The fat, sweaty man dropped the packing-case on the bridge and then stood back to wipe his neck, as though surveying his handiwork. Adam was not pleased. He had been shouting at the men since leaving Lixix to be careful with the crates, only to have them unload them at the Headquarters as though they were playing basketball.
"I did not do all that work just so that you could smash it all to pieces", he roared.
Nonetheless the men continued unloading the crates in their own inimitable style, and then calmly walked away. Adam stood in the cool of the huge stone arch that connected the bridge to the Clock Quadrangle, and forgot his anxieties about his paintings in his general relief at being home at long last. He had been gone for nearly three months, and although that time had been artistically very productive, he had been wretchedly homesick for most it. But it had been doctor's orders that he escape to a drier, hotter climate for the duration of the rest of the winter, and although it had been for his own good, he had still felt as though he was being sent into exile.
The City was barely recognisable from the place it had been when he left it. Gone were the dank fogs and freezing frosts of the winter. Spring had broken out with a vengeance this past fortnight, and everywhere was budding into life. The Ministry Headquarters, built over the site of the old one which Kieran had had pulled down after Father Gabriel's death, was extremely quiet. This was perfectly natural at this time of the afternoon, it was the calm before the noise and bustle of the evening.
"You look a lot better I'm glad to say", came a voice from behind him.
Adam spun round. Kieran was standing halfway down the stone steps which descended to the archway from the state rooms on the first floor. He was wearing his long purple silk robe, the one he jokingly referred to as his "working overalls" because he found them more comfortable for wearing when he was spending long hours at his desk. Adam was shocked by how exhausted he looked.
"Patsy!" he exclaimed, and galloped up the steps towards him "I wish I could say the same for you old love. You look terrible, as though you haven't slept for a week. And you're thinner than ever".
"Oh Adam, you always say that".
"It's true. Look at you, skin and bone".
"Never mind me. How was Lixix? Is your chest better?"
"Lixix was fine, and yes my chest is better. It damn well had to be, as I wasn't going to spend another day away from you if I could help it. I've missed you like crazy".
"I know the feeling".
"I'm back now anyway", said Adam "And not before time it seems. You wait til I see Joby, he obviously hasn't been taking care of you enough".
"You leave Joby alone. He's been very busy lately. You know he's obsessed with developing a blue rose".
"And neglecting you in the process".
"I'm alright Addy".
"No you're not. Come on, let's go up and you can tell me all about it".
They put their arms round each other and wound their way up the stairs and on towards Kieran's suite. This was in one of the gloomiest parts of the building, and rarely got much sunlight, but the rooms were central and easily accessible, which was the general idea. Past the guards and the double doors, and into Kieran's study. This was a large high-ceilinged room, with windows that overlooked the Clock Quadrangle, giving Kieran first sight of any visitors that arrived. Behind his desk a small spider monkey hopped around on a perch, making tutting noises with its lips.
"So", said Adam, once the doors had been closed behind them "Tell me how it's been".
"Awful", said Kieran, his eyes welling with tears "One damn thing after another".
"I thought as much", said Adam, and led him over to the windowseat "You should've ordered me home. I'd have come like a shot you know".
"No I couldn't, your health means too much to me".
"It was only a cough and a tight chest that I had".
"Yes, and I don't suppose it's stopped you smoking those filthy cigars?"
"Never mind that now", said Adam "Tell me what's been happening here".
"I don't know where to start", Kieran exclaimed "There have been another couple of murders you know".
"I read about them. Pretty gruesome by all accounts".
"That's putting it mildly", Kieran picked up a wad of papers from his desk "These are the inquest reports. They're like reading the synopsis to a particularly nasty sexploitation film".
"The Assizes Court must be doing all they can though", said Adam "And there's not much you yourself can do, except sit here and listen. And the victims were rent-boys".
"What's that got to do with it?" said Kieran "No one deserves to die like that".
"That's not what I'm saying", Adam pulled him gently onto his lap "What I mean is it's a high-risk profession, it always has been. Grisly murders of prostitutes is hardly anything new. The bastard's luck will run out eventually though, and he'll get reeled in".
"Fat chance!" said Kieran "He never leaves any clues. Not a single bloody one! Considering how mutilated these poor guys were you'd think he'd leave something, but there's nothing. Not a fingerprint, not a flake of skin, or a trace of semen. Not a thing".
"You've got to switch off from this Patsy".
"I can't! Everything I hear about it reminds me of Angel. It's exactly the sort of thing he'd do".
"Well it's not Angel", said Adam, firmly "It might be some idiot who's got a fixation on Angel and his ways, but it's not Angel. He's gone. And there's no reason why he should suddenly come back after all this time".
"On top of all this I've got Trixie arriving on a state visit", Kieran sighed "He invited himself and I could hardly turn him away. There's been a bad outbreak of plague in Pepuaah. His advisors counselled him to leave the town until it's contained".
"When's he coming?"
"Bloody quick isn't it?"
"Yes, although we're trying to keep it all as calm as possible. Make it look like just a run-of-the-mill diplomatic visit. No cause for alarm, all that kind of thing. Oh I don't know! Murder and mutilation, contagious diseases ... I sometimes think Gabriel's teamed up with Angel to come back and haunt me".
"You're getting too worked up about all this. I should never have left you to cope with it alone".
"I'm not alone", Kieran brushed his tears away with the back of his hand and stood up "I'll make you some coffee. Knowing you, I expect you could do with some. Did you get much painting done?"
"Oh enough to bore the arse off you for several evenings", said Adam, as Kieran began grinding coffee beans "How's everyone here? Is Joby still having trouble with his enzymes?"
"Don't get him onto that, please!" said Kieran "I hear nothing else. Mind you, I quite like it in a way. It can be quite soothing to hear about rose-growing after some of the days I've had. Everyone else is fine. Hillyard had an attack of gonorrhoea a while back, and he had to be celibate for a few weeks, but he's fine now".
"He does live dangerously, that man".
"Ransey's getting to look a bit haggard. I think it'll be his turn for a holiday next, except he's convinced the whole place will come tumbling down without him. And it probably would. Julian's been like a bear with a sore head".
"So what's new?"
"Sits up in his room all days, polishing his teapots, and snapping at everyone because they're not you. I don't think he's forgiven you for refusing to take him with you".
"If I couldn't have you with me, the last thing I'd want was Julian mithering me for weeks on end", said Adam "And how's Lonts? Has the little brat been behaving himself?"
"Not dissimilar to Julian actually. Has tantrums sometimes because you're not coming home within the next ten minutes. You'll have to go up and see him when he wakes up from his nap".
"How did that temporary nurse shape up? The eunuch?"
"We had to let him go", said Kieran, awkwardly.
"Why? I specifically hired a eunuch because I didn't think we'd have any trouble from one of them. Did Lonts scare him off? I know his fits of temper have gone into folklore around here".
"He didn't turn out to be very suitable", said Kieran. He passed Adam his coffee-cup and in his nervousness slopped some of it onto the saucer.
"Patsy, what's been going on?"
"At first I thought he was just lazy, the eunuch that is. He seemed almost to resent looking after Lonts".
"Then why did he become a nurse?"
"I asked him that early on. He said he was under the impression he was going to be more of a paid companion, not a nursemaid. I was given to understand that as far as he was concerned Lonts should be fed pills all day, and kept as docile as possible. This was after I'd gone to great lengths to warn him that Lonts has a phobia about pills and needles. He won't even take an aspirin, I told him. He also told me that he hadn't realised Lonts had to wear a nappy in bed. I got the doctor in to explain to him that Lonts can't always control his bowels, but that didn't have any effect. I said Lonts only messes himself when he's excited".
"But Lonts gets excited very easily", said Adam.
"Exactly", Kieran sighed "And he's been having nightmares on a regular basis too, so of course he soils his nappy in bed. The eunuch didn't appreciate this".
"Some bloody nurse he turned out to be!" said Adam "We can cope with Lonts better ourselves".
"I know. I'm so glad you're back Addy. But you haven't heard the worst".
"Then you'd better tell me", said Adam, gravely.
"I'm not making excuses for myself, you must understand I had no idea what was going on or I'd have stopped it sooner. It's my fault that I should have taken time to check on Lonts more thoroughly. I mean, I suppose the signs were all there. When the eunuch used to come and collect Lonts from here, Lonts would cower and hide behind my chair. I should've known!"
"Whatever happened Pats, I don't blame you. Now tell me, what happened?"
"He was beating Lonts, very badly. I don't know how I couldn't have suspected, but I didn't. It went on for a few weeks. The eunuch was very careful not to hit him on any part of the body that showed, and it's been cold up until recently so Lonts was always well bundled-up in sweaters and things. I didn't suspect at all. Until one day Lonts started crying when he was in here with me. I asked him what was wrong, and he said the eunuch sometimes hit him so hard that it hurt for days. I got the eunuch in and gave him the third-degree. He said he didn't understand what I was carrying on about, they were only little spankings. I knew he was lying. I know Lonts gets a bit snivelly and weepy when you've spanked him, but this was sheer terror. So I went to the eunuch's room and searched it whilst he was out. What I found there was like a sado-masochist's dream. He'd used a lash on Lonts's back, and a studded leather paddle on his bottom. I can't believe I'd let it go on so long".
"And where is this person now?"
"I threw him out. Told it would be best for him if he got right out of the City, as I'd make sure the City Guards wouldn't give him a moment's peace otherwise. I know it was pretty feeble, but I couldn't take it any further without publicly involving Lonts, and I thought he'd been through enough by then".
"It's not your fault Patsy", said Adam.
"Yes it is Adam, I should've known. But I just thought this monster was lazy that was all. If I'd known he was beating Lonts I'd..."
"It's not your fault", Adam said again "You've got quite enough to do as it is. If it's anyone's fault it's mine, I engaged the evil creature. I was so anxious to get a eunuch, thinking Lonts would be completely safe then. That was a seriously bad error of judgement on my part".
"Why don't you go up and see him? He should be awake by now. He'll be so thrilled to see you".
"I hope he can forgive me for abandoning him to the mercies of such an ogre".
"Oh I think so somehow".
Lonts had one of the small turret rooms, reached by a spiral staircase directly from Adam's room. When Adam pushed open the door he saw that the four-poster bed was slightly rumpled from where Lonts had been lying on it, and the windows, although barred, were open to the warm spring air. Of Lonts there was no sign. Adam stared round him in bewilderment, but finally located Lonts hiding behind the door. The relief on Lonts's face when he saw it was Adam and not the return of the dreaded eunuch was upsetting. Lonts flung his arms round Adam's neck and howled about how pleased he was to see him.
In spite of the fact that Lonts was as tall as him, Adam couldn't help but think how vulnerable he looked. He was still the little boy trapped in a grown man's body. It was fortunate for the eunuch that Lonts only had screaming fits when he was afraid, and that he didn't lash out, or doubtless the eunuch would look in a pretty sorry state himself by now.
"I've missed you baby", Adam cried "I've got all sorts of presents for you in my packing-cases. We'll have to unload them later".
"I'm just glad you're back", said Lonts "The others are really kind, but I miss you".
"I hear you've had a pretty rough deal. Patsy's been telling me".
"Don't cry Adam, he's gone now. Kieran sent him away. You should've heard the way he shouted at him! One of the staff said it was better than the theatre. They didn't like him either. He was always sending his meals back to the kitchen and saying they weren't cooked properly. Kieran threw his luggage out of the bedroom window. It was so funny".
"Patsy never told me about that", Adam smiled.
"I tried really hard to behave whilst you were away", said Lonts, sombrely "But he kept telling me I'd done things, and I couldn't remember doing them! It was horrible. He said I'd cut the heads off some of Joby's best flowers, but I'm sure I wouldn't do that. He showed them to me though, but I couldn't remember doing it!"
"Was Joby cross with you?"
"No. No, he wasn't. He just looked at the eunuch really strange. I thought he'd start yelling at me and telling me how stupid I am, like he normally does. But he didn't".
"Because he realised you wouldn't do that. Joby knows you as well as I do".
"He's not coming back is he, the eunuch I mean?"
"Never", said Adam.
Kieran had spent the afternoon in the basement, terrorising the keeper of the archives. He had sent the little man scurrying hither and thither, searching for every map and aged document he could find concerning the Loud House. By the time he had finished he had collected an armful of the stuff and was staggering back through the cloister-style corridors with it. Joby noticed him and followed him up to their rooms.
"What do you want all this junk for?" he said, as Kieran dumped the documents and the rolls of maps onto his desk "Some of it's years old".
"I'm going to send an expedition to the Loud House", Kieran panted.
"To see if Angel's bones are still there".
"What?" Joby exclaimed "Why shouldn't they be?"
"Because somebody's resurrected him that's why!" Kieran yelled "He is behind these murders I'm sure of it. They have all his hallmarks".
"Why should he come back after all this time? It's ten years since you defeated him. Why would he wait this long?"
"Because he hasn't had the means to come back until now. That's what I'm saying. Someone has resurrected him".
"Who?" Joby cried, in disbelief "Baron Frankenstein?"
"Don't get smart".
"Well you're not making sense. Look, there have been six murders since early last autumn, right? That averages one a month".
"So Angel was a vampire. He needed to take on fuel regularly. If it really was him doing it, there would have been a murder every night".
"Not necessarily", said Kieran "When I spoke to Angel at the Loud House, he told me he occasionally came to the City because it was rich pickings. But he's a vampire, so he can get around supernaturally. He could be murdering men all over the world. Distance is no object to him. There could be mutilated corpses of men lying in remote farmhouses, down mine-shafts, in the desert, anywhere. Murders going completely undetected. But once a month he comes to the City, just to taunt me".
"That is completely ridiculous", said Joby "I've heard you come out with some tripe before but ..."
"Look at this!" Kieran shoved a black-and-white photograph into his hands "That came attached to the pathologist's report on the last victim".
"Not a pretty sight", said Joby, grimacing at the bleak image of a disembowelled corpse lying on a bloodstained mattress.
"I want you to look at that in particular", Kieran tapped at a bloodstained mark on the wall above the bed "The victim had been trying to write a name on the wall, but he died before he could complete it".
"That isn't what the scene-of-crime officer said. He said the murderer had been trying to be clever. Thought he'd like to leave some kind of insignia but it didn't quite work".
"Whatever", said Kieran "Either way it was the name of 'Angel' they were trying to write".
"No it wasn't!" Joby screamed.
"Who is the one with the best instinct round here, eh? The best intuition? Tell me!"
"And who is the one who comes out with the biggest load of garbage at times? I wish you'd calm down, and stop getting so obsessed with this. Leave it to the Chief Constable, he seems to know what he's doing. You concentrate on Trixie's visit, that's causing enough inconvenience around here".
"I am the President!" Kieran cried "Not a hotel manager. I have more important things to worry about than Trixie's visit".
"No you haven't. No one expects you to get involved in all this".
"So what am I then? Some ponced-up figurehead, just here to look decorative and be nice to guests?"
"Sometimes, yes", said Joby "Oh God, there's no talking to you when you're like this. I'm going back to the garden".
"Thanks a bundle for your support", said Kieran, and without thinking he swiped Joby across the face, sending a heap of papers scattering as he did so.
Joby was so taken aback by this that he hit back on reflex, and hadn't realised he had done so until he saw Kieran lying sprawled on the floor whilst pages of typescript whirled around him.
"Kiel? Are you alright?" he said, diving down to him.
"Y-Yes, are you?"
Joby kissed him, and then pulled him to his feet. He picked Kieran up awkwardly, and staggered with him into the curtained alcove that contained their bed.
It was very late. Kieran had refused to answer the door to any callers, and instead had spent the evening lying next to Joby on their red-curtained bed. The windows were open, and a soft spring rain spattered down outside. On the floor under their window stood a battery-powered radio which was broadcasting some very gentle night music.
"It's great to have a radio again", said Kieran.
"Yea", said Joby "One day we might get telly too".
"They've got the technology, but there's no point I suppose. Not with electricity being so expensive and so scarce".
"And we'd only have to put up with the likes of Artuul prancing around on it. You're not serious about organising this expedition to the Loud House are you?"
"Not really", Kieran sighed "I can't see it being too popular, not when you consider the amount of money it would cost".
"That's even if you could find somebody to go there", said Joby.
"Oh I expect there would always be somebody somewhere who was daft enough", Kieran slid down the sheets and nuzzled Joby's side.
"You can count me out", said Joby "I wouldn't go back there for a blue rose bush, and I hope you're not thinking of going either. I can't seriously believe any of this is Angel, you know. Anyway, he promised you he was going for good. Didn't he say he'd had enough of the blood-lust lifestyle?"
"He was probably lying", said Kieran.
"He convinced you at the time", Joby pushed back the bedclothes and swung his legs out of bed.
"Where are you going Jobe?"
"Only to the karsey, I'll be back. Don't go away".
When Joby got back he was disconcerted to find Kieran sitting on the floor with his head in his hands, and the radio silenced next to him.
"Now what?" Joby exclaimed "There's not been another murder has there?"
Kieran looked up, his face was tearstained. Joby sank to his knees in front of him and placed his hands gently on either side of Kieran's head.
"What is it? Tell me".
"I've just heard his voice", said Kieran "Angel's. On the radio. He was speaking to me. He said he'd come back, and there was no way I was going to get rid of him. He said I'd have to sit back and watch whilst he destroyed everything".
"I expect it was a hoax Kiel", said Joby "Someone's tapped into the airwaves and pretended to be Angel. It might even be this nutter who's been doing all the killing. I reckon we should tell the Chief Constable in case he can get some clues from it".
"It was Angel, Joby", said Kieran "It was definitely Angel. You remember that irritating squeaky laugh of his, which always sounded so unpleasant? Well he had that. It was Angel, I swear it".
"Come on", Joby took Kieran's hands and led him gently back to the bed "You can't think about this now. It'll have to wait until the morning. I'll be with you all night. I won't leave you".
Julian heard the screaming first and groaned in despair. There was one huge disadvantage to spending the night in Adam's room, and that was the possibility that Lonts might have a nightmare, as he was now.
"He's off", Julian muttered, jabbing Adam in the ribs.
"Alright", Adam groaned, and reached for his robe in an automatic fashion.
"The way he carries on", said Julian "One almost gets sympathy for that wretched eunuch".
"Don't say that Jules".
"I don't know what you're so upset about. It's only the sort of treatment we used to get at school, and you've walloped him enough yourself".
"Not like that I haven't", Adam protested.
"What's the difference between a ruler and a paddle then?"
"I haven't used the ruler on him in a long while, and I didn't get some sadistic enjoyment out of it anyway".
"Oh that's alright then", said Julian, sarcastically.
"Just shut up Julian. I resent you comparing me to that monstrosity I mistakenly hired".
"I'm just saying that it's all relative isn't it?"
"Go back to sleep Julian".
Adam climbed up the turret staircase, carrying an oil-lamp in one hand. There was electricity in some parts of the Headquarters, but for reasons of economy it didn't extend to the bedrooms. When he got to the top he found Lonts standing at the end of his bed clutching onto the bedpost. He was naked apart from an outsized nappy swathed around him like a loin-cloth. He was sobbing hysterically.
"Another bad dream Lonts?" said Adam, setting the lamp down on a table "Did you get a lot of these whilst I was away?"
Lonts nodded and held out his arms to him. Adam cuddled him and felt his nappy at the same time.
"Seems like you need changing old love", he sighed, resignedly.
"I'm sorry Adam", Lonts sniffed "The eunuch used to make me have fluids for supper, so that I wouldn't mess too much".
"I don't think we need to take such extreme measures again".
Adam unrolled a rubber sheet and lay Lonts down on it. He had changed his nappy so often over the past few years that he felt as though he could do it in his sleep.
"The eunuch said if I got any worse you'd have no choice but to put me away", said Lonts "And I am getting worse aren't I Adam?"
"No, you're not", said Adam, dumping the soiled nappy in a metal bucket "You just have trouble with your bowels that's all".
"You don't have to pretend to me".
"I'm not. The doctor said it's all perfectly natural for someone in your condition".
"Someone who's mad you mean?"
"You're sounding quite lucid at the moment actually", Adam rolled the boy onto his front and shook talcum-powder over his bottom.
"The eunuch said I'd eventually become a vegetable. The eunuch said ..."
"I'm sick to death of hearing what the eunuch said", Adam snapped "The eunuch was evil. He said those things to hurt you. He knew you were afraid of being sent back into hospital so he exploited it. Some people are like that. But none of us here have mentioned you being sent away have we?"
Lonts shook his head.
"It's these dreams that are upsetting you too", said Adam "I wish you'd tell the doctor about them. He could give you something to help you sleep better".
"Not pills Adam, you promised!"
"Not all pills are evil Lonts. Some are there to help you".
"Alright, but in the meantime you're going to keep getting these dreams, I hope you realise that. Perhaps I should tell Gimmit to sleep in here more often, so that there's always someone in the same room as you".
"Gimmit likes sleeping outside whenever he can. I know he hates sleeping indoors", said Lonts.
"We're going to have to think of something if these dreams persist though Lonts", Adam finished pinning the clean nappy around him "Will you be alright now?"
"I think so", said Lonts, sleepily.
"I'm only downstairs", Adam kissed his hair and pulled the blankets back over him.
"I hope you're going to wash your hands before you get back into bed", said Julian.
"If you're that bloody fastidious Jules, you can go back to your own room".
"Ssh!" said Julian "You'll disturb your little darling".
"He's told me before that he quite likes to hear me talking down here. It makes him feel safe. Even your voice can be soothing apparently".
"It's ironic really", said Julian, as Adam poured water into a bowl and began to wash "I always thought that one of the advantages to being gay was that I wouldn't necessarily have to put up with the smell of soiled nappies. How wrong could I be!"
"I've left the bucket on the steps", said Adam.
"I can still smell it".
"Then go back to your own room!"
"You needn't think I'm roaming this place on my own at this time of night", said Julian "I'd be terrified as to who I might meet".
"Well all I can say is, whoever it was I'd feel sorry for the poor bastard, meeting you in the dark".
Adam dried himself vigorously on a towel. As he finished he glanced out of the window and became aware of a movement near the archway that led to the rose garden. There was the merest flash of white and then it was gone. But something about it disturbed him. It was impossible after sighting it not to become too eager about climbing back into the sanctuary of his own bed.
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