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It was four-fifteen in the morning and starting to get light. A few birds were twittering, and if he strained his ears enough Kieran could just make out the distant hooting of a cuckoo. It seemed to add an ironic slant to a very dark mood. He was sitting with his head resting amongst his papers on his desk, in a position of blank exhaustion. He was still wearing his white silk pyjamas, and he had only just been released from the meeting. Adam entered the room noiselessly and had touched his hair before Kieran became aware of him.
"Addy", he said, blearily raising his head "Where's Joby?"
"I asked him to wait in my room. Then he can give Lonts his breakfast later. He's fine, he's spent most of the night with me".
"I'm very relieved to hear that", said Kieran "Whilst Angel's at large, I'm not happy about anyone being alone. In fact I might tell the staff to all double up in their quarters until this mess is sorted out. They won't like it, as I know how some of them value their privacy, but it can't be helped".
"How did the meeting go?"
"Well I offered to abdicate".
"Patsy, what on earth for?" Adam exclaimed.
"It seemed the decent thing to do! They wanted me as President initially because they believed I'd vanquished evil, and then it turns out I haven't. Not really. Anyway I've been President for seven years now. In our time that would have been quite a respectable length of office".
"What did they say?"
"Wouldn't hear of it", said Kieran "Said I was President for life whatever happened. Anyway, it's all in their hands now. The Minister for Justice and the Chief Constable have now got the job of issuing public safety warnings and all that, not that anyone ever listens to them, but you never know your luck".
"It'll help in some ways that we know it's Angel doing all this", said Adam "Just tell everyone to look out for a little blonde bastard with furry palms and bad breath!"
"I felt like saying that at the meeting. If Tintally was still around I expect I could have done. But this current Minister for Justice is a cold fish. Very military bearing. All freshly-ironed shirts and a trim moustache. When he first got the job I used to worry what he'd make of me, but his sort will follow the course of duty no matter where it takes them. I expect if Gabriel was still in charge he'd follow him as blindly as he does me".
"Nonsense", said Adam, and pulled up a chair alongside him "Why don't you rest your head in my lap? I sometimes do this to Lonts when he's getting overwrought. I stroke his back and it calms him down".
"Lucky old Lonts", said Kieran, resting his head on Adam's knees "I always used to say I wanted to be your pet, and now it seems Lonts has that privilege".
"You are my pet", said Adam, stroking the ridge of his spine "We just have to make the most of these times we're alone together that's all".
"It feels like there's a thunderstorm going on in my head", said Kieran "All this oppression swirling in my brain. It's unbearable".
"There's not much difference between you and Lonts sometimes".
"I hope to God he's going to be alright whilst all this is going on", said Kieran "He's so vulnerable, particularly where Angel's concerned".
"Ssh", said Adam, gently "We'll take it one step at a time Patsy. Like we have always done. One step at a time".
"You are a right greedy little pig!" said Joby, forking a poached egg from Lonts's plate onto his own "That's three you've had, and I've only had one. You haven't got any manners at all. It's polite to ask people first before you go snatching all the food".
"I'm sorry Joby", said Lonts, as they both sat behind the breakfast trolley, which had been wheeled into the window alcove. Early morning spring sunshine flooded over their shoulders.
"Here", Joby handed him the bread basket "Wrap your gob round a hot muffin. That should keep you quiet for a while".
"I heard the others saying yesterday that Trixie still wants you as his second consort", said Lonts, liberally coating a muffin with strawberry jam.
"So?" said Joby "Hoping to get rid of me now are you?"
"No Joby, I'd miss you very much", Lonts protested "But you see, if you went to Pepuaah, and I'm sure you'd be happy there, I could be Kieran's second consort. That's what I've always wanted. I know I could do it, because ... well I just know I could".
"There's a problem with that", said Joby "Consorts don't tend to wear nappies".
Lonts looked down at himself. He was wearing only his nappy fastened with large blue safety-pins. Sick with disappointment, he began to cry.
"Oh don't start the waterworks", said Joby, impatiently "I wasn't getting at you. Eat your muffin".
"I'm sorry Joby", Lonts said again. He noticed that Joby occasionally rubbed his bandaged hand. In an effort to make it up to him, Lonts picked up his hand and kissed it tenderly on the palm.
Joby reacted with unbridled terror. He screamed and pushed away from Lonts, yelling at him to keep his distance. He clambered onto the bed and carried on screaming, whilst Lonts stared at him in horrified bewilderment.
Adam and Kieran walked down the dark corridors towards Adam's room. Dust danced in the light from the tall, arched windows. Passing servants bowed as they met Kieran who, even after all this time, still found such obeisance difficult to accept.
"There seems to be some commotion going on in your room", said Kieran, as the sound of raised voices and screams could be heard.
"Those two can't be left alone for five minutes", said Adam. But even as he spoke it subsided and tailed off into a whimpering silence.
"Perhaps they've shot each other", said Kieran.
Joby had in fact slowly come to his senses, helped by Lonts's terrified screams. Suddenly he realised that Lonts was in fact just Lonts, and not Angel in disguise.
"For God's sake", he muttered, clinging to the bedpost "Anyone would think Angel had a monopoly on hand-kissing".
Unfortunately Lonts was by now in a terrible state. Thoroughly confused and dismayed by Joby's reaction, he lay on the floor and drummed his heels in a frenzy.
"Joby, what the hell is going on?" Adam roared, as he and Kieran came into the room.
"It's my fault", Joby panted "I thought he was Angel".
"He kissed my hand, and I-I thought it was Angel possessing him. I lost my head, I don't know what came over me. Poor Lonts, I didn't mean to frighten him".
"I was trying to make his hand better", Lonts wailed "I didn't do anything wrong, I'm sure of it".
"I'm sorry Lonts", Joby sobbed.
"It's not really surprising", said Kieran, unravelling the bandage to inspect Joby's wounds "Angel's got us all as jumpy as anything. It's worse than it was the first time round".
"I was trying to help!" Lonts cried, and then broke into an earsplitting scream.
"Lonts!" said Adam "Stop that awful noise at once or I shall spank you!"
The boy subsided into a distressed whimpering.
"Let me explain it to him", said Joby.
"He needs a moment to calm down", said Kieran "Come on, you need that dressing changed. You're bloody lucky you haven't got tetanus, the way you go charging through rose bushes".
"Go with Patsy, Jobe", said Adam "I expect Lonts is going to need changing anyway, after all that. I'll try and explain it to him".
Ten minutes later a much quieter Lonts sat on the edge of his bed in the turret room, and watched as Adam put away his various pots and pins.
"I'm sorry Adam", he said, for the umpteenth time.
"None of it is your fault baby", Adam sighed "You heard Joby. He misunderstood that's all. These things happen. Look, I'm going to try and explain to you what's going on around here, and I hope you understand me. You've heard about Angel haven't you?"
"He was a vampire. He threw me down the stairs at Marlsblad", said Lonts "Kieran defeated him".
"Well done, you've got a good memory", said Adam, as Lonts preened under the compliment "Unfortunately for us all it seems he's returned. That was who Joby saw in the rose garden yesterday. It's upset him very much, which is why he panicked just now. You know what that's like".
"Why didn't I see him?" said Lonts.
"I don't know. It's an interesting question. Perhaps you just can't. It's never occurred to me before that not everyone may be able to see him. A bit like ghosts really. Anyway, you didn't. And you've seen how much it upset Joby, so perhaps you'd better be thankful you didn't. I don't want to scare you unnecessarily Lonts, but Angel is very dangerous, I can't stress that enough, which is why from now on I don't want you to be alone at any time. I'm going to ask Gimmit if he'll sleep in here at nights from now on. Not just for your benefit, but he's certainly not safe either, sleeping outside at night the way he does. Angel will attack anyone if he has a mind to".
"But Kieran will defeat him again, won't he?"
"Patsy can't do much whilst Angel is playing cat-and-mouse like this. To defeat him he needs to meet Angel on a one-to-one level, and I suspect Angel is going to avoid that for as long as he can".
"Then how can Kieran get him?"
"By starving him out. Trying to make Angel so desperate for a fix that he'll want to see Pats to get him out of the way, like before. But starving him is going to be virtually impossible. He's got the whole damn world to play in".
To keep Lonts occupied Adam gave him his paintbrushes and palettes to clean. There were enough of them to keep him and Gimmit occupied for several hours, and they took them to the standpipe outside the wash-house. The standpipe was directly below Kieran's bedroom window, and Joby watched them for a while. Reassured by the close proximity of their voices he eventually lay down on the bed and immersed himself in his gardening catalogues. Kieran was occupied at yet another Ministry meeting, and normally Joby would have been outside at such an hour. But since sighting Angel in the rose garden he didn't feel safe there, not unless there were at least a couple of other people with them.
He only felt marginally more safe indoors, but at least he could hear Lonts and Gimmit outside, and there were two guards on the outer doors of the suite. He knew none of this would be any deterrent to Angel, and yet it made him feel better.
That is until he heard the soft unclicking of the outer door. A draught lifted the curtain covering their niche. Kieran's pet monkey started squawking in the study, and Joby was by now thoroughly unnerved by his mysterious visitor's refusal to identify himself. He resisted calling out because he didn't want to draw attention to himself.
Suddenly a small dog ran into the alcove, a black bull terrier with a sequined ruff around its neck. Of all the sights Joby had been expecting it wasn't this one.
"Who is it?" he yelled, feeling pretty certain by now that it wasn't Angel.
Trixie came into the room and scooped the dog up into his arms.
"Is that thing yours?" said Joby.
"Yes, all my dogs have arrived today", said Trixie, excitedly.
"How many have you got?"
"Five", said Trixe "They won't be any trouble, I promised Kieran".
"Alright, well now you've found him you can take him away again".
"I came in to see you actually", said Trixie, sitting down on the end of the bed "Can't you put that magazine down for a moment?"
"I was reading it", said Joby, sourly.
"Why are you being so difficult with me? You haven't said a nice thing to me since we arrived".
"I didn't invite you here, so I don't see why I have to be nice, particularly when you've got a jerk like Vanod in tow".
"Joby, I appreciate that Vanod upset you at Quipignon, but it was seven years ago now".
"Upset me?" Joby exclaimed "He knocked two of my teeth out, and nearly ruptured me. Not only that but I thought my sex-life had been damaged for good. I don't care if it was seven years ago or seventy, I still think he's a jerk".
"Well I didn't come here to talk about him", said Trixie, as he settled the dog at his feet "I still don't find life easy with him. We've never become close, and one of the things I was hoping for from this trip was ..."
"Don't go any further", said Joby "You've got a bloody nerve! Kieran puts you up in your hour of need, and you pay him back by trying to pinch one of his consorts".
"Joby, I have no one!" Trixie wept "Whereas Kieran has Adam, who is devoted to him. All I'm asking is that you give it a chance".
"No! I couldn't bear being away from Kieran, and even if I could I don't happen to like you very much".
"But why?" Trixie cried "I wouldn't let Vanod harm you again. He wouldn't have hit you that time if it hadn't been for Adam. It was Adam's fault. He upset Vanod. Please understand, Joby. I think you're being terribly hard. I need someone I can be friends with", he then added petulantly "If you won't come with me I'll take Lonts".
"You'd send him back within a few days", said Joby.
"He would make a very good consort", said Trixie "He's beautiful, and affectionate ..."
"He has a filthy temper, screaming fits, sometimes likes upsetting people just for the hell of it, and on top of all that I can't see you changing his nappy for him".
"He won't need it when he gets better".
"We have been saying that for years!" said Joby "He's never going to get better. Take a good look at him whilst you're here, instead of being all wrapped up in yourself".
"You cared about me once. That night you rescued me in Pepuaah. You were kind to me, you can't say you didn't mean any of it".
"Of for fuck's sake, I do someone a favour and years later I'm still paying in blood for it", Joby stormed over to the window. He was cheered up immediately by the sight of Lonts and Gimmit, who had by now divested themselves entirely of their clothes and were splashing each other with watery paint.
"Joby, I ..."
"Go away, please", said Joby, wearily "We haven't anything more to say to each other".
He waited until Trixie had left the room, and then fell back on his bed in exhaustion.
It was quickly turning into the perfect afternoon for Lonts. First he had been entrusted with an important job for Adam, and then Finia had appeared whilst he and Gimmit were in the middle of their "body-painting" session. Finia had walked past them without a word, and into the wash-house to soak some towels for Julian. Gimmit had reminded Lonts that Finia was a eunuch, but Lonts was well aware of that fact, and didn't need telling a second time. His urge to humiliate a eunuch, any eunuch, was very strong indeed.
Trixie had heard the screams whilst walking his bull-terriers in the rose garden, and had been shaken out of his Joby-induced sulk. In the doorway of the wash-house he saw an extraordinary sight. Lonts and Gimmit had used Finia for target-practice, after first lassoing him to the mangle with a length of washing-line. The eunuch was now drenched from head to foot in Technicolour paint, so much so that his wig was matted with it.
"Don't just stand there!" Finia bawled "Untie me from this thing".
"I'll do it", Gimmit sighed, and released the eunuch from his bondage.
As soon as he was free Finia ran out of the wash-house. Joby, alerted by the commotion, watched his flight from above and burst out laughing. He had a long memory where Finia was concerned too.
"Why on earth did you do it?" said Trixie, staring at the two naked paint-splattered figures before him.
"Because he's a eunuch", said Gimmit "We don't like eunuchs. Not anymore".
"Will you leave me alone Gimmit?" said Lonts, sitting down heavily on a pile of folded sheets.
Gimmit was well-used to Lonts's sudden mood swings, and simply shrugged and left. It wasn't unusual for Lonts to have a short period of melancholy after a burst of high spirits, and Gimmit had long since learnt to disappear whilst this second phase was in progress. Sometimes they could be harder to cope with than Lonts's rages. After he had gone Lonts sucked on his thumb and stared intently at the floor. To Trixie's dismay the boy began to cry silently. Unfortunately the daubing of Finia hadn't brought him any satisfaction, only a remembrance of the beatings he had suffered at the hands of the other eunuch.
"Is there anything I can do for you?" said Trixie, helplessly.
Lonts shook his head up, without looking up.
"There must be something", said Trixie "I can't leave you alone like this".
"I want Adam", said Lonts, eventually.
"I-I'm not sure where he is", said Trixie "Somewhere in the building I expect, but I don't know where exactly".
"He's gone away again hasn't he?" Lonts suddenly shouted, leaping to his feet "He has, I know he has!"
"Lonts, I told you, Adam's in the building somewhere. Calm down, please".
"You wouldn't lie to me?" Lonts looked at him sceptically.
"Why on earth should I?" Trixie picked up a towel and wrapped it around Lonts's waist. He found the sight of Lonts's genitals distressing. Although the boy was very tall and heavily-built, his genitals were still that of a small boy's. It wasn't just emotionally that he hadn't developed.
"You're upset too", said Lonts "You've been crying. Your eyes are red".
"Can you imagine what it's like when somebody you've loved for a long time won't have anything to do with you?"
"Oh yes", said Lonts, simply.
"Really?" Trixie exclaimed.
"Mm", Lonts nodded "If Adam gets really fed up with me he'll give me the silent treatment. He'll just ignore me".
"It's not quite the same as what I was referring to Lonts", Trixie smiled.
"It is", Lonts protested "It's horrible. I can't stand it when he ignores me, it's worse than being spanked".
"Does Adam still beat you?"
"Not very often", said Lonts "And nothing like that eunuch. He beat me everyday. Adam doesn't. Only sometimes, and then he doesn't smack me really hard. Not like that eunuch".
"Would you like to go somewhere where nobody would beat you ever again?"
"Where?" said Lonts.
"Pepuaah. My home. The Palace of Shells. Do you remember it?"
"Yes, it was full of sneering men".
"You wouldn't see much of them, and nobody would be allowed to upset you", Trixie stroked Lonts's face softly "You are a very special person Lonts, and at my home that's how you would be treated. You wouldn't be beaten, or made to wear a nappy, or have people get impatient with you. You could eat cakes all day if you wanted. You are very beautiful Lonts, and one day I will get you better, and then you can really be by my side, as my consort".
Lonts kissed Trixie lightly on the lips. Trixie had never had anyone kiss him voluntarily before and was almost knocked sideways by the sensation.
"Trixie", said Lonts, breaking away too soon for the other man's liking "Adam will be coming with us, when you take me to Pepuaah, won't he?"
"You won't need Adam then Lonts", said Trixie "Anyway, he has to stay with Kieran".
"But Adam's the only one who understands me".
"I understand you Lonts. Look how well we're getting on".
"But it's different with Adam. I don't know why, it just is".
"I can give you a very special life though", said Trixie "Anything you ever wanted, all yours for the taking. As my consort no one could refuse you anything. And all those sneering men that you remember would have to do everything you said. The kingdom of Pepuaah would be all yours".
Adam had been walking across the vast Clock Quadrangle when Julian had leaned out of one of the upper windows, and yelled at him to come up to his room. Julian's bellowing disturbed the doves cooing on the rooftops, and caused the various clerks, stewards and other domestic staff walking through the Quadrangle to stare at Adam with amusement.
"How dare you yell out of the window at me!" Adam exclaimed, after having toiled up the narrow staircase to Julian's cluttered apartment "I felt like I was being summoned into the headmaster's office. It was very embarrassing".
"Where have you been all afternoon?"
"Have you asked me all the way up here just to find that out?" said Adam, sinking breathlessly onto the windowseat "No wonder you don't go out much Julian. If this room was one floor higher you'd need oxygen".
"You haven't answered my question".
"I have been performing official duties".
"Screwing the President you mean?"
"I only wish I had! I haven't seen him since breakfast-time. No, I've been designing a Wanted poster. Part of our 'To Catch A Vampire' campaign. I've drawn an image of Angel, and the Chief Constable is going to distribute copies of it around the City".
"Can you remember what Angel looks like then?"
"Vividly. Although I did find as I was doing it that I had a tendency to overdo the psychotic gleam in his eye", said Adam "I though I'd better tone it down, or I'd be drawing him wearing a top hat and a handlebar moustache as well!"
"I won't know what good putting up posters is going to do", said Julian "The only people who see him usually end up splattered around the room".
"He must pick them up somewhere. He told Patsy before that he often frequented bars and such like to get easy prey. So there's a chance he might be seen by a non-victim".
"Even so, catching him is the hard part", said Julian "I expect only your Tinkerbell can do that".
"Maybe", Adam sighed "But I expect everyone else wants to feel like they're doing something as well".
"But I thought Angel was capable of shape-shifting?"
"Julian, can we talk about something else? I don't want constantly reminding of how elusive and invincible Angel is. What is it you wanted to see me about? I take it you didn't call me up here just because you've missed me today?"
"Your Kiskevian nutter has been upsetting Finia. The poor boy has been in there", Julian jerked his finger at the door behind him "All afternoon. He came back here in a terrible state. Emotionally and physically. It took me ages to calm him down. He went to bed and has been sobbing ever since".
"What on earth did Lonts do?"
"He tied him to the mangle in the wash-house and poured paint-stained water all over him".
"All over him?" said Adam, barely suppressing a laugh.
"It's not funny Adam. I've got to buy Finia a whole new outfit and wig, and I can tell you those wigs of his aren't cheap".
"That's what's upsetting you isn't it Jules? The thought of having to spend some money".
"Adam, that boy of yours is a thug".
"It was just high spirits, a prank".
"Oh, and I suppose it's got nothing to do with the fact that Finia's a eunuch then?" said Julian.
"A bit of paint won't hurt him. He smears enough of it on his face, when all's said and done".
"Lonts tied Finia to the mangle. Now I know for a fact you don't approve of that kind of thing. If Trixie hadn't dropped by when he did Finia might still be there".
"He's not though is he? Look, I'm sure Finia will survive".
"Adam, I want that boy sorting out".
"Oh for heaven's sake Julian, you sound like some ageing gangster", said Adam "I'll have a word with Lonts, and get him to apologise to Finia, but I'm not beating him for it. There was no malice intended. If Lonts has got a problem concerning eunuchs, then I will try and help him get over it. But the only way we can do that is by proving to him that not all eunuchs are sadistic swines. If I have to thrash him because of Finia, it will only enforce that view".
"You are soft-hearted and soft-headed where that brat is concerned, Adam".
"No I'm not. Lonts will be told off, have no fear of that".
"And if he refuses to apologise to Finia?"
"Then I'll review the situation", said Adam "He'll be spanked".
"Well I hope Finia will be happy with that".
"He'll damn well have to be".
"Oh I need a drink", Julian uncorked a bottle of sherry and poured some into a glass "I'd offer you some, only ..."
"It's not more of the same from that case of disgusting cut-price sherry you brought by the bucket-load before Christmas?" said Adam "Suddenly being a reformed alcoholic loses its sting somehow".
"I'll make you some coffee shortly. If you behave yourself", said Julian, taking a long sip of the sweet, amber liquid.
"Normally I have to misbehave myself first before I get anything out of you", said Adam "Doesn't the old crock want a blow-job this evening then?"
"The old crock will wring your neck in a minute".
"That's nice", said Adam.
He sighed, leaned on the windowsill and stared down into the Quadrangle at two priests walking across the cobbles. Kieran had legalised religion at the start of his reign, but on condition an entirely new faith was started up that didn't ape in its entirety any of the ones that had gone before. Instead he had hired the most eminent philosophers (the ones Gabriel hadn't managed to kill anyway) to invent a new one, combining only the best non-aggressive parts of old faiths. Adam had always thought the project would be doomed to failure. He had the cynical belief that religion, of whatever persuasion, thrived on prejudice, distrust and downright xenophobia. He had been proved wrong. The combination of the Massacre of the Women, the vampires' long reign and then Father Gabriel's Terror had knocked the urge for hellfire preaching and beliefs clean out of people. The knowledge that they were in the last century ever, the last babies had been born years ago, and that the entire world population was down to ten million, helped.
"Oh what do they want?" Julian groaned, on seeing the grey cassocks.
"Don't worry old love, I should think it's very unlikely they've come to see you. I expect they've come to hector Patsy about Angel. Either that or they're after more money as usual".
"Adam, how the hell do you manage to look so young?" said Julian, looking at him sitting in a pool of sunlight "You're a sorcerer, you must be. I'm the same age as you, and I feel ancient by comparison".
"All my ageing goes on internally", said Adam, tapping his chest ruefully "The old clockwork's not what it was".
"I know and I wish you'd take more care. You don't have to smoke so much, stick to four cheroots a day like I do".
"Hardly seems worth living".
"Adam, the cancer treatments here are nothing like they were in our time".
"I know!" said Adam "I've heard all the horror stories from Patsy. I'm surprised they don't use leeches. Anyway I haven't got cancer, Jules".
"Not yet, but you could get it".
"Everyone on earth can get it, in one form or another. There are about two hundred different types of cancer. We're all at risk in that sense", Adam glanced out of the window again and caught sight of Hillyard strolling across the Quadrangle, looking very smart in a new suit "Hillyard's off out enjoying himself".
"And what are your plans for this wonderful Saturday evening?" said Julian.
"Oh exciting things! I've got a heap of Lonts's dirty nappies to wash", said Adam "I'll be wearing a pinny and curlers next won't I?"
"I don't think they'd suit you somehow. They'd clash horribly with the cigar and nipple-rings".
"Somehow Jules, I never expected to end up like this. The way we're talking here, we could be married".
"No we couldn't. I'd have to adopt that loathsome brat of yours if we were".
Hillyard prowled the bars restlessly like a cat looking for a dustbin to ransack. Eventually he got fed up with this and went into a cafe for a late supper. This often happened, not because he didn't get any offers, but because sometimes such searchings either bored him or made him feel lonely.
He finished his plate of fried chicken and stared glumly out of the window at the passing trade. It was a depressing sight. Men, in varying stages of inebriation, all desperately searching for some point to their lives. Somebody stopped and vomited on the other side of the glass. They both then stared at each other blankly before the other man stumbled on past.
"Are you escaping too?"
Hillyard looked up eagerly and then felt acutely disappointed. It was Trixie's valet, the prim bod in the pinz-nez. He was carrying a cup of coffee and looked as though he was desperate to put it down somewhere. Hillyard offered him a seat and tried to be charitable about it, although he felt embarrassed at being seen in his company.
"I suppose it's a bit awkward that we both wind up in the same place", said Quinp.
"How do you mean?"
"I'm not sure. Perhaps it's the hot-house atmosphere at the Headquarters, but it does tend to rather encourage the feeling of opposing forces".
"I think that we aren't feeling terribly welcome. And in some cases that our advances are being spurned".
"Eh?" said Hillyard, sharply "I don't know what you mean. Who's spurned you then?"
"The 'we' is a figure of speech. I was referring to His Magnificent Highness, the Grand Lord of Pepuaah".
"Then why didn't you say so?" said Hillyard "And who's he feeling spurned by?"
"He'll carry on feeling spurned then. Joby's a difficult nut to crack".
"Oh we're feeling much better about it now. We have our eye on young Lonts. A much easier fish to reel in".
"I wouldn't be so sure about that".
"It's true. We've invited Lonts to tea tomorrow afternoon".
"You're going to be there?"
"No", said Quinp, testily "I told you the 'we' is a figure of speech. His Magnificent Highness will be taking tea with him. It should be quite an occasion".
"If Lonts is there it's bound to be", said Hillyard, dryly "I suppose it'll be a good test to see how Trixie copes with him alone".
"We'll only be taking tea you understand. Nothing more at this stage".
"He's not serious about wanting Lonts as a consort, surely?"
"Indisputably. Lonts can be groomed you see. We think he has the makings of a most acceptable consort".
"It'll be interesting to see, that's for sure", said Hillyard, amused by wondering how much havoc Lonts could cause before Trixie saw sense.
"Well that's my constitutional for the night", Quinp drained his coffee-cup "I'm heading back to the Headquarters now. Would you care to walk with me?"
"I haven't finished here", said Hillyard.
He watched Quinp depart with some considerable relief. Afterwards he walked around again aimlessly, but had given up any hope of finding an interesting diversion. He simply wasn't in the mood, and Quinp's close proximity had made him feel even less so. He wandered the narrow streets, now thronged with men that had just left the theatre. He was yelled at by two cretins standing outside a noisy bar, and left the area hastily, in no wish to get himself embroiled in anything else. He crossed the Market Square which was full of boarded-up stalls and squashed vegetables. When a shadow loomed out from beside one stall he nearly died of fright, convinced it was Angel. He was more surprised to find that it was Vanod. The other man was in a bad way. His eyes were bloodshot, and when he tried to steady himself by grabbing the edge of a stall his arm jerked tensely, and he was unable to flex his hand as he wished.
"What are you doing here?" said Hillyard.
"D-Do I know you?" said Vanod "We've met haven't we? I know the face, but I'm hopeless with names".
"I'm not surprised in your condition. Come on, I'll help you home".
"We'll get a rickshaw", said Vanod, pulling out a stuffed wallet "I can pay".
"Put that away!" Hillyard cried "Or you'll get us both killed. Anyway we can't get a rickshaw, the rank's empty. I'll walk you".
"But you don't know where I'm staying".
"I think I've got a pretty shrewd idea! Come on. What are you doing out and about here anyway? I wouldn't have thought it'd be your scene. I thought you'd be sipping cocktails in some private club somewhere".
A rickshaw trundled into the square and Hillyard quickly hailed it, feeling that it would take all night to get Vanod home otherwise. He shovelled him onto the seat, and told the driver to peddle them to the Headquarters.
"The perfect end to a perfect evening", said Hillyard, as Vanod lolled his head against his shoulder.
In spite of the late hour there were still plenty of lights burning in the building which flanked the Quadrangle on all sides. The Ministry never slept, and there were even the sounds of a small group of men singing coming from one first-floor window. Hillyard pulled Vanod out of the rickshaw, and paid the driver. With some difficulty he managed to get Vanod up the stairs to Trixie's suite. They were greeted by a cacophony of dogs barking, but evidently Trixie was used to Vanod rolling in at all hours because he didn't feel the need to appear and demand to know what was going on.
Hillyard dumped Vanod on the sofa in his bedroom, and propped his head up with a stack of cushions. He then gave the room a quick scan, but it was as coldly impersonal as the man who used it. Quinp had obviously tidied up since returning home, and had lain out Vanod's night-things on the bedspread. Vanod's shaving-tackle and toothbrush had been lined up on the wash-stand with mathematical precision, along with a small metal case. Hillyard opened it, although he already had a fair idea that it would contain a needle and a syringe.
"Under the eyelid", said Vanod "It reaches the brain much quicker that way. Do you work here?"
"I live here".
"Then you'll know where the kitchens are. I could really do with some ice-cream, great mounds of it".
"The food stores'll be locked by now", said Hillyard, closing the box.
"Then get one of the servants out of bed and order them to open it. Who are you? No, don't tell me. I know. You're the one who acts as valet to our beloved President. I sat next to you at dinner the other night. Do your duties extend beyond scrubbing his back?"
"Why are you so anxious to resurrect Angel?" said Hillyard, crossing over to him "Is it just spite, vindictiveness, what?"
"Angel is going to cause chaos", Vanod laughed "In fact he already is. The Vanquisher had a visitation from two priests this afternoon, pleading with him to protect the poor of the City from this marauding vampire. How terrible I thought, no one is safe anywhere these days. Angel won't have to cause too much trouble before the people start losing faith in their President. A few more deaths is all it'll take. Fear will unite them in hate and resentment. Fear will stalk the streets. They'll resent the Vanquisher tucked up all safe here in his ivory tower".
"And then what?" said Hillyard.
"Presidents often come to untimely ends, a testament to the sad and dangerous world we live in. It would only take one disgruntled citizen to despatch him. And then ..."
"And then you become President, is that it? Who have you based yourself on Vanod, Father Gabriel?"
"I have never made any secret of the fact that I admired some of his ideas. But he was a fool. Because he couldn't be happy with power. He wanted love too. The love of his people, and that was where he started to go wrong. Very wrong. You can be sure I won't make that mistake".
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