you can. I won't be warning you again.'
And while that sank in he released the other, released him violently, tossed him back and over the lip of the riverbank, and down into the gently swirling water.
It was only then that the Necroscope saw Paxton's briefcase lying open on a tree stump close by. Several white junk-mail envelopes - and one large manila envelope - were like magnets to his eyes. They were addressed to Harry Keogh, No. 3 The Riverside, etc, etc.
Harry glared once more at the floundering esper where he gagged, gurgled and splashed in the cold river water beyond his reach - for the moment just out of harm's way - then snatched up his mail and took it home with him.
Paxton could swim, which was as well. For the Necroscope didn't much care one way or the other...