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"And at what time did it happen?" said Kieran, standing at his study window.
"Estimated time of death was between one-thirty a.m and three-thirty a.m", said the Chief Constable, nervously polishing his brass hat with the sleeve of his tunic.
"And no clues left on this one either?"
"None. Although a pattern's emerging of sorts. All the murders have been committed within a one square mile radius. Of course now we know for certain that it's a vampire causing them, that rather knocks that fact into insignificance".
"Not necessarily", said Kieran, returning to the carved chair behind his desk "It might still have some value. I'm not sure what exactly at this stage, but it could still be relevant".
"With Your Grace's permission", said the Chief Constable "I'd like your meeting with Angel to be made public. Many of them still harbour a morbid superstition about him, it might help to allay fears if they know he's on your side".
"If you think it'll help then do so, but there's still no getting away from the fact that it is a vampire causing these murders. And Caln is bad news Chief Constable. He took risks, big risks. He's a pervert who loves to gamble with fate, and when he gets desperate he'll do anything. He even tried to eat me! He is a very nasty piece of work indeed. And he will love all the attention that these murders are getting. I can't stress enough that he relishes living on a knife-edge".
"Even so, at least now we know what we're looking for".
"Is there still no sign of Vanod anywhere?"
"No, but we're throwing the net over the entire City to locate him. I understand he's quite a hard-core drug-addict, so it'll be very hard for him to keep his wits about him at all times. He's bound to slip up somewhere".
"Even with the drug-taking I wouldn't underestimate him", said Kieran "He knows what he's doing. It takes a clever bastard to do what he's done. What about the Blossom Street brothel?"
"Raided at dawn. No sign of him, or Caln for that matter, although he's bound to prove more elusive. They deny all knowledge of Vanod there, but we know they're lying".
"Is the place under surveillance?"
"Of course. I have a feeling that a person like Vanod will return to his favourite stamping-ground at some point, regardless of risk. And I don't think it'll be very long either. Substantial quantities of cocaine and extremely pure heroin were found on the premises. It's the kind of place Vanod will find hard to resist for very long, for many reasons. He also has a history of assaulting eunuchs, so we're going over any cases of assault and battery on eunuchs that come in with a fine-tooth comb".
"He must be found at all costs", said Kieran "He's started all this, although I suspect he now has very little control over Caln".
"In the meantime Your Grace I think the Grand Lord of Pepuaah should be kept under close detention", said the Chief Constable "I appreciate this puts you in a very delicate situation, politically-speaking".
"Too damn right it does", said Kieran "But men's lives are more important than the feelings of some visiting lord. Admittedly there's no love lost between Vanod and the Grand Lord, and I can't see Vanod confiding in him. But I believe the Grand Lord knows more about him and his dubious activities than he likes to make out".
"Could the Grand Lord have any involvement in these Black Magic activities do you think?"
"I doubt it. Somehow that doesn't ring true", said Kieran "But he's a useful link to Vanod nonetheless. And it would suit me to have him put under close supervision. He has some pretty dubious habits himself, although not in Vanod's league. In fact, I think some ruthlessness is called for. If Vanod hasn't been located by five o'clock this afternoon then I want the Grand Lord arrested and put in the Assizes".
"Isn't that a bit too rash Your Grace?"
"Not at all. He won't be badly treated, but he's such a pampered fop that being locked up for twenty-four hours might shock him into giving us some information about Vanod. That's why I don't want any warning to be given to him, otherwise he'll start role-playing. Pretending he's a martyr, that sort of thing. Don't give him time to think about it. That's the best way. Chances are if he's shocked enough, he'll blurt out instantly whatever we want to know".
Adam had been devastated to hear the news of the latest murder. So much so that Kieran couldn't at first understand why.
"You're taking this a bit personally Addy", he said, trying to calm him down "It was Caln's doing, not yours".
"I saw Vanod leaving the building last night", Adam protested "I should've told someone. I guessed he was up to no good. If I had told someone it might never have happened".
"And it's very likely it still would have done", said Kieran "I told you, Caln is behind these murders. Vanod can't control him, all he did was resurrect him. Even if you had told someone and Vanod had been put under house-arrest, the chances are very high that that poor sod last night would still have been killed. Caln is the killer Adam. Now stop berating yourself. None of this is in your control".
Adam left Kieran's rooms feeling no more consoled. He drifted through the Headquarters like a ghost, and sat for some time at the top of the back stairs. He was so sunk in his own gloom that the two men who were swabbing the steps with cloths worked round him.
"You don't normally come into this wing", said Adam, when Julian found him still sitting alone half-an-hour later.
"I'm spending less and less time at home", said Julian, sitting down next to him "Gimmit has practically moved in. He is now waiting on Finia hand and foot. I came out of my room this morning, wondering where my breakfast had got to, to find Finia sitting in the window, cool as a chocolate-covered cucumber, and scolding Gimmit for boiling his eggs too hard. Would you believe it! My house-boy has a house-boy of his own!"
"Think of it as a great status-symbol", said Adam.
"I feel like a stranger in my own home", said Julian "Life is completely intolerable".
"Well put your foot down. Finia is supposed to be in your employ".
"Have you ever tried being firm with Finia? Believe me, it isn't worth it. He usually reacts by going to bed and indulging in a marathon sulk for several days".
"Then sack him. He's not doing his job".
"I've told you before, I don't want the hassle of someone new at my age. I keep hoping it's just a fling and Finia will get bored with it. But it seems Gimmit is quite happy to play devoted slave, so it could go on indefinitely. And all this is a worry for you too, I hope you understand".
"Well who is Lonts playing with whilst Gimmit's hopping attendance on Finia?" said Julian.
"Lonts is capable of amusing himself".
"Oh very much so. You're not keeping a sharp enough eye on him Adam. You know how many strangers are milling around this place everyday. It only takes one to take a shine to him. Do you know where he is now?"
"I'm not sure. You're right, I'd better try and find him".
They went down the stairs, and into the stone archway which connected the Quadrangle with the rose garden. Gimmit was emerging from the east wing wearing only a pair of sludge-covered shorts, and carrying a stack of damp washing.
"Where's Lonts, Gimmit?" said Adam "You are supposed to act as his companion you know".
"He doesn't like having me around these days", Gimmit growled "Not since I took up with Finia. Anyway if you want him I saw him going into the Grand Lord's suite".
"What!" Adam exclaimed, and bolted up the main staircase to the west wing, pursued breathlessly by Julian.
It was stifling in Trixie's room, and in the shuttered heat the whole place smelt overpoweringly of dog. Trixie had consumed a six-egg omelette for breakfast and was now considering the possibility of another one.
"Now take them all down to the scrubland beyond the rose garden", he said, retrieving a fifth dog from under his eiderdown and passing it to Lonts "And give them a good walk round. Don't, whatever you do, let them mess on the roses as it does make Joby so terribly bad-tempered".
Suddenly Adam burst into the darkened room, having successfully skirted a spluttering Quinp in the sitting-room.
"What the fuck are you playing at now Trixie?" he roared "You never give up do you!"
"I don't know what you mean", said Trixie "Lonts is going to exercise my dogs for me".
"I told you not to come in here again Lonts".
"No you didn't Adam", said Lonts.
"Well I thought you'd know I didn't want you in here again", said Adam, awkwardly.
"But I'm just looking after the dogs".
"He can walk his own bloody dogs. It's the only thing remotely close to exercise he gets. Now come on", Adam grabbed his wrist and pulled him out of the room.
"Not leaving us Lonts?" said Quinp, in the sitting-room "But I was going to show you all His Lordship's lovely things".
"He most certainly is leaving", said Adam.
"Adam, a quiet word if I may", Quinp motioned Adam over to the window in a conspiratorial gesture "We have grown very attached to the boy in here. I was wondering if you could loan him to me, for a fee of course, just for a little while".
"Are you saying what I think you're saying?" Adam cried, hoarsely "I don't believe it. What is it with you Pepuaahans? You're completely debauched. Lonts isn't for sale!"
"Only temporarily", Quinp protested "A morning, say. He is very attractive, and I'm sure I can find even more interest in him outside the Headquarters too. He'll be well taken care of, you need have no fear on that score".
"Adam, let's go", said Julian, firmly. He pulled Adam away, knowing full well that he would cause a devastating scene at any moment. Adam followed him and Lonts out of the suite more dazed than angry, although Julian knew it was only a matter of time before the anger kicked in.
"That was outrageous", said Adam "I haven't heard anything like that since I was in prison. What were you doing in there Lonts? Have you no bloody sense at all?"
"I'm sorry Adam", Lonts blubbed.
"And why are you dressed like that?" said Adam, pointing at Lonts's skimpy shorts and flame-coloured tee-shirt "You're like a moving target for fuck's sake. Why didn't you put on the clothes I laid out for you?"
"It's too hot for a shirt and trousers Adam", Lonts sobbed.
"If I tell you to wear a thermal body-suit you wear it! Now get up to your room!"
"I only wanted to look after Trixie's dogs Adam", said Lonts "I like dogs, you know that. Trixie promised me I could walk them for him. I didn't think you'd mind that".
"Didn't think I'd mind! It was only a couple of days ago he was trying to roger you, and now I have his perverted valet wanting to pay for the privilege. What the hell am I going to do with you? For one thing you can stay in your room for the rest of the day".
Adam didn't refrain from scolding Lonts all the way up to his turret bedroom. Julian followed with a kind of weary resignation.
"Wait in my room Jules whilst I sort him out", Adam directed, and pushed Lonts up the turret stairs. Lonts was still sobbing relentlessly.
"You stay in here", said Adam, shoving him roughly into the turret room "Have you any idea what those men want to do to you? Have you? I try and keep you safe, and then I find you poncing around in the lion's den in the skimpiest outfit you can find".
"I'm sorry Adam", Lonts repeated.
"Sorry? It's no good keep saying sorry. That doesn't give me any reassurance. I keep think I'm going to be carving it on your gravestone! I am so bloody annoyed with you Lonts", Adam tipped him over his knee and spanked him very hard on the buttocks until Lonts was screaming as well as sobbing "And be bloody thankful I haven't taken a strap to you!"
Adam left Lonts screaming blue murder and went back downstairs, where he found Julian gazing serenely out of the window.
"And don't you dare tell me I over-reacted", Adam roared "And don't tell me I sounded like my father either!"
"Don't start on me", said Julian "I don't think you sounded like your father actually. Your father would have used a strap, no messing".
"Yes he would", Adam collapsed into an armchair and rubbed his head in exhaustion "The old bastard".
"Is the boy intending to keep up that unholy noise for long?" said Julian, as Lonts's screaming showed no signs of abating.
"Oh Lonts can keep that up all day and all night", said Adam "I'll go back up in a moment and try and settle him for a couple of hours. Doubtless he'll have crapped himself too by now".
"You firing on all cylinders is enough to make anyone crap themselves", said Julian.
"You're a lovable old goat really aren't you?" Adam laughed gently "You seem to put up with the Adam and Lonts pantomime so easily".
"I've got rather used to it dear heart, and I know that Lonts is all part of the package that I get with you".
"At least I don't have to worry about you buggering him".
"Lonts's physical attractions are considerable", Julian sighed "And he seems to have an innate ability to look pornographic at all times. But I'm afraid I rather find the dirty nappies and the screaming fits a bit of a turn-off. You look exhausted Adam. I am too. The storm kept me awake last night. Why don't we lie down for a couple of hours?"
"Alright, I'll just put a nappy on Lonts and then I'll be with you".
"You're going to have to take Lonts in hand", said Julian, lying with Adam in the cool shade of his bed.
"I rather thought that's what I just did", said Adam, staring up at the canopy.
"No, I mean you have to sort your relationship out. He's a physically healthy boy in the prime of life. You're not going to stop him getting into these scrapes. Not unless you provide a diversion".
"What exactly is it that you're saying Julian?" said Adam, suspiciously.
"He needs an affair. It'll satisfy his curiosity, clear up some of his confusion, and get rid of a lot of the excess energy he has".
"I hope you're not suggesting ...? Julian, I'm like a father to him! He trusts me. I can't betray that trust. The whole idea's obscene. Trust you to think of it".
"He trusts you, he loves you in fact", said Julian "And you'll take good care of him. What better offer is he going to get? I'll tell you, none. Most men are either going to take advantage of him, or be scared of him. He's gorgeous enough, so why do you find the idea so dreadful?"
"For the same reasons you said earlier. How can I have a lover whose nappy I have to change! Besides, there is the fact that I'm twenty-five years older than him".
"You're eighteen years older than Tinkerbell, and it's never stopped you cradle-snatching there".
"Lonts has a mental age of seven Julian. I'd be no better than a child-molester".
"That's rubbish and you know it. Who's to say that he might get better if he was in an adult relationship? You've said yourself he wasn't always as retarded as he is now".
"He's always been retarded Julian", said Adam "It's just that certain aspects, like the bowel control and the tantrums, have got worse. Anyway, my sex life is quite hectic enough thank you. What with you, Patsy and Joby all on the scene".
"Joby?" Julian exclaimed.
"You know damn well he comes in here sometimes".
"I keep forgetting. Must be the impression I get of sex with Joby".
"He's a little goer. Never underestimate the dark horses, it's all that repressed intensity".
"Think of all that repressed intensity lurking inside Lonts".
"Jules, I'm going to tell you something about Lonts", Adam whispered "I haven't told this to anyone else, not even Patsy. I didn't want to upset him, he's very fond of Lonts. I'm telling you this in strictest confidence. A while back I consulted a team of doctors about Lonts's condition, how much worse he was going to get etc etc. I was informed that these days it is very rare for men in his condition to live beyond the age of thirty. Sometimes it's a miracle if they get that far. Lonts is now twenty-four".
"How long have you known this?"
"A couple of years".
"And you've kept it to yourself all this time?"
"I couldn't risk it getting back to Lonts at all", said Adam "So I felt it was safer to say nothing to anyone. He's my boy, and he's going to die. Sometimes I feel like they've shoved a death sentence on me too".
"Oh doctors!" Julian exclaimed "What do they know!"
"They've been right so far. The rages, the nightmares, the lack of bowel control. It's all textbook stuff Jules".
"I don't believe it", said Julian "Doctors never get anything right. I once heard of someone getting diagnosed as having a brain tumour, and it turned out to be an excess of ear wax!"
"But Julian ..."
"Adam, he is as fit as a fiddle. That's why he's constantly getting into trouble for heaven's sake! I refuse to believe that he can just get snuffed out, just like that".
"Think back to our own time Jules. Fate's not very discriminatory. How many young and beautiful men did we hear of being snuffed out, as you put it?"
"But this is different", said Julian "If and when it happens, you won't have to face it alone though. I'll be here".
"I'm pleased to hear it".
"Provided I haven't been bumped off by Finia", Julian sighed "So that he and Gimmit can live in the style to which I've got them accustomed".
News had filtered down to Kieran as to what had happened in Trixie's room that morning. By now Kieran was almost hoping Vanod wouldn't reappear, just so that he could have the satisfaction of ordering Trxie's arrest. By five o'clock there was still no sign of Vanod, in spite of extensive searches throughout the City, and Kieran gave the Chief Constable the go-ahead.
"Is Your Grace absolutely certain this is wise?" said the Chief Constable.
"Very wise", said Kieran, impatiently "It'll save me money for one thing. He and his unlovely crowd have been eating me out of house and home since they got here".
Trixie was reclining on the chaise-longue in his bedroom when the guards burst in. He was so taken aback that at first he laughed, thinking it was some elaborate hoax.
"But I am a Grand Lord", he said, when he realised they were serious. You can't arrest me. On what grounds?"
"Concealing evidence of a harmful nature to the President and the citizens of the City", the Chief Constable began, reading from a hastily drawn-up warrant.
"Evidence?" said Trixie "What evidence?"
"Failure to reveal the extent of your consort's activities concerning Satanism and an extensive plot to resurrect the vampires", the Chief Constable explained "If proven this alone carries a charge of high treason. The penalty for which is life imprisonment, with no chance of parole".
"But I can't be held responsible for what Vanod did", said Trixie.
"You admit that you were aware of his activities then?"
"But I have no power over him, I ..."
"He is your consort, therefore the responsibility for his actions lies firmly at your door", said the Chief Constable "There is also an equally serious charge of attempting to rape a mental defective".
"Lonts? You don't understand. I wouldn't have raped him. Please, I beg you, this is all hideously exaggerated. I can't believe the President is doing this to me. I demand to see him. It is my right. He owes this to me out of respect for my position".
"The President will see you in due course. In the meantime you are to be held at the Assizes Court until further notice".
"There he goes", said Joby, peering through a pair of binoculars "The fat pig! I wish I could be a fly on the wall during his first night in a cell. Do you want to have a look?"
Kieran shook his head. They were standing on top of the clock tower, watching as the barge carrying Trixie and his captors sailed down-river towards the Assizes Court.
"I'm beginning to think I've made a terrible mistake Joby", said Kieran.
"Bollocks. You did everything right", said Joby "He comes here, sponging off us, whilst all the while he knows exactly what Vanod's up to, and doesn't so much as give us a bloody word about it".
"I was thinking more of the charge concerning Lonts. By tomorrow it'll be all over the City what's happened. I should never have exposed Lonts like that, I've done a terrible thing. You know what human nature is. Sex and dirt grabs the interest quicker than anything. They'll be more riveted by grubby tales of sex romps at the Headquarters than about Vanod raising up vampires!"
"I don't think so, not after last night's murder", said Joby "They've got more to worry about with having a vampire on the loose, than all the bedroom farces that go on in this place. And you've done the right thing, packing Trixie off to the jug. If you'd let him carry on staying here after it became known that Vanod was responsible for all this, that lot out there would see it as a 'them' and 'us' situation. With you putting the Pepuaahan royals over the ordinary people of the City".
"I suppose so", Kieran sighed "By God, I wish I knew where Vanod was though. He seems to have vanished into thin air".
"We should be so lucky", said Joby.
"Are you and Hillyard serious about going out tonight?"
"We're only going out for a sauna and then a spot of supper afterwards", said Joby "I think it's a good idea. If they all see us mooching around as though everything's alright, it might help to ease the tension a bit. The last thing we should do is to start treating the City like a leper colony".
"You won't take any stupid risks Joby?" said Kieran "Remember that siege down Bullockspit Road three years ago? You, Ransey and Hillyard joining the front line of spectators, impeding the guards in their work? That got us into a lot of hot water in the papers".
"You drag that one out everytime there's trouble anywhere in the City", said Joby "We're not going to interfere, just to see what's going on and to show our faces that's all. Are you going to be alright here Kiel? Would you rather I stayed with you? I don't mind".
"You go on out", Kieran squeezed Joby's arm "I've got Ransey coming to discuss the domestic accounts with me".
"That sounds fun", Joby grunted "I don't know why you don't get Adam to sort all that out. It shouldn't be the President's job".
"He finds it even more boring than I do", Kieran laughed.
"We won't be very late anyway", said Joby "I wish it was you and me going out on the tiles instead".
"Oh. Perhaps one day".
They had sat glumly in silence in the steam room, and now sat glumly in silence in the "Blue Lion", eating their way through plates of liver and onions, accompanied by pints of beer. Joby had his with whisky chasers. A eunuch was strolling around the bar singing a melancholic song, and pausing at each table so that punters could stuff folding money into his pants or his padded bra.
"That's what I like about going out with you", said Hillyard "I don't feel I have to make polite conversation".
"Are you being funny?" Joby snapped.
"No I mean it. I don't have to pretend", said Hillyard "I expect you wish it was Kieran sitting here".
"And I expect you wish it was Stombal", said Joby "Either of 'em appearing is about as likely".
"Not easy for you is it? Having Kieran wrapped in tissue-paper all the time".
"He never stops working. Do you know what I'd really like? To have one more night on the tiles with him. He was great fun to go out with, except he never could hold his drink. Always went at it like a bull at a gate".
"You're not doing too bad yourself this evening", said Hillyard.
"It's hard to believe he's the same bloke sometimes", Joby went on "He used to have a phobia about work. Bone idle, couldn't turn his hand to anything useful. And now look at him, running the world!"
"And he's good at it. You miss the old Kieran, don't you?"
"Sometimes. But he's still Kieran, and that's all that matters at the end of the day".
The eunuch gravitated towards them, but was stalled by a fat customer who fussed around him shoving money into his bra.
"There is a particular knack to this", he said, whilst the eunuch waited with ill-concealed impatience.
"That's degrading", said Joby.
"He enjoys it, don't you?" the fat man said to the eunuch "It's all part of the game".
"I still think it's degrading", said Joby, who was beginning to slur his words.
Hillyard poked a wad of money between the eunuch's thighs and sent him on his way. The last thing he wanted was Joby causing a scene.
"Why don't we go and look round Heartsease Court after we've finished here?" said Hillyard, once they were alone again.
"Where the last murder was done!" Joby exclaimed.
"Oh that's it, shout it out".
"Kieran'll go ape if he finds out. I've already had the Bullockspit Road Siege rammed down my throat this evening".
"Well if you're afraid of Kieran finding out ..."
"I didn't say I was afraid", said Joby "I'm just saying he'll go ape that's all. I can handle him. I don't take any crap from him".
"No I don't. I never have. I can sort him out with one hand tied behind my back. But are we just going to look at it? To gawp?"
"Don't see why not", Hillyard shrugged.
"But that's Caln's stamping-ground".
"You just better hope he hasn't got his spiky condom on then hadn't you!"
Joby leaned heavily on Hillyard as they staggered down the narrow cobbled streets. They had entered the area in which all the murders had so far occurred, and the neighbourhood was heavily cloaked in silence. Apart from a radio playing in one of the rooms and a door slamming somewhere, it was all too eerily peaceful. A eunuch was sitting on an upstairs balcony, swinging a shapely shaven leg from under his flouncy white petticoat. He called down to them, but in a bored voice as though he wasn't seriously expecting a response.
"It's all like the murders committed by Jack the Ripper you know", said Joby "Whitechapel. 1888. He disembowelled his victims".
"I didn't think they had vampires in your time".
"It wasn't my time. It was ages before my time. And he wasn't a vampire. Or at least I don't think so anyway, although some people wrote stories saying he was".
"Well how's it like Caln's murders then?"
"The location. All this", said Joby, gesturing wildly around him "It is just like it. Incredible".
"Here we are", said Hillyard, dropping his voice to a reverential whisper "Heartsease Court".
"Millers Court", Joby mumbled.
"No, Millers Court was where Jack the Ripper's last victim was killed".
"I was just saying", Joby stood at the entrance to the dark narrow alley to Heartsease Court. In his own time he had liked to think of himself as a bit of a Ripperologist, and now he recalled the descriptions of the prostitutes' bodies sometimes being found in alleys such as this. Hillyard was tugging at him impatiently though, and he had no choice but to follow him through into the Court.
"There it is", said Hillyard, very quietly "Number Seven".
This was obvious from the way it had been securely boarded-up.
"The body was found ..."
"Lying on the bed", Joby finished for him "Exactly the same as Mary Jane Kelly".
"I wish you'd stop harping on about those other murders", said Hillyard.
There were a few lights burning in windows dotted around the square, but once again the silence was deafening.
"Must be horrible", said Joby "Knowing that Caln has struck everytime on your own doorstep. Can't exactly make you feel safe in your own bed. Particularly as locks and bolts won't keep him out".
"Would help a lot if we could find out why he only strikes around here", said Hillyard "I mean, what's so special about this place?"
"Perhaps it's a bit like the Devil being earthed at the Skirra Fludd lighthouse", said Joby "Perhaps Caln is earthed in this area, so that he can't go beyond one square mile. That might be how Vanod controls him".
"That's not bad thinking", said Hillyard "You might have something there. But where is Vanod? That's the big question".
Somebody could be heard irritably fumbling with a window-catch from one of the first-floor rooms.
"We'd better move on", said Hillyard "We're a bit conspicuous standing here".
Feeling the need to shake off the eerie silence of Heartsease Court they stopped in the "Brass Bell", which was the nearest noisy pub they could find. Here the Whitechapel links were proving more and more unsettling for Joby. The pub and the street it stood in were like some elaborate Ripper theme-park. There was singing coming from a labourers' club next door, there was a man selling fruit from a wagon on the other side of the street, and the interior of the "Brass Bell" was clogged with tobacco smoke, and the smell of beer and unwashed bodies. There were also whores in plenty. Some of whom wouldn't have been out of place in Whitechapel with their flouncy skirts, over-corsets, painted faces and elaborate, if untidy, hairstyles. Except these whores were either eunuchs, or young boys who could easily pass for women, provided you didn't look too closely.
"I wanna go home", said Joby, after downing two large neat bourbons in quick succession "This is all doing my head in. It's too creepy".
"It's a bit of a dive I admit", said Hillyard "But that's because we're close to the docks here. Not that there's much work on at the moment, the plague in some areas is putting paid to exports. I heard Ransey talking about it earlier".
"I wanna go home Hillyard!" Joby roared, and instantly slumped in his chair until his chin rested with a smack on the sticky table surface.
"Oh take him home", cried an ageing drag queen from the next table, who looked like some hideous enlarged doll that had been dropped on the floor too many times "Little baby's not feeling well".
Hillyard pulled Joby to his feet. Joby felt the whole place swim around him. It was like some garish nightmare. The cracked painted faces, the nauseating smells, the distrustful scowls worn by some of the men, the music ... it all swam round him like a gaudy carousel.
"Help me Hillyard", Joby wept "Help me!"
"Ooh I know how he feels", said the drag queen's equally hideous colleague, who had been sniffing violently for some time "I don't feel too good myself. Probably the heat I suppose. To think we've got another four or five months of it! I'm surprised we don't all go mad. No sleep, food that doesn't stay fresh, and the stink from the shit shute outside my window!"
The drag queen was fanning himself vigorously as he spoke. Suddenly he loosened the tight bodice on his red satin frock, and Joby could distinctly see red plague marks on his papery skin.
"Hillyard!" Joby screamed "He's got the ..."
"Shut up", Hillyard hissed "You'll start a fucking riot".
"Get him out of here", said the landlord, in the kind of tone that wasn't prepared to argue "He won't do any good by causing a scene".
Outside in the street Hillyard lugged Joby down the cobbles, in the desperate search for a rickshaw that wasn't already in use.
"He had the plague Hillyard", Joby wailed "They were all sitting in there with someone who had the plague, not giving a toss for him or themselves".
"Perhaps they don't think they've got anything to lose", said Hillyard "Try and pick your feet up Joby. It's bloody awkward managing you on my own".
"We could have it now!" Joby cried.
"I doubt it. We didn't go anywhere near him, and we certainly didn't touch him".
"The glasses were dirty", said Joby "How do we know we weren't drinking out of glasses that he'd used?"
"We don't know, now come on".
They turned into the next street. There was a rickshaw parked there, but it was occupied by a middle-aged man in a sharp suit and sunglasses, in spite of the late hour. He was talking to a young boy, who was dressed in drag. The boy was extremely attractive, and looked uncomfortably like Lonts.
"I want proof you're not a eunuch", said the suit, and passed him an extra note. The boy lifted his skirts.
"I'm not a eunuch", he replied "But I can play girlie for you if that's what you want".
"Perhaps I should hire him for you", Hillyard muttered.
To his relief he located a rickshaw that was available for hire, and practically tossed Joby into it headfirst.
"I am never going out drinking with you again", said Hillyard, once they were moving.
"It was your fucking idea to go snooping round Millers Court", Joby whimpered "And I thought that was cruel what you said about me and the girlie tart. Do you ever have tarts Hillyard?"
"I never have to pay for it", said Hillyard, imperiously.
"Oh no?" Joby giggled "What about that time all your clothes got nicked at the Husgalonghi brothel?"
"Shut up Joby, or I'll forget I'm a gentleman".
Kieran wasn't amused. Hillyard had managed to get Joby into his suite with the help of two guards who had been on late duty. Kieran had dismissed them again immediately and, to Hillyard's horror, was now looking at Joby like a volcano that was about to erupt.
"I know I should've watched his drinking, Kieran", Hillyard pleaded "But he was having chasers, and I could hardly refuse him".
"I don't blame you Hillyard", said Kieran, grimly.
"Don't apologise to him Hillyard", Joby exclaimed "He's only jealous because he didn't come. Don't take any shit from him. He may be President but he doesn't tell me what to do. I'm not Adam. I don't find him a turn-on when he's losing his rag".
"Shut up Joby", said Kieran "You're dead boring when you're drunk".
"Everyone keeps telling me to shut up", said Joby "But I know something you have to know. I saw someone with plague spots this evening".
"Is this true Hillyard?" said Kieran, looking shocked.
"Yea I'm afraid it is", said Hillyard "I think we're pretty safe though, we didn't get near him".
"Where was this?"
"The 'Brass Bell' down Dockers Row".
"What the fock were you doing there?" Kieran cried "No, don't tell me. You decided to go for a little look round Heartsease Court didn't you? After I'd expressly forbade it too".
"Don't you go getting high-and-mighty", said Joby "You jumped-up little Irish scrote. Too big for your fucking boots you are".
"The Chief Constable needs to be informed at once", said Kieran "This is dire news Hillyard, if plague's broken out in the City. And it's going to be bloody hard to contain it if the victim's been sitting around in bars mixing with whoever he pleases".
"I'll get a message tapped through to him on my handset", said Hillyard "I can give him all the details better than you. I think you'd better go to bed, you look all in. And you're going to need your rest".
"Too true", said Kieran "I'm going to have to declare a state of emergency, maybe even impose martial law. Oh hell! Focking hell!"
"Go to bed. We don't know the extent of it yet. Leave that to the Chief Constable", said Hillyard "Joby looks like he'll fall down at any moment if you don't tie him down".
"If he does I'm leaving him where he is", said Kieran.
"How many times have I had to put you to bed when you've been rat-arsed eh?" said Joby "More than I care to remember. Well now it's your turn".
"Remember what I said", said Hillyard, on his way to the door "Try and get some sleep".
"Fat chance", said Kieran.
He got no sleep at all in the end. Soon after Joby had drifted off into a drunken slumber, Kieran was visited by the Chief Constable, looking dishevelled and early morning-ish. He brought the important news that Vanod had been found. Dead.
"What a humiliating way to go", Kieran whispered, after he had heard all the facts "I won't pretend I liked the man. He was a trouble-maker, and the trouble he's caused is going to take a long time to clear up, there's no doubt of that. But he was born with everything. Intelligence, looks, and power. And he wasted them all carrying out spiteful vendettas. Only to finish up dumped on a rubbish tip. Naked. Bound hand and foot".
"We believe he may have been sexually assaulted too", said the Chief Constable "And by more than one person. Chances are if his unusual habits were anything to go by he was out of his mind on speedballs, so he may not have felt anything".
"And you reckon all this happened at the Blossom Street brothel?"
"He's probably been hiding there all along".
"I want the place closed down this time", said Kieran "No messing. I know you think I should've ordered it long ago, but I've always believed the morality of sex should have only one rule, and that is it should be between consenting adults. But when someone dies because of it, however much they went into it with their eyes open, well that's something else entirely. That's when it goes beyond adult amusement".
"Regarding the plague Your Grace, we have the delicate matter of alerting the public without causing panic".
"And the way to do that is to be as efficient as possible", said Kieran "Set up mobile screening units, and immediately quarantine anyone who shows any remotest symptoms of it. An extensive poster and leaflet campaign should be initiated immediately, and I want the area around Heartsease Court and Dockers Row to be cordoned off and put under martial law. This won't be popular, but it's the area where the plague victim was seen, and where Caln has carried out all his filthy murders. For all we know the two facts may be related. Can the hospitals set up quarantine areas as soon as possible?"
"No problem", said the Chief Constable "It will be just like the days of the Virus again".
"And we mustn't forget other areas", said Kieran "Other towns and communities must be notified at once. Angel was carrying the plague, and he could strike anywhere unfortunately. God, it all seems insurmountable already".
"Could I offer a suggestion to Your Grace?"
"You can set an example to the public here at the Headquarters by telling members of your personal household not to leave the premises, at least until everything is under control. And put extra security on the gates, rigorously checking everyone who goes in and out. I have had cause to speak to Your Grace about the lax security here before".
"Yes I know, and I listened to every word, believe me. It will be followed to the letter this time", said Kieran "And I promise you that if any member of my household leaves the premises without permission he will end up in the Assizes Court".
The Chief Constable left soon after, and Kieran tried to lighten his heart by feeding his pet monkey, who was more interested in sitting on his shoulder and twining his paws in Kieran's hair. He was trying to disentangle him when Hirrid, Kieran's room steward, walked in carrying a covered tray.
"I didn't order anything Hirrid", said Kieran, setting the monkey back on his perch.
"Mr Adam ordered it Your Grace", said Hirrid, setting the tray down on Kieran's desk "Some breakfast for you. He says you're to eat every mouthful, and he's going to inspect your bins afterwards to make sure you haven't thrown any away".
"I'm not the only one who's getting too big for his boots round here obviously", said Kieran "In return you can tell Mr Adam to inform the other members of my family that they're not to leave the building today. That includes him. I'll give them all the facts later".
"Very good Your Grace", said Hirrid, and left the room.
Kieran was surprised to find that he had an appetite, and he managed to eat the bread and fruit with no trouble at all. He had just finished it when Joby emerged from their sleeping area wearing Kieran's purple silk robe. His own robe had proved too complicated to get into in his delicate condition.
"I feel terrible Kiel", he said, grabbing hold of the mantelpiece for support.
"Good. That's what I like to hear", said Kieran.
Joby vomited a little into the empty grate, and then sank to his knees. Kieran managed to get him up and into a chair, and poured him a finger of whisky from a decanter.
"Hair of the dog", he said, holding out the glass to him "And be thankful I don't insist on making you a Prairie Oyster like Adam does me".
"Are you still angry with me?" Joby winced, after knocking it back.
"Livid", said Kieran "That's why I'm grounding you until further notice".
"I see", said Joby, humbly.
"Actually we're all grounded until further notice", said Kieran "Or at least until the plague's been controlled. Although the way I feel about your foolhardiness at the moment you're lucky I don't confine you to these rooms".
"Did you get any sleep last night?"
"Very little. I kept remembering what Angel said. The forces of darkness are massing against me, and it certainly looks that way".
Outside Kieran noticed that the guards were shutting the tall gates at the main entrance, and then locking them. It was a depressing sight.
"Will you look at that?" he said, tugging Joby over to the window "Those gates have never been shut in the daytime in all the years we've been here. It's a bad sign. I don't think anything can ever be the same again. We've had a golden few years. Re-building the City after Gabriel's Terror, thinking the worst was all behind us. I really thought I'd achieved my dream, and that the human race could bow out with dignity. I couldn't have been more wrong. If this plague takes a hold Joby, it'll be the end for sure. There are only ten million men left in the entire world, we can't afford a disaster like this. Think how the Black Death decimated Europe in the Middle Ages. I can't see us rising from this one. It'll be the end".
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