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The Tied Man by Tabitha McGowan

Published by Hunton Agius Publishing Kindle Edition Copyright 20 ! Tabitha McGowan All rights reser"ed#

This is a wor$ o% %iction# &a'es( characters( places( and incidents are either products o% the author)s i'agination or used %ictitiously# Any rese'blance to actual e"ents( locales( or persons( li"ing or dead( is entirely coincidental# &o part o% this publication can be reproduced or trans'itted in any %or' or by any 'eans( electronic or 'echanical( without per'ission in writing %ro' the author#

Chapter *ne +inn The su''er , 'et -ilith .resson( , had begun to die# &ot physically( you understand# , had ne"er been that luc$y# .ut each day a little 'ore o% 'y soul disappeared( and .laine sensed it# And .laine Alber'arle ne"er let anything escape without a %ight#

-ilith /0hat the %uc$ a' , doing here1) , paced the %loor o% the 'a$e2up roo'( counting down the 'inutes to 'y appearance li$e a conde'ned wo'an# Hilary 3il"er'an( 'y long2su%%ering agent( poured hersel% a lu$ewar' co%%ee and ga"e her best cal'ing s'ile# /4eli"ering a co'pro'ise# 0ell( your particularly diluted "ersion o% a co'pro'ise( anyway#) /,)' lea"ing#) Hilary)s eyes widened in alar'# /5ou can)t6) /, thin$ you)ll %ind , bloody well can#) /All right( all right( you can# *$ay( so let 'e rephrase that#) Hilary positioned her considerable bac$side on a grubby so%a and patted the seat ne7t to her# , begrudgingly sat down# /, would "ery 'uch pre%er it i% you didn)t lea"e( on the basis that it)s the only sodding way , can get you to do any publicity %or your own e7hibition( be%ore you bugger o%% bac$ to your lair#) /,)"e got wor$ waiting bac$ in 3pain#) , too$ a sip o% cha'o'ile tea that tasted li$e %loor2sweepings( and Hilary shoo$ her head# /5)$now( ,)d %orgotten 8ust how unutterably bloody2'inded you can be when you %eel threatened#) /, don)t %eel 9threatened:# , %eel pissed o%%( cold( and e"er so slightly 'anipulated# And what the %uc$ does so'eone li$e ;ohnny .uc$le want with 'e1) Hilary re'o"ed a sil"er bangle the si<e o% a drainpipe and began rolling it in her hands as a talis'an against stroppy artists# /He wants to 'o"e up'ar$et apparently( hence the /5oung( .ritish and Talented) the'e %or tonight# His show)s ta$en a lot o% stic$ in the press %or being too tabloid( e"en %or the 3aturday night late slot# 3o'ething to do with staging a li"e wedding cere'ony between so'e inade=uate little 'an and his poodle#) /*h God( , read about that# And ,)' 'eant to go out there and 'a$e s'all tal$ with this cretin1)

/His people ha"e pro'ised he)ll tal$ about your wor$( nothing 'ore# Maybe a bit about the charity 2 ) /&o#) /All right( so no charity stu%%# Pity( 'ight go a little way to countering the whole /,ce Princess) business# Maybe the tiniest 'ention o% 4aniel1) /&o6) The 'ere thought o% 'y younger brother)s na'e being dragged into this circus 'ade 'e %eel sic$# Hilary ga"e a weary sigh o% de%eat# /5ou can)t bla'e a girl %or trying# .ut try and 'ention your wor$( huh1 And( please God( your e7hibition# 5ou $now( the one where , do all the wor$ to %log one or two o% your a'ateur scribblings( and you get all the glory1) /*$ay( , get your point# ,)ll try and beha"e# Ten 'inutes# How hard can it be1) , begrudgingly too$ 'y place in the 'a$e2up chair# /Good girl#) My agent too$ 'y hand and ga"e it a pat# /;ust try to $eep cal'( darling# That)ll do 'e#) /Hi( ,)' ;arred and ,)ll be applying your slap %or tonight#) A young 'an in a tight neon2green t2shirt and blac$ leather trousers sidled up and began to apply powder to 'y nose# /&ice to %ind a co'ple7ion that isn)t li$e the dar$ side o% the 'oon# +i"e 'inutes /til showti'e( sweetie#) He ga"e 'e a sy'pathetic s'ile that did nothing to ease 'y apprehension# /God( that dress is to die %or# >intage1) /&ineteen %i%ty two 4ior#) /5ou $now( 'y other hal% couldn)t belie"e we)d got you %or tonight# 5ou)re his heroine ? says you)re the Grace Kelly o% the Twenty2+irst Century#) He glanced up %ro' his wor$# /@h oh( stand by your beds girls( here co'es his 'a8esty#) There was a sudden %lurry o% acti"ity on the other side o% the roo'( and ;ohnny .uc$le( orbited by hal%2a2do<en 'inions( graced us with his presence#

/&ow then( -il# >ery nice to 'eet you in the %lesh# &ice %roc$ ? does wonders %or your boobs# 0hat you can)t get in your 'outh( you only waste( eh1) He leant down and( without in"itation( $issed 'e hard on both chee$s# 3i7teen and a hal% stones o% goateed %au72&orthern 'acho bullshit with the re'ains o% last night)s curry still on his breath in"aded the space 'y closest %riends would baul$ at( and it too$ all 'y sel%2control not to recoil# /5ou 2) ;ohnny pointed at a young girl clutching a clipboard to her chest# /4o so'ething use%ul %or a %uc$ing change and %ind 'e a beer( will you1) 3he scuttled out o% the door and he turned to 'e# /+ancy one( -il1) /-ilith# And no( than$ you#) /*oh( get you with that posh accent# ,nstant hard2on or what1 Aight( this is how it)s going to go tonight# ,)"e got to 'a$e li$e ,)' interested with so'e wan$er that coo$s stu%% %irst( then we)ll get you on ? nice build2up so they lo"e you be%ore you e"en par$ your arse on the chair( and then we)ll ha"e a natter about your paintings ? lo"ed the one with that bird gi"ing her %ella a blow28ob by the way ? and that)ll be the show o"er %or another wee$#) He glanced in the "ast 'irror hung o"er the so%a and pic$ed so'ething green %ro' his teeth with a %ingernail# /Then what say you and , disappear into the night and %ind so'ewhere =uiet to grab a bite to eat1 3ee what co'es up( eh1) /,)' terribly sorry# ,)"e got a ta7i boo$ed to the airport as soon as , %inish the inter"iew#) /Pity# Tell you what( , bet , could gi"e you so'e inspiration %or those 'uc$y drawings that you do#) , su''oned a polite s'ile# /,)' sure you could#) ;ohnny touched his earpiece# /Got to interrupt you there( darlin)# 3o'e tart in the control roo')s telling 'e we)re li"e in two#) He patted 'e on the shoulder with enough %orce to 'a$e 'e wince# /Aight( here we go# 3ee you in the bear2pit( -il#) He strode onto the studio %loor to a groundswell o% cheers and s=ueals %ro' an audience that sounded li$e it had been i'ported %ro' .edla'#

/Could , gi"e you a bit o% ad"ice1) ;arred whispered in 'y ear# /-et hi' win# He)s an oa%( but he can be dangerous( belie"e 'e# ;ust s'ile nicely then get pissed once you)re sa%ely bac$ at ho'e#) /0ell( , suppose ,)d better go and %ind 'y seat#) Hilary stood and rearranged her "olu'inous bati$2dyed s$irt# /,)ll be in the %ront row ? i% it all ends in tears( at least you)ll $now where to %ind 'e#) /3a'e i% , decide to %ire you#) BBBBB Too soon( the hollering signalled the end o% the %irst inter"iew with /so'e wan$er that coo$s stu%%)( and it was 'y turn %or the in=uisition# , got to 'y %eet be%ore the young runner could lead 'e to 'y position( and , brie%ly wished that , belie"ed in a god to who' , could o%%er a trite prayer %or sa%e passage# /And now( the young wo'an who)s turning the .ritish art world on its headC -ilith .resson6) ;ohnny)s "oice surged into the roo'( and 'y sto'ach lurched and the walls closed in# The distant applause sounded li$e thunder and , wanted to run and run until , hit the nearest road( or %ailing that( a particularly solid wall# ,nstead( , too$ a deep( steadying breath and stepped out into a barrage o% blinding light and noise to be caught in ;ohnny .uc$le)s su%%ocating e'brace# /-il( lo"e6 +antastic to 'eet you at last6 Grab a seat and 'a$e yoursel% co'%y#) More unwelco'e $isses( the sa'e ran$ breath( and , was li"e in %ront o% three 'illion people# /Than$ you#) , s'oothed the satin o% 'y dress o"er 'y $nees and sat on the edge o% 'y seat( deter'ined not to be swallowed by the huge so%a that ;ohnny used to shrin$ his guests# At e7actly %i"e %eet tall( , had no wish to appear s'aller still# My host loo$ed out to address his audience# /&ow( old ;ohnny here 'ay not $now 'uch about art( but he does $now what he li$es# &one o% this crap with pic$led gira%%es( %or a start ? what the hec$)s all that about anyway1 ? but when a good loo$ing bird li$e yoursel% decides to 'i7 painting with one o% the biggest %ootball tea's on the planet( well( you)re

onto a winner with 'ost o% the blo$es , $now# 3o let)s 8ust re'ind our "iewers o% the piece that)s 'ade your na'e( shall we1) The Players) Triptych %lashed up on the 'onitor in %ront o% 'e( and , actually 'anaged to s'ile# 3i7 'onths on %ro' the %inal brushstro$e and , was still as proud as hell# Three o% A#C# Torino)s greatest players stood thirty %eet tall( captured %ierce in gold and sepia pig'ents blended with their own blood and sweat( burnished Ao'an gods guarding the gates o% their stadiu'# -o"ed by the %ans as 'uch as the critics( the i'age was now reproduced on t2shirts( 'ugs( e"en dogs) drin$ing bowls( and than$s to a ruthless deal by Hilary( , too$ a healthy percentage on anything sold# , was twenty2eight years old and The Players) Triptych had bought 'e 'y %reedo'# />ery nice#) +or one sweet second , thought he 'ight actually want to tal$ about 'y wor$# /3o# ,s it true that Alessandro .ertolli showed you his player)s entrance1) , could see Hilary in the %ront row( sitting with her head in her hands# /, ha"e absolutely no idea what you)re tal$ing about() , replied( and watched the leer %ade and die as ;ohnny .uc$le %ought to reco"er %ro' 'y %roideur# />ery noble o% you# 0ell now( 'o"ing on( , always li$e to do a bit o% e7tra research on our guests#) ;ohnny %i7ed 'e with a shar$)s predatory grin# /,)"e heard you)"e got a "ery cle"er little party tric$( -il#) /, wouldn)t call it that() , began( but ;ohnny had %ound a new sea'# /4on)t be coy# ,)' sure our audience want to $now about your special talent( and , don)t 8ust 'ean between the sheets( eh1) He ga"e 'e a $nowing win$( to 'ore giggling %ro' the horde beyond the studio lights# /3o why don)t you tell us about this 'ind2reading1) /,t)s not 'ind2reading() , e7plained( %eeling the irritation seep into 'y "oice# ,% Hilary wanted cal'( she could co'e up and do this inter"iew in 'y place# /,t)s about noticing the details that 'ost people don)t see then piecing the' together in a way that sounds li$e you)"e got a hotline to the other side# The sa'e stunt so2called psychics pull on the suc$ers that go to the'#)

/*oh( sceptic# Thought you)d be into all that stu%%( being the artistic type# 5ou $now( touchy2%eely hocus pocus#) , waited# 3ure enough( he couldn)t resist# /3o what can you tell us about ;ohnny .uc$le( then1) He)ll be %ine as long as you let hi' win### , 'ade 'y decisionD , had to attac$ be%ore this cretin ca'e anywhere near the rest o% 'y li%e( or( worse( began to encroach on 4aniel)s sanctuary# , appraised 'y host as i% , were 'eeting hi' %or his %irst sitting( and switched e"erything else o%%# The ca'eras( lights( audience all disappeared( and , was le%t alone with ;ohnny .uc$le# ,t wasn)t 8ust the body language# ,t was all o% hi'# His way o% tal$ing to his guests and colleaguesD the clothes he woreD e"en this e7hibitionist pro%ession he had chosen# Each piece clic$ed together as , loo$ed on# This was how , %ound the "ulnerability( the hidden picture that 'y clients lo"ed( but right now it was what , was about to use to nail the bastard# /Hell2oo1 ,s there anybody there1 Co'e on( what dirty little secret can you re"eal about good old ;ohnny .uc$le1) , s'iled# /-ittle)s the operati"e word( isn)t it( ;ohnny1) There was a sudden rush o% pure pleasure as , saw his grin begin to slip# /,t 'ust be tough( lying there with your %irst girl%riend( thin$ing( this is it( the 'o'ent you)"e been waiting %or( and she ends up in hysterics when she sees your coc$# ,n %act( all these years later and it can still stop you getting it up( can)t it1) 3o'eti'es , had to bac$trac$( or dig deeper( but tonight , $new that , had scored an indescribably satis%ying direct hit# , thought Good *ld ;ohnny .uc$le was about to ha"e a coronary in %ront o% his adoring "iewers# The studio %ell silent( then there was a collecti"e howl o% laughter %ro' audience and crew ali$e( so loud that ;ohnny struggled to be heard as he yelled( /And on that load o% bolloc$s( we)ll be bac$ a%ter the brea$#) As the studio lights di''ed he leaned %orward so that his %lorid %ace was only inches %ro' 'ine# /,)' going to bury you( you %uc$ing bitch() he hissed( and stor'ed o%% to the sanctuary o% his dressing roo'# ;arred rushed up to re2powder 'y nose and chee$s# /, brought you a drin$#) He pressed a glass into 'y hand#

/, don)t need water( than$s#) He ga"e 'e a conspiratorial s'ile# /,t)s "od$a( darling# +orget e"erything , said# 0e)"e been waiting two years %or so'eone to do that to the %uc$er#) +inn , was only hal%2watching the tele"ision# ,t %lic$ered silently in the corner o% the roo' and sheer no"elty drew 'y eyes to it as .laine trailed a line o% cocaine across the hollow o% 'y sto'ach# , thought at %irst she was so'e child prodigy or otherD so'e precocious little twel"e2year old shit e7plaining how she)d been playing the "iolin or piano or u$ulele since be%ore she could wal$# , al'ost didn)t gi"e her a second glance# Al'ost# Then( /0hoa#) That)s all# &ot e"en said( to be honestE 8ust 'ade so'e so%t( breathed sound o% appreciation to 'ysel%( at this slip o% a wo'an in an e"ening gown the colour o% storyboo$ 'er'aids# 3he sat there( as still as the eye o% a stor'( while so'e %at( sweating bastard gesticulated and bounced around her and the ca'era( see'ingly as capti"ated( suddenly pulled in so that the whole screen was %illed with her %aceE a slee$( se"ere bob o% 'idnight2blue hair sculpted around eyes that were car"ed %ro' %rag'ents o% glacial ice( cle"er and unblin$ing# ,n that 'o'ent( , didn)t $now whether , wanted to %uc$ her or be her# /4o you li$e that little girl( sweetheart1) , was a stupid bastard# 3till hadn)t learned that nothing was e"er to 'ysel%# .laine caressed 'y %ace# /,t)s all right( you can say /yes)( you $now# , pro'ise not to be o%%ended#) 3he raised her head to $iss 'e( and , cursed 'ysel% %or gi"ing so 'uch away# As the co''ercial brea$ began , returned the $iss with as 'uch passion as , could 'uster in the hope she would %orget all about 'y 'o'ent o% wea$ness# -ilith

, returned to 'y seat %or what was about to be 'y shortest inter"iew e"er# /&ow( what so'e o% our younger "iewers 'ight not $now is that 'y guest here wasn)t actually born -ilith .resson#) ;ohnny spo$e directly to ca'era as i% , were so'e inconse=uential onloo$er and , %elt 'y heart rate =uic$en and 'y %ingers clench into da'p pal's# /,n %act( %i%teen years ago( she was a bit player in one o% the biggest scandals e"er to roc$ the Conser"ati"e Party#) He paused and s'iled at 'e %or e%%ect# /0eren)t you( Clarissa1) ;ohnny had been busy during the brea$# This ti'e the 'onitor showed an entirely di%%erent pictureE a blurred close2up o% two %igures huddled on the bac$ seat o% a speeding ta7i# A hysterical( s$eletal wo'an clutching the shoulders o% a wild2eyed child( both %aces turned pale as death 'as$s by the glare o% countless %lashbulbs# This was 'y once2beauti%ul 'other# This was 'e( thirteen and %urious as we were dri"en away %ro' our ho'e( hu'an sacri%ices in 'y %ather)s %utile rite o% puri%ication# The pictures weren)t hard to %ind( e"en %or ;ohnny .uc$le# ,)d done it 'ysel% once( in an act o% destructi"e curiosity( and $new that i% you typed /Mont%ort F scandal F wi%e F i'ages) into any search engine this was the nu'ber one hitE the 'oney shot that had no doubt bought so'e botto'2%eeding papara<<o a ti'eshare in Marbella# My triu'phal host swung bac$ to %ace 'e# /3o( shall we tal$ about your 'ad 'other( then1) , still clutched the "od$a that ;arred had handed 'e# Apart %ro' one 'outh%ul the glass was still %ull( and , %lung the contents straight at ;ohnny# He ga"e a suitably porcine s=ueal as the neat "od$a splattered o"er his %ace# ,t 'ust ha"e stung li$e hell ? especially when the alcohol began to dissol"e his spray tan and tric$le into his eyes in lurid orange ri"ulets# /5ou stupid cow6) he howled( and staggered to his %eet to ta$e a blind lunge at 'y head# 3i7 'illion "iewers watched their corpulent hero swing at 'e and , saw the %loor 'anager and the war'2up guy and e"en one o% the ca'era operators rush %orward to pull hi' away#

.ut , was closest# ;ohnny got the heel o% 'y right hand to his nose and 'y le%t $nee hard into his now2in%a'ous genitals be%ore , stor'ed %ro' the set# +inn 0ith the sound turned down , couldn)t tell what he had said to her( only that it had 'ade her %urious and that %ury had instantly trans%or'ed into this 'agni%icent e7plosion# , had ne"er seen anything li$e it( and this ti'e , didn)t e"en need to spea$# /*h 'y God( you really do %ind her attracti"e( don)t you1 ;ust when , thought you were dead %ro' the waist down#) .laine ran her hand down 'y thigh# /&e7t thing we $now( she)ll actually 'anage to in"o$e a spontaneous hard2on#) /3he)s pretty( , suppose# ,n an odd $ind o% way#) /And such a tiny little thing# 3he)s "ery di%%erent %ro' 'e#) , could see where this was going# /5ou)re beauti%ul# There)s no co'parison#) /My poor +inn# 3o paranoid# .ut how "ery sweet o% you to say so#) 3he held a cocaine2laden %ingernail to 'y nose and as , inhaled she hit 'e with the =uestion# /3o# 0ould you1) Hypothetical pillow tal$# Har'less banter between lo"ers# And not a cat in hell)s chance o% the answer being correct( whate"er , said# Chapter Two -ilith 3anta Marita cosseted 'e li$e an indulgent 'aiden aunt# , had li"ed in this s'all town on 3pain)s east coast %or nearly %i"e yearsE alone( sel%2reliant( content# 0hen , was painting she allowed 'e to disappear( and %or wee$s on end , would retreat to 'y studio without spea$ing to a soul# ,n return %or this 'isanthropy( 'y neighbours would lea"e bas$ets o% %ruit and bottles o% wine at 'y door %or when , was ready to %ace the world and be a grown2up

again# 0hen , did e'erge( on a high and thrilled with 'y own genius( the town would welco'e 'e bac$ into the %old( plying 'e with beer in .enedicta)s s'o$e2%illed bar( protecting 'e %ro' the lur$ing papara<<i yet proudly displaying e"ery positi"e newspaper clipping that 'entioned 'e( until the cycle began again# , 8ogged around 3anta Marita)s streets( s$etched e"ery 'an( wo'an and dog( and swa' in the secluded 'ill2pond bay( yet until the day , was %orced to lea"e , ne"er realised it was 'y ho'e# BBBBB *n a bright e"ening in late May , stood at 'y easel( bare brown %eet cool on white 'arble# 3unlight still strea'ed in through studio windows that opened out onto the cobalt sea( ;ohnny .uc$le was nothing 'ore than an unpleasant 'e'ory( and all was well with 'y world# , painted to 'usic# Gounod)s +aust tu'bled and soared into the air around 'e as , added the %inal details to 'y latest wor$( but 8ust as Mephistopheles arri"ed to announce +aust)s da'nation 'y apart'ent bu<<er sounded( and , reluctantly turned the "olu'e down# , padded across to the doorway and stretched to reach 'y interco'# /0hoe"er you are( you)d better ha"e a bloody good e7cuse %or disturbing 'e#) /,)"e brought alcohol and %ood to appease the gate$eeper ? will that do1) a laid2bac$ "oice( tinged with a so%t 0est Country burr( crac$led o"er the interco'# , grinned and pressed the button that unloc$ed the %ront door# &at Carlin was a %ellow e7patriate( a %ec$less( easy2going sur%er who ostensibly wor$ed in an internet ca%G in 3anta Marita)s tiny centre# He was also a phar'aceutical genius who a'used hi'sel% by creating his own e7tensi"e range o% hallucinogenics and sti'ulants %or personal use( and culti"ating a splendid year2round crop o% s$un$ that he sold to the local slac$er population# /Hey( stranger#) , wrapped 'y ar's around 'y "isitor)s waist and he bent down to $iss 'e on the lips# /.eware o% gee$s bearing gi%ts#) &at held up a super'ar$et carrier bag#

/Aec$oned you)d be too caught up in your creation to bother about such a tri"ial detail as %ood#) /Than$s#) , bro$e away and unpac$ed bread( cheese and a sun2war'ed bottle o% Aio8a# /,)' al'ost %inished# Another day and ,)ll be %ree again ? nothing to do but di"ide 'y ti'e between beach and bar#) /How dread%ul#) &at was already opening the bottle# /And that)ll last %or how long1 , gi"e it three days be%ore your horri%ic wor$ ethic $ic$s in and the unstoppable -ilith .resson %eels the need to start on her ne7t 'asterpiece###) He stopped his goading as he saw 'y can"as# /+uc$( that)s good( -ili#) /-ilith# And yes( , $now#) /3orry# -ilith#) He peered a little closer at the two beauti%ul( ony72haired young wo'en who lay entwined and obli"ious to his ga<e# /Hey( isn)t that Aosario1) /5up#) /.ut she)s your cleaner#) /5up# 3he ga"e 'e hell %or not gi"ing her anything to do( and , had a co''ission( so , decided to as$ her to do a sitting# 0ith her girl%riend#) /;esus#) &at stared at the painting %or at least hal% a 'inute( and his thoughts were "irtually audible# /*h ;esus# 5ou get paid to paint lesbians# Actually doing it( right in %ront o% you# 5ou)re 'a$ing your godda'n li"ing %ro' painting hot wo'en getting it on#) /5up# And you don)t e"en want to $now what ,)' charging 'y client to watch 'e wor$ on the webca'#) &at shoo$ his head in disbelie%# /, hate you# , really( really hate you#) /Than$ you#) , rubbed at 'y le%t shoulder( dri"ing 'y $nuc$les deep into the 8oint# /Hell( , ache# ,t)ll ta$e 'e a wee$ 8ust to stand straight# ,)"e spent so long hunched o"er the bloody thing , %eel li$e Huasi'odo#)

/4)you want 'e to wor$ on it( lo"ely1) &at)s "oice carried a note o% hope that always 'ade 'e s'ile# /, ha"e special rates %or luc$y bastards who paint %ilthy wo'en#) /*$ay#) , sat down at a $itchen chair and pulled 'y "est top o"er 'y head# /;ust try and $eep your eyes on the 8ob( se7 pest() , warned as he began to $nead at the tight $nots between 'y shoulders( his practised hands a"oiding the hard nub o% 8agged bone on 'y le%t scapula# A%ter ten 'inutes) duti%ul 'assage( &at)s hands began to wander( as , $new they would( and he let his %ingers dri%t so%tly o"er 'y le%t breast# , glanced at the can"as( then at 'y watch# ,t was past se"en o)cloc$( so technically , was %inished %or the day( and there were perhaps two hours) wor$ still to do at 'ost on a piece that would be co'pleted a wee$ ahead o% schedule# &othing one last early 'orning wouldn)t %i7( and the closest , e"er got to slac$ing# &at began to 'a$e la<y circles around 'y nipple and as , leaned bac$ , could %eel his erection pressing into 'y bac$# , shoo$ 'y head in 'oc$ disgust# /5ou)re 8ust a wal$ing hard2on( aren)t you( Mr Carlin1) /3o1 ,t sa"es you the hassle o% dating and other pointless social interaction#) , tried to re'e'ber how long it had been since 'y last decent %uc$ and thought bac$ to two wee$s ago and a doe2eyed young ban$ teller who had wandered into .enedicta)s# Too da'n longE , decided to allow 'ysel% this# /-et)s ta$e this to the bedroo'() , suggested# /0e don)t want to $noc$ anything o"er in here do we1) BBBBB My bedroo' was a study in 'ini'alis'# ,t was nearly as big as the studio and do'inated by a $ing2si<ed bed that was co"ered in white linen sheets and pillows and placed dead centre on the 'arble %loor# An abstract can"as hung abo"e the headboard( a set o% industrial 'etal drawers held clothes %olded as i% still on display in a bouti=ue( and a single orchid stood in a "ase %ashioned %ro' a test tube# &othing out o% place( nothing e7cess to needE 'y li%e su''arised in a single roo'#

&at)s sun2bleached blond curls bounced across a ban$ o% pillows as , pushed hi' bac$ onto the bed# ,n one 'o"e , pulled his shorts down and threw the' onto the %loor( releasing his eager erection# As he scrabbled at a condo' wrapper , croo$ed 'y thu'b into the waistband o% 'y 8eans and G2string( stepped out o% 'y clothes and $ic$ed the' under 'y bed to be retrie"ed and %olded when ,)d %inished# /*h God( you)re gorgeous# 4on)t thin$ this is going to last "ery long() &at gasped as , straddled his hips( parted 'y da'p labia with paint2stained %ingers and slid onto his erect coc$( suddenly desperate %or a =uic$( hard %uc$# /Go %or it#) , dropped 'y le%t hand to 'y clit and rubbing gently as &at began to thrust his hips upwards in a race to see who 'ight co'e %irst# He won( pushing deep inside 'e and cli'a7ing in 'o'ents( but be%ore his coc$ began to so%ten , had brought 'ysel% to 'y own silent( contained orgas'# , %ell across his chest and placed a la<y $iss on his chee$# /, needed that# Than$ you#) &at returned the gesture( planting his $iss into 'y hair# /@sed and abused again() he 'ur'ured( already heading towards sleep# /Good 8ob , li$e you#) BBBBB , stood with 'y head bowed under the pounding %orce o% the shower( letting the scalding water continue &at)s wor$ on 'y shoulder# My "isitor would sleep li$e a reclining Adonis %or an hour or so( be%ore reluctantly lea"ing %or an e"ening shi%t at the ca%G# 0e 'ight 'eet again later that night i% , still %elt li$e his co'pany( or it could be days or wee$s be%ore our paths crossed again# 0hate"er( &at would be %lirtatious and benignly opportunistic and the threads o% this easy( low2'aintenance %riendship could be gathered up without issue# , was 8ust starting to consider a 'ore leisurely repeat per%or'ance when , heard "oices# At %irst , assu'ed &at was calling to 'e and , was 8ust about to reply when the second "oice dri%ted through# ,n that instant( 'y war'( tidy world %ro<e and crac$ed around 'e and , reached into 'y bathroo' cabinet to grab an inhaler that hadn)t been used in 'onths# , pulled 'y bathrobe o"er 'y tensed shoulders and stepped out to 'eet 'y

une7pected guest# &at sat on the bed( a hastily grabbed t2shirt 8ust about co"ering his 'odesty as he %aced the intruder# /3orry 'ate# 4idn)t thin$ her ne7t client was due %or another hour#) , stood on the threshold# /&at( , don)t thin$ you)"e 'et 'y %ather#) BBBBB 3ir 3i'on Mont%ort C.E sat at 'y table in his cru'pled( grubby linen suit and polluted the air with his presence# /Aren)t you going to o%%er 'e a drin$1) he as$ed# , 'ade a note to count 'y cutlery once he had le%t# /There)s 'ineral water in the %ridge# Help yoursel%#) /,)d appreciate so'ething stronger#) /That)s reser"ed %or in"ited guests# How the %uc$ did you get into 'y apart'ent1) /,t was =uite si'ple( really#) My %ather ga"e a thin2lipped s'ile# /, told the concierge , was your adoring daddy ? ar'ed with a %ew old school photographs as proo% ? and , needed to tell you your grand'other was dead#) He surreptitiously brushed the dandru%% %ro' his shouldersD whate"er dye he was currently using to $eep his hair a hideous shade o% chestnut clearly wasn)t agreeing with hi'# The dust spiralled and %loated across 'y $itchen on a sha%t o% light %ro' the setting sun and , %elt sic$# /, $now# Three years dead# The %irst ti'e you told 'e she was gone , crac$ed open the .ollinger and stayed pissed %or a wee$#) That 'y %ather didn)t reproach 'e spo$e "olu'es# 5et again( he clearly needed 'e %ar 'ore than , had e"er needed hi'# /3o# 0hat do you want1) , %inally as$ed# /This 'ight 8ust be a social "isit# Perhaps , thought it was ti'e to rebuild bridges# 4id you consider that( Clarissa1)

/&ot %or a second# And i% you call 'e that again ,)ll throw you bac$ onto the street 'ysel%#) /,)' sorry# -ilith#) My %ather said the na'e as though it were a pro%anity# He narrowed his eyes and , $new he was choosing his ne7t words# He ga"e a ner"ous gulp o% air as he wor$ed up enough courage to e7plain his sudden reappearance# /5ou)"e( ah( heard o% a -ady Alber'arle1) @nder pressure( he returned to the sa'e bu'bling style he had adopted as an MP# /&o# 0hy1 Are you %uc$ing her1) He actually winced at 'y words# /There are ti'es when you disgust 'e# And no( ,)' not# Actually( she runs an e7clusi"e island retreat 2) /0hat( so'e ridiculous nursery %or spoilt bastards e7hausted %ro' too 'uch wealth and pri"ilege1 A couple o% wee$s o% yoga and wheatgrass to reco"er %ro' being a 'illionaire1) /4on)t be so bloody %acetious() 'y %ather snapped( his Ada')s apple bobbing with ner"es and irritation# /,)"e recently been a guest there 'ysel%#) , widened 'y eyes# /Aeally1 5ou ne"er struc$ 'e as the 8oss2stic$ type#) /,t)s nothing li$e that#) Ten 'inutes o% his 'alodorous presence and , was tired o% hi' already# /-oo$( as delight%ul as this con"ersation about your holiday is( ,)"e got a li%e ,)d li$e to get on with# 3o why don)t you 8ust tell 'e why the hell you)re here1) /0ell i% you insist on being so direct( , need a %a"our#) /+or %uc$)s sa$e# How 'uch do you owe this ti'e1) /,t)s not a debt as such# There was a slight 'isunderstanding o"er 'y hospitality bill( that)s all#) /And this /'isunderstanding) ? it wouldn)t be o% the /le%t without paying) "ariety( would it1)

/, had e"ery intention o% settling 'y debts# There was so'e di%%iculty in processing 'y credit card#) /That)s because they only bloody wor$ i% there)s credit there() , snapped# /And , told you last ti'e( ,)' ne"er bailing you out again#) /,t)s a little 'ore co'plicated than that on this occasion#) My %ather)s cold( predatory s'ile returned# /,)"e got you so'e wor$#) /, don)t need wor$( %or %uc$)s sa$e# ,)"e got a waiting list that could ta$e %i"e years to wor$ through#) /5ou don)t understand# ,)"e co''itted you to this( -ilith#) , shi"ered# There was a sudden "ictorious loo$ on 'y %ather)s %ace that , hadn)t seen in years# /Go on#) /-ady Alber'arle has re%used late pay'ent# 3he)s decided that she would rather ha"e a portrait by the notorious -ilith .resson# Painted in situ at Alber'arle Hall#) /0ell golly %uc$ing gosh how terribly delight%ul %or her# &ow get out#) /That)s enough#) My %ather held up a hand that was pre'aturely stippled with li"er spots# /5ou will let 'e %inish#) /*r1) /,)ll be %orced to adopt a 'ore %or'al approach to a re=uest that( to 'e( appears to be per%ectly reasonable#) /*h God( you tal$ such shit# And i% , say no1) This was his big 'o'ent# /, pull a %ew o% 'y re'aining strings and get this en%orced#) -i$e so'e third2rate 'agician he produced a letter %ro' his 8ac$et and handed it to 'e with a %lourish# /And this( 'y belo"ed daughter( is a restraining order that bans you %ro' setting %oot within %i"e 'iles o% your hal%2brother# ,t cites your unreasonable( threatening and %ran$ly unpredictable beha"iour as a threat to the sa%ety o% a disabled( "ulnerable child# , 'ust say( a%ter your ridiculous per%or'ance li"e on air( it was easy to

%ind the necessary legal chaps to dra%t the thing#) /5ou bastard#) This 'an( who had willingly abandoned his da'aged( %ragile wi%e and his tainted daughter( who had lied again and again and betrayed any "alue he had espoused in his inglorious political career( gloated whilst , read the litany o% petty %abrications# This 'an sat at 'y table and s'iled( because he $new he had won# , sat opposite hi' and wished hi' dead as he %eigned indi%%erence to 'y %ury# /@nder the circu'stances( -ady Alber'arle has been e7tre'ely understanding# 3he appreciates that you 'ust ha"e co''it'ents( loose ends so to spea$( that need attending to#) He pic$ed up his "ile docu'ent and slid it bac$ into its en"elope be%ore tuc$ing it into his breast poc$et with a s'ug pat# /5ou ha"e a wee$# .laine e7pects you no later than nine( on the e"ening o% ;une the third#) He stood and brushed the %resh layer o% scur% %ro' his 8ac$et# /+eel %ree to call at +o7rush %or drin$s once you)re %inished( won)t you1 ,)' sure your step'other will be delighted to see you#) Chapter Three -ilith *n the 'orning o% ;une the second( , went %or 'y %inal run in 3anta Marita# The Pla<a del Cristo( with its towering plane trees and puddles o% dappled shade( 'ar$ed the close o% 'y eight2'ile circuit( and , had already begun to slow 'y pace as , rounded the %inal corner and pounded past .enedicta)s( past the 'e'orial to the town)s legion o% Ci"il 0ar dead( and past I( the internet ca%G where &at pretended to wor$ as he honed the per%ect progra''e to hac$ M,J# .ach)s Toccata and +ugue thundered in 'y ears and , could %eel 'y pulse throb in 'y te'ples as , touched the sun2war'ed bench that 'ar$ed 'y %inish line# , placed 'y le%t %oot on the peeling green paintwor$( pushed the heel down to stretch 'y Achilles tendon( swapped %eet and repeated# My daily ritual# , turned o%% 'y MP! player and ga"e 'y head a 'o'ent to deal with the

sudden silence# , $new , was courting dea%ness i% , continued to listen to 'usic at a "olu'e that would 'a$e anyone else)s eardru's bleed( but , didn)t care# As %ar as , was concerned( it was only real 'usic i% , could still hear a phanto' beat echoing in 'y s$ull three hours a%ter ,)d switched it o%%# /,)' surprised the pigeons ha"en)t issued you with a noise abate'ent order#) To 'y dis'ay( &at had seen 'e run past the ca%G window and ca'e to 'eet 'e with a bottle o% 'ineral water# /Than$s#) , too$ the water and wiped away the crystal beads o% condensation with 'y thu'b be%ore ta$ing a grate%ul drin$# /, was going to call when ,)d %inished 'y shi%t# There)s this cool gig at .en)s tonight ? thought you 'ight %ancy it i% you weren)t busy#) , shoo$ 'y head( and sweat spattered down onto the pa"e'ent# /3orry# 3tu%% to do#) /Maybe to'orrow( then1) /0on)t be here# ,)' %lying bac$ to England in the 'orning#) /*h#) His war'( ha<el eyes widened in surprise# /5ou ne"er said#) /&o( well you ne"er as$ed#) , didn)t ha"e to add that it was none o% his da'n business# My e7pression said it all# /*$ay( o$ay#) &at held up his hands# /3o( what is it this ti'e1 Another T> show1) /&o( it)s not another bloody T> show# ,t)s wor$( i% you 'ust $now#) /How long will you be away1 *nly( i% it)s 'ore than a %ew days( ,)ll water your plants i% you wantC) /There)s no need# +or God)s sa$e &at( what is this1 Twenty %uc$ing =uestions1 ,% you 'ust $now( Aosario)s ta$en 'y plants# , could be away %or a couple o% 'onths#)

/And that)s it1) The %ury , still %elt at 'y %ather spilled to the sur%ace be%ore , had chance to chec$ it# /0hat the %uc$)s that 'eant to 'ean1) , snapped# /5ou weren)t going to tell 'e( were you1 ,% , hadn)t seen you today( you)d ha"e buggered o%% without saying a word# , thought you and , were %riends( -ilith# Maybe e"en 'ore than that#) /*h you ha"e to be $idding 'e# 5ou really are the last person , e7pected to turn into a needy bastard#) , began to wal$ away( but to 'y surprise &at %ell into step beside 'e# /&eedy1 A wo'an , thought was 'y %riend decides to %uc$ o%% to the Motherland %or a %ew 'onths and doesn)t e"en ha"e the courtesy to call in and say /see ya)( and that 'a$es 'e needy1) , had ne"er heard &at raise his "oice in all the years that we had $nown each other# &ow the early 'orning 'ar$et2goers stopped in their trac$s to watch our scene and guilt2%ueled indignation swelled inside 'e# /0e were ne"er %riends( &at# , don)t $now your birthday( your shoe2si<e or anything about your childhood# , couldn)t gi"e a toss about your %a"orite %il'( and , really don)t see us settling down by the %ireside with a sweet sherry to re'inisce about the good ti'es#) , ai'ed 'y parting shot# /And i% the separation an7iety really $ic$s in( try thin$ing o% us as ac=uaintances who had the occasional 'ediocre %uc$ because you were too la<y to get o%% your arse and %ind a real girl%riend#) &at bit his botto' lip( and %or one aw%ul second his eyes 'isted o"er# Then he su''oned the trace o% a s'ile# /God( , pity you( -ilith# Ha"e a sa%e trip( won)t you1) He crossed the street without loo$ing bac$ as , thu'bed the /on) button and let the 'usic obliterate 'y thoughts# +inn , dragged a Aococo wardrobe %ro' the guest roo' into the corridor and hoped that , hadn)t 'anaged to brea$ o%% anything too priceless on the 8ourney# /3o( any particular reason we)re going into the re'o"als business1)

Henry Masterson( .laine)s personal assistant( paused in his unhoo$ing o% se"eral tons o% da'as$ curtain and patted his glowing %orehead with a starched cotton hand$erchie%# /&ew guest# Arri"es to'orrow# 4oesn)t li$e clutter#) /;esus( but you)re an un%it little %uc$er( Henry# Anyone)d thin$ you were the %i%ty2a2day 'an#) , reached %or the pac$ o% Marlboros that was already hal%2 e'pty at ele"en o)cloc$ in the 'orning# /4on)t you dare light one o% those %ilthy things in here6) Henry snapped( and , reluctantly slid the cigarette bac$ into its pac$et with 'y teeth# /3o# 0ho is it1) /, don)t $now() Henry lied# /.olloc$s# C)'on( Henry# Male or %e'ale# Tell 'e that at least( will you1 0hoe"er it is( they)"e got the best roo' in the place# Must be so'eone i'portant#) There was the %irst gli''er o% pity on Henry)s %ace# , hated that( but it 'eant that he was starting to crac$ already# /,)' sorry( , really can)t say( +inn#) /+or %uc$)s sa$e6 ;ust a na'e( an age ? anything# ;ust so'ething o%% the bloody %or'( huh1) /Actually( she didn)t sub'it aC *h bugger#) /3he# Than$ you( Henry# That)s a start( at least# 3o( what else1) /-oo$( , $now this is always di%%icult %or you( but .laine insisted# 5ou)re not to $now until she arri"es#) Henry glanced out o% the window# /, don)t suppose your roses are in bud are they1 A "ase would be lo"ely %or the dresser#) /4on)t change the sub8ect# Ah( co'e on little 'an( don)t 'a$e 'e beat it out o% you#)

/5ou wouldn)t#) /0ant to bet1) , began a slow wal$ towards hi'# /, 'ight e"en %etch 'y dog to 8u'p all o"er these nice clean sheets with her 'uddy paws# 5ou)d go %uc$in) suicidal then( wouldn)t you1 -oo$( , pro'ise ,)ll loo$ surprised# Put 'y acting s$ills to good use#) /, don)t $nowC) Henry sat on the edge o% the "ast bed( too$ o%% his glasses and began to polish the' with the he' o% his shirt# , $new then it was only a 'atter o% ti'e# /Pro'ise1) , 'ade the sign o% the cross# /May the .aby ;esus be 'y witness#) /, really shouldn)t be doing this#) Henry actually glanced o"er his shoulder( as i% so'e interloper 'ight be hiding behind the wardrobe# /-ilith .resson() he whispered# All that e%%ort( %or a na'e that 'eant %uc$ all# Henry s'iled at 'y nonplussed e7pression# /The artist1 Good grie%( you)re probably the only 'an in the country who hasn)t heard o% her#) /All right( don)t rub it in#) , was bored o% the ga'e now# /.laine 'entioned so'ething about you seeing her on the telly1) /&ot in the last three years( , wouldn)t ha"e# , don)t watch the T>( Henry# 5ou don)t watch the %rigging T># The last ti'e , got %i"e 'inutes) gli'pse o% the bloody thing was when , was hanging upside down o%% .laine)s bed# 3hit#) My $nees ga"e way and , slu'ped down ne7t to Henry# My wildcat( 'y 'o'ent)s wea$ness( had a na'e# -ilith .resson# /*h Christ( Henry# 0hat the %uc$ ha"e , done1) Chapter +our -ilith , stood in the 'aelstro' o% Alicante Airport( cursed 'y %ather %or the thousandth ti'e that 'orning and hated the entire world# Pallid( o"erweight parents with their %eral children strea'ed through arri"als in their uni%or' o% replica %ootball $its and badly2%itting shorts( swapping places with near2

identical %a'ilies burned to a "i"id shade o% lobster# As soon as 'y luggage had been chec$ed in( , %ought 'y way to the AlbionAir +irst2Class lounge# , didn)t hate +irst Class passengers any less than the Econo'y herdE there 8ust tended to be less o% the'# , swiped 'y pass card at the door with one hand and re'o"ed 'y espadrilles with the other so that , stood bare%oot in 'y tra"elling out%it o% a 5an$ees baseball cap( grey cotton "est and %rayed deni' shorts( and curled 'y toes into the thic$ woollen pile o% the carpet# , raised a supplicant)s %ace to the %rigid current %ro' the air conditioning# /Can , help you1) , opened one eye to see a tall( sallow 'an in a na"y blue suit bloc$ing 'y way# /Gi"e 'e a 'inute to cool down( and ,)ll tell you ?) , scanned his lapel %or a na'e badge# /George)# The chie% steward o% AlbionAir)s +irst Class lounge ga"e 'e an appraisal that suggested he had 8ust disco"ered 'e on the sole o% his shoe# /,% you re=uire %acilities to %reshen up( 'iss( , suggest you try the ladies) restroo's by Gate !# This area is reser"ed %or +irst Class passengers only#) , %i7ed hi' with 'y 'ost glacial stare# /;olly good# 3hould $eep the ri%%2ra%% out( eh1) , stal$ed past hi' to collapse into a 'onstrously o"erstu%%ed blue leather ar'chair# George "irtually sprinted across the roo' and was about to %orcibly e"ict 'e when a tall young girl in AlbionAir li"ery appeared at his shoulder and had a =uiet word in his ear# The 'agic wand o% Celebrity was duly wa"ed# , was no longer so'e scru%%y little plebeian polluting the hallowed ground o% the +irst Class -ounge( and George was trans%or'ed# /Miss .resson6 How delight%ul# Always a pleasure to ha"e an artist in our 'idstC) /4on)t be a star2%uc$er# 3par$ling 'ineral water ? please ? then $eep the hell out o% 'y way#) , retrie"ed a copy o% Pri"ate Eye %ro' 'y hand luggage and engrossed 'ysel% in Pseud)s Corner( surreptitiously watching George trying to reco"er his dignity as he scurried o"er to the bar#

, reached the centre pages o% 'y 'aga<ine( and a piece o% e'bossed i"ory paper slid onto 'y lap# An understated( discreet %ont proclai'ed( Alber'arle Hall ? A Greeting( and underneath was a photograph o% the wo'an , was unwillingly tra"elling to 'eet# The pose was a cle"er( i% ob"ious( 'irroring o% a Aenaissance portraitE .laine Alber'arle stood in %ront o% a %ireplace that had been %illed with a %lorist)s entire stoc$ and s'iled war'ly out at 'e in welco'e# 3he was a tall( handso'e wo'an in her 'id2%orties( with an i''aculately 'ade2up %ace and long auburn hair piled in a per%ect chignon# 3he radiated the e%%ortless style that ca'e %ro' e7cellent breeding and "ast wealth( and in her do"e2grey sil$ trouser suit she loo$ed li$e the progressi"e head'istress o% a girls) boarding school# , wondered i% it was 'y own dar$ 'ood that pro8ected a subtle arrogance onto her con%ident stance# , doubted it# /5ou)re going to be a night'are() , 'uttered# , %olded the page and read on# At the e7clusi"e island retreat o% Alber'arle Hall( your co'%ort and pri"acy are our twin priorities# 0e guarantee a place where you can rest undisturbed by the countless de'ands o% the outside world# ,n order to 'aintain this tran=uillity( we respect%ully re=uest that you lea"e behind any recording and electronic e=uip'ent( including laptop co'puters( ca'eras( 'obile phones and 'usic2playing technology# Please note that to this end( there is no electrical supply to any o% our guests) suites# Although we ac$nowledge that this 'ay initially in"ol"e a tear%ul separation( we assure you that the ensuing har'ony with your en"iron'ent will pro"e a 'ore than ade=uate reward# 0hy not ta$e the ti'e to disco"er the ro'ance o% candlelight and open %ires( and e7plore a li%e %ree %ro' the constraints o% the Twenty2+irst Century1

0e loo$ %orward to welco'ing you to Alber'arle ? A 0orld Away# .laine Alber'arle and 3ta%%#

, ripped the paper in two and said /%uc$) loud enough to recei"e irritated glances %ro' the business'en twenty yards across the lounge# &or'ally the %irst to read the s'all print( , had deliberately hidden away any paperwor$ that re%erred to this ridiculous tas$( and now , %ound 'ysel% $issing goodbye to a laptop( a 'obile phone and two %ully2loaded MP! players( not to 'ention the halogen light that allowed 'e to wor$ through the night i% , so desired# , stared disconsolately out o"er the shi''ering tar'ac and wondered i% , 'ight be granted per'ission to sha"e 'y legs# BBBBB *nce on board( , too$ re%uge behind the +irst Class curtain# , retrie"ed a s$etch pad and a pencil %ro' 'y hand luggage and %ell bac$ into 'y seat( $ic$ing o%% 'y shoes again and pulling 'y bare %eet under 'y thighs# *nly then did , glance around to see who 'y tra"elling co'panions were# The early %light was al'ost deserted# My only co'pany was a blac$2clad young 'an sprawled across two seats directly across the aisle( and , recognised hi' i''ediatelyE Gabriel ;a'es was the singer2songwriter whose %ace was plastered across e"ery 'usic 'aga<ine as the &e7t .ig Thing# A 'op o% chestnut pre2Aaphaelite curls %ell o"er a delicate( arrogant %ace and Aay .ans hid his eyes %ro' non2e7istent glare( or 'ore li$ely sheltered pupils dilated by whate"er he had nec$ed on the way to the airport# /God( aren)t you pretty1) , %ound a clean page to capture his pro%ile# 0e had been in the air %or no 'ore than %i%teen 'inutes when Gabriel pulled a duty2%ree carrier bag %ro' his o"erhead loc$er( ripped open its seal( and e7tracted a litre bottle o% .ourbon# He had 8ust poured a hal% a pint into a plastic cup when a %light attendant with a %ace li$e a granite slab approached# /E7cuse 'e( sir( but ,)' a%raid you)re not allowed to open your duty %ree whilst airborne#) Gabriel ga"e her an angelic s'ile o% contrition# /*ops# 3orry# Aeally( really

sorry#) He stu%%ed the bottle and its carrier bac$ into the loc$er# /There# All gone# 0ant to 8oin 'e1) he as$ed in a heightened coc$ney drawl( and pro%%ered his cup to the highly una'used wo'an# /,t)s a little too early %or 'e( sir() she replied( and ga"e a tight s'ile that didn)t =uite 'eet eyes weighed down with 'ascara# /*h# +air nu%%# Got any ice1) , watched the i'posing bac$side disappear down the aisle and bit 'y thu'b to stop 'ysel% laughing out loud# Gabriel glanced in 'y direction# /Hey( you drawin) 'e1) /4o you ha"e a proble' with that1) He thought %or a 'o'ent then ga"e a la<y( stoned s'ile# /&ah#) He raised his sunglasses# /3hit( you)re -ilith .resson( aren)t you1 Got one o% your nudes on 'y studio wall# 3)%uc$in) gorgeous# -oo$s li$e the %irst bird , e"er shagged( but without the e"il gob on her#) /,)' pleased you li$e it#) His eyes wandered down to where 'y bare legs now stretched out under the seat in %ront# /3he)s nearly as se7y as you# , don)t suppose you %ancy getting a close2up1 , %uc$in) hate %lyin) by 'ysel%#) He pulled hi'sel% upright and patted the seat ne7t to hi'# , considered the pro'ise ,)d 'ade to $eep 'y 'ind on business until this ridiculous debt o% 'y %ather)s was dealt with( then glanced at Gabriel)s long( sensuous( guitarist)s %ingers# /0hy not1) Gabriel pulled a bottle o% cha'pagne %ro' his illegally opened duty2%ree bag# /0ant a drin$1) My co'panion %u'bled at the %oil and began to thu'b the cor$# /+or %uc$)s sa$e#) , too$ the bottle %ro' hi'# /4o they teach you nothing in Aoc$ 3chool these days1 4o it li$e that and you)ll waste hal% the bottle as well as ha"e so'eone)s eye out# Hold the cor$( twist the bottle# And see1 More %or both o% us#)

/0ow# An e7pert#) Gabriel too$ the bottle and poured two cup%uls( 8ust about 'anaging to get 'ost o% the li=uid on target# /0ell( tits up n)all that#) He raised his cup and grinned in a way that only the truly stoned can# /Cheers#) , too$ a drin$ be%ore stro$ing his designer2stubbled chee$# /3o# Are we 8ust going to sit here and watch the clouds( or shall we do so'ething 'ore constructi"e with our ti'e1) .eauti%ully shaped eyebrows rose abo"e the 'argins o% his Aay .ans( and Gabriel sprayed a %ine spray o% Cristal o"er the seat in %ront# /+uc$in) hell( you)re direct#) , %eigned outrage# /*h( ,)' terribly sorry# , thought %or a 'o'ent you as$ed 'e to sit with you because you had designs on 'y person# ,% ,)"e o%%ended youC) , stood( and he pulled 'e bac$ to the seat# /&o( don)t go# , did# , 'ean( , do# @'( listen( , too$ so'eC stu%% be%ore we too$ o%%# Good shit n)all that( but , 'ight ha"e a proble'C you $nowC) He glanced down at his 8eans and ga"e a sheepish s'ile# /3ounds li$e a challenge#) , too$ two ice cubes %ro' Gabriel)s whis$ey( placing one in 'y 'outh and ta$ing a long drin$ %ro' 'y cup# , ga"e the stoned young 'an a win$ and slid to the %loor( pulling the co'pli'entary blan$et o"er 'y head# /0hat the %uc$### *h shit() Gabriel gasped as , undid his %lies and too$ his increasingly tu'escent coc$ in 'y 'outh( en%olding it in a potent 'i7 o% cha'pagne bubbles and ice# , began to slide 'y lips along the length o% his sha%t# /*h( ;esus Christ on a %uc$in) pushbi$e#) Gabriel braced hi'sel% against his seat as , %lic$ed hi' with 'y glacial tongue# Hidden under the blan$et( , pulled his art%ully ripped 8eans %urther down o"er lean thighs and began to suc$ with a gentle( insistent rhyth'# E"entually( Gabriel subconsciously began to 'irror the pattern( 'o"ing his hips in subtle thrusts that began to increase in their urgency# ;ust as he pushed hi'sel% out o% his seat in the %irst throes o% a 'uted orgas'( ,

slipped 'y hand between his legs and pushed the second ice cube up his arse# /+uc$ 'e6) He ca'e in a sudden( tu'ultuous e7plosion# As he gripped at the ar'rests he accidentally hit the /recline) button so that the bac$ o% his seat %lattened( ta$ing hi'( his cha'pagne and the blan$et with it# , could do nothing but curl up on the %loor in a %it o% giggles as the boot2 %aced %light attendant 'arched bac$ up the aisle %ro' Econo'y# 3he glared at the bacchanalian 'icrocos' that was 'e and Gabriel ? one hunched on the %loor and screa'ing with laughter and the other blushing %uriously as he atte'pted to pull up his 8eans# /May , as$ what you)re doing1) she as$ed( in a tone that showered a %ine layer o% %rost o"er the pair o% us# /-oo$ing %or 'y pencil1) , suggested# /5ou)re so'ething else() Gabriel grinned as the attendant stal$ed bac$ to her gladiatorial pit# He hauled his seat upright and o%%ered 'e a hand up %ro' the cabin %loor# /Than$ you#) , held Gabriel)s le%t hand( turning it to ad'ire his long( callous2 tipped %ingers# /Ti'e %or paybac$( , thin$#) /,)' "ery good at %ingerin)() he s'ir$ed# /Good# My e7traordinary altruis' only goes so %ar#) , retrie"ed the blan$et %ro' under his seat and draped it o"er our legs be%ore easing out o% 'y shorts# Gabriel)s hand disappeared to search %or his pri<e( and , closed 'y eyes in pleasure as the guitarist put his s$ills to e7pert use# BBBBB As we landed at Heathrow hailstones crac$ed li$e bullets against the windows o% the plane( and 'y spirits plu''eted down to the %looded runway# Gabriel peered out o% the rain2spattered glass# /3hit# Ti'e to 'eet the %ans# Thousands o% the %uc$ers# 0ell( a couple o% hundred( anyway# ,t)ll ta$e 'e

all %uc$in) 'orning 8ust to get through Arri"als( and all , wanna do is crash#) /3hit# +ans 'ean press#) /@sually#) Gabriel ga"e a ha<y nod o% understanding# /*h( right# 5ou really hate /e'( don)t you1 Ae'e'ber reading that once#) /Aeally( really hate /e'#) , began to gather 'y hand luggage# As the seatbelt warning light pinged o%% Gabriel ga<ed at 'e with the peat2 brown eyes o% a wounded puppy# /3o# ,s this it( then1) /Aec$on so#) /-oo$( , was wonderin)C) /&o#) /.utC) /&o( de%initely not#) /5ou don)t e"en $now what , was goin) to as$() Gabriel pouted# /5es , do# And ,)' sure there)ll be a groupie or three out there who)ll be 'ore than happy to oblige#) /*uch() Gabriel pouted# , $issed his 8utting lip( relenting a little# /-oo$( you)"e been delight%ul co'pany# 5ou)re a %unny( se7y 'an and i% we had a wee$ to spare ,)d be 'ore than happy to hide away in a hotel with you# .ut ,)"e got a 8ob to do( and i% you can loo$ at 'e and say you)d wait( you)re a better liar than , gi"e you credit %or#) Gabriel ga"e a sad s'ile o% de%eat# /5ou)re a hard wo'an#) /&o( ,)' a realist#) He handed 'e a business card# /Ere)s 'y nu'ber# Personal 'obile and all

that# &o assistant( no P#A#( 8ust straight through to the 'an hi'sel%# ;ust in case you change your 'ind#) /Than$s#) , too$ the card( sliding it into 'y bac$ poc$et be%ore pulling 'y hand luggage %ro' the loc$er# /&ice accent( by the way# Considering you)re %ro' bloody 4orset#) /+uc$ o%%# .orn within the sound o% the .ow .ells( 'e#) /+uc$ o%% yoursel%# ,t)s a good co"er( but a co"er nonetheless#) /.itch#) My co'panion stooped down# /4ad)s a sodding "icar in .ridport# Too$ 'e 'onths to get the "oice right#) /And you)re doing a da'n %ine 8ob# ,)' 8ust "ery( "ery good at this ga'e#) Gabriel laughed then# /God( you)d be good to ha"e in 'y li%e# Ah well( , rec$on ,)ll get a decent song out o% this i% nothing else# 5ou wanna borrow 'y security trolls to get you through arri"als1 They 'ight not say 'uch( but you)ll %ind that you won)t get too 'uch hassle#) /That would be great#) , ga"e hi' one %inal $iss# /Mr ;a'es( you)re a true gentle'an#) He stood and read8usted hi'sel% inside his 8eans# /, $now# +or %uc$)s sa$e don)t tell anyone#) BBBBB ;ay and Al( Gabriel)s /trolls)( turned out to be twin brothers %ro' an old East End %a'ily# Al( at si7 %eet three inches tall and se"enteen stones( was the s'aller o% the two# Courteous and =uietly2spo$en when they greeted 'e( they beca'e a hu'an battering ra' when Gabriel and , hit the screeching hor'onal wall o% teenage girls that had sta$ed out arri"als# As the %lash bulbs %lared and Al pushed 'y luggage( ;ay si'ply pic$ed 'e up in ar's that were thic$er than 'y thighs and charged at the throng o% papara<<i and %ans( scattering the' aside as though they were 'ade o% cardboard#

/5ou gonna be all right now( doll1) ;ay as$ed( as he placed 'e delicately down onto the pa"e'ent# /,)' sure the boss wouldn)t 'ind i% you shared his li'o#) /,)' sure he wouldn)t#) , stood on the "ery tips o% 'y toes to plant a $iss on 'y protector)s ruddy chee$# /Than$s %or the li%t( but ,)"e got 'y own carriage waiting#) , pointed out the car that a "alet was already pulling up to the $erb# />ery nice#) ;ay ga"e an appreciati"e nod and began to load 'y cases# /Than$ you# -isten( tell Gabriel , owe hi' one( will you1) /The loo$ on /is %ace( , rec$on it)s the other way round# 5ou dri"e sa%e now( yeah1 0ouldn)t want you scratchin) the paintwor$ on that baby there#) /-ilith6 Anythin) you want to tell us about you and Gabriel1) the %irst reporter to clear the ter'inal building hollered( 8ust as , cli'bed into the dri"er)s seat and hit the accelerator# Chapter +i"e -ilith My car was 'y e7tra"agance( costing a s'all %ortune to $eep in storageE a 3eries 2 ;aguar E2Type the colour o% butter'il$( with crea' leather upholstery and an engine that could outgun 8ust about anything else on the road# That was( i% anything on the road was actually 'o"ing in the %irst place# The tra%%ic ca'e to a standstill barely %i"e 'iles %ro' Heathrow# Aain pounded against the windscreen( wipers struggling to clear the deluge( and the ;aguar)s i''aculate paintwor$ was soon hidden beneath a layer o% grit and li=uid 'ud# , sat and watched the dashboard ther'o'eter creep insidiously towards the red( and conte'plated the 'ost e%%icient 'ethod o% 'urdering 'y %ather# A%ter two hours o% staring at the tail2lights o% a >ol"o( and resolutely ignoring the unchec$ed gurning and obscene gestures %ro' the three children in its bac$ seat( , reached 'y e7it# , sla''ed into %irst gear and roared up the

slip road in a spray o% %ilthy water# , stuc$ 'y right hand out o% 'y window and %lic$ed a highly satis%ying %inger at the rabid little brats who had been tor'enting 'e# ,n 'y rear "iew 'irror , saw the dri"er)s 'outh drop open in disgust# BBBBB Eight nu'bing hours) 8ourney %ollowed( including a stop at a 'otorway ser"ice station to get changed into war'er clothes# As an e7tra precaution against recognition , also too$ a pair o% ha<el2tinted contact lenses %ro' 'y washbag and slipped the' in be%ore , stepped bac$ out into a %oyer that s'elled o% stale coo$ing %at and o"er%lowing urinals# .y then( it was sa%e to say that the beauty o% 'y nati"e countryside( e"en in its early su''er splendour( was entirely lost on 'e# +or the last two hours , 'eandered through the rolling borders o% northern England and 'y route too$ 'e down e"ery potholed .2road in the green and unpleasant land# As the sun began its leisurely dip below the hori<on( , could see the distant 3cottish 'ountains and , $new , was getting close# My satna" ga"e up about hal% an hour %ro' the "illage o% Alber'arle( bewildered by a series o% 'eandering trac$s that it re%used to belie"e e7isted( and Mo<art)s Ae=uie' played out so loud that , could %eel the bass notes "ibrating through the seat# , 'ay not ha"e belie"ed in the words( but the har'onies %illed 'y head until there was no roo' %or anything elseD God2botherers always got the best tunes# +inally( a%ter scattering yet another %loc$ o% startled sheep( , pulled up at a solid( stone2built eighteenth century gate lodge# Gold2painted wrought iron gates %lared bright in the last rays o% the e"ening and a pristine hand2 painted sign announced Alber'arle Estate ? PA,>ATE -A&4 ? 3trictly Guests *nly# Trespassers 0ill .e Prosecuted# As , $illed the engine an arti%icially bul$ed2up young 'an in a white shirt and scarlet and gold striped tie ? the colours o% the crest on the brochure ? stepped %ro' the %ront door o% the gate lodge and stooped down to spea$ to 'e# His 'assi"e shoulders and bull)s nec$ %illed the space at 'y window# /E"enin)() he said in a s'ooth brogue# /4elighted to see you( Ms .resson# My na'e)s Coyle *)Halloran( Estate Manager# -ady Alber'arle as$ed 'e

to 'a$e sure you were gi"en a personal welco'e#) He ga"e a broad s'ile that showed a set o% s'all( e"en( white teeth and ran a hand through close2 cropped dar$ hair# /5ou)ll be pleased to $now you)re al'ost there# ,)ll pop bac$ inside and get these gates open in a 'inute( then you 8ust need to dri"e about a 'ile down this road( straight past the holiday lodges and the "illage itsel% and you)ll co'e to the la$eside# Par$ your car in the secure garage and there)ll be so'eone %ro' the Hall waiting to 'a$e sure you)re ta$en good care o%#) /Than$ you#) /&o proble'# ,)' sure you)ll be seeing 'e around o"er the ne7t %ew days# 5ou ha"e yoursel% a rela7ing e"ening( now#) Coyle disappeared into the lodge and 'o'ents later the gates swung s'oothly open# BBBBB , dro"e along the trac$ that Coyle had indicated( and counted no less than eight CCT> ca'eras( their win$ing red lights proo% that they were the genuine article# There was another sign in that sa'e calligraphyE 5our Aegistration 4etails Are .eing Aecorded +or 3ecurity Purposes# , had no doubt that they were# ,no%%ensi"e 3candina"ian2style wooden chalets were scattered throughout the woods( with enough distance between the' to gi"e their occupiers the illusion o% splendid isolation( but dense enough to reap a decent pro%it %or the owner# Two well2scrubbed( wholeso'e loo$ing children played bad'inton on the grass outside the closest cabin( using this year)s Aange Ao"er as a net# Their Ger'anic pastel co2ordinating out%its suggested that little *li"ia and Ka"ier wouldn)t be getting their hands on the latest polyester %ootball strip anyti'e soon and , 8ust $new that so'ewhere there would be at least one -abrador to 'atch daddy)s shiny blac$ 'otor# The s$in in the croo$ o% 'y ar's began to itch( and , hoped li$e hell it was psychological# .egrudgingly( , had to ad'it that Alber'arle itsel% was a re"elation# , had e7pected so'e utilitarian tourist centre with a shop that sold e"erything and perhaps a reluctantly added bar# 0hat , %ound was an Anglophile)s wan$2 %antasy( co'plete with a co'pact high street o% perhaps twenty i''aculate

late Tudor buildings that included a beauty salon( delicatessen( se"eral e7pensi"e bouti=ues and a pub# , turned the %inal corner that would ta$e 'e to 'y par$ing place by the 8etty and there( li$e an enchanted castle that the Gri'' brothers 'ight ha"e con8ured up a%ter a night on the absinthe( Alber'arle Hall stood regal and aloo% on its own e'erald "el"et island# E"en in the e"ening)s da'p gloo'( , could see that the Hall was 'agni%icent# ,t had been built in the sa'e era as the "illage( to house whiche"er lord had held sway o"er the tiny settle'ent# The %orti%ied walls and slit windows told o% a ti'e when this was a place to be de%ended to the death( so at least i% an in"ading ar'y o% papara<<i 'ade it across the la$e to the island( , could engul% the' in boiling oil# , par$ed 'y car in its designated garage and hauled 'y luggage %ro' the boot# , loo$ed around %or a CCT> ca'era to protect her( but this see'ed to be the only corner o% the "illage not to ha"e one# , supposed ? hoped ? that it would ta$e a pretty s$illed car thie% to breach the de%ences , had seen so %ar# /Ms .resson1) A sweet( so%t "oice called( and an i''aculate little 'an with close2clipped grey hair stepped out o% the shadows and pro%%ered his hand# /Ms .resson( ,)' Henry Masterson( .laine Alber'arle)s PA( and , 'ust say that ,)' absolutely o"er8oyed to 'eet you at last# Here( let)s get your things onto the boat( then we can get you inside and %ed# 5ou 'ust ha"e had an incredibly tiring day#) He led 'e to a s'all launch that roc$ed gently against the 8etty( and gestured %or 'e to step aboard# *nce Henry had care%ully stowed 'y cases with a strength that belied his slight %ra'e( he started the 'otor and , began the %inal stage o% 'y reluctant 8ourney# My le%t shoulder s'ouldered li$e a dying bon%ire( and , needed the arthritic)s holy trinityE pain$illers( a hot shower( and sleep# , rubbed at 'y eyes# My contact lenses %elt as though they had welded the'sel"es to 'y eyeballs( and , couldn)t wait to re'o"e that part o% 'y disguise# /,% you ha"e the energy( -ady Alber'arle would li$e you to 8oin her %or a late %or'al dinner tonight# A welco'e to the Hall( i% you li$e#) , 'ust ha"e loo$ed

particularly 'iserable( because Henry ga"e 'e an encouraging s'ile# /,t)s not all that bad( you $now# A couple o% glasses o% wine and a decent 'eal inside you( you)ll %eel better in no ti'e#) A li%estyle , thought long2buried resur%aced li$e a bloated corpse on the sur%ace o% the oil2blac$ water# /0hate"er#) BBBBB /, $now it see's terribly odd to begin with( but you)ll get used to the /candles and no leccy) thing in no ti'e( , pro'ise you() Henry cheerily in%or'ed 'e as he escorted 'e to 'y roo'# He held an oil la'p alo%t and shadows danced and %lic$ered on the 'argins o% 'y sight# Alber'arle Hall catered %or guests who li$ed their heritage ob"ious# A%ter a long wal$ down endless panelled( tapestried corridors , had a depressing %eeling that , $new what 'y roo' would be li$eE great swags o% chint<( and e"ery s=uare inch co"ered in pewter tan$ards and e"en 'ore stu%%ed dead things# Henry opened the door to 'y roo' and , stepped inside( already wincing# , tentati"ely opened one eye to see a Tudor %acsi'ile o% 'y 3anta Marita bedroo' in all its 'ini'alist glory# +rench windows hung with sweeps o% i"ory "oile loo$ed out onto the la$e( ready to %lood the "ast cha'ber with 'orning sun %ro' %irst light( and ancient wa7ed %loorboards e'anated subtle aro'as o% beeswa7 and le'on oil and led 'y eye to a bed that 'ade 'y own loo$ li$e so'e sorry wor$house truc$leE the "ast white sheets see'ed to glow in the la'plight and 'ore than anything , wanted to di"e onto the ban$ o% per%ectly arranged cushions and pillows and sleep %or a 'onth# The only thing , would need to re'o"e was a ridiculous teddy bear wearing a sweater in Alber'arle colours( perched on top o% the centre cushion# /,t)s to your li$ing( then1) , was too e7hausted to bitch# /,t)s beauti%ul# 3o'eone)s gone to a great deal o% e%%ort# 0as this you1) The 'an %lushed with a pleasure that suggested praise was a rare thing#

He was already on 'y side# /0ell( , did ha"e a little help#) /And those roses are incredible#) , wal$ed across the roo' to touch one delicate( 'il$y petal# A do<en ste's( so'e still in tight bud and others already bloo'ing into so%tly %ragranced splendour( stood in a crystal "ase on the 'ahogany dresser# /Ah( can)t ta$e the credit %or the'( ,)' a%raid# They were grown here on the island( though# 0e ha"e a "ery talented young gardener# &ow i% you)ll e7cuse 'e ,)ll bring the rest o% your luggage to your roo'( shall ,1 Then you can grab yoursel% a nice hot bath and rela7 be%ore dinner#) He paused in the doorway( suddenly e'barrassed# /@'( , $now this is rather aw$ward Ms .resson( but -ady Alber'arle li$es 'e to ha"e a =uic$ peep in our guests) cases( 8ust in case they)"e accidentally brought anything with the' that 'ight be against the ethos o% the island# 0ould you 'ind aw%ully i% , chec$ed through your things be%ore you unpac$1) , was harshly re'inded that this was no holiday# /4o , ha"e a choice1) /0ell( so'e people pre%er Coyle toC) /&o# ,)d rather you did#) />ery good#) Henry ga"e a de%erential nod# /4inner in an hour1) /+ine#) , waited until he had le%t( then dropped onto the bed and swore in English( +rench and 3panish until , ran out o% words# BBBBB To 'y disappoint'ent the ca"ernous bathroo' didn)t ha"e a shower( but it did ha"e a 'agni%icent >ictorian roll2top bath that could ha"e doubled as a swi''ing pool# , %illed it al'ost to the bri' and sub'erged 'ysel% in near2 boiling water until , %elt the war'th begin to return to 'y aching( chilled body# , e7haled and let 'ysel% sin$ to the botto' until 'y head hit cast iron with a 'u%%led thud# , counted to a hundred and eighty be%ore 'y lungs began to co'plain and , had to resur%aceE this had been one o% the e7ercises that had weaned 'e o%% two inhalers and a he%ty dose o% steroids %or asth'a so

se"ere that , had been hospitalised 'ore ti'es than , could count( and now it cal'ed and %ocused 'e beyond 'easure# Control# The one thing that shaped 'y li%e( and the one thing , %elt that , was about to lose# Chapter 3i7 -ilith , had been standing in the oa$2panelled drawing roo' %or %i%teen 'inutes# , had arri"ed %i"e 'inutes early( which 'eant that the enig'atic .laine Alber'arle was ten 'inutes late# ;ust as , glanced at 'y watch again( Henry reappeared with a bottle o% wine# /-ady Alber'arle apologises %or the delay# 3o'e last2'inute business to attend to# Perhaps a glass o% wine 'ight help1) He pro%%ered a green bottle wrapped in a white linen ser"iette# /Pouilly +uissG# , belie"e it)s your %a"ourite1) /Than$ you#) , held out a hea"y( intricately car"ed glass to be %illed# The wine was per%ect( and as , stood there in the candle2lit silence( the %irst glass disappeared be%ore , $new it# ;ust as Henry sidled up to re%ill( , heard the approach o% clipped %ootsteps# /-ilith( darling# ,)' so sorry to $eep you waiting#) A rich( war' "oice bro$e through the hush( and , %inally turned to greet 'y host# .laine Alber'arle in the %lesh was e"ery bit as stunning as her photograph( and at nearly si7 %eet tall in a pair o% "ertiginous heels( she towered o"er 'e# 3he wore a dra'atic chocolate2coloured slee"eless gown that e'phasised her hour2 glass waist and i'pressi"e clea"age( and , was glad that , had 'ade the e%%ort to put on a %a"ourite blue satin dress in a hue so dar$ that it 'atched 'y hair# /,t)s an honour to ha"e you at Alber'arle#) 3he leant down to $iss 'e gently on both chee$s# /,)d li$e to say it was an honour being here#) .laine ga"e an understanding nod# /.e%ore we do anything else( , %eel , need to apologise# There was so'eC un%ortunate business with your %ather( , $now that# , 'erely suggested a 'eeting with you( and then , heard

that he)d gone to "isit you in 3pain# .elie"e 'e( , had no wish to %orce 'y way to the %ront o% your =ueue( but now that you)re here , can)t deny that ,)' delighted to ha"e you as a guest# ,)d li$e to assure you that you)ll be %ully co'pensated %or your e%%orts#) /3o# 0hat e7actly do you want %ro' 'e1) /Goodness( you are %orthright( aren)t you1 3houldn)t we perhaps tal$ about the weather %irst( or your 8ourney1) /.laine( no 'atter how delight%ully ,)' being spoiled right now( we both $now , need to repay the debt o% that %ec$less bastard , ha"e the 'is%ortune to call 'y %ather# And the sooner that debt is paid( the better ,)ll %eel#) /5ou)re really nothing li$e your %ather at all( are you1) .laine said( a'used# /, should %uc$ing well hope not#) ,% 'y language o%%ended her( it didn)t show# /+air enough# To be honest( , si'ply want a portrait done by you ? a /-ilith .resson) %or 'y pri"ate collection# ,)' probably the %irst 'e'ber o% 'y %a'ily not to ha"e 'y picture hanging so'ewhere on these walls( and , %ind your wor$ incredible# , don)t thin$ there)s another artist around today who co'es close#) /5ou do $now that 'y 'ethod o% wor$ing 'eans a piece can ta$e 'onths1) /, appreciate that this is so'ething o% a sacri%ice %or you( and ,)' 'ore than aware that you don)t ha"e the happiest o% 'e'ories o% this country 2 ) /A beauti%ul use o% understate'ent#) /2 0hich is why , want you to 'a$e yoursel% co'%ortable here at the Hall# Treat it as your own ho'e# 5ou ne"er $now ? you 'ight e"en redisco"er a lo"e o% your nati"e land#) /, "ery 'uch doubt that#) /0ell at least gi"e yoursel% tonight to rela7# 5ou)ll %ind that Henry is an a'a<ing che%( and you 'ust ha"e had a particularly tiring twenty2%our hours() .laine coa7ed( as %ro' the corner o% 'y eye , saw a third %igure

descend the sweeping stairs into this "ast roo'# /Ah# And as i% on cue( here)s our %inal dinner guest#) 3he held out her hand to lead this latest arri"al %orward# /-ilith( ,)d li$e to present +inn 3trachan# My co'panion#) My pro%ession was to capture beauty( %ro' The Players) Triptych to 'y portrait o% Aosario and her girl%riendE people who could bring a roo' to a standstill si'ply by wal$ing through the door# , had grown used to the easy good loo$s o% &at and 'y eye could be caught by Gabriel ;a'es) gla'our( but , had ne"er 'et anyone =uite li$e the willow2thin young 'an standing be%ore 'eE +inn had the %ace o% a %allen angel# 0ide( dissolute eyes the colour o% 'oss agate ga<ed out %ro' behind a long( thic$ %ringe o% 'uddy blond hair( and loose strands %ell to %ra'e a snub nose and sensuous cupid)s bow o% a 'outh that was 8ust sa"ed %ro' being %e'inine by a s=uare( stubborn 8aw# The "ery %irst ti'e , 'et hi'( +inn 3trachan stole 'y breath#

+inn /,)' delighted to 'eet you#) , held out 'y hand and waited# 3o %ar( so %uc$ing nor'al# 0e)d had the big introduction( designed to present 'e li$e so'e e7otic speci'en and set the scene %or later that night( that wee$ or whene"er( and then we had the reaction %ro' the guest( based on the 'an they wanted to see# , was used to being appraised( but li$e a %ool , had hoped that -ilith .resson 'ight be di%%erent( that the hellion , had watched all those wee$s ago 'ight cli'b out o% the screen and cut through all this shit in the sa'e way she had cut through that %at twat# ,nstead( she stood and stared up at 'e li$e all the rest and disappoint'ent set hard and cold in 'y sto'ach# /How rude o% 'e#) -ilith suddenly reached out and clasped 'y hand with both o% hers# /5ou 'ust get this all the ti'e ? not that that)s a "alid e7cuse#) There was so%t pressure on 'y pal'( and she s'iled so that her arctic eyes spar$ed with sudden war'th# /*h# 5ou)re the gardener#)

, ga"e a 'ute nod# , 'ust ha"e loo$ed nonplussed( because she added( /Calluses# Gardener)s hands# 3o than$ you %or the roses ? they)re beauti%ul#) All said in a con%ident( surprisingly low "oice that ga"e her co''and o% the roo'# , reali<ed then that this was the %irst ti'e , had heard her spea$ ? .laine)s largesse with the tele"ision had not e7tended to turning the "olu'e up ? and there was no 'ista$ing -ilith .resson)s upper class heritage( although at least her 'outh wasn)t entirely stu%%ed with 'arbles li$e 'ost o% the %ools we entertained around this table# /3)o$ay#) This ti'e , nearly 'anaged actual speech# .laine was going to $ill 'e# /He)s not usually so tongue2tied#) .laine placed a light hand on -ilith)s ar' and led her to the table and away %ro' 'y atte'pts to appear hu'an# /5ou)"e 'ade =uite an i'pression on hi'#)

-ilith .y the ti'e , sat down to dinner( , was so e7hausted that , %elt 'y appetite 'ight be gone %ore"er# Henry( used to dealing with %lagging house guests( had other ideas# He produced an e7=uisite 'eal( light enough to te'pt the 'ost %atigued palateE lobster ra"ioliD a su''er salad grown in Alber'arle Hall)s $itchen gardenD tiny( bittersweet wild strawberries and thic$ pri'rose2 yellow crea'# ;ust an hour a%ter , had thought , 'ight %all asleep across the tablecloth( , cleared 'y plate and 'o"ed on to a second helping o% e"erything# +inally( a%ter , had eaten 'ore in one sitting than , had 'anaged all wee$( , pushed 'y spoon to one side# /That was a'a<ing#) .laine s'iled# /, %eel it)s so i'portant to 'a$e 'y guests %eel at ho'e as soon as possible# , trust Coyle ga"e you a war' welco'e1) , searched %or the right words# /He was "eryC pro%essional#) /He nor'ally recei"es better reports than that( especially %ro' our %e'ale guests# 0as there a proble'1)

/&o( no proble'# ,t)s 8ust ? well( he $nows it( doesn)t he1 That whole /Celtic Char') thing)s a well2polished act( but it re'inded 'e o% one o% those the'e pubs on the 4ublin tourist trail# 3hel"es %ull o% pitch%or$s and wheelbarrows( and not a nati"e in sight#) /Than$ you %or the %eedbac$() .laine said pleasantly# , noticed +inn)s eyes wander to a picture at the %ar end o% the dining hall# /5ou)"e been to 4ublin1) he as$ed( 8ust about 'anaging to swallow a laugh# /About %i"e years ago# 3o'e coc$y bastard restaurateur who)d decided his %ood was about to /capture the <eitgeist)# He blew hal% his budget on getting 'e to do a couple o% pieces %or the bar# 5ou)re %ro' there1) /&ot =uite#) +inn too$ a drin$ be%ore %or'ing his reply# /A "illage about twenty 'iles out# Colcurren# Ha"e you heard o% it1) /&o# &o , ha"en)t# Must be s'all( huh1) /Tiny#) +inn 'o"ed his ga<e to the %loor# +inn , desperately needed to change the topic( and %or once .laine obligedE at this stage , was not 'eant to be a sub8ect to be dwelt upon# /-ilith( you loo$ a'a<ing tonight ? no 'ean %eat a%ter the day you 'ust ha"e had# How on earth do you 'anage to $eep that %igure1) .laine began to turn on the char' %or our latest arri"al( playing her ga'e# /Genetics() -ilith coolly replied# /3i<e si7 no 'atter what , do# That( and a run e"ery 'orning# Mini'u' %i"e 'iles#) /How "ery disciplined# 3o( where do you get that unusual colouring1 , suppose e"eryone 'ust co''ent on those eyes#) /The wol%)s eyes are 'y %ather)s( un%ortunately# .ut the s$in)s %ro' 'y 'other# 3he was a pied2noir#)

/*h# -i$e Ca'us#) , had spo$en be%ore , e"en realised# /0hat was that( +inn1) .laine as$ed( as i% distracted by an intruding child# /@'( Albert Ca'us# He was born in AlgeriaC) 3he ga"e 'e a tight s'ile# /0ell( aren)t you the cle"er one1) -ilith rescued 'e# /Ha"e you read 'uch o% his stu%%1) , nodded# /All o% it# The Plague)s probably 'y %a"ourite#) /-a Peste# Cool# *riginal or translation1) , had to loo$ at her to chec$ that she wasn)t ta$ing the piss# /Translation only( ,)' a%raid# , spea$ English with a s'attering o% Gaelic# Mainly the swear words#) -ilith rested her elbows on the table# /The Gilbert)s a %ine translation ? , %ind that you don)t lose anything#) ,t was the longest con"ersation ,)d had in 'onths( and it was doo'ed as soon as 'y 'outh opened# /3o( what do you thin$ o% -ilith)s wor$( +inn1) .laine suddenly as$ed( $nowing %ull bloody well what the answer would be# /,)' not %a'iliar with it( ,)' a%raid() , replied( with as 'uch dignity as , could 'uster# /5ou)ll ha"e to %orgi"e +inn() .laine said# /He)s not a big art %an#) -ilith s'iled# /,)' not =uite so conceited as to belie"e the whole world)s %a'iliar with 'y catalogue# To be honest( it)s good to %ind so'eone who 'ight be able to cast a %resh eye on it# &o preconceptions#) .laine reached across the table and placed her hand o"er 'ine# /,)' sure he)d be all too glad to lend his opinion( wouldn)t you( darling1) ,t wasn)t one o% those =uestions that re=uired an answer %ro' 'e# /, can)t i'agine that

e"en the 'ost wide2eyed art naL% could %ail to be i'pressed at your talent#) -ilith That was the 'o'ent that , reali<ed that , didn)t li$e her# , $new nothing else about the wo'an( but , did $now this# ,t 'ay ha"e si'ply been the grubby lin$ with 'y %ather( or 'aybe it was because o% what , didn)t $now# 3o'eone 'a$ing such an e%%ort to be this unreadable was either a born enig'atic or had so'ething particularly huge to hide( and , had yet to 'eet a born enig'atic# As we discussed 'y wor$( , had to ad'it that .laine Alber'arle was the 'ost e%%ortlessly char'ing wo'an , had e"er 'et# , could only ad'ire the way she had welco'ed 'e and was now doing her ut'ost to 'a$e 'e the 'ost i'portant person on the planet( but , had long ago learned to listen to e"en the 'erest whisper o% unease# /5ou loo$ ready %or a re%ill#) .laine gestured at 'y e'pty glass# /, %eel li$e such a bad hostess# Too 'uch tal$ and not enough attention#) Ego 'assage and endless wineE an easy way to lull the unwary into co'%ortable( dangerous co'placency# , placed a hand o"er the top o% the glass# /&o( than$ you# A 'ineral water would be good( though#) /0ater1 *h( -ilith# 5ou)"e 8ust had what 'ust ha"e been the 'ost e7hausting day# 0hy not allow yoursel% to rela7 a little 'ore1) /.ecause , ha"e wor$ in the 'orning# , get up early( , go %or a run and ,)' usually at wor$ %or hal% se"en#) /,n that case ,)ll ensure your brea$%ast is ser"ed early# Henry( please could you %etch so'e water %or -ilith1) +inn , pushed congealing ra"ioli around the plate with the bac$ o% 'y %or$# , glanced at -ilith( who was now curled into her chair( balancing a two hundred year2old crystal glass on her %ingertips and ta$ing in her new

surroundings# &othing so %ar had %a<ed her( or i% it had( it didn)t cause a ripple on her dispassionate( el%in %ace# E"en Coyle *)%uc$ing Halloran( .laine)s opening 'o"e in her well2practiced char' o%%ensi"e( had been su''arily and accurately dispatched with a %ew dis'issi"e words# , al'ost cra"ed 'y earlier disappoint'entE hope was a %ar 'ore dangerous place# As Henry began to clear the table o% the dessert bowls( -ilith turned to hi' and laid a hand on his ar'# /That really was delicious ? the best 'eal ,)"e had in years#) Guests ne"er spo$e to Henry ? he was bac$ground( and ac$nowledging hi' 'ight 'ean they were surprised by the presence o% a butlerD not the cool thing to do in the presence o% aristocracy# He ga"e -ilith a loo$ o% such pathetic gratitude that , conte'plated throwing 'y bread$ni%e at his head# /*h( it)s nothing at all( 8ust a little so'ething , threw together() he wittered# /And to be honest( with the wonder%ul $itchen .laine)s gi"en 'e here( it would be sin%ul not to use it to its %ull ad"antage#) @n%ortunately he was too %ar away %or 'e to get away with calling hi' a toadying little shit without .laine hearing 'e#

/, suppose it 'ust be a little easier than trying to $eep the sand out o% the generals) dinner when you were out in Kuwait() -ilith casually re'ar$ed( and Henry)s 8aw "irtually dropped to the table# /*h# My# God# That)s a'a<ing6 How on earth1###) -ilith sighed and shoo$ her head# /,% , gi"e 'y secrets away( , 'ay ne"er wor$ in "aude"ille again#) /*h( please() Henry pleaded# /;ust a hint1) /*$ay( 8ust this once#) -ilith s'iled at hi'( and %ro' the ridiculous loo$ o% adoration he ga"e her , $new she had a pet %or li%e#

/+irst( , loo$ %or a way in ? so'ething to start 'e on the right trac$# 0ith you( it)s your gait ? you)"e got that 'ilitary /broo' up your arse) wal$( e"en in ci""ies# That puts you in the %orces( and then it)s a =uestion o% which one# ,t)s only a one in three guess to start with( but your 'ost do'inant accent)s Ha'pshire( which is Aldershot( so , went %or Ar'y# Anyone who coo$s li$e this has done it %or a li"ing %ore"er and that would 'a$e you =uarter'aster( and your age would suggest that your 'ost recent acti"e ser"ice would ha"e been +irst Gul%#) .laine ga"e a so%t round o% applause# />ery i'pressi"e# ,t certainly puts paid to any ru'our that your splendid assault on ;ohnny .uc$le was a set2 up#) -ilith shrugged# /,t)s nothing that)s not there %or anyone to see# , 8ust ha"e the ability to loo$ a little closer than 'ost#) /3o what about 'y +inn1 0hat do you see in hi' that 'ost o% us would 'iss1) .laine as$ed( and , bit the inside o% 'y 'outh until , tasted the copper tang o% blood# -ilith +or a %leeting 'o'ent +inn)s %ace betrayed his dis'ay( then he gathered hi'sel% together and beca'e the attenti"e char'er once 'ore# ,t was the only sign , needed# /To be honest( so'e are harder to read than others# ,% , weren)t so tired( perhaps things would be clearer( but ,)' a%raid +inn is one o% those people who can $eep things better hidden than 'ost# Perhaps another ti'e1) /*% course# ,)d hate to add to your e7haustion# Especially on your %irst day at the hall#) Concern personi%ied# To 'y le%t( +inn pinched the bridge o% his nose as i% he was %ighting a sudden headache# *nce the table was cleared( Henry ser"ed us all with co%%ee that was espresso2strong# 4espite the swi%t hit o% ca%%eine , $new it would only $eep 'e awa$e %or another hour or so( and an i'age o% that huge bed dri%ted bac$ into 'y 'ind#

, was watching +inn tip a %i%th spoon%ul o% sugar into his cup when .laine chec$ed her watch# /,% you)ll e7cuse 'e( , ha"e a call , need to 'a$e# .usiness intruding on pleasure( ,)' a%raid# -ilith( i% 'y co'panion)s %ound his tongue ,)' sure he)ll ta$e good care o% you %or ten 'inutes#) 3he ga"e us a gracious s'ile and le%t the table( and , was alone with +inn# He patted his inside poc$et# /4)you want to grab a breath o% %resh air1) /3ure# Anything to stop 'e %alling %ace2%irst into 'y co%%ee# 0hat ti'e does she nor'ally %inish these e"ents1) +inn wal$ed around the table to pull 'y chair away %or 'e and as , stood he laid 'y shawl o"er 'y shoulders# /4epends on the occasion# 0e nor'ally go with how the guest)s %eeling( so i% you need to crashC) /3oon#) There was a =uestion he needed answering %irst# +inn The la$e spar$led with 'yriad points o% light as it re%lected the glowing street la'ps %ro' the "illage a uni"erse away across the water# -ilith stood ne7t to 'e on the patio( her e'broidered shawl wrapped tightly around her# 3he loo$ed li$e an e7otic butter%ly that had been blown o%%2course as she shi"ered in the chill o% her %irst Alber'arle e"ening# /3'o$e1) , o%%ered her 'y pac$# 3he shoo$ her head# /, used to( when , was young and i''ortal( but 'y asth'a put a stop to it ? , tend to go blue and cough 'ysel% to death# &ot what you)d call gla'orous#) /4)you 'ind i%C) /Go ahead#) , cupped 'y cigarette in 'y pal's to light it( and we stood %or a while in silence# /3o( what do you thin$ o% the Hall1) , as$ed( %inally re'e'bering how to do the s'all tal$ business#

3he ga"e 'e a sharp loo$# />ery stately# ,)' sure it)s "ery e%%ecti"e at i'pressing its guests#) /-i$e you1) /.ut ,)' not a guest( a' , Mr 3trachan1 ,)' not entirely sure o% 'y classi%ication right now( but ,)' not a bloody guest#) , decided to drop it# , had a %ar 'ore pressing =uestion to as$# /-oo$( while it)s 8ust the two o% us( could , as$ you so'ething1) /3ure#) /0hy didn)t you say anything1 About 'e( in there( when .laine as$edC ,t wasn)t because you were $nac$ered at all( was it1) /&o( it was because you really didn)t want 'e to#) There was no 'alice in her words but , a"oided her ga<e all the sa'e# /4on)t $now what you 'ean#) /-oo$( we all ha"e our reasons %or hiding things away# 4espite 'y recent altercation with Mr .uc$le( ,)' not usually in the business o% destroying people#) /,)' not hiding anything away#) , %elt 'y heart =uic$en( and wondered i% she noticed e"en this# /Then why the lie about where you)re %ro'1) , %lic$ed the glowing cigarette butt o"er the %ence and watched it %all into the dar$ness li$e a %ire%ly# /0hat( you)re saying ,)' not ,rish1) , actually 'anaged to laugh# /*h( you)re ,rish( all right# ,)' si'ply saying you)re not %ro' where you said#) God $new what breed o% 'orbid curiosity dro"e 'e to as$ 'y ne7t =uestion# /3o# 0here a' , %ro'1) -ilith pulled her shawl a little tighter# /0hen , was in 4ublin( , spent a couple

o% days doing a 'ural at a co''unity centre on one o% those big estates that the Celtic Tiger had galloped past without stopping# Made 'e %eel better about what , was charging the suc$er with the restaurant#) /, co''end your charity( but , don)t see what that)s got to do with 'e#) /.ecause that)s your accent( Mr 3trachan# @nder that practised rural brogue( you ha"e the "owel sounds and intonation o% so'eone %ro' the high2rises o% the Mount$elly Estate( or "ery bloody close indeed#) /+uc$#) Hal% a 'ile# This wo'an that ,)d $nown %or barely two hours had placed 'e hal% a 'ile %ro' 'y inglorious slu' o% a birthplace and in doing so stripped away the %ragile "eneer that 'ade 'e who , was now# My %irst response was sel%2protection# /4on)t say anything( please1 To .laine( , 'ean# ThisC what you)"e 8ust told 'e# ,t)s a little sensiti"e( i% you get 'e#) /-i$e , said# ,)' not ,)' not in the business o% destroying people#) -ilith ,t was the things , hadn)t shared with hi' that disturbed 'e 'ost# The way he s'o$ed a cigarette pal'ed into his hand li$e it was the last one %or a wee$( or how he positioned hi'sel% so that he could see whoe"er ca'e into the roo'( or how the product that was .laine Alber'arle scared hi' shitless no 'atter how hard he tried to hide it# +or once( , wanted to switch o%% 'y gi%t# 3tanding on the 'oonlit patio with this hauntingly beauti%ul 'an( , suddenly %elt unbearably sad# The s$ittering o% claws on pa"e'ent bro$e the 'o'ent# A s'all( elderly lurcher ca'e trotting out o% the bushes and put her paws on +inn)s $nees( wagging her brindle tail in delight# /5ou)ll get 'e $illed( bloody dog() he so%tly chided( and bent to stro$e her head# /How the hell did you get out this ti'e( huh1) /5our dog1) /Kind o%# A stray# Mainland guests le%t her behind about two years ago#) He

ga"e a sad s'ile# /Too old and too ugly( weren)t you( .ran1) /Cle"er na'e# .ran ? the noble hound o% the great +inn Mac Cu'hail hi'sel%#) /3hite6) +inn grinned up at 'e at the 'ention o% ,reland)s 'ythical warrior and this ti'e it was his real s'ile( glorious and open# /&o2one around here $nows that6 How the %uc$ d)you $now about +inn Mac Cu'hail1) /The estate pro8ect , 'entioned1 The 'ural was based on the great ,rish legends( and ,)' a bitch %or research# ,)"e got one o% those horrendous personalities that needs to $now e"ery detail about whate"er ,)' wor$ing on#) , didn)t add that 'y current co''ission was the 'is8udged %irst e7ception to this rule# The s'ile %aded as =uic$ly as it had arri"ed# /0ell good luc$ on this one() +inn said( 8ust as .laine returned to the dining roo' and called us in %or a nightcap# Chapter 3e"en -ilith My %irst 'orning at Alber'arle Hall %ound 'e i'posing 'y usual routine on 'y new surroundings( and by si7 o)cloc$ , had wor$ed out that three circuits o% the island 'ade %or one 'ile o% challenging running# The English 'orning air hit 'e li$e a buc$et o% iced water( and it too$ all 'y concentration to steady 'y breathing as , ad8usted to 'y new surroundings and pic$ed 'y way o"er the roc$y( un%orgi"ing terrain# , was co'pleting 'y tenth lap when Henry appeared on a grassy rise abo"e the shore# /5ou weren)t $idding when you said you were an early bird( were you1) he called# He wore a blue and white striped apron o"er his neatly pressed trousers and shirt and loo$ed e"ery inch the butler# /3hall , ser"e brea$%ast in twenty 'inutes1) /3ure# &othing too hea"y( than$s# ;ust cooling down now#) 0ater the colour o% tea soa$ed into 'y trainers as , wal$ed along an e7panse o% gra"el by the la$eside %or 'y %inal circuit# ,n daylight the Hall

loo$ed e"en 'ore li$e a citadel( perched i'perious and threatening on its craggy islet( and it appeared that apart %ro' the little 8etty that had been constructed recently( there was no easy place to land# 0ith a shi"er that , hoped was 'ore to do with the chill o% the 'orning( , realised it would also be one hell o% a place to try to lea"e# BBBBB .y se"en , was washed and changed into 'y wor$ing uni%or' o% trac$suit botto's and paint2spattered t2shirt and sitting alone in the palatial dining roo'( toying with the re'ains o% a bowl o% 'uesli# The silence was dea%ening# Henry reappeared to re%ill 'y green tea# /,s e"erything to your li$ing1) , considered the polite response( then went %or the truth# /&o( not really# , %eel li$e ,)' rattling around in here and ,)"e got a se"ere case o% MP! withdrawal# , don)t suppose there)s anywhere a little less i'posing to eat( is there1) Henry bit his botto' lip# /@'( -ady Alber'arle usually insists that guests are ser"ed here# ,t)s part o% the ser"ice we pro"ide 2) /*h( %or God)s sa$e# , assu'e you $now 'y story1) /,)' a%raid ,)' an a"id reader o% those aw%ul celeb 'aga<ines( so yes#)/Aight# Then you)ll $now , had all this# Had it( hated it( ne"er wanted to do this shit again# 3o( is there anywhere else1) /0ell there)s always the $itchen( , suppose# ,t)s nothing too grand ? sta%% only( you see ? but it)s where +inn and ,C*ops#) Henry chewed at his lip again# /&ot that +inn)s sta%%( or anything# Can you i'agine1 &o( it)s 8ust that he tends to $eep rather irregular hours ? not a good sleeper at all( that boyD ,)' up by %i"e( and +inn)s o%ten still awa$e then ? and -ady Alber'arle pre%ers to ta$e brea$%ast in her ? , 'ean their ? =uarters 8ust up the stairs there# 3o all in all it 'a$es sense that he eats with 'e#) , decided to put hi' out o% his 'isery# /, see# -oo$( the $itchen would 'a$e 'e %ar happier( Henry# Honestly#)

/0ell( we do li$e our guests to be content# +ro' to'orrow then#) Henry whis$ed 'y bowl o%% to his sta%%2only $itchen# BBBBB .y hal% past se"en , was e7ploring the huge south2%acing roo' that .laine had gi"en 'e as 'y studio# The worn( anti=ue des$ that had been pushed to one corner was piled high with all the 'aterials , $ept in 'y studio in 3anta Marita( accurate to the "ery brands , bought# 3$etch pads and rows o% pencils "ied %or space with oils and gouache and brushes( and by the window a "ast can"as rested on a top2o%2the2range easel# .laine Alber'arle had carried out so'e e7tre'ely thorough research o% her own# .y nine o)cloc$( The -ady o% the Manor was ta$ing a seat %or her "ery %irst sitting# 3he wore blac$ 8eans and a white cotton shirt that probably cost as 'uch as 'y car# /4o you 'ind i% , tal$1) was the %irst thing she as$ed# /At this stage( no# To be honest , encourage it# ,t lets 'e see how you 'o"e( gesture( what your indi"idual nuances 'ight be# ,t)s i'pressions ,)' a%ter( not detail#) /3o# , $now this 'ust sound li$e a dread%ul clichG( but how do you want 'e1) , had heard that =uestion as$ed in a hundred di%%erent ways# Much o% the ti'e it was a %orced( 8ocular =uery( as$ed by ner"ous clients who suddenly realised that their designer couture was about to ha"e no 'eaning at all( or who e7pected 'e to tell the' to drop their pants the 'o'ent they wal$ed into 'y studio# 0ith .laine howe"er( it was said as a challenge# 3uch was her con%idence that , $new she would ha"e stripped in the doorway i% ,)d as$ed# /0ell( clothed( initially# ;ust grab a seat and 'a$e yoursel% co'%ortable# 0e can decide on the %inal pose and the degree o% e7posure a little later on#) /0onder%ul#) 3he was happy enough with this# /4o you always wor$ bare%oot1) /5es# Although it)s a little 'ore co'%ortable in 3anta Marita# , didn)t thin$ %rostbite would be an occupational ha<ard#)

/,)ll 'a$e sure Henry lights the %ire in here as his %irst 8ob o% the 'orning# ,s it so'e artist)s ritual1) /Hell( no# Entirely practical# ,t 'eans that no 'atter where , a'( ,)' always at e7actly the sa'e height to the can"as and the sitter#) /0hat was it you called your style1 /Hyperreality)( wasn)t it1) /Hyper2bullshit( 'ore li$e# 3o'e critic needed a snappy phrase %or his re"iew( and ca'e up with that# ,t)s hung around 'y nec$ e"er since#) .laine laughed( and settled bac$ into her chair# /, i'agine you 'ust get to hear so'e "ery interesting things while you wor$#) , nodded# /My sittings can end up li$e secular con%essionals#) /And are you e"er te'pted to di"ulge1) /&e"er#) The reply ca'e sharper than ,)d planned# /That was a stupid =uestion# ,)' sorry#) /&o proble'#) , started to s$etch( holding the so%t pencil with the lightest o% grips and letting 'y hand 'o"e where it wanted across the white e7panse# /3o( this is where it all starts#) .laine %ell silent( content to watch 'e wor$# Technically( .laine was wonder%ul to draw# Her classically handso'e %ace translated onto the paper with little e%%ort( and within two hours , had a %irst s$etch that would ha"e pleased any 8ourney'an portrait artist# ,t didn)t please 'e# My thing( the tric$ , pulled that li%ted 'e %ro' the ran$s and let 'e 'a$e up %ees %or a laugh( was to loo$ behind the 'as$ and %ind the details that the sitters the'sel"es didn)t $now were there# Aight now( on a 8ob , couldn)t ris$ %ailing( , was getting %uc$ all apart %ro' a great deal o%

hardwired upper class poise# , told 'ysel% that , was tiredD disorientated( that to'orrow it all 'ight begin to %all into place( but , $new that on 'y "ery %irst day a seed o% dis=uiet had already been planted so'ewhere deep and unreachable# /May , see1) .laine as$ed( when , too$ a brea$ to stretch out# /*r are you one o% these artists that li$es to present their opus at the "ery end1) /4epends on the client# 3o'e li$e the big re"eal( but ,)"e been o%%ering li"e2 strea'ing while , wor$ %or the last year or so# 3o'eti'es the process is the 'ost interesting ele'ent#) /,)' a%raid ,)' a little too curious to wait until the end#) .laine pic$ed up 'y pad# , held 'y breath( but she shared none o% 'y concerns# /*h -ilith( that)s 'agni%icent# , can)t tell you how grate%ul , a' that you too$ up 'y o%%er# ,% this is your %irst piece( , can)t i'agine what the %inal wor$ will loo$ li$e#) /,t)s a start#) /Perhaps ,)ll send +inn in to ta$e a loo$ and begin his art classes#) /,)d be happy to show hi'( as long as ,)' not too engrossed ? , get $ind o% snappy#) /,)ll bear that in 'ind#) .laine glanced up %ro' her e7a'ination o% 'y wor$# /;ust out o% interest( what did you 'a$e o% 'y +inn1) /Probably the 'ost beauti%ul 'an ,)"e e"er seen#) , replaced a pencil in its tin( turning it so that the label %aced outwards to 'atch the rest# /That)s a "ery honest response#) , shrugged# /,t)s the truth# 0hat a' , going to say1 That he)s so'e hideous %rea$ o% nature1) /&o( not at all# , was 8ust a little thrown by your candour# He was particularly ta$en with you( , thin$#)

;ust as , was wondering how to turn the con"ersation to so'ething rather less candid( .laine re"erentially closed the boo$ and handed it bac$ to 'e# /0ell( it)s been a highly en8oyable 'orning# ,t see's a pity that , need to get bac$ to wor$( but ,)' sure you)"e got enough to be getting on with now# ,)ll lea"e you in peace#) 3he clasped 'y hand in hers# /,t really is so delight%ul to ha"e you here( -ilith# ,)' sure we)ll be close %riends long be%ore the piece is %inished#) , didn)t 'ind about anything ,)d told her# There was nothing , %elt unco'%ortable with( or regretted saying# 0hat was really biting 'e was that , had learned nothing in return# , reopened 'y s$etchpad and wondered what the hell to do ne7t# +inn , sat in the corridor outside the roo' that had been designated as -ilith)s studio( and waited %or 'y heart to stop ha''ering =uite so hard# , needed to $noc$ on the door( wal$ in and get on with it( but right now 'y legs were holding an o%%icial protest# An hour earlier .laine had co'e to %ind 'e in the sanctuary o% the greenhouse( and casually suggested( /, thin$ it 'ight be a good idea to call on -ilith this a%ternoon( darling) ( and that would be the end o% it# The end o% so'e bolloc$s about a long2dead author and $nowing where 'y dog got her na'e %ro'# That was all# &othing( in the uni"ersal sche'e o% things# ,nconse=uential words that she had probably already %orgotten( and 8ust part o% the panoply o% s'all tal$ that such people possessed# &othing at all# And yet here , was with 'y arse still glued to the %loor# ,t didn)t get too 'uch to get 'e 'o"ing again# ;ust the thought o% a dog2 eared photograph and a one2paragraph %iller %ro' an old newspaper# /Twat#) , wiped 'y pal's on the bac$ o% 'y 8eans( and $noc$ed on the door# /Co'e in() -ilith called( and , returned to wor$# To 'y dis'ay( it wasn)t e"en the sa'e -ilith# The one , had learned to recognise the pre"ious e"ening( the polished( ballgown2clad socialite( had disappeared to be replaced with this tiny bare%oot girl in trac$suit botto's and t2shirt and her sil$en hair hidden under a dar$ red bandana# 0ords

shri"elled in 'y 'outh# /Hi there6) 3he s'iled in welco'e( and what appeared to be pleasure at 'y arri"al# /.laine sent you a%ter all( then1) /,)' sorry1) /.laine# 3he said she was going to send you in to loo$ at 'y wor$#) /*h# &o( nothing li$e that#) /3o( what can , do %or you1) 3he brushed a stray loc$ o% hair %ro' her %ace and loo$ed up in e7pectation# /-oo$( .laine ? she 'entioned that you %ound 'e attracti"e#) /*h( did she now1) .y the instant coldness in -ilith)s "oice , $new this one was lost be%ore ,)d e"en started# /, 8ust wanted you to $now that it)s 'utual#) /5ou what1) /, thin$ you)re an incredibly se7y wo'an# And , thought that i% you wanted toC) , too$ her hand in 'ine and ran a %inger down her cool pal'# /Aight# That)s enough#) -ilith snatched her hand away %ro' 'e and rounded on 'e with such %ury that , had to ta$e a step bac$# /0hat the %uc$)s going on in this place1) /&othing)s going on# , 'isread the signs( that)s all# ,% , o%%ended youC) /.ullshit# ,)' being played here# , don)t $now how( or why( but , really don)t li$e it#) , tried to reco"er 'y ground# /,t)s li$e , told you 2) /5eah( , heard you# 3o loo$ at 'e and tell 'e you)re here o% your own accord#)

,n 'y sordid e7cuse %or a li%e , had probably told e"ery lie in e7istenceE 5es( you)re beauti%ul( yes( , want you( yes( it %eels good# All as e%%ortless as breathing( but this one $illed 'e# /,)' here because , want to be#) /5ou)re an appalling liar( Mr 3trachan#) -ilith stal$ed to the %ar side o% the roo'( as %ar away %ro' 'e as she could get# , didn)t dare stop# , decided to try the conciliatory approach# /*$ay( loo$( 'aybe she did suggest , co'e to see you# 0ould that be so bad1) /5es# +or 'ore reasons than you could e"er understand#) , didn)t $now which o% us , hated 'ore# -ilith 0hen +inn %irst appeared in the roo'( loo$ing li$e the boy ne7t door in his blue 8eans and white t2shirt( , was genuinely pleased to see hi'( and that 'ade the subse=uent betrayal all the harder# ,t could ha"e been a 8o$e( this ridiculous( aw%ul intrusion by so'eone , %oolishly thought , had begun to $now# /+inn( what the hell do you thin$ you)re doing1) , %inally 'anaged to as$# /,)' here to ensure your needs are 'et# Ma$ing sure your stay at Alber'arle Hall is as pleasurable as possible#) &o 'atter how char'ing the accent( the words sounded hard# +or a 'o'ent his haunting eyes %ro<e in a 'oc$ing stare and , was thrown by the di%%erence in hi'E the shyly co'ple7 young 'an that had so intrigued 'e the night be%ore had been replaced by this auto'aton# /-oo$( i% you tell 'e what you want( what you li$e ? ,)' good#) His tone was so%ter now as i% he was %orcing hi'sel% to play this role( but it still didn)t sound li$e his "oice# /5ou won)t be disappointed() he added# , ga"e a harsh laugh# /0here the %uc$ did you get that line1 Page twenty2 one o% the Aent .oy)s Handboo$1) As soon as , had spat the words( that %inal( elusi"e piece o% +inn 3trachan

%ell into place( and it was too late# , 'ay as well ha"e slapped hi'# /+inn( waitC) , began( but he ga"e 'e one last stric$en loo$ and wal$ed out o% the studio# BBBBB At nine o)cloc$ that e"ening , sat by the 'eagre light o% a single oil la'p( re%ining that day)s s$etches until 'y "ision blurred and 'y head in%or'ed 'e that a 'igraine would be on its way unless , stopped soon# &ot only was , pre"ented %ro' wor$ing through the night( getting past dus$ was going to be i'possible# , closed 'y pad in reluctant de%eat and was 8ust considering a late run to ease 'y %rustration when there was the lightest o% taps on 'y door# /Co'e in() , called# Henry tentati"ely pushed the door open# /,)' sorry to disturb you# 0ere you busy1) /&o( un%ortunately# Can , help you1) /-ady Alber'arle would li$e a =uic$ chat( i% that)s not too 'uch o% a proble'#) +or such an innocuous re=uest( the usually open 'an couldn)t loo$ 'e in the eye# /3he wants to see 'e now1) Henry ga"e a ner"ous nod# /3he)s aware that it is rather late( but she did say that it was i'portant#) /.ut you)re not at liberty to say what1) /,)' a%raid not#) /0ell she)s going to ha"e to ta$e as she %inds#) , didn)t bother to put on 'y shoes# /3o( where a' , going1) /0hat1) ,t was a si'ple =uestion( but Henry responded as i% ,)d 8ust stabbed hi'#

/This "ital 'eeting# 0here is it1) /@'( i% you 8ust %ollow 'e( ,)ll show you#) Henry began to wal$ away# , didn)t 'o"e# /0hat)s going on( Henry1) /0hat1 &othing 2) /Crap# 5ou)re shitting yoursel% e"ery ti'e , open 'y 'outh( and as %or +innC 0ait a 'inute( has this got anything to do with that ridiculous scene this a%ternoon1) /,)' sorry( what scene1) /,t doesn)t 'atter# -et)s 8ust say that , was %orced to do so'e rapid re2 e"aluating#) ,n truth( , was sha$en by the anger that still lingered in 'e# , had done 'y best to ignore the whole appalling 'ess while , wor$edE , was not yet ready to deal with the shadows %ro' +inn)s unwitting re"elation# /,)' a%raid , can)t gi"e you any 'ore in%or'ation#) Henry 'o"ed o%%( declaring the sub8ect closed# /Can)t( or won)t1) , began to %ollow hi'# BBBBB ,nstead o% heading upstairs to .laine)s pri"ate =uarters Henry led 'e down a tight spiral staircase( and the da'p %lagstones under 'y %eet 'ade 'e regret 'y decision to re'ain bare%oot# /0e)re nearly there#) ,% his words were 'eant to reassure( they %ailed# , peered into the gloo' o% the subterranean corridor and shi"ered# /God( Henry( where are you ta$ing 'e1 The dungeon1) Henry si'ply pushed open a huge oa$ door that crea$ed in %inest horror 'o"ie %ashion# ,n 'y head( a string ense'ble played so'ething 'enacing in a 'inor $ey#

/Good e"ening( -ilith#) .laine stepped out to 'eet 'e in the hallway# /Than$ you so 'uch %or co'ing at such short notice#) 3he wore the sa'e elegant grey sil$ suit that she wore in the brochure( and loo$ed as though she had 8ust %inished a busy day at the o%%ice# , e7pected her to in"ite 'e in( but instead she gestured 'e into a s'all anteroo' that had borrowed its %urniture %ro' a bouti=ue hotel# A bottle o% Cristal in an ice2buc$et stood ne7t to two crystal %lutesE this didn)t loo$ anything li$e the /=uic$ chat) pro'ised by Henry# /Please( ta$e a seat#) 3he pointed 'e at a 'ahogany2brown leather so%a# , sat( albeit reluctantly# /.laine( ,)' all too happy to agree to as 'any o% your de'ands as , can( but , %eel , earn the right to 'y own ti'e# .elie"e it or not( , do try to unwind occasionally#) .laine ignored 'y co'plaint# /, understand you had a so'ewhat challenging a%ternoon1) /,n what way1) /,n that you had an unwelco'e "isit %ro' +inn#) /,t was nothing# Crossed wires# ,)' sure there was nothing to it#) To 'y irritation , was blustering# ,)d probably caught it o%% Henry# /Aeally1 ,)d heard that you were %urious#) /, ha"e a te'per( and it)s not so'ething ,)' particularly proud o%# , %lared( and +inn probably recei"ed %ar 'ore than he deser"ed#) .laine nodded sy'pathetically# /That)s a re'ar$ably generous response# Howe"er , don)t %eel you)re always honest with yoursel%#) This was turning out to be nothing li$e the con"ersation , had e7pected# /-oo$( .laine( , don)t 'ean to be rude 2) /5ou 'ust be thin$ing ,)"e gone 'ad 2) , didn)t disagree#

/2 , 8ust %eel that you should gain a deeper insight into the real philosophy o% Alber'arle#) , %elt the adrenaline begin to tighten the 'uscles across 'y chestE , should ha"e guessed that anything that in"ol"ed 'y %ather)s endorse'ent would possess so'e dar$ ele'ent# /, operate an e7clusi"e club here on the island( -ilith ? one that you)re %ortunate to e7perience( and one that could bring you great bene%it i% you)ll allow yoursel% the %reedo'#) The light in .laine)s eyes was positi"ely e"angelical now and she leaned towards 'e( one hand resting on 'y $nee to suggest sorority# /, thin$ you)re about to %ind this e7tre'ely interesting#) , placed 'y untouched cha'pagne on the table# /.laine( ,)' tired( con%used and 'ore than a little irritated# As , thin$ , 'ade per%ectly clear( , don)t consider 'ysel% to be a guest here# ,)' a te'porary e'ployee( and per%ectly happy to $eep it that way#) , went to stand# /And , don)t play ga'es#) /Then perhaps you should start# 5ou see1 There)s that anger again# ,t ne"er =uite lea"es you( does it1 ,t 8ust stays beneath the sur%ace( dri"ing you e"er onward# Though with your past ,)' hardly surprised# ,)' sure ,)d retain a certain %ury with the world#) /This isn)t a con"ersation ,)' prepared to ha"e right now#) /-ilith darling( ,)' on your side here# , thin$ the way you)"e been treated is appalling( and you ha"e e"ery right to de%end yoursel%#) 3he ga"e a $nowing s'ile# /0e were "ery i'pressed by your handling o% ;ohnny .uc$le# ,n %act( that was what %irst attracted +inn to you#) , inwardly %linched at his na'e# , had hoped that she had abandoned that particular sub8ect# /+or all that outward sophistication( he possesses such a naL"e soul ? , honestly belie"e he thought he stood a chance with you( and as beauti%ul as +inn is( , hardly thin$ he)s in the sa'e league as Gabriel ;a'es#) /Goodness( word tra"els %ast#)

.laine too$ a leisurely sip o% her cha'pagne# /0ell( i% you will per%or' %ellatio at thirty2eight thousand %eet with the star o% the 'o'ent( , thin$ you)ll %ind that word will get out#) , sighed# .laine)s ban on technology didn)t e7tend to hersel%# 0ord o% 'y latest encounter would no doubt ha"e been on e"ery gossip site on the internet be%ore we had e"en touched down# /Anyway( , digress# 0hat , want to say is that Alber'arle can o%%er you a greater opportunity %or release than 'ost could e"er drea'# 0hy don)t you co'e with 'e1 ,t)s %ar easier to e7perience than to e7plain#) .laine stood and reached out her hand to lead 'e bac$ through the doorway# &o a'ount o% honeyed words could ha"e prepared 'e %or what , saw# My earlier co''ent about dungeons was no longer %unny( because that was e7actly what .laine Alber'arle had constructed in the cellars o% her warped %airytale ho'e( co'plete with bare stone walls( a rac$ holding a selection o% whips and i'ple'ents , didn)t want to ta$e a guess at( and a colossal bed that do'inated the %ar end o% the cha'ber# A 'assi"e blac$ wooden 3aint Andrew)s cross was bolted to the opposite wall and %ro' its beauti%ully polished leather cu%%s( %orehead pressed to harsh stone and entirely na$ed( hung +inn# .e%ore , could run .laine stepped between 'e and the door# ,n her hand she held a hea"y( hand2stitched crop# /,'agine( -ilith# ,'agine what it)s li$e to li"e out any %antasy you)"e e"er had without %ear o% censure or disco"ery# He can be whoe"er you want hi' to be( and you can do whate"er you li$e to hi'#) , could say nothing at all( and .laine too$ this as per'ission to continue# /Try it#) 3he pressed the crop into 'y hand# /5ou)"e been a "ery bad boy( ha"en)t you( +inn1 ,)' sure -ilith is capable o% teaching you an i'portant lesson#) He slowly turned to %ace 'e so his head was %orced to one side against the s'ooth wood# The huge eyes that had spar$ed with a li%e beyond this place were dull and dilated#

/,)' sorry( , really can)t do this() , 'anaged to whisper# .laine eased the whip %ro' 'y clenched %ingers# /+irst ti'e ner"es# 4on)t worry( you)ll soon get the techni=ue with those talented hands o% yours# -et 'e show you#) 3he raised the crop and brought it down with all her strength across +inn)s e7posed shoulders and , $new that this was no consensual role2play# He ga"e a so%t( 'u%%led uh in response and pushed his %orehead against the wood# His eyes closed and , was glad# /3ee1 The tric$ is not to be too gentle# ,% you hold bac$( you %oul the blow# ;ust one clean 'o"e'ent#) Too slow( , realised .laine was still teaching 'e# *nce again the hea"ily stitched crop %ell across +inn( lower this ti'e so that a welt rose across his buttoc$s# -i"id %lesh turned to scarlet as , watched# /&o# ;ust### no#) , turned and ran %ro' the roo'# Chapter Eight -ilith , didn)t relish the idea o% a court case( but by se"en the ne7t 'orning , had a hal%2decent ca'paign plan in 'ind# There had to be so'e lawyer so'ewhere willing to ta$e on the %ight with 'y %ather and challenge the bastard in the way , should ha"e done %ro' the start( and then , could try to %orget that these past three days had e"er happened and , could get 'y li%e bac$# ,t was hard to belie"e that only days ago this approach had see'ed so i'possible ? that , would choose e"en an hour in this lunatic asylu' o"er the insigni%icant hassle o% legal proceedings# , was so con%ident that 'y cases were already pac$ed by the ti'e , stor'ed upstairs %or a 'eeting with .laine( and the nearer , got to her roo'( the 'ore bullish , %elt# A%ter all( aside %ro' the latest clash with 'y %ather( , had not lost a %ight in %i%teen years# 3he was already at her des$( %ully 'ade2up and wearing a delicate pin$ sil$ dressing gown( when , wal$ed into her roo' unannounced# , was annoyed

with 'ysel% %or being surprised when , saw the three telephones and co'puter that too$ up 'ost o% the green2leathered sur%ace( when , now $new that Alber'arle Hall 2 /The ro'ance o% candlelight and open %ires) 2 was nothing 'ore than a cheap( cynical construct# 3he glanced up %ro' the screen# /Good 'orning -ilith# , was e7pecting you# 0ould you li$e Henry to bring you tea1) /&o( than$ you# ,)"e 8ust co'e in%or' you that ,)' lea"ing( and to settle 'y %ather)s debt#) /0hat( all twenty se"en pounds1) /*h( you ha"e got to be %uc$ing $idding 'e#) , rested 'y hands against the des$# /The bastard# The cheap( stupid bastard# All o% this %or what( the price o% a round1) /Three double brandies at the restaurant in the "illage( actually# .ut so'eti'es it)s not about the 'oney( it)s about the principle#) , loo$ed into the %ace o% the wo'an who had recently gi"en 'e 'y %irst lesson in ad"anced sadis' and detected no irony whatsoe"er# /+ine# 4o you need cash( or will a che=ue do you1) /, thin$ we need to ha"e a little tal$ be%ore you do anything too hasty# 0ill you gi"e 'e the chance to e7plain a %ew things about last night1) /There is absolutely nothing about last night that , want to tal$ about#) /Perhaps not( but you do need to listen#) 3he ca'e out %ro' behind her des$ and wal$ed with 'e to the window# Together we loo$ed out across the la$e to where holiday'a$ers in s'art wooden cabins would 8ust be wa$ing up to another day o% bracing &orthu'brian air and wholeso'e li"ing# /My parallel world# ,t runs( ignorant and content( alongside a business that sur"i"es on co'plete discretion# ,% 'y 'ainland guests had any idea about so'e o% the 'ore specialist ser"ices , pro"ide( both at Alber'arle and in -ondonC 0ell( ,)' sure you)re 'ore than aware o% the da'age caused by tabloid intrusion#) +or the %irst ti'e in 'y li%e , %ound 'ysel% wishing %or a %ull2scale in"asion o% papara<<i( crawling all o"er the island and illu'inating e"ery dar$ corner

with the glare o% %lash2bulbs# /, pride 'ysel% upon 'y ability to 8udge 'y guests) 'ost inti'ate tastes ? , 'ust ad'it( you)re the %irst %ailure ,)"e had# 5ou really are =uite a challenge( aren)t you( -ilith1) 3he loo$ed at 'e in a'use'ent# /,t surprises 'e that you didn)t accept +inn)s initial o%%er# ,)' sure you)d ha"e en8oyed the e7perience#) /, 'ight ha"e# He wouldn)t#) /-ilith( you)re one o% the 'ost attracti"e guests we)"e had at the Hall# ,)' sure +inn would ha"e ta$en great delight in 'a$ing lo"e to you without the need %or hal% a bottle o% >iagra and a "ery acti"e i'agination#) /He doesn)t want to be here( .laine# , could see that the 'o'ent , 'et hi'# And as %or last nightC) /Ah( that#) 3aid li$e it was so'e $ind o% social e"ent that had gone a little awry# /,% it)s any consolation( +inn ga"e his %ull consent to be here( and , ha"e the contract to pro"e it# He 'ay not en8oy e"erything that)s as$ed o% hi'( but that)s the 'a8or draw# My clients are those who)"e grown tired o% actors who 'erely posture their disco'%ortD , can o%%er the' so'eone to play with who genuinely doesn)t want to play along# *nce you)"e had this e7perience( there)s no going bac$ to /let)s pretend#)) 3he suddenly beca'e serious# /Howe"er( it concerns 'e that you turned down last night)s opportunity# As you)re 'ore than aware( the press would adore a story li$e this( ar'ed with none o% the %acts and a heightened sense o% %alse 'odesty#) 3he wal$ed bac$ to her des$ and handed 'e a docu'ent wallet# /, would suggest that you sit down whilst you ta$e a loo$# -et)s call it /insurance)#) , wordlessly sat on a di"an and tipped the contents out onto the co%%ee table# The "ery %irst thing that tu'bled out was a photograph o% 4aniel( 'y hal%2brother( sitting on a color%ul plastic bench in the playground o% his residential school# ,t had been ta$en %ro' so'e distance away( but , could tell that it was recentE spring blosso' %oa'ed on the hawthorn trees surrounding the sunlit yard and 4aniel wore the rainbow2colored cap , had sent hi' %ro' -ondon on 'y last "isit# , %elt physically sic$#

, nu'bly lea%ed through the rest o% the papers and %ound a 'eticulously researched su''ary o% 'y little hal%2brother)s li%e# His latest school reportD copies o% e'ails to 'y %ather and step'other as$ing %or per'ission %or a trip to the <ooD a list o% his current 'edication# /, need you to $now that it gi"es 'e no pleasure to bring a child into all this#) , was "aguely aware that .laine was spea$ing to 'e %ro' se"eral roo's away# /, would ha"e 'uch pre%erred to ha"e gathered the 'aterials %or your incenti"e last night#) /0hat( hidden ca'eras1 Classy#) /A %ull range o% the latest sur"eillance e=uip'ent( actually# As , said( it)s "ital that , ha"e insurance against any o% this beco'ing co''on $nowledge#) , brie%ly considered as$ing 8ust what /insurance) had goaded 'y %ather into tra"eling all the way to 3pain to %ind 'e( be%ore deciding that , ne"er wanted to $now# /3o( to su''ari<e# , would "ery 'uch appreciate it i% you re'ained at Alber'arle Hall until 'y portrait is co'pleted#) .laine too$ the photograph %ro' 'y hands and began to place all the papers bac$ in their wallet# /, wouldn)t drea' o% $eeping you prisoner here( but , should tell you that the indi"idual who too$ that photograph is currently staying within %i"e 'inutes o% your brother)s school( and will re'ain there %or the duration o% your residence# ,)' sure you can appreciate that 'y %irst loyalty is to 'y business# This doesn)t ha"e to change anything( -ilith# ,% you decide to do anything %oolish( then ,)' a%raid ,)ll be %orced to ta$e action( but i% you)re sensible( then none o% this will e"er be 'entioned again# ,)' 'erely being honest with you and protecting 'y interests# 4o you understand1) , struggled to drown out the roaring that had returned to 'y ears# /5es( , understand per%ectly# 0ill that be all1) /+or now# , hope you ha"e a producti"e day#) +inn , sat at the $itchen table( absently stirring a 'ug o% blac$ co%%ee %or the

thousandth ti'e and letting a cigarette burn out between 'y %ingers# , wore a pair o% py8a'a botto's and nothing elseE 'y bac$ would be too tender to cope with the pressure o% %abric %or another couple o% hours( and 'y arse was 8ust about letting 'e sit down without $illing 'e# /;esus( Henry( she was %uc$ing horri%ied# ,)' there spread2eagled li$e the %uc$ing gi'p , a'( and .laine hands her the whip and tells her to get on with it# ,t was li$e as$ing a Mother 3uperior to %lash her tits#) Henry gri'aced# /,t)s rare %or her to get it this wrong#) /5ou)re telling 'e# God( this is going to cause so'e trouble#) /,t)s all a little odd# -ilith didn)t stri$e 'e as a prude#) /,t)s not that# , 8ust rec$on she)s the %irst person ,)"e e"er $nown who)s been in that situation and decided to act on principle#) , 'anaged a last drag be%ore the %ilter itsel% began to burn# /0hate"er( , rec$on she won)t be able to loo$ 'e in the eye again#) Henry stopped piling dishes# /4oes that bother you1) /&ah() , lied( care%ully circling 'y shoulders to test the e7tent o% the da'age# As i% on cue( -ilith wal$ed into the $itchen( too$ one loo$ at 'e hunched o"er the table( and wal$ed out without saying a word# /+uc$( %uc$( %uc$() , groaned( using 'y teeth to pull 'y tenth Marlboro o% the 'orning %ro' its pac$# 5es( it bothered 'e( and e"en bloody Henry $new it# ,t bothered 'e a great deal( not least because , 'ight 8ust ha"e lost so'ething that was ne"er 'ine to begin with# , pulled s'o$e deep into 'y lungs( ignoring Henry)s %orced cough( and idly wondered i% it was physically possible %or a 'an to s'o$e hi'sel% to death in two hours# .e%ore the butt had %inished s'oldering in the 0edgwood saucer , was using as an ashtray( , lit 'y ne7t s'o$e# , waited %or Henry)s concerned reproach( but none ca'e# ,nstead( he 'utely stared o"er 'y head# /, can get two across( but ,)' ha"ing a little di%%iculty with %i"e down#) -ilith stood in the doorway and coolly appraised the cross2hatched pattern o%

da'age to 'y bac$# Henry ga"e her a grate%ul s'ile# /0ould you care %or a co%%ee1) /, don)t suppose you)"e got anything stronger1) /0ell( there)s 'y coo$ing brandy( butC) /That)ll do#) , didn)t 'o"e( as i% through silence , could render 'ysel% in"isible# -ilith stood abo"e 'e and unscrewed the lid %ro' a s'all 8ar# /Keep still() she ordered# /Arnica# ,t 'ight sting a bit( but it)ll help to bring the bruising down# Ha"e you got so'e ice( please( Henry1) Henry( stunned into silence( obediently wrapped a hand%ul o% ice cubes in a tea towel and passed it to -ilith# ,n between 'outh%uls o% cheap brandy %ro' a 'ug( she pressed the i'pro'ptu icepac$ to the worst o% 'y in8uries( and began to rub arnica into those that had 8ust started to settle# -ilith Trape<ius( deltoid( in%ra spinatus( teres 'a8or( teres 'inor( latissi'us dorsai# @nder 'y hands( +inn beca'e an anato'ist)s 'odel# , na'ed each 'uscle( 'outhing the words under 'y breath as an atheist)s prayer %or distance# /,s it always this bad1) , %inally as$ed# .laine had clearly $ept going long a%ter , had %led the scene# /-oo$s worse than it %eels() +inn replied( which was no answer at all# He leaned across the table to ta$e another cigarette %ro' its battered pac$# @nder the angry grid o% 'ost recent 'ar$s( , could see a %ainter web o% sil"er2white lines across the 'an)s bac$ and shoulders# , traced one with 'y %inger# /These are older#) /A %ew 'onths( 'aybe() ca'e the lie# ,t would ta$e years %or a scar to %ade to this translucent 'e'ory# /Anyway( , don)t $now why you)re down here wasting ti'e playing +lorence %uc$ing &ightingale# ,% , were you ,)d be pac$ing 'y $it ? i% you)re not swayed by %laying 'e ali"e( she)ll be busy

%inding another way to $eep you on the island#) /3he already has#) , %inally sat down# /May ,1) , as$ed( ta$ing a cigarette without waiting %or a reply# /+eel %ree#) +inn too$ the lighter %ro' 'e when 'y tre'bling %ingers %ailed to 'a$e it wor$# /, thought your body was a te'ple#) /&ot this 'orning( it isn)t#) /5ou could tell us i% you wanted to#) Henry 8oined us at the table and pouring 'e another inch o% brandy# /5ou don)t ha"e to# , 'ean( i% it)s personal 2 ) /4aniel# My hal%2brother# He)s ten# Autistic# Goes to a residential school in 0ales# They)re wor$ing 'iracles with hi'#) , drained 'y 'ug again# /3he showed 'e school photographs( reports( e"erything# E"en so'e bloody 'e'o %ro' his teacher to the head about pac$ed lunches %or a school trip# Apparently she could reach hi' at a 'o'ent)s notice# , assu'e she)s telling the truth1) /&o( no( ,)' sureC) Henry began( but +inn silenced hi' with a raised hand# /5es( she)s telling the truth( and yes( she could ? has ? done it#) He pulled the last cigarette %ro' its pac$ and lit it( curling his tongue around the blue s'o$e# /3he)ll ha"e built in contingency %or you saying /no) right %ro' the start#) , 'urdered the last o% the brandy# /3o i% she planned on 'e re%using your initial o%%er( why send you in the %irst place1) +inn drew hard on his cigarette# /.ecause she hoped it would get you in the 'ood to want to s'ac$ the li"ing shit out o% 'e# And because she gets o%% on %uc$ing with 'y head#) ,t sounded so wantonly cruel that , loo$ed to Henry %or con%ir'ation# /, wouldn)t say it =uite so crudely( but yes( that)s about right#) /And it blurs the boundaries( doesn)t it1) +inn added# /Means , stand bugger2all chance o% wor$ing out what)s truth and what)s the latest twisted

%antasy# Keeps 'e in 'y place#) /5our place#) /5eah# 5ou $now( the one you so accurately guessed yesterday a%ternoon# The /nasty piece o% s'ac$head rough2trade that got luc$y) place#) /5ou wor$ed the streets1) +inn nodded# /Phoeni7 Par$ and thereabouts# +irst ti'e when , was %i%teen( last ti'e the day be%ore , 'ade it to this paradise# The only 8ob ,)"e e"er had#) He ga"e 'e a bitter( de%iant glance# /3o ,)ll understand i% you don)t want to share a toothbrush#) /0ell that would be a little hypocritical o% 'e( don)t you thin$1) , as$ed( gearing up %or what was about to co'e# /0hat( you)re going to tell 'e you were a %uc$in) whore1) /&o# .ut 'y 'other was#) +inn /5eah( right she was() , laughed( until , saw Henry 'a$ing %rantic gestures behind -ilith)s bac$# /3weet ;esus( you)re serious1) , had ne"er detested 'y en%orced ignorance 'ore# , recalled yesterday)s pass in light o% -ilith)s re"elation and inwardly cringed# /Henry( you 'iserable little %uc$er# 5ou)ll ha"e $nown would you1) Henry nodded sadly# /,)' sorry( +inn( really , a'# ,t)s 8ust that ?) /5eah( o$ay( , $now# Can)t ha"e Mother distressed now( can we1) , turned to -ilith# /-oo$( , $now it 'a$es no bloody di%%erence at all now( but ,)' sorry %or yesterday ? i% ,)d $nownC) /.ut you didn)t $now( did you1 And %ro' what , can gather( that was all part o% whate"er sic$ ga'e ,)"e 8ust had the great 'is%ortune to stu'ble across# 3o i% this is the ti'e %or apologies( will you accept 'ine %or 'y anger1)

Apart %ro' Henry)s constant twittering re'orse %or e"erything he did( , couldn)t recall the last ti'e anyone had apologised to 'e( and -ilith held out her hand in a gesture o% reconciliation# *% le"elling# 0e shoo$# , suddenly recalled the wea$2chinned guest %ro' a %ew 'onths ago ? one that .laine had dealt with hersel%( than$ God ? and loo$ed again at -ilith# /3o( your 'a### ;esus# .ut isn)t your old 'an so'eone1) /3ir 3i'on Mont%ort C.E( %ailed MP( Knight o% the Aeal'( and all2round spineless twat and waste o% 4&A# My birth na'e was Clarissa Mont%ort( be%ore you as$# /.resson) was 'y 'other)s 'aiden na'e( and /-ilith) was our ga'e$eeper)s cat#) /3o how the hell did that one wor$ out1) , as$ed( desperate to %ill in a %ew gaps# Henry 'i'ed pulling a <ip across his 'outh# -ilith saw hi' this ti'e( and he blushed# /,t)s all right( Henry# , thin$ it 'ight be a good idea to clear a %ew things up( don)t you1) , had the %eeling , had 8ust 'anaged to screw up once again# /My %ather 'et 'y 'other when he was an e7change student at the 3orbonne( and she was a prostitute in a Mont'artre brothel# He started out as a custo'er( but by all accounts ro'ance blosso'ed#) -ilith stubbed out the cigarette that had barely touched her lips# /Knowing 'y %ather , %ind that part rather hard to belie"e( but , digress# ,t beca'e our .ig +a'ily 3ecret ? the story was that they)d 'et one sunlit autu'n a%ternoon whilst ad'iring the sa'e Ce<anne in the -ou"re( and despite 'y 'other)s hu'ble bac$ground 'y %ather was deter'ined to 'arry her# ,t wouldn)t ha"e been hard %or people to belie"e that( at least# 3he was the 'ost beauti%ul girl you could i'agine# Anyway( it re'ained secret %or the best part o% %i%teen years#) , stood to ri%le through a cutlery drawer where , $new Henry had hidden a pac$et o% cigarettes ,)d %oolishly le%t on the $itchen table a %ew 'ornings ago# /,t all went tits up( huh1) /.eyond belie%# ,t was an election year( and 'y %ather was de%ending his nice( sa%e seat( %ull o% lots o% blue2rinse brigade crones who)d ha"e re'o"ed their %alse teeth and suc$ed hi' o%% as %ast as he could un<ip his %lies#)

/Goodness#) Henry busied hi'sel% with stac$ing away the clean dishes# -ilith didn)t see' to notice# /A wee$ be%ore the polls( he got a call %ro' so'e scu'bag %ro' The Herald( saying he)d unco"ered so'e interesting stories about Paris in the springti'e# 0ithin two hours 'y noble shit o% a %ather had issued a state'ent that told o% his shoc$ and disgust at this re"elation( and within a day 'y 'other and , were shipped out o% the %a'ily ho'e with whate"er we could carry#) /He threw you out too1) , %ound two cru'pled( sorry2loo$ing %ags in a pac$et and lit the least wrec$ed# /That would ha"e been too cruel( e"en %or hi'# E"icting his thirteen2year old daughter 8ust be%ore polling day1 &o( , was gi"en the choiceE stay or go( and an hour to decide#) /3hit( they were the pictures( weren)t they1 That night( on the T>( that was youD your decision#) /That)s right# 3tic$ or %old ? , %olded# My 'other lasted two years a%ter that# Her latent schi<ophrenia upgraded itsel% into %ull2on howling2at2the2'oon 'adness# A wee$ a%ter 'y %i%teenth birthday she hit luc$y with her third suicide atte'pt#) /How1) Any 'inute now , e7pected her to tell 'e to 'ind 'y own bloody business but she didn)t %linch# /3topped eating( and sa"ed up her 'eds# , ca'e ho'e a%ter 'y Art GC3E and %ound her cho$ed on her own "o'it# +ortunately her death coincided with a boundary shi%t in 'y %ather)s constituency( and 3ir 3i'on Mont%ort)s lo"ely sa%e seat suddenly beca'e a hotly contested 'arginal#) -ilith ga"e a bitter laugh# /Challenged by so'e per'a2grinning le%ty chiropractor ? e"erything 'y %ather loathed# He needed so'ething to boost his popularity( and he thought that bringing his prodigal daughter bac$ into the %old would be 8ust the thing# He still lost by two hundred and si7ty three "otes( than$ %uc$#) -ilith sat bac$ in her chair# /3o# There you ha"e it# 5ou now $now pretty 'uch the sa'e as e"eryone else on the planet#) , had seen guests with a lot less at sta$e( all o% the' bastards( %all to pieces once they had been %or their /'orning a%ter) chat with -ady .laine

Alber'arle# The 'ost recent had been the local council)s Head o% Planning who had been presented with a photograph o% his enthusiastic session with .laine and had appro"ed an e7tension to her listed 'ainland restaurant on the spot( sobbing gently as he did so# -ilith .resson( innocent o% e"erything e7cept ha"ing a bastard %or a %ather( too$ her new %ate with a cal' that was terri%ying# , %lic$ed ash into 'y e'pty 'ug# /0elco'e to our e7clusi"e club#) -ilith loo$ed at Henry and 'e# /, ta$e it that your ter's o% e'ploy'ent are a little harsh1) /5ou could say that() Henry said# /0hen , too$ up 'y post %our years ago( one o% the rather generous bene%its was pri"ate care %or 'y 'other ? she)s got Al<hei'er)s( bless the poor dear# @n%ortunately .laine neglected to tell 'e which ho'e she chose( so , rely on a wee$ly call %ro' a withheld nu'ber that tells 'e e"erything)s %ine and 'other)s doing well#) /-et 'e guess# As long as you continue to per%or' your duties with discretion1) /That)s the one# Mother)s none the wiser( than$ hea"ens# ,n %act( she o%ten 'entions the /nice 'an) who)s 8ust paid her a "isit#) Henry)s "oice crac$ed a little# /*h dear( , really shouldn)t get li$e this# , 'ean( at least she)s content# And it)s nothing to what +inn 2) /3hut your %uc$ing %ace( Henry() , snapped# , had so little that was 'y own that , was deter'ined to hang on to this one secret %or as long as , possibly could# , glanced across at -ilith( who had 8ust spent the last %i"e 'inutes unwa"eringly laying her li%e bare# /,t)s nothing personal() , began# /, thin$ i% , were in the sa'e circu'stances( , would want to hold close whate"er , possibly could() -ilith said( and then , couldn)t loo$ at her at all# /&ow i% you two gentle'en will e7cuse 'e( , ha"e a 8ob to do#) Chapter &ine -ilith , wo$e up and , hurt# Paybac$ %or spending ten straight hours hunched o"er

'y s$etchpad the day be%ore# , chugged two codeine and two paraceta'ol with water %ro' the bathroo' tap then lurched down to the $itchen( still in 'y pa8a'as and with 'y Alber'arle2'onogra''ed toweling bathrobe draped o"er 'y shoulders li$e a superhero)s cape# There didn)t see' to be any other guests at the hall that 'orning( but e"en i% , had been spotted , couldn)t ha"e gi"en a toss# , had been at Alber'arle Hall %or ten days( and had already learned to ignore the "isitors that arri"ed at all hours o% the night# Three ti'es now , had heard the low chug o% Henry)s little boat( %ollowed by a distant dull thud as the oa$ doors o% Alber'arle Hall closed behind its latest guest# Apart %ro' 'y 'orning run( and a couple o% surreal s'alltal$2%illed 'eals with .laine( , deliberately tried to stay in 'y studio or 'y roo'( but , had caught a gli'pse o% one 'iddle2aged( a%%luent couple and a 'an in his early si7ties( who had gi"en 'e a guilty glance be%ore scurrying into his guest2roo'# +inn had been at one o% the dinners with .laine( and had said all o% ten words to 'e# He also hadn)t eaten anything e7cept a bread roll that he had pic$ed away at throughout the 'eal# *ther than that( we 'et at brea$%ast i% he was still awa$e( and how tal$ati"e he was depended on whether or not there were guests stayingE the 'orning a%ter , had seen the sha'e2%aced 'an( +inn had si'ply sat at the $itchen table with his head resting on his ar's as i% asleep( his ubi=uitous cigarette dropping ash onto the table an inch at a ti'e# Henry told 'e that +inn spent as 'uch ti'e as he could in the gardens or the >ictorian greenhouse i% he wasn)t needed %or /wor$)( and other than that he stayed in his own roo'( where"er that was# Part o% 'e was glad that our 'eetings were so brie%( but , was pain%ully aware that %or the %irst ti'e in 'y li%e , was using a"oidance to deal with a situation so huge that there was nothing , could change# 0hen , got to the $itchen Henry was already at his post( standing at his chopping board as he began to prepare brea$%ast# He turned to %ace 'e# /*h( you loo$ absolutely dread%ul( dear#) /0hy( than$ you Mr Masterson( you sil"er2tongued char'er#) /, didn)t 'ean it li$e that( and you $now , didn)t# ,t)s 8ust that you)re hardly

your usual e%%er"escent sel%( are you1) /Arthritis %lare2up#) /Aren)t you a little young %or that1 , thought it was only us old %arts that had to worry about such things#) Henry set down a glass o% %reshly s=uee<ed orange 8uice %or 'e as he bustled about# /, bro$e 'y collar2bone when , was %ourteen# ,t should)"e been pinned( but , ended up lea"ing hospital in 'ore haste than was good %or 'e# ,t didn)t heal well#) , $neaded at 'y nec$ in a %utile atte'pt to release the $not o% 'uscle# /, don)t suppose you could gi"e 'y shoulder a pu''elling( could you1) /, wouldn)t want to hurt you#) /5ou won)t# 4on)t worry#) , shrugged the bathrobe o%%# /Anyway( , pro'ise ,)ll screa' good and loud i% you do#) As soon as Henry began to rub 'y bac$( , $new he was going to be too gentle to be o% 'uch use# /5ou need to get really stuc$ in() , ad"ised( then 8ust as he was beginning to get a little bra"er( , %linched when he accidentally hit the spi$e o% rough bone that &at had learned to a"oid# /*h 'y goodness6) Henry leaped away as i% stung# /0hat on earth is that1) /The brea$# , told you it was a bit o% a 'ess#) /, don)t thin$ ,)"e got the te'pera'ent %or this( ,)' a%raid# Perhaps +inn could do a better 8ob1) *n cue( +inn stal$ed into the $itchen( .ran at his heels# /.etter 8ob at what1) He ga"e us both a glare o% pure 'alice# /0e)"e already ascertained that our estee'ed artist here isn)t into the $ind o% ser"ices , pro"ide#) .e%ore , could respond( Henry stepped up to +inn and peered at his %ace# /+inn 3trachan( are you drun$1) +inn brought a near2e'pty "od$a bottle out o% his bac$ poc$et and wa"ed it at Henry# /, should %uc$in) hope so#)

/*h( +inn( it)s only se"en o)cloc$ 2) Henry began# /Henry( rearrange the %ollowing words into a sentence# *%%# +uc$# 3o( what)s the proble'1 Painter)s cra'p1) /&o# As , was e7plaining to Henry be%ore you 'ade your grace%ul entrance( , bro$e 'y collarbone when , was at school# 0ell( strictly spea$ing so'eone else used their hoc$ey stic$ to brea$ it %or 'e#) +inn ga"e a superbly derisi"e snort o% conte'pt# /+uc$in) hoc$ey# 0hat happened1 4id that naughty Anastasia +otherington23'ythe tap you too hard in the bully2o%%( huh1 ,)' surprised 'atron didn)t 'a$e it all better %or you#) /,t wasn)t =uite li$e that() , tried to %igure out what the hell ,)d 'issed that was pro"o$ing such rancor# /4o you ha"e a proble' with 'e that you)d care to share1) /&o# &o %uc$in) proble' at all( than$ you "ery 'uch %or as$ing#) +inn pic$ed up a newly2opened carton o% 'il$ %ro' Henry)s pristine wor$ sur%ace and too$ a long drin$ be%ore setting it bac$ down so clu'sily that hal% the contents splattered across the %loor# /*h +inn() Henry sighed( and wearily pic$ed up a cloth# +inn stead%astly ignored hi'# /3o( Ms .resson( d)you ride1) /5es# 0hy1) +inn ga"e 'e a 'oc$ing s'ile# /Course you %uc$in) ride# Goes with the territory( doesn)t it1 .et you were on your %irst pony and hitting the gy'$hana circuit be%ore you were out o% nappies# .laine has suggested that , ta$e you across to the 'ainland to "isit her stables# 0ants us both out o% the way %or the 'orning ? she)ll be gi"ing so'e luc$y guest a good buc$in) hersel%# Got so'ethin) to see to %irst( but , rec$on we)ll be ready to go in an hour# 3o i% you)d be so $ind( Henry old chap( we shall be needin) a li%t to shore once you)"e %inished in here#) He turned unsteadily to 'e# /3ee you soon# *nly i% you rec$on you)re up to it( eh1) He su''oned .ran to his

side with a so%t whistle and stal$ed %ro' the $itchen in a cloud o% bri'stone# /0hat the %uc$ was that about1) , as$ed# /,)' not entirely sure() Henry replied( then ga"e a %rown# /*oh( hang on a 'o( what day is it1) /Thursday# 0hy1 4oes that 'a$e so'e $ind o% di%%erence1) Henry nodded and pushed his glasses bac$ up his nose# /.lood test day# ,)d %orgotten about that# &o wonder he)s %ull o% hell#) /0hat day1) /-ady Alber'arle insists that all her( u'( wor$ers are tested %or anything nasty e"ery three 'onths# &ature o% their 8ob and all that# The sa'e thing)ll be going on at her -ondon place#) Henry stuc$ his head out into the corridor to chec$ that +inn had gone be%ore he continued# /He)s terri%ied o% needles( poor boy ? so'ething %ro' his unen"iable past( no doubt# He deals with it by getting co'pletely loaded and then .laine calls %or Coyle and a couple o% his gorillas across %ro' the 'ainland to hold hi' down while 4octor Parnell does her thing#) /, can i'agine Coyle lo"es that#) , re'e'bered the 'an)s ill2disguised s'ugness on the night o% 'y arri"al# /,ndeed he does# Coyle *)Halloran isn)t one who needs an e7cuse to /ha"e a go)( so to spea$#) /God( , hate this place#) , shi"ered and pulled 'y bathrobe bac$ around 'y shoulders# /0ill you be going riding1) Henry as$ed# /.ecause , warn you now( he)s not li$ely to be good co'pany# There are certain aspects o% his li%estyle that 'a$e hi' a little "olatile on occasion#) , considered# The situation had e"erything that would usually ha"e 'e running a 'ile( with its countless undercurrents and a stroppy bastard who was already pissed at se"en o)cloc$ in the 'orning# , considered so'e 'ore( then as$ed the only =uestion that 'attered# /0ill he get into trouble i%

, don)t1) Henry sighed# /,)d lo"e to say no#) /.ut1) /.laine)s re=uests to +inn are ne"er 'erely that#) /*h well#) , loo$ed out o% the $itchen window at a cloudless cerulean s$y# /At least it)s a nice day %or it#) BBBBB /5ou can ride Auby( ,)ll ta$e .runo#) +inn led a stunning thoroughbred chestnut 'are %ro' the stable bloc$( past a sedate( handso'e bay# 3he was %i%teen hands high( and +inn)s bare ar's corded with tight 'uscle as he struggled to hold her# /3tand still( you stupid bitch() he chided( and slapped the s$ittish ani'al on the side o% her head# Her rolling eyes shone with a 'ale"olence that pro'ised an interesting ride# /5ou want a hat1) , shoo$ 'y head# /,t)ll gi"e 'e 'ore o% a reason to stay on#) /5our %uneral() he s'iled# , ignored hi'# &othing 'attered now e7cept wiping that e"il grin o%% +inn)s %ace# , would rather ha"e bro$en 'y nec$ than bac$ed down# /&eed a leg up1) , glared at hi'# /&o#) The 'o'ent , sat in the saddle , had a %eeling that du'b pride was about to get 'e $illed# E"en as , shortened 'y stirrup leathers Auby began to buc$ and rear li$e a 'ustang( and , was brie%ly te'pted to dis'ount be%ore the s'art option was snatched away as a stray carrier bag blew across the yard# Auby ga"e a high2pitched s=ueal o% terror( 'ade one last atte'pt to buc$ 'e o%% and bolted %ro' the yard with the speed o% an Ascot %a"ourite# As we galloped across the %ield behind the stable bloc$ , could only hang on %or gri' death and hope , would sur"i"e long enough to $ill the 'an who

had 8ust set 'e up# +inn &icola( .laine)s groo'( dro"e into the yard in her thirty2year old 'ini and brought it to a s=uealing halt 8ust inches %ro' the stea'ing 'uc$2heap# 3he sprinted across the cobbles without $illing the engine or shutting her door# /+inn6) she hollered as she ran( /0ho the hell is that on Aube1) /3he)s staying at the HallC) &icola)s eyes widened in alar'# /*h God +inn( she)s a guest1) /5es# 0ell( noC Kinda() , stu'bled# /0hy1 ,s there a proble'1) /Auby)s the bloody proble'# .laine too$ her out at the start o% the wee$ and la'ed herD rode her hard on tar'ac %or three hours straight# 0e)"e had to stable her %or the last %our days( and you $now what she)s li$e i% she)s inside %or hal% an hour#) &icola shoo$ her head in e7asperation# /5ou stupid bugger6) , had ne"er sobered up so %ast in 'y li%e# A pint o% brea$%ast "od$a e"aporated %ro' 'y bloodstrea' li$e 'agic and as , leapt into .runo)s saddle , prayed that -ilith was as good a rider as she had clai'ed# A =uarter o% a 'ile away( on the 'argins o% the corn%ield( a horse)s chestnut %lan$ %lashed bright in the 'orning sun be%ore it bolted into the woods# *n Auby)s bac$( than$ an unusually bene"olent God( sat -ilith .resson# As , 'ight ha"e guessed( she was doing e"erything right# 3itting deep into the saddle( letting Auby ha"e her head until she ran out o% stea'( and ta$ing her uphill to slow the pace# Ta$ing her uphill towards an abandoned =uarry# , $ic$ed .runo into a %lat2out gallop as we hit the edge o% the %ield# -ilith At %irst sheer %ury suppressed any %ear( but as we crashed into dense

woodland and Auby still showed no sign o% stopping , began to thin$ that one or both o% us was heading %or certain death# , didn)t $now the terrain ? had no idea i% the ne7t turn would bring us out onto a road( or so'e roc$2studded %ield# , %orced 'ysel% to breathe as nor'ally as , couldE 'y inhaler was in 'y t2shirt poc$et but it 'ay as well ha"e been on the 'oon %or all 'y hope o% reaching the bloody thing# 0ith the thundering o% 'y pulse in 'y ears echoing Auby)s hoo% beats , didn)t hear +inn)s approach until he was ne7t to 'e( 'atching .runo)s gait to ours# At %irst , thought he was trying to ride 'e o%% and %inish the 8ob properlyD he brought .runo le"el with Auby)s right %lan$ and reined hi' hard to the le%t so that 'y 'are was %orced to brea$ her stride# 3he stu'bled and "eered so wildly that , had to throw 'ysel% across her nec$ to stay 'ounted# As Auby staggered bac$ to her %eet( ready to bolt again( +inn di"ed out o% his saddle and caught 'y reins with both hands# My horse 'ade one last atte'pt to rear out o% his grip but the %ire had gone out and she %inally ca'e to a tre'bling( wild2eyed halt# , dis'ounted and prepared to 'urder hi'# +inn stood with Auby( panting %or breath and ashen2%aced# /Huarry() he panted by way o% e7planation( and pointed# My $nees nearly ga"e way and , had to hold on to the saddle as , saw the drop 8ust behind 'e# 0e were perhaps %i"e 'etres %ro' the edge o% an o"ergrown 'aw in the landscape( where a solitary 'ouldering( lichen2 co"ered sign warned( /4A&GEA ? KEEP *@T#) 0e wouldn)t ha"e stood a chance# +inn At %irst , thought she 'ight be in shoc$# /,)' so sorry() , began( but then -ilith turned on 'e with the sa'e %ury , had watched her unleash on that %at bastard on the T> and , seriously %eared %or 'y balls# /3orry1) she hissed( /5ou try to %uc$ing $ill 'e and you thin$ /sorry) is going to cut it1 0hat the %uc$ing hell were you thin$ing1 The poor bloody ani'al)s probably la'e %or li%e6) -ilith ran a hand down Auby)s %oa'ing near2hind leg#

/.urning up# 5ou twat# 5ou stupid( ignorant son2o%2a2bitch twat#) /-oo$( , won)t lie to you ? , wanted to gi"e you a scare( sure( but , didn)t thin$ she)d go that cra<y# 3he)s been stabled up %or the last couple o% days# , didn)t $now ? , 8ustC) , stupidly decided to try and de%end 'ysel%# /-oo$( , 8ust sa"ed your li%eC) /3a"ed 'y li%e( you arsehole1 At which point does putting 'e on the bac$ o% that creature () she 8abbed a %inger at Auby( /constitute sa"ing 'y bloody li%e1) Her words rang o%% the stones o% the =uarry# /5ou said you could ride### , assu'ed you)d ha"e been hunting since you were crawling and 2) , didn)t get to %inish the sentence# -ilith was incandescent# /*h please tell 'e that isn)t what this was all about# 3o'e one2'an class war1 +or %uc$)s sa$e( +inn6 , didn)t ha"e any 'ore choice o"er where , was bloody well born than you did( so the day , 8udge you %or your sac$2o%2shit heritage is the day you get to do it to 'e# Clear1) /0ell you)re the %irst person ,)"e e"er 'et who)s pic$ed up a hoc$ey in8ury#) -ilith narrowed her eyes# /Aight# ,)ll tell you what happened there( shall ,1 3tacey2Marie Collins and hal%2a2do<en o% her delight%ul co'rades hauled 'e behind the bi$e sheds a%ter she)d %ound a stray photocopy o% a cartoon , did o% her as an Alsatian bitch on heat# 3he got the' to hold 'e down while she dispensed 8ustice with the business end o% her hoc$ey stic$#) , winced despite 'ysel%# /, didn)t thin$ they let that $ind o% thing go on at the posh schools#) /,t wasn)t a /posh school)( you presu'ptuous little shit# 4o you thin$ 'y 'other and , set up in a 3outh Ken penthouse when we got $ic$ed out1) /, don)t $now ? , hadn)t thought ###) /5eah( and doesn)t it show1) -ilith snapped# /0e $ept what we could carry# 0e spent the %irst wee$ in a hostel then 'o"ed into a council %lat in Pec$ha'# 0ithin three days ,)d been hospitalised with asth'a %ro' the da'p and , returned ho'e to %ind that 'y 'other ? on the basis that aliens

were using ne7t door as a bo'b %actory ? had decorated the entire %uc$ing $itchen with tin%oil# , then spent two delight%ul years at 3aint Hilda)s school %or teenage psychopaths be%ore 'y %ather carried out his highly publicised rescue 'ission#) *nly now did she stop to draw breath( and , didn)t see her blin$ once during the entire tirade# /And belie"e 'e when , say ,)' not %ishing %or sy'pathy here ? , $now there are others out there who)"e had 'ore shit in one day than ,)"e had in a li%eti'e ? but , really sincerely %uc$ing well hope ,)"e 8ust said enough to earn 8ust a touch o% credibility in the eyes o% the o%%icial 4ublin representati"e o% the Great @nwashed#) -ilith .resson glared at 'e with glittering( sapphire2hard eyes and , %orced 'ysel% to 'eet her ga<e# .irds sang( a so%t bree<e shoo$ the tops o% the trees( and , spent pain%ul 'o'ents trying not to pu$e up the "od$a that was threatening a return 8ourney and searching %or so'ething ? anything ? to say# +inally , %ound 'y "oice# /-oo$( %or what it)s worth ,)' sorry# 5ou)re right( , was a twat( and i% ,)d thought %or a 'o'ent that things would go this wrong there)s no way on God)s earth ,)d ha"e done what , did# , wouldn)t put an ani'al at ris$ o% heading o"er that edge( ne"er 'ind a hu'an being#) -ilith turned her bac$ on 'e and ran a cal'ing hand o"er Auby)s sweat2 dar$ened nec$# , $new then that ,)d blown it and , stood in a patch o% 'orning sunlight and %elt 'y sto'ach churn as the hango"er $ic$ed in %or real# -ilith , rested 'y %orehead against Auby)s %lan$ and breathed in the co'%orting s'ell o% horse sweat and da'p earth# +inally , turned to %ace the 'an , had 8ust "erbally %layed# Part o% 'e still wanted to $ic$ hi' into the =uarry( but his apology had cost hi' dear and , had $nown bigger 'en than +inn 3trachan run rather than %ace out the worst e7cesses o% 'y rage# /0ell( at least you didn)t use your start to the day as an e7cuse#) /HowC1 Ah %uc$( Henry#) +inn subconsciously rubbed at the stic$ing plaster in the croo$ o% his le%t ar' and , could see the reddened s$in around his wrists and biceps where he)d been held down# /That shite o% a 'an will not $eep his 'outh shut#)/,)' not the ene'y here( +inn#)

/, $now# , $now you)re not#) /Then do 'e a bloody huge %a"our# 4on)t %ight 'e# Please#) +inn loo$ed at 'e in surprise# /,s that it1) /,s what /it)1) /5ou ? the bolloc$ing ? , 'ean( that)s all1) /4o you want so'e 'ore1) He ga"e a sheepish s'ile# /Hell( no# ,t)s 8ust that( well( let)s 8ust say ,)' used to slightly 'ore %ar2reaching repercussions %or 'y %uc$2ups#) /, can i'agine# &o( as %ar as ,)' concerned( that)s it done with# And it goes no %urther() , added( and watched na$ed relie% appear in +inn)s eyes# He ga"e a nod and bent to inspect Auby)s leg# The 'are let hi' run practiced hands o"er her %etloc$ and pastern# /,% you)re up to it( we could ride bac$ down the strea'() he suggested# /That should cool her down#) /3ounds a little 'ore en8oyable than the outbound 8ourney#) , tightened 'y girth and re'ounted# /Mind you( she)s got a %air turn o% speed on her( ,)ll say that 'uch#) This ti'e Auby 'erely ga"e a snort o% 'ild disappro"al# /5eah# .laine)s always had an eye %or good stoc$#) +inn lithely pulled hi'sel% into the saddle# BBBBB 0e used the 'eandering little strea' as our path bac$ to the la$e( letting the horses pic$ their way down the pebbled bed at their own pace# , had a lot 'ore ti'e to ta$e notice o% 'y surroundings now( and %or a while we rode alongside the towering granite wall that 'ar$ed the %ar reaches o% the Alber'arle estate# @p close it loo$ed 'ore li$e a prison barricade than a boundary# /0hat happened when you tried to escape1) , as$ed# /0hen# &ot i%# 4o you e"er get it wrong1) +inn swung his le%t leg o"er his

horse)s bac$ so that he sat in a rela7ed side2saddle( and cupped a cigarette in his hands to light it# He rode with insouciant ease and , $new he would ha"e been one o% those boys who $ept a horse tethered on whate"er piece o% "erge they could %ind on the big 4ublin estates# +inally he as$ed( /0hat do you thin$1) , ga"e it so'e thought# /,t won)t ha"e been pretty# ,% .laine)s prepared to hurt an autistic ten2year old 8ust to get 'e to slap a bit o% paint onto a can"as( , don)t want to i'agine what she)s got hanging o"er you# .ut , rec$on that wouldn)t ha"e stopped you in the early days#) A'used( he narrowed his eyes against the ha<e o% s'o$e# /0hat d)you 'ean1) /3erial escapologist# 5ou 'ight not be able to 'anage it physically any 'ore( but you do it che'ically whene"er you can#) /5ou sure you)re not %uc$ing psychic1) /&ope# ;ust e7tre'ely obser"ant( and a reluctant e7pert on sel%2'edication# 3o# 0hat happened1) /About si7 'onths into 'y tenure , was in town with Henry and decided to do a runner# Thought , had nothing to lose( 'aybe e"en that .laine was blu%%ing about the crap she could rain down# Then she called the police# The Chie% Constable has an appoint'ent with her e"ery couple o% 'onths( so within an hour o% 'e hitting shore( they had a %uc$ing helicopter upD dogs( the lot#) He paused to draw on his s'o$e# /They were told they were loo$in) %or so'e %ilthy ,rish bastard that)d 8ust touched up a %our year2old on holiday with her 'a''y and daddy#) /&ice#) /*h yeah# 3till( too$ /e' si7 hours to %ind 'e() +inn s'iled( a trace o% pride still e"ident# /,)d spent years in 4ublin hoo%in) it away %ro' the gardai a%ter we)d nic$ed a 'otor#) /And when they got you1) /As , re'e'ber() he began to count o%% on his %ingers( /Two bro$en ribs(

concussion( a crac$ed chee$ bone and eye soc$et( and a $ic$in) to 'y $idneys that had 'e pissing blood %or the best part o% a 'onth#) /,s that all1) /There)d ha"e been 'ore( but about an hour into the party the des$ sergeant got a call %ro' .laine saying it had all been a dread%ul 'ista$e( so they hosed 'e down( said sorry and dro"e 'e ho'e#) +inn %lic$ed his cigarette butt into the strea' where it san$ with a =uiet hiss# /3o as you so beauti%ully put it( , use the che'ical 'ethod these days#) /4o you 'ind 'e as$ing what1) +inn grinned# /,)' surprised you can)t guess() he challenged# /4o you want 'e to guess1) He chewed at his lip %or a 'o'ent# /Ah( why not#) /Aight then# 5ou)"e already said you were a s'ac$head( but , can)t i'agine %or a 'o'ent that .laine would tolerate that# +ro' the state o% your eyes that night in the cha'ber o% horrors ,)d say there was so'e trans%erence onto so'e hea"y2duty tran=uilliser and you)re not co'atose all the ti'e( which suggests so'ething con"eniently short2ter'#) +inn ga"e 'e a respect%ul nod# /3o( your guess( Ms .resson1) /Te'a<epa'#) He threw bac$ his head and laughed# /+uc$in) hell( you)re good( wo'an#) , s'iled# /, $now#) /5ou see' pretty clued2up ? /trans%erence) and all that lingo#) /My 'other)s bedside drawer used to loo$ li$e a phar'acist)s warehouse# E"erything %ro' lithiu' to beta bloc$ers( either ta$en in one hand%ul or spat across the roo' as the wor$ o% the de"il( depending on which day o% the wee$ it was# Te'a<epa' was one o% her particular %a"ourites# &asty stu%% ? e"en the withdrawal can $ill you#)

/5ou)re tellin) 'e# ,t was 8ust 'eant to ta$e the edge o%% 'y s'ac$2rattle( at %irst#) +inn pic$ed away at a %rag'ent o% peeling leather on his reins# /.ut ta$e enough o% the %uc$ers and nothing else see's to 'atter( y)$now1 Proble' is( be%ore you $now it you can)t stop e"en i% you want to# Mind you( .laine)s happy enough /cos it $eeps 'e docile# ,t)s also a little easier to get hold o% legally than heroin in dar$est &orthu'bria#) /Ah# , was wondering about that#) /-ady Alber'arle)s ta'e doctor() +inn e7plained as we le%t the strea' and too$ up the tree2lined trac$ that would lead us bac$ to the stables# /,ngrid Parnell# 3he %aced being struc$ o%% %or %iddling prescriptions a couple o% years ago# .laine pulled one o% her strings to $eep it out o% the courts( so now she owns her soul#) He thu'bed the croo$ o% his ar'# /And the stupid cow ta$es blood sa'ples li$e a %uc$ing butcher#) +inn ,t %elt odd( di"ulging this 'iniscule corner o% the unsaid to the wo'an , had 8ust so nearly $illed# *dd( not bad# .ut dangerous# The adage that $nowledge was power was ne"er truer than with .laine Alber'arle# E"ery aspect o% a person)s li%e had a %i7ed "alue( beca'e a thing to be traded and used at her whi'# E7perience had taught 'e that you $ept such details close( yet in a %ortnight -ilith had %igured out 'ore about 'e than anyone had e"er cared to $now( and , could only hope that she would hold it gently# The sudden roar o% a car engine at %ull throttle 'ade us both start# , loo$ed o"er 'y shoulder and swung 'y leg bac$ o"er the saddle( gathering 'y reins as , did so# /The %uc$in) idiot ? -ilith( rein Auby in and sit 2) , began( 8ust as a red con"ertible screa'ed past us at what 'ust ha"e been at least se"enty and Auby si'ultaneously reared and leapt sideways into the hedge#

-ilith went tu'bling bac$wards and landed %lat on her bac$ in a patch o% nettles and scrubby bra'bles# 3he rolled into a protecti"e ball and all , could do was shut 'y eyes as Auby)s %lashing hoo"es 'issed her unprotected s$ull by inches# As the horse)s %ront %eet touched the ground , 'anaged to lean out and grab her reins be%ore she disappeared o"er the hori<on or tra'pled her rider to death# 0ith hindsight( , would ha"e been better o%% grabbing -ilith# As , tethered the horses to a low branch the car ca'e to a halt about a hundred yards down the lane# /0an$er6) -ilith screa'ed and leapt to her %eet with a %ist2si<ed lu'p o% dried 'ud in her hand# The car began to re"erse towards us and she launched her 'issile with i'pressi"e accuracy# Earth and grit e7ploded across the paintwor$ and le%t a "isible dent in the bu'per# The dri"er %lung his door open and ran towards us# His %ace was contorted with rage# /5ou stupid bitch6 Ha"e you any idea how 'uch this car cost1) he yelled# /Too bloody 'uch %or that coc$2substitute ;ap2crap() -ilith hollered bac$ and too$ a step towards her opponent# ;ohnny .uc$le ca'e to 'ind once 'ore and , $new , couldn)t let that happen here# &ot with this 'an# 0ithout the ti'e to e7plain why( the only thing , could thin$ o% was to step directly in %ront o% -ilith and place a %inger o"er her lips# /Hush#) Her right hand snapped around 'y wrist li$e a tiny "ice and , could %eel the strength that had allowed her to topple a 'an three ti'es her si<e# , thought , was ne7t in line to get la'ped( but to 'y a'a<e'ent she edged bac$ and let her hands drop# , turned bac$ to the dri"er o% said coc$2substitute# /3he)s a guest at Alber'arle Hall( Mr 4al<iell() , e7plained then although it nearly cho$ed 'e , added /3ir() %or good 'easure# /-ilith .resson# The artist1) , had ne"er seen such a rapid trans%or'ation on a 'an)s %ace#

/*h 'y God() he grinned( /so it is6 -ilith bloody .resson( here in Alber'arle6 ,t)s an absolute pleasure#) He o%%ered his hand as though he had 8ust been introduced at a coc$tail party# , decided things couldn)t get 'uch 'ore surreal and crac$ed on with the introductions# /-ilith( this is Alasdair 4al<iell ? his %a'ily owns the neighbouring %ar' to .laine)s estate() , e7plained# -ilith didn)t 'o"e( but at least it no longer loo$ed li$e she was going to land hi' one# /-ady Alber'arle to you isn)t it( you Paddy piece o% shit1) 4al<iell)s eyes were still loc$ed on -ilith# /As , said( rather un%ortunate circu'stances( but it is always a pleasure to 'eet such an attracti"e young lady#) /5ou dri"e li$e a total cunt() -ilith said# +ortunately now that her status was established this a'used 4al<iell beyond 'easure# /,t)s been said be%ore() he laughed( and surreptitiously too$ his unsha$en hand away# /;ust not =uite so directly# ,)d heard you had spirit#) /5eah( and , al'ost had a %ractured s$ull as well() -ilith replied# /-oo$( she)s had =uite a %all() , e7plained( trying to sound reasonable# /, thin$ it 'ight be best i% you get on your way %or now and we)ll head into the "illage so the doctor can chec$ her o"er#) , could ha"e $issed his young -ordship)s %at white English arse %or a 'onth and it wouldn)t ha"e done 'e a da'n bit o% di%%erence# He rounded on 'e( his ruddy county2%ar'er)s %ace %lushed purple# /Are you telling 'e what to do( Paddy1) , $new the drill %ro' hereD %ound a suitable spot on the ground to stare at and said( /,)' sorry( no( not at all# ,t was 'erely a suggestion#) /4idn)t thin$ it was your 8ob to /suggest) anything() 4al<iell s'ir$ed# He)d 'ade enough "isits to .laine to $now at least part o% 'y set2up# ,t was going to ta$e a bloody 'iracle %or 'e not to get belted by hi' now# /To tell you the truth , a' %eeling a little %aint#) -ilith laid a hand on 'y ar'# 4al<iell)s %ocus snapped bac$ to her#

/,)' so sorry ? here , a' arguing with Paddy here and ignoring 'y da'sel in distress# 0ould you li$e 'e to run you into the "illage1) /His na'e)s +inn# And no( than$ you# ,)"e had su%%icient e7posure to your dri"ing to last a li%eti'e#) /0ell i% you)re =uite sure#) /,)' "ery sure# , 8ust need to sit here and get 'y breath bac$#) 4al<iell ga"e her a courteous nod# /,n that case( , hope , get to see you around when you)re %eeling a little better# Perhaps we can 'eet %or drin$s1) He strolled bac$ to his car( and as he reached the door he turned to loo$ at 'e# /And ,)ll be seeing you# +inn#) He did that ridiculous gesture o% touching his inde7 %inger at his eye( then at 'e# -i$e , needed a "isual aid# 0e watched hi' dri"e o%%( spinning his wheels and sending up a hail o% road2grit as he went# -ilith sat down and too$ a blue inhaler %ro' her poc$et# 3he s=uirted it twice into her 'outh# /0an$er#) /Can)t argue there#) , sat down ne7t to her# /4)you really want to see the doctor1) , as$ed# /.ecause ,)' telling you now( she)s shit# Too$ %i"e %uc$ing goes to %ind a "ein this 'orning#) -ilith shoo$ her head# /&o( ,)ll be o$ay# ,)ll 8ust dose up on codeine when , get bac$#) , ga"e a rue%ul s'ile# /.et all this has done your shoulder the world o% good( huh1) /&ot to 'ention the 'illion and one nettle stings %ro' 'y crash landing#) A rash o% pin2pric$s co"ered -ilith)s bare ar's# /4oc$ lea"es#) , pulled a hand%ul o% the dar$( glossy lea"es %ro' the "erge# , rolled the' in 'y hands to crac$ the ste's and handed the' to -ilith# , didn)t ha"e the courage to suggest that , apply the' 'ysel%# 3he held the' against her s$in and winced# /*w( ow( ow( ow( ow# .loody

idiot o% a 'an#) /Hi'( or 'e1) /Hi'#) 3he suddenly beca'e serious# /That little scene cost you( didn)t it1) , shrugged# /Probably# .ut at the end o% the day( e"erything , do costs 'e# The only =uestion is how 'uch#) -ilith stood and re'ounted# /, should ha"e held bac$# , didn)t 'ean to cause you any 'ore grie%#) /5ou)re $idding( aren)t you1) , laughed# /, was %uc$ed the second , opened 'y 'outh to the 'an# ,)ll get it good style at so'e point when , least e7pect it# &ah( it was you , was trying to co"er# He)s not a nice 'an at all#) /0hat( you)re telling 'e that you)ll get hurt %or that little scene1) , nearly told her to %uc$ right o%% but then , saw the genuine surprise on her %ace# /He)s a %riend o% .laine)s( -ilith# More than that( on occasion( but that)s nothing too unusual ? she)d sooner shag Coyle than pay hi' a wage#) , swung bac$ into .runo)s saddle and rode ne7t to her# The last thing , wanted to do was to sound li$e , was patronising the wo'an( but there was stu%% , needed to $now she understood# ,t was easy to %orget that other people li"ed in a world where rules and laws and co''on sense could $eep you sa%e# A world where( i% you did the right thing you were allowed to get on with your li%e in whiche"er way you chose# , suppose , had assu'ed that -ilith)s insight( that sharpness that led her to the heart o% so 'uch( would in so'e way let her understand e"erything# , pulled at what was le%t o% 'y thu'bnail until , drew blood# /,% he $nows .laine( he can get you hurt and no2one will e"er $now# ,t)s that si'ple# And , $now it 'ightn)t see' li$e it %ro' this 'orning)s display( but , would lo"e to see you arri"e bac$ in ci"ilisation in one piece#) 0e rode the rest o% the way to the stables in silence# , wasn)t sure which o% us had learned 'ore in the last two hours#

Chapter Ten -ilith /4on)t lea"e 'e( Clarissa6 They)re co'ing( , can %eel it6 3tay with 'e( pleaseC) My 'other)s contorted %ace leered inches away %ro' 'e and , could s'ell the acid( pear2drop ree$ o% her star"ing breath# E'aciated hands clawed at the collar o% 'y school blouse as , bac$ed down the 'usty( barricaded passage o% our council %lat# A %rantic ha''ering ca'e %ro' ne7t door# /Ma$e that 'ad %rog bitch shut the %uc$ up( or ,)ll co'e round there and do it %or you6) , opened 'y 'outh to reply( but no 'atter how hard , tried( no sound ca'e out# My 'other threw hersel% to the %loor and grabbed at 'y legs as our neighbour began to dis'antle the di"iding wall bric$ by bric$# /Clarissa( what do you thin$ you)re doing1) The head'istress %ro' 'y boarding school( wearing the sa'e out%it that .laine had worn on the night she had horsewhipped +inn( sat at our %ilthy $itchen table and dran$ tea %ro' a chipped 'ug that hea"ed with 'aggots# /5ou do realise that your -atin e7a')s 8ust about to start1) 0ith no "oice( , couldn)t e7plain that 'y 'other)s latest episode was 'a$ing things a little di%%icult( and when , glanced down she had trans%or'ed into a shrun$en corpse whose s$eletal %ingers re'ained loc$ed around 'y an$les# , awo$e struggling %or air in the pure silence o% the night# BBBBB , e7pected the $itchen to be deserted# 3i7 wee$s into 'y stay , had grown used to the routine o% Alber'arle Hall and , $new that e"en Henry wouldn)t be at wor$ at three in the 'orning# Already 8ittery %ro' a co'bination o% night'are and salbuta'ol( , ga"e a so%t cry o% shoc$ as a shadowed %igure 'o"ed silently across the pools o% 'oonlight and challenged 'y %ir' non2 belie% in ghosts#

/Hi#) /+uc$ing hell( +inn( you nearly ga"e 'e a heart attac$#) , slu'ped into the nearest seat( sha$ing 'ore than e"er# /3orry() +inn shrugged# /0asn)t e7pecting co'pany#) He $neeled down to open the re%rigerator door and his delicate( angelic %ace was suddenly bathed in the no"elty o% electric light# E"en at this ridiculous hour( and clad in a %aded blue t2shirt and ancient py8a'a pants( he loo$ed li$e so'ething Michelangelo 'ight re8ect %or being too beauti%ul# /, didn)t thin$ you ate#) /, don)t#) +inn started ri%ling through the %ree<er co'part'ent# /,)' a%ter ice cubes#) He %ound what he was loo$ing %or( sat down at the table without 'eeting 'y ga<e and pressed a cube to the bac$ o% his hand# He ga"e a so%t e7halation o% breath that sounded strangely li$e relie%# 0ithout waiting %or the =uestion he e7plained( /Coping strategy# Apparently i% you hold ice to the parts o% your ar' where you)d nor'ally stub out your %ag( it sends a si'ilar 'essage to your brain without 'a$ing you s'ell li$e a barbecue#) As , watched the sil"ered droplets %all and soa$ into the table top , %inally understood the long2%aded scars and pitted s$in that co"ered his hands# /4oes it wor$1) /&ah# &ot really# , 8ust don)t want to waste a s'o$e#) He %inally loo$ed up( now that , had passed this latest test by not running a 'ile# /3o( now you $now how , spend 'y nights o%%( what are you doing here1) /&ight'ares#) /0hat( li$e real( nor'al people get1) +inn as$ed( a'used# /;esus( you)ll be telling 'e you %art ne7t#) /4on)t be ridiculous# And e"en i% , did( they)d s'ell o% roses#) , rubbed at eyes that %elt as though they were %ull o% grit# /-oo$( , $now it sounds pathetic but , don)t do night'ares( +inn# ,)"e spent years sorting out 'y de'ons during the day speci%ically so , don)t ha"e to deal with this $ind o%

shit at night#) /Ah( but Alber'arle Hall has that e%%ect on its sta%%#) +inn lit a cigarette and blew pale s'o$e into the gloo'# /Aela7es its guests and %uc$s its wor$ers#) , was per"ersely proud at being counted as part o% the latter group# /3o it would see'# Anyway( how co'e you)re awa$e1 , thought you sel%2 'edicated yoursel% co'atose#) +inn ga"e a thin s'ile# /-ilith( , ta$e eight te'a<<ies a night 8ust to stop 'e crawling the walls( and hal%2a2do<en 'ost 'ornings# ,t)s what $eeps 'e the nearest appro7i'ation to nor'al ,)' e"er going to get( and , need to get 'y hands on at least %i%teen in one throw i% , really need to 'ong out and sleep through# ,% ,)' not wor$ing( li$e tonight( there)s not a cat in hell)s chance o% that#) /3hit#) The only response , could 'anage# /3hit indeed#) The $ettle began its shrill whistle( and he stood# /Tea1) , watched as he poured a =uarter o% a pint o% 'il$ into his own drin$ and added si7 sugars# /0hat the hell is that1) /;un$ie)s tea# Keeps you going when you can)t be arsed to eat#) He dredged a layer o% sugar syrup %ro' the botto' o% the 'ug and lic$ed the residue %ro' his spoon# /*ld habits and all that#) /, guess you didn)t in8ect#) +inn shoo$ his head# /&ah# *nly real bene%it o% 'y big girl)s phobia# , 8ust chased 'ore dragons than 3aint George# 0ell( that and s'o$ed the occasional roc$ i% , %ancied splashing out# Good 8ob , suit the /crac$ whore) loo$#) He suc$ed in his chee$s# /-i$e that#) , laughed( and his whole %ace bro$e into a boy)s wide grin at 'y reaction# /5)$now( that)s what)s so %uc$ing cra<y# 0hen , 'et .laine , was 8ust starting to clean up 'y act# ,)d %ound this pro8ect( run by a couple o% decent %ellas ? e72trade ? who didn)t try to counsel the "ery arse o%% you# Then Her -adyship turned up and 'ade 'e an o%%er that sounded li$e hea"en( andC

well( you can guess the rest( huh1) He)d had enough o% tal$ing about hi'sel%( because he suddenly as$ed( /3o( what do you usually do when you can)t sleep1) /@sually , can sleep# That)s the bloody proble'#) , ga"e hi' a sideways glance# /*ther than that( , %ind 'asturbation to be e%%ecti"e# 0hy( what about you1) /A good Catholic boy li$e 'ysel%1 5ou 'ust be 8o$ing# Anyway( it $ind o% changes things when your e=uip'ent)s used %or business instead o% pleasure#) The grin returned# /+uc$in) hell( it)s three in the 'orning and ,)' sitting in a $itchen ha"ing a con"ersation about 8ac$in) o%% with the +uture o% .ritish Art#) He too$ a drin$ o% his disgusting concoction# /-ilith .resson# ,ce Princess# 0an$s and %arts# Possibly at the sa'e ti'e#) , narrowed 'y eyes# /5ou thin$ you)"e got it bad1 ,t)s three in the 'orning and ,)' ha"ing a con"ersation about 8ac$ing o%% with so'e chee$y ,rish pi$ey bastard# And ,)' bloody %ree<ing#) ,t was then that , ca'e up with the 'ost stupid suggestion in the world# /, don)t suppose you)d be willing to wal$ 'e bac$ to 'y roo'1) , as$ed( and watched the barriers rise %aster than , could count# /0hy1) , ga"e a sigh o% %rustration# /*h( %or hea"en)s sa$e +inn( ,)' not that crass# ,t)s 8ust that ,)' bloody %ree<ing here( and it 'ight be wish%ul thin$ing but it)s the only place in this shithole where , e"en begin to %eel li$e ,)' on 'y own territory#) /That)s not an answer#) , held 'y hands up# /All right# ,% you want 'e to be e7cruciatingly honest( , don)t %ancy being by 'ysel% in so'e bloody 'adhouse that doesn)t e"en let 'e %lic$ on the T> when , can)t stand the sound o% 'y own breathing# 3o right now , need so'e intelligent con"ersation and ci"ilised co'pany until ,)' too $nac$ered to $eep 'y eyes open( and seeing as ,)' not going to get that( you)ll ha"e to do# 0ill that su%%ice1) /Maybe#)

, was still cursing 'ysel% %or being so %orward when he as$ed( /0hat about .ran1) He gestured at his dog( who do<ed contentedly on a towel laid out on the war' %lagstones by the sto"e# /, ha"en)t let a dog in 'y bedroo' since one o% 'y %ather)s -abradors coc$ed its leg on 'y doll)s house#) /, pro'ise she won)t piss in your roo'() +inn assured 'e# /Can)t guarantee that , won)t( 'ind you#) , s'iled with relie%( already pushing 'y chair bac$ under the table# /Co'e on then( be%ore , %eel li$e an e"en bigger idiot than , do already#) BBBBB 0hen we reached 'y door( , stopped# /-oo$( you really don)t ha"e to do this#) , was already beginning to %eel %oolish at 'y display o% wea$ness# /, $now , don)t# That)s why , a'#) /5ou won)t get any hassle( will you1) /&ah( , don)t thin$ so# ,)ll 8ust stay the ten 'inutes though( until you)re settled again# That way( no2one)s going to be getting the wrong idea e"en i% we are seen#) /God( , %eel so bloody stupid#) , unloc$ed 'y door# /, thin$ ,)"e got an allergy to silence#) /&o sha'e in ad'itting this place has got you rattled# ,)' i'pressed it)s ta$en this long( to be honest with you#) , had ne"er $nown +inn to be so %riendly( as open as this# , wondered i% it was the relati"e %reedo' the dar$ness o% the early hours ga"e hi'( or si'ply a recent dose o% te'a<epa' tal$ing# Either way( , was grate%ul %or this particular incarnation# /Grab a seat#) /+uc$ 'e6) +inn e7clai'ed# /4oes anyone actually li"e here1) /Me( last ti'e , chec$ed#) , sat on 'y bed and wor$ed 'y %eet bac$ under a

du"et that was still war' %ro' 'y body heat# /0hat can , say1 , li$e tidy#) +inn too$ the ar'chair by the windowE %acing the door( %urthest %ro' the bed# /5ou sure you weren)t in the ar'y1) /Positi"e# .ut any a'ateur psychologist would tell you it)s your a"erage control %rea$)s response to a chaotic li%e# Creating order where"er , can#) /This place 'ust really be doing your head in( huh1) .ran 8u'ped up onto the bed with 'e and , absently stro$ed the so%t "el"et o% her ears# /To be honest( it)s 'anaged to pro"ide e"erything ,)"e spent 'y adult li%e escaping( in one handy pac$age#) +inn reached out and swept the %lat o% his hand across the sur%ace o% 'y dresser as i% he couldn)t =uite belie"e the absence o% dust# /, don)t $now anyone who)s paid so 'uch not to %uc$ 'e() he said =uietly# , was wondering how to reply( when he laughed# /God( ,)"e 8ust %igured out what)s 'issing ? you ditched the hallowed Alber'arle Teddy .ear6) , nodded# /.anished to a dar$ cupboard %or all eternity#) /5ou cold2hearted bastard#) /Gi"e 'e a hot water bottle any day# At least they ha"e so'e appreciable %unction# &ot li$e that pathetic pile o% o"erpriced %a$e %ur and anthropo'orphic bullshit , loc$ed in the wardrobe#) /5ou ha"e serious teddy bear issues#) /Too da'n right# My 'other ditched 'y last one when , was thirteen# 4oused hi' in lighter %uel and incinerated hi' in the bathroo'# Apparently he was a co"ert listening de"ice %or the C,A#) /5eah( well( you can)t be too care%ul# They can be dodgy little %uc$ers# Anyway( at least you had a proper bearC) &ow it was 'y turn to grin# /-et 'e guess# 5ou had to %ashion one %ro' twigs and those little bundles o% %lu%% you %ind in the gutter#)

/Close# Actually( , $nitted one using the discarded pubes that 'y 'other)s endless procession o% shags le%t in her bed#) He ga"e a deep sigh# /He was pretty cute( actually# Apart %ro' the s'ell#) /3ic$ %uc$() , giggled( and burrowed a little %urther into bed# .ran ga"e a so%t grunt at the disturbance# /.etter now1) /Much#) /Good#) +inn settled bac$ into the ar'chair and brought his $nees to his chest# E"en in the di' light , could see the goosebu'ps that co"ered his bare ar's# , i''ediately %elt guilty# 93hit# 5ou 'ust be absolutely %ree<ing#) +inn shrugged# /,)' used to it#) /That)s not the point#) , reached under the bed and o%%ered hi' one o% the so%t white blan$ets that were stored there# /Here( ta$e this# , don)t want you getting hypother'ia on 'y account#) +inn hesitated as i% e"en this si'ple transaction 'ight tip the delicate balance that $ept hi' in 'y roo'# E"entually he held out his ar's# /Cheers#) , threw the blan$et across to hi'# He wrapped hi'sel% in it so that 8ust his eyes and tousled hair were "isible# Content that he was as co'%ortable as he could be( , %elt the %irst pull o% sleep and reached out to turn down the oil la'p# That)s when , heard the panic$ed little gasp catch in his throat# +inn /That scares you#) -ilith let her hand drop# , thought about denying it( but she said it with a certainty that was beco'ing %a'iliar# /5eah# ,t does# ,'pressi"e( huh1 A twenty %our year2old %ella scared o% the %uc$ing dar$#)

/,)ll lea"e it on# ,t)s not a proble'#) , prepared 'ysel% %or the in=uisition( but none ca'e# , was glad she didn)t push itE it wasn)t a story , e"er planned on sharing# ,n the dar$ , was %ore"er %ourteen( in 'y second care ho'e and $neeling in %ront o% a poc$2'ar$ed young priest who bound 'y eyes with a ripped sheet so that he didn)t ha"e to loo$ into the' as he %orced 'e to ta$e his coc$ into 'y unwilling 'outh( or lying silent in 'y bed and listening to his sobs as he thrust against 'e again and again( praying out loud that the co"er o% dar$ness would hide his sin %ro' God)s sight# /Are you sure you)re o$ay1) -ilith as$ed in a "oice already %ull o% sleep# &o# ,)' 8ust ha"ing a wee %lashbac$ to gi"ing +ather McKenna a blow8ob# , buried 'y 'outh into the blan$et# /5eah( ,)' %ine# &o worries() , replied# /3)all right then# , owe you one %or this( +inn#) /4on)t be so %ec$in) da%t() , said as she pulled her du"et o"er her shoulders and shut her eyes# -ilith e"en slept tidily# 3i'ply turned onto her right side and dri%ted o%% with a light sigh( as still as 3now 0hite in her glass co%%in# , sat there %or a while( wrapped in 'y blan$et and 8ust listening to her so%t( regular breathing( until to 'y sha'e , realised that , wanted nothing 'ore than to curl up( surrounded by the order that -ilith had created in the heart o% so 'uch chaos( and sleep# E"en .laine( who would ? had ? let guests do pretty 'uch anything with 'e %or the right price( did not let anyone $eep 'e o"ernight in case , %ell asleep in their co'pany# According to .laine( who had witnessed it( , tended to spend 'ost o% 'y ti'e howling out the dissent , was denied whilst awa$e# &ot at all good %or business# That was why , had paused be%ore , too$ the blan$et %ro' -ilithE it increased the ris$ that , would get too co'%ortable and do so'ething really stupid# Tonight had been dangerous %or both o% us( e"en though we had not been caughtE %or a while it had been all too easy to pretend that this was a

nascent %riendship( and that would only 'a$e another thing %or .laine to con"ert into her own sic$ currency# , reluctantly shrugged 'ysel% %ree o% the blan$et)s war'th and %olded it into a hapha<ard s=uare be%ore resting it gently on the %oot o% the bed# Then , clic$ed .ran to 'y side and le%t -ilith)s roo' without loo$ing bac$# Chapter Ele"en -ilith , had always been a watcher# +ro' an early age , had learnt that i% , stayed still and =uiet enough %or long enough( things would happen around 'e as though , were in"isible# ,t used to send 'y %ather de'ented# As a child , could sit a corner o% his o%%ice %or hours( watching hi' wor$ and listening to his calls to his constituents( his colleagues and his lo"ers( and he would only notice 'e when , had had enough o% 'y ga'e and decided to lea"e# This particular 'orning in 'id2;uly( , lur$ed in a dar$ corner o% Henry)s $itchen( behind the door and with 'y bac$ to the range( %eeling its war'th along 'y spine# My s$etch pad rested on 'y $nees and , wor$ed on a drawing o% .ran( who was obligingly posing %or 'e by sleeping in a brindled( so%tly snoring ball o% %ur at 'y %eet# +inn sat at the table( belligerent and unco''unicati"e# He $new , was there ? had grunted so'ething that 'ight be loosely interpreted as an ac$nowledge'ent when , %irst wal$ed in ? but had said nothing %or the ne7t hal% hour# 3ince our nocturnal 'eeting he would usually tal$ to 'e i% we 'et at brea$%ast( so , guessed that he had had a rough night# The new bruise that was 8ust beginning to bloo' across his right chee$bone and around his eye bore testa'ent to 'y theory# +inn That 'orning( , wasn)t in the best o% 'oods to begin with# ,)d spent 'ost o% the night be%ore with a happily 'arried CE* who had got loaded on speed and GH. and %uc$ed 'e hard %or hours without co'ing once and then hit

'e clear across the bedroo' %or 'a$ing hi' betray his wi%e# His loathing hadn)t stopped hi' %ro' de'anding one last hand 8ob %or his 'oney( which at least %inally did the tric$( but by then the dawn was already creeping across the la$e and sleep was no longer an option# To really 'a$e 'y whole %uc$ing day( , had run out o% te'a<epa'# The %inal eight had been thrown down 'y throat the night be%ore( and now the subtle ache that would soon grow to consu'e e"ery 'uscle and ner"e was heralding 'y unwilling withdrawal# .laine had in%or'ed 'e that the ne7t supply was on its way( but that 'eant waiting %or Coyle# And playing his ga'e# , $new -ilith was thereE the so%t scratch o% her pencil punctuated the silence as she drew so'ething or other( but any energy , had was %ocused on the twin challenges o% sitting down and not screa'ing as 'y rattle $ic$ed in# , told 'ysel% that -ilith had probably %igured out 'ost o% what was going on( so con"ersation was redundant# ;ust as , was trying to wor$ out the least unco'%ortable way o% standing up to re%ill 'y co%%ee( , heard the 'uted throb o% the outboard 'otor as Coyle arri"ed on the island# Aelie% that 'y ne7t %i7 was at worst ten 'inutes away was tainted by the realisation that -ilith was going to witness whate"er scenario the e"il little shit had planned as sport# -ilith /,)"e got so'ething you 'ight want() Coyle said( sing2song( and held up a s'all green2striped paper bag# He sprawled across a $itchen chair( his legs spread wide# +inn said nothing( 8ust dragged slowly on his cigarette and ga"e Coyle his %inest insolent glare# /3o# , want to hear you as$ %or this really nicely#) , couldn)t see Coyle)s %ace( but , could hear the s'ir$ in his "oice# +inn slowly ground his s'o$e into a saucer# /Please#) Coyle tutted# /&ow that wasn)t nicely( was it1 Try again( %aggot#)

/Please could , ha"e 'y prescription1) /There now# &ot too hard( was it1) Coyle strolled around the table and held out the pac$et# As +inn reached out( his grinning tor'entor snatched it away again# /Cunt() +inn 'uttered( and Coyle hit hi' on the bac$ o% the head with a resounding slap# /5ou shit2stabbing twat() Coyle spat with sudden( chilling hate# /,)ll %uc$ing $ill you( you spea$ li$e that to 'e again#) He hit +inn once 'ore( harder this ti'e( bac$2handing hi' across the %ace# /5ou hear 'e1) +inn didn)t e"en loo$ up( and , started to %eel genuinely scared %or hi'# /5ou want to try goin) %or a day without these things( huh1 ,s that what you want1 5ou piece o% %uc$in) ho'o %ilth( you show 'e so'e respect or , swear to God ,)ll ha"e you rattlin) /til you howl be%ore you get your hands on these little beauties# 5ou hear 'e now1) Another slap# /5ou hear 'e1) Another# /0hat( you didn)t get enough o% this last night1 5ou want so'e 'ore1) &ow Coyle bunched his hand into a 'eaty %ist and , had had enough# /3top that#) , stood up %ro' 'y hiding place by the sto"e# Coyle spun around# /Good 'orning( Ms .resson# , had no idea that you were there# , do apologise i% our banter was distressing you#) /3top hitting hi'( gi"e hi' what he wants and then get out#) , could hear an alien( sharp edge to 'y "oice# , had ne"er %elt this ner"ous in con%rontation# /0hy1 4isturbing your chat( was ,1) Coyle sat bac$ down# /,s he telling you how he 'oans li$e a schoolgirl when he)s getting screwed up the arse( huh1 That)s what his custo'ers li$e about hi'( you $now# He)s a noisy little %uc$er( aren)t you( +inn2boy1) Coyle laughed and ru%%led +inn)s hair# /,)' surprised you ha"en)t heard hi'E *h yeah( gi"e it to 'e hard() he cried in obscene 'oc$ery# /Good and loud( so they lea"e a bigger tip# *r 'aybe he was describing how he got %ound by the gardai( passed out on the s'ac$ down a 4ublin bac$ alley with so'e old %ella)s spun$ 8oinin) the shit running

down his legs1) /Christ( lea"e 'e so'ething( would you1) +inn pleaded so%tly# /,s this intended to shoc$ 'e in so'e way( *)Halloran1 , as$ed# /A' , 'eant to blush( or step bac$ in horror( or 'aybe loo$ at +inn in a new light %ollowing your distaste%ul little re"elations1) At last the s'ug grin began to slip# /,)' sure , didn)t 2) he began( but , hadn)t %inished# /And do you thin$ %or one 'o'ent that anything you say to 'e( any unpleasant( tawdry detail( isn)t a tired "ariation on so'ething , heard %ro' 'y own 'other o"er %i%teen years ago1) /As , was saying( ,)' sure , didn)t 'ean to cause any o%%ence# ;ust ha"ing a bit o% a crac$ on( that)s all# ,)ll lea"e you to it( shall ,1) Coyle stood and threw the pac$et across the table at +inn# /En8oy() he called as he le%t# +inn lit up his ne7t cigarette# /4on)t#) /4on)t what1) /3ay a word#) /, wasn)t going to say anything#) /4idn)t ? %uc$ing ? need to#) +inn popped three white tablets into the pal' o% his hand in ti'e to the words# He swallowed the' with what was le%t o% his co%%ee# /5our %ace says e"erything( anyway#) /0hat is this( the bloody Thought Police1) , retorted# /,)' being repri'anded %or so'ething ,)"e ne"er e"en said1) He shot three 'ore pills into his 'outh and winced as he swallowed the' dry# /5eah# The thought that went( /0hy the hell does he sit there and let hi' do that1) That one#) /And do , get a chance to de%end 'ysel%1)

/&ah#) , ga"e a hiss o% %rustration# /God( you can be an arsey little bastard# *$ay( not that it)s going to 'a$e a blind bit o% di%%erence( but that isn)t actually what , thought#) /3ure it wasn)t#) , was sorely te'pted to screa'# /+or %uc$)s sa$e#) , re%illed the $ettle and sla''ed it down on top o% the sto"e# /He)s hurt you( all right1 3o'e o% it)s historical and so'e o% it)s to do with whate"er power .laine)s bestowed upon hi' but at no point in that scenario did , thin$ , was watching an e"en %ight# More than once you)ll ha"e wiped the %loor with that 'an and that)s what 'a$es it a 'illion ti'es worse that he can do this now#) /3top doing that weird shit on 'e6) +inn hollered# /And don)t you shout at 'e li$e that6) , yelled bac$# /+ine#) His "oice dropped to a growl that was no i'pro"e'ent whatsoe"er# /, don)t want to $now any 'ore about what you thin$# , want to $eep hold o% 8ust one or two po7y secrets in the car crash otherwise $nown as 'y li%e in the "ain hope that once or twice a year , can pretend to ha"e so'e bloody dignity#) /Are you =uite %inished1) /5eah#) +inn continued to glower at 'e as , threw a teabag into the nearest a"ailable 'ug# /,s there a proble'1) .laine as$ed as she wal$ed into the $itchen in a cloud o% per%u'ed 'ale"olence# /*nly , could hear the pair o% you %ro' 'y roo'#) /&o# &o proble' at all() +inn replied nonchalantly# /Good# Anyway( ,)' glad , caught you both together# -ilith ? , $now we had a sitting boo$ed %or this 'orning( but there)s so'e business , need to attend to# , wondered i% +inn 'ight ta$e 'y place1) /5ou want hi' in the piece1) , as$ed#

/, ha"en)t decided# .ut isn)t that part o% your 'ethod1 To 'a$e hordes o% s$etches then decide on the %inal arrange'ent at a later date1) /5esC) /0ell there we are# E"en i% , don)t choose the' %or the co'pleted wor$( it would still be wonder%ul to ha"e one or two nudes o% 'y %a"ourite boy %or 'y own collection#) /&udes1) This was the %irst ,)d heard o% her plans( and 8udging by +inn)s thunderous e7pression( the %irst he)d heard as well# /This isn)t how , wor$( .laine# 5ou $now this isn)t how , wor$ ? , wouldn)t do this to a client who)d re=uested a portrait( ne"er 'ind 2 ) .laine si'ply raised a hand to silence 'e as though , were so'e intrusi"e child# /,s that all right with you( darling1) she as$ed +inn# He didn)t e"en loo$ at her# /3ure#) /There you go# , don)t see a proble'( do you1) 3he reached out and li%ted his chin with a s'ooth( unlined hand and $issed hi' %ull on the 'outh# +inn responded with instant( 'echanical passion and it was the $ind o% clinch that in other circu'stances would ha"e had 'e as$ing i% the two o% the' were hungry# .laine %inally bro$e away# /My beauti%ul boy#) 3he s'iled at 'e# /, hope you both ha"e an en8oyable 'orning# ,)ll loo$ %orward to seeing the results o% the sitting when , return#) 0e listened in silence to the receding sharp clip o% stilettos on %lagstone( and +inn cal'ly pulled a cigarette %ro' his pac$# *nly the slightest tre'ble in his %ingers betrayed hi' as he lit up# /5ou goin) %or your run %irst1) , nodded# /Aight# 3ee you in an hour then#) He gathered up his cigarettes and lighter and stal$ed bare%oot out o% the $itchen# BBBBB /Hi#) E7actly one hour later( +inn stood at the door o% 'y studio with a %ace

that suggested he would rather be anywhere else in the uni"erse right now# He loo$ed li$e a cornered ani'al as his eyes darted around the roo'( loo$ing e"erywhere e7cept at 'e# /Co'e in#) /3ure#) He reluctantly stepped inside( his ar's tightly %olded across his chest and his hands hidden inside the slee"es o% a grey hooded sweatshirt that currently 'atched his co'ple7ion# /3o# 0hat d)you want 'e to do1) At that 'o'ent( , hated .laine 'ore than e"er# /-oo$( we don)t ha"e to go ahead with this() , began( but +inn shoo$ his head# /4)you thin$ ,)"e got any 'ore choice o"er this than anything else , do in this %uc$ing place1) he as$ed with such desperation that , %elt 'y sto'ach lurch# /, swear( this isn)t how , do things( +inn# ,)"e ne"er %orced anyone to do so'ething they)re not a hundred percent happy with#) /,)' used to it#) /0ell ,)' bloody well not#) , too$ a deep breath and %elt so'e resistance( but put it down to the tension radiating %ro' +inn# /All right# -et)s try and 'a$e this as painless as possible then( shall we1 0e)"e got all day( a%ter all# 5ou want a whis$ey1) , pro%%ered the bottle o% bourbon that , $ept in the studio as an occasional reward %or a good day)s wor$# /5eah# That)d be good# Than$s#) , poured hi' a =uadruple 'easure that he dran$ in one 'outh%ul( then re%illed his glass# , was running a well2worn routine now( the thing , did %or ner"ous %irst2ti'e sitters ? people who had paid thousands %or a -ilith .resson portrait( only to %ind at the last 'inute their courage had deserted the'# 3ure enough( ten 'inutes was all that was needed %or the alcohol to wea"e its unsubtle 'agic# +inn)s shoulders dropped a little( and so'e colour returned to his chee$s#

/,)' better now#) .etter# As ,)d planned# The ne7t stage would be to sit and 'a$e s'alltal$ until his ner"es receded into nothing# .ut +inn wasn)t ner"ousE he was terri%ied( "isibly shi"ering despite the war'th o% the roo'# 3o di%%erent to .laine)s willingness to re"eal all on her "ery %irst 'orning# /This really isn)t how it)s 'eant to be( +inn#) /,gnore 'e# ,)' being a du'b bastard#) He co'pulsi"ely pic$ed and bit at the dead s$in around his thu'bnail until he drew blood# /Could you wait hal% an hour1) , narrowed 'y eyes# /0hy1) /Maybe i% , ta$e so'ething ? y)$now( a bit e7tra ? 8ust to ta$e the edge o%%C) /&o# ,t $ills your %ace %or a start( and let)s be honest( i% you need to get co'pletely wasted 8ust to sit %or 'e( so'ething)s gone horribly wrong#) /3o order 'e#) /4o what1) /Gi"e 'e a direct order# Tell 'e to stand in %ront o% you and strip# ,t)s easy#) , slapped 'y %orehead# /&ow why didn)t , thin$ o% that1 *h( , $now# .ecause it)s the 'ost ridiculous suggestion ,)"e e"er heard in 'y li%e#) , hid a dry cough behind 'y hand# /*h God( why not1) +inn pleaded# /,t)d hardly be the worst thing ,)"e e"er been as$ed to do#) /Apart %ro' it being 'orally repugnant( you 'ean1) /+or %uc$)s sa$e would you %or once 8ust stic$ your sancti'onious bullshit up your arse1) +inn snapped# /5)$now what 'y 8ob is( huh1 ,t)s to say /5es) and $eep saying it until whoe"er)s paying decides they)"e had enough# ,t doesn)t 'atter i% ,)' not happy( or i% it disgusts 'e( or e"en i% it hurts li$e ,)d rather %uc$ing die# 3o deal with it# , ha"e to#)

, opened 'y 'outh to answer hi'( but as i% , were trapped in 'y own night'are( no words ca'e out# ,nstead , could only 'a$e a noise best described as a death2rattle# +inn Any 'o'entary triu'ph , 'ight ha"e %elt at scoring a rare point against -ilith "anished the 'o'ent her lips turned blue# ,nitially , had no idea what the hell was wrong ? the last ti'e , had seen anyone do anything li$e this was when one o% 'y old Phoeni7 Par$ colleagues had unwittingly shot a syringe%ul o% pure phar'aceutical heroin into the last %unctioning "ein between his toes( thin$ing it was our dealer)s usual street2sweepings# He had 'ade this sa'e surprised( cho$ing grunt be%ore %alling head2%irst at 'y %eet( already dead as he hit the %ilthy pa"e'ent# True( -ilith hadn)t actually toppled yet( but she didn)t loo$ so %ar o%% as she grabbed at the bac$ o% the nearest chair( si'ultaneously gi"ing 'e the death2glare and pulling in 'eagre air with an unearthly s=uea$# , 'ust ha"e stood and stared li$e a co'plete %uc$wit %or a good ten seconds be%ore , %igured out what was happening# /*h shit( asth'a6) -ilith 'anaged a nod# 3he started to pat at the poc$ets o% her trac$ pants( each 'o"e beco'ing a little 'ore desperate as whate"er she was searching %or %ailed to 'aterialise# /5our inhaler# 5ou can)t %ind your inhaler() , realised( the second2best 'ind reader in the roo'# Another %rantic nod( and 'ore o% that noise that sounded li$e so'ething being strangled# , sho"ed 'y guilt bac$ into its bo7 ? , could always do the sel%2loathing thing later( once -ilith had decided not to die on 'e ? and 'o"ed to her side( crouching so that 'y %ace was le"el with hers# /*$ay( sweetheart ? try to stay cal' and let 'e help you# ,s it in this roo'1) A sha$e o% the head#

/5our roo'1) &od# /Good wo'an#) , tried to thin$ where -ilith)s organised 'ind would put the bloody thing ? i'agined her wa$ing up( 'aybe( and reaching out %or it# /.y your bed1) *ne last nod# /,)ll be bac$ be%ore you $now it() , yelled( already hal%way down the corridor# BBBBB /Than$ %uc$ %or that#) ,% it were 'y roo'( ,)d ha"e been long2dead by the ti'e anyone %ound anything under three years o% accu'ulated shite# .ut this was -ilith .resson)s corner o% the planet( and sure enough( the blue plastic inhaler was set neatly parallel to the edge o% her bedside table# , grabbed it and hurtled bac$ towards the studio( hoping that 'y e%%orts wouldn)t be too late# BBBBB , handed the inhaler o"er and -ilith grabbed at it with both hands# The cylinder hissed twice and she gulped bac$ the spray as best she could# 3he didn)t resist as , put a guiding ar' around her rigid shoulders and brought her to the %loor# , was terri%ied that 'aybe she was too %ar gone %or this to wor$( that her lungs had shut down and re%used to allow the drug into her syste'# All , could do was $neel beside her and wait# 4espite the ris$( , %ound 'ysel% running the %lat o% 'y pal' %ro' the nape o% her nec$( between her shoulder blades and down the length o% her spine in slow regular stro$es# , couldn)t re'e'ber the last ti'e , had "oluntarily touched anyone( and , hal%2e7pected her to shrug away %ro' 'e# ,nstead( as , watched( her lips returned to their usual hue and her breath ca'e bac$( 'erci%ully slow and steady# , stopped 'y stro$ing( suddenly aware that it 'ight not be the 'ost appropriate o% 'o"es#

/&o# 4on)t stop() -ilith)s eyes were tightly shut as she %ocused on regaining control# /Helps# -ots#) 3o , $ept going( %eeling each 'uscle release its grip as the 'inutes passed# +inally her eyes opened( bright and blue i% slightly un%ocused# /0ell that was %un# 0ell done#) /5eah( genius( huh1 3ending you o"er a cli%% on a wild horse didn)t wor$( so , decided to asth'a you to death instead#) /,nteresting "erb() -ilith s'iled# /5eah( it)s about to be 'ade into a new o%%ence# Asth'a2ing an artist to death# Auto'atic li%e sentence#) /0asn)t being sarcastic %or once# Meant it# 0ell done# +or not panic$ing# 4oing what you did# 3pot on# 4id it once when , was a boarder# +rench 'istress hit the %loor with 'e# The 'o'ent 'y %ace turned indigo# Thought , was# 4ead#) /, can understand that#) , tuc$ed 'y hands into 'y poc$ets# /3o# 3hall we gi"e this another go1) -ilith /&o we shall not() , got to 'y %eet and %eeling the world spin beneath 'e# , rested 'y hands on the bac$ o% the chair# /, a' not bloody well dying# +or 'y art# Especially# &ot here#) , was %urious with 'ysel%# +or 'issing the tell2tale struggle to pull in a %ull breath and the "ice that had been tightening around 'y ribs since 'y altercation with Coyle( but 'ainly %or this ob"ious( terri%ying regression# , resigned 'ysel% to using the dull brown steroid inhaler e"ery day until 'y escape( consoled by the thought o% the "el"et war'th o% the 3panish autu'n that would soothe away the resurgent curse o% asth'a as soon as , 'anaged to escape# /0hat would you ha"e been doing i% you weren)t with 'e1) , as$ed#

/4unno() +inn shrugged# /+uc$in) about in the gardens( probably# 0eeding# 3hit li$e that#) /Aight# Change o% plan( on health grounds# , get to go outside %or so'e %resh air to aid 'y reco"ery( and you get to $eep your clothes on#) /-ilith( , need to do this ? , 'ean( we can)t 2) /,)' still going to draw you# ,)' 8ust doing 'y best to %ind a pro%essional co'pro'ise despite an une7pected proble'#) +inn ripped another strip o% s$in %ro' his thu'b as he considered this# /Might wor$# &ot 'ore than the once( and she)ll be as pissed as hell( but yeah( we 'ight 8ust get away with it#) /0ell that)ll do 'e %or now#) , began to gather together 'y s$etch pad and a hand%ul o% pencils# /4o 'e a %a"our and roll that rug up( will you1 , could do without a da'p arse on top o% e"erything else this 'orning#) BBBBB /,t)s nothing gla'orous() +inn e7plained as we e'erged %ro' the Hall( blin$ing against the bright daylight# /;ust weeding( that)s all ? , sorted out a herb garden %or Henry last year# All that organic bolloc$s( no weed$iller( so , need to $eep on top o% it#) 4espite +inn)s low2$ey introduction to his other world( , was le%t speechless# The garden( hidden by the "ast ser"ants) wing and there%ore so'ething , had not seen on 'y 'orning run( was a'a<ingE +inn)s own artistry# Herbs that , recognised ? la"ender( chi"es( clary sage( 'int ? stood in gentle regi'ents alongside a good 'any , had ne"er seen# He had arranged the te7tures and colours with an eye %or structure that 'any o% 'y %ellow so2called2artists would ne"er be able to achie"e# E"en in the 'orning sun( the scents were beginning to 'ingle to create a heady per%u'e# /5ou undersell yoursel%# ,t)s beauti%ul( +inn#) He spread the rug on the grass %or 'e# /How the hell did you get into gardening1)

/Ah#) +inn glanced up( s=uinting in the sun# /, got put inside when , was eighteen# /Possession with ,ntent to 3upply)# &othin) 'a8or( 'ore li$e buying in bul$ and sharing it out ? $eeping the cost down %or a group o% us that wor$ed the Par$( but , still got two year# 3er"ed one# , did this horticulture course to pass the ti'e# Turned out it was so'ething , could do# That( and , disco"ered the library# Pretty 'uch read a boo$ a day( e"ery day , was in the place#) He sat bac$ on his heels# /,t sounds 'ad( but it was probably the happiest ,)"e e"er been# The sa%est( , $now that# ,% ,)d ha"e $nown what , was co'ing out to( ,)d ha"e $ic$ed o%%( trashed 'y pad or ta$en a screw hostage# 3o'ething ? anything to get the e7tra year#) He ga"e a re'orse%ul s'ile# /Hindsight( huh1) /*h yeah( hindsight() , agreed# /3till( , could always grow so'ething that could poison the whole %uc$ing lot o% the' ? that)s the only way it would e"er wor$( ta$ing e"eryone down in one go# .laine( Coyle( all the sic$ bastards that use this as their little place in the country#) +or a 'o'ent( his pale( intense %ace hardened( then the grin returned# /That)d add a twist to Henry)s wild bloody 'ushroo' risotto ? , could %ra'e the poor little %uc$er and be in 4un -aoghaire by sunset#) He laughed hard at the thought( only stopping when his s'o$er)s cough $ic$ed in and rendered hi' breathless# /Christ( you)re a wrec$( +inn#) He cleared his throat and spat noisily into a hedge# /5eah( , $now#) He pushed his wind2ru%%led %ringe out o% his eyes# /,)' so sorry %or being a twat( -ili# +or earlier#) -ili# A di'inuti"e that no2one else dared use( yet %ro' +inn it so'ehow sounded right# /+orget it#) /, 8ust ? Christ( , was shitting 'ysel%( to be honest ? ,% you hadn)t loo$ed at 'e that %irst bloody night( $nown what you $now( then 'aybeC) /,t)s wor$ed out( +inn# ,t)s o$ay#) /&ah( it)s not o$ay# ,t was Coyle , wanted the %ight with( not you# 3crote o% a

'an#) He stabbed a trowel deep into the so%t earth# /And you de%ending 'e ? nobody)s e"er done that# Probably why , was such a cunt about it#) +inn glanced around as i% Coyle 'ight still be lur$ing( and %or all , $new( he 'ight be# /+or %uc$)s sa$e watch hi'( -ili# He was a dangerous little bastard bac$ in 4ublin( but here he)s got enough power to 'a$e hi' lethal# &e7t ti'e( 8ust try to lea"e hi' /til he gets bored( huh1) There was a real plea to his "oice( but , didn)t need telling# Coyle e7uded threat in the sa'e way that other 'en sweated# /,)' duly warned#) /Good# Then we)re sorted# 3o( what do , do now1) +inn as$ed# /;ustC be# 4o the stu%% you would usually do# +orget ,)' here#) /Aight( so ,)ll 8ust ignore the wee 'idget on the %lying carpet then( huh1 &o proble'#) +inn)s s'ile returned with a brightness to ri"al the sun( and , $new that this 'orning)s wor$ would be the best , had done at Alber'arle# 0ithout e"en loo$ing at the page( , began to capture 'y latest sitter in his ele'ent# +inn ,t was weird at %irst# -ilith)s e7hortation that , should /%orget she was there) %elt i'possible( especially as she was cross2legged in the centre o% one o% the ugliest rugs , had e"er seen( but the longer she sat in silence with her pencil 'a$ing 'ad %lurries across the page( the easier it got# 3oon she beca'e part o% the landscape( and , got on with the tas$ at hand( relishing the sun)s war'th on 'y shoulders as , wor$ed# BBBBB /That)s 'e 8ust about done#) -ilith put her pencil down on the rug in a de%initi"e gesture# 3he glanced at her watch# /+our hours# &ot a bad shi%t#) /;esus( really1 That long1 ,)d rec$oned 'aybe two#) /5up# The sign o% a good sitting ? ti'e %lashing by without either o% us noticing() she s'iled# /0ell( it was good %or 'e( anyway# 0ant to see1) 3he

turned the pad towards 'e# /&o# &ot that , don)t thin$ it)ll be any good( it)s 8ustC) , tailed o%%( wondering how the hell , 'ight e7plain that , had no wish to loo$ at 'ysel%( 8ust to be re'inded o% who , had beco'e# /, understand#) Anyone else( , would accuse the' o% bullshitting# .ut -ilith $new( , was certain o% that# /This is you( though() she continued# /5our i'age# ,)d hate her to ha"e it without you seeing it %irst#) 3he held out the s$etch once 'ore( gently insistent# /,t)s not the sa'e as loo$ing in a 'irror#) , sighed and reluctantly too$ the pad %ro' her hands and %orced 'ysel% to loo$# /0ow() , 'anaged# , wanted to say that it wasn)t 'e( that she had 'issed the bruise that still throbbed sullenly against 'y chee$bone( the dar$ circles that %ra'ed 'y eyes( and s$in that %elt as though it was nothing 'ore than hide stretched o"er a %ra'e# The "ersion o% +inn 3trachan that , held in 'y hands had none o% these( had not let hi'sel% be buggered until he bled onto the sheets( or be slapped around by so'e s'ug little twat who was 8ust as$ing to be buried# .ut it was breathta$ing all the sa'e# And despite the o'issions it was undeniably 'e# /, see what , want to see() -ilith said by way o% e7planation# /,t 8ust happens that ,)' bloody good at it#) /0ow#) , was still caught up in 'y own eyes that laughed up at 'e %ro' the page# /Praise indeed#) /5eah( ,)' an international art critic on the =uiet#) , handed the pad bac$ to -ilith# /3orry ? %eel li$e , should ha"e 'anaged so'ething a little 'ore pro%ound#) /,t)s all in the %irst reaction# And yours was a good one#)

/4id you e7pect anything less1) /, hoped you)d li$e it# ,t 'attered( you $now1) 3he held 'y ga<e until , had to loo$ away and pull at the strands o% grass beneath 'y $nees# Aight then , wanted to 'a$e the a%ternoon stretch on %ore"er( but e"en as , nodded in reply( the sight o% the launch returning to the island snatched e"erything away# -ilith 0e watched as a hard2%aced wo'an in her early %orties( head2to2toe in Chanel( stepped %ro' the little boat# /Tonight)s guest() +inn e7plained# /-aura +enworth# 3o'e in"est'ent ban$er or other# Two and a hal% 'illion a year be%ore the bonuses( houses in -ondon and Pro"ence( and as 'iserable as sin# The cat)s2arse 'outh o% a reluctant di"orcee i% e"er , saw one( and 8ust desperate to ta$e it out on so'eone#) /0hat( are you going all psychic on 'e now1) /&ah# ,t says so in her letter#) /Her what1) +inn ga"e a rue%ul s'ile# /Ah shit( you won)t $now about that( will you1 ,% a guest)s boo$ed in %or the %ull wor$s( they get as$ed to write a letter# A %ew inti'ate details so .laine can set things up e7actly to their li$ing# ,t also lets her set her trap 8ust right( the de"ious old cow# ,% she)s in a good 'ood( , get to ha"e a loo$#) /.loody hell# , ne"er got to write a letter() , co'plained( 'oc$2indignant# /5eah( and loo$ at the proble's that caused# 3he won)t be 'a$ing that 'ista$e again# 3he really thought she had your 'easure ? rec$oned she $new 8ust how to play you( then you went and %uc$ed it up %ro' your "ery %irst night# 4idn)t get pissed( didn)t want to play#)

Across the lawn( Henry struggled up to Alber'arle under the weight o% -aura +enworth)s designer luggage# /, really didn)t 8oin in her ga'e at all( did ,1) /&ope# And you)re still not playing# &o2one)s e"er co'e this %ar and said /no)# .elie"e 'e( i% you get out o% here unscathed( it)ll be so'ething to be proud o% %or the rest o% your li%e#) He stood and brushed grass %ro' his 8eans# /Ah well( better go and get ready %or the nightshi%t#) , watched the light in his eyes %ade li$e a sunset# /,s it li$ely to be bad1) , as$ed# /.laine needs a new ta'e %inancial ad"isor because the last one dropped dead on a s=uash court last 'onth# -uc$y bastard#) +inn suddenly loo$ed weary( and ten years older# /3o i% it was 8ust a good seein) to she was a%ter( .laine would send her down to the place in -ondon# .ut that di"orce thing1 A bit o% persuasion %ro' her ladyship about getting it out o% her syste'( and a tenner says Miss +enworth there)ll ha"e the s$in o%% 'y bac$ by 'idnight#) He ga"e a dry laugh# /A couple o% decent shots o% 'y client in action that 8ust 'ight end up in the "ice president)s inbo7 %irst thing Monday( and .laine gets a new pet %or her collection#) 0ithout any words that 'ight %it( , i'pulsi"ely reached up to rest 'y %ingers on his ar'# +inn recoiled as i% stung# /4on)t#) /,)' sorry#) /+uc$ it( it)s not you# .ut , need to start to go so'ewhere else( you $now1 Places to go( people to be#) He hugged his ar's across his chest and tuc$ed his scarred hands into his ar'pits# /And to be per%ectly honest( it)s so'ewhere , don)t want you anywhere near#) 0ith a so%t whistle he su''oned .ran to his side# As he got to the rise he turned bac$ and added( /, 'eant to say ? than$ you# +or this a%ternoon# ,t)s been pretty cool# &or'al( you $now1) 0ith a last brie%( shy s'ile he disappeared be%ore , could return the than$s#

, loo$ed down at 'y s$etch boo$ and closed it( already $nowing that ,)d done enough %or the day# BBBBB , was bac$ in 'y studio( idly %lic$ing through one o% Henry)s "ast collection o% 'en)s style 'aga<ines when .laine paid 'e a "isit# 0ithout a word( she pic$ed up the drawing %ro' that 'orning and held it up to the window to e7a'ine it# +inally( she passed her "erdict# /This is beauti%ul( -ilith# -oo$ how you)"e got those a'a<ing eyes o% his#) 3he traced a %inger along +inn)s s$etched pro%ile# /;ust his %ace( though# 4id you decide against 'y proposal1 *r did he re%use1) , was ready %or this# /&either# Asth'a attac$( ,)' a%raid# A big one# -ast thing , wanted was to be cooped up inside( so , suggested we spend so'e ti'e in the gardens ? that way ,)d 'a$e sure the day wasn)t totally wasted#) , ga"e what , hoped was a rue%ul s'ile# /E"en , wouldn)t %orce so'eone to spend a &orthu'brian a%ternoon outdoors( star$ na$ed#) /5ou don)t need to be so de%ensi"eE 'y input this 'orning was a suggestion( nothing 'ore( and , certainly don)t want any part o% this process to da'age your health# ,)' sure the end result)s bound to be spectacular#) /,t will be() , said( thrown by her apparent co'pliance# /0hile ,)' here( , should say ? ,)d rather li$e you to obser"e so'e o% this e"ening)s proceedings() .laine announced# /&o# , don)t thin$ so#) , didn)t e"en bother to loo$ up# /.ut it)s an essential part o% Alber'arle# How can you e7pect to capture 'y ho'e)s spirit without e7periencing all o% it1) , slapped 'y 'aga<ine shut# /.laine( , a' not sitting there whilst two people %uc$ in %ront o% 'e#) /0hy e"er not1 +ro' what , can see( you)"e 'ade =uite a career %ro' it#)

/That)s di%%erent# Those sittings ? they were 'y %riends( happy to ha"e 'e there# Tonight one would be a co'plete stranger( and the other one 2) /2 ,s a pro%essional who)d per%or' at the Albert Hall i% , told hi' to# +or God)s sa$e( -ilith( +inn)s been part o% 'y a%ter2dinner entertain'ent at 'ore gatherings than , could count# ) , was still ada'ant# /, really ha"e no desire to sit there while so'e uptight ball2brea$er %inds a new way to wor$ out her issues#) .laine laughed# /5ou and +inn ha"e been ha"ing an interesting chat( ha"en)t you1 ,% it)s any consolation( the %irst ti'e at least is li$ely to be pure "anilla ? there)s no specialist re=uest that ,)' aware o%# And ,)ll 'a$e sure you)re tuc$ed away in the "iewing roo' %or the act itsel%#) />iewing roo'1) /A pri"ate cha'ber( connected by two2way 'irror to Ms +enworth)s roo'() .laine e7plained( as i% she was describing an ensuite bathroo'# /My great2 grand%ather had it built ? he had rather "oyeuristic tendencies( by all accounts# He used to hold the 'ost a'a<ingly libertine parties then retire to his "iewing roo' to obser"e the a%ter'ath# ,t)s a co'%ortable little place( with plenty o% roo' %or you to set out your things# Then you can 'a$e %urther s$etches o% +inn without the proble's that see' to ha"e arisen this 'orning#) /-oo$( .laine( this really isn)t how , wor$#) , was pleased with 'y pitch# Aeasonable# +inal# /Trust 'e# ,)' sure you)ll be 'ore than happy with the %inal piece#) /, understand your brother goes swi''ing on Thursdays# According to his teachers( he beco'es a di%%erent boy when he)s in the water#) .laine returned her ga<e to ad'ire 'y s$etch o% +inn# /5ou $now( you)"e really caught that peculiar wai%2li$e loo$ 'y guests see' to %ind so attracti"e#) 3he re"erentially placed the boo$ on the table# /, suppose you can only pray that these trips are ade=uately chaperoned( can)t you1 ,t)s a'a<ing the har' that can be%all a child when one)s bac$ is turned#) The "ice tightened around 'y chest once 'ore as she strolled %ro' the

roo'# /,)ll e7pect to see the %inished s$etches %ro' this e"ening at our brea$%ast 'eeting to'orrow( shall ,1) As she le%t , reached %or 'y inhaler once 'ore# Chapter Twel"e -ilith -aura +enworth perched on the edge o% one o% .laine)s high2bac$ed green leather ar'chairs# 3he had changed into a se"ere blac$ "el"et o%%2the2 shoulder e"ening dress( and she repeatedly shrugged and pulled the short slee"es bac$ into place# A %ew 'onths ago it would ha"e %itted per%ectly( but her di"orce had dropped pounds o%% her ? , guessed two dress si<es ? and she hadn)t %ound the ti'e to buy a new wardrobe# The constant dru''ing o% elegant %ingernails against the crystal bowl o% her hal%2e'pty glass played in counterpoint to the staccato rap o% a stiletto heel on anti=ue oa$ %loorboards# E"en %ro' 'y hidden eyrie o% the curtained2o%% 'instrel)s gallery( her latent anger was palpable# /-aura( darling( ,)' so sorry to $eep you waiting# 5ou loo$ 'agni%icent#) .laine entered the roo' li$e a Hollywood starlet wal$ing onto the set# Her hair hung loose o"er her right shoulder( and her sil$ gown( corseted to e'phasise the generous cur"e o% her breasts( 'atched the last inch o% blood2red wine in her guest)s glass# 3he o%%ered a gracious hand( and -aura stood to accept it# /,)' sure you)re about to ha"e a 'ost en8oyable e"ening ? , trust the wine)s to your li$ing1) /,t)s e7cellent# A Margau71) +or the %irst ti'e( , heard the hard( clipped "oice o% -aura +enworth( ,n"est'ent .an$erE arti%icially pitched hal% an octa"e lower than its natural range( to pro"e that she had the biggest balls o% anyone in her co'pany# /&aturally() .laine said# /,t is your %a"ourite( isn)t it1 ,)ll 'a$e sure Henry $eeps your glass %illed#) A so%t %oot%all on the stairs that swept down into the roo' caused both wo'en to turn( and the hostess ga"e her 'ost beati%ic s'ile as she brought her possession %orward into a shi''ering pool o% candlelight#

/-aura( 'ay , introduce 'y co'panion( +inn 3trachan1) The sa'e script( the sa'e well2cut dinner 8ac$et and e7tended( elegant hand with its hidden 'ar$s( and +inn pale and beauti%ul and entirely absent# /,)' delighted to 'eet you#) The gentle lilt o% his re%ined( /wor$ing) accent war'ing the roo'# This ti'e( the 'eticulous staging had the desired e%%ect# , watched the hard( cold 'as$ that -aura wore drop away( burned up by a lust that %lared the 'o'ent she touched her purchase# , had ne"er seen such open hunger on a wo'an)s %aceE in that one aw%ul second +inn ceased to be hu'an and beca'e a con"enient and 'alleable 'eans to an end# , bit 'y lip hard enough to taste blood# How could she loo$ at hi' and not notice( not %eel the delicate bones that lay too close to the sur%ace o% his s$in( or the scars across his hand1 4id she really dare loo$ into his eyes and thin$ that what she saw there was returned desire1 There was a sharp crac$ as the tip o% 'y pencil snapped and splintered across the page# &either -aura nor +inn heard( but .laine glanced up to 'y hiding place be%ore returning to her guest# /3o( what do you thin$1) she as$ed# -aura had not let go o% +inn# /He)s absolutely di"ine#) BBBBB .laine and , stood outside a doorway 'ore suited to Alice in 0onderland than a stately ho'e# /5ou)ll be the %irst person to use this that didn)t ha"e to bend double#) .laine opened the door to the cha'ber# A 'us$y sweet s'ell rushed out to en"elop us( and we stepped inside a roo' that belonged to an up'ar$et >ictorian opiu' den( with its chaise longue( thic$ly %loc$ed wallpaper and yards o% cri'son "el"et drapes# The opposite wall held a gold2%ra'ed window that loo$ed out onto a "ile rococo guestroo' co'plete with an intricately car"ed %our2poster bed whose 'ahogany cherubs stared down with disdain#

/Hardly subtle( but it)s what 'ost o% 'y guests e7pect() .laine e7plained( as i% reading 'y thoughts# /,)ll lea"e you on trust( but re'e'ber( , e7pect to see the wor$ based on tonight)s show#) , sat on the chaise longue( pulled 'y $nees to 'y chest and thought bac$ to 3pain and long( sun2drenched a%ternoons spent %illed with wine and laughter( rela7ing Aosario and her con%ident( beauti%ul girl%riend and $nowing that e"ery brushstro$e would be done with their blessing# A concept beyond the understanding o% a wo'an %or who' /per'ission) si'ply 'eant the sha$y signature o% a desperate young 8un$ie# My heart leapt into 'y throat as +inn wal$ed into the roo' with his ar' around -aura)s shoulders# Although 'y window would appear as an ornately %ra'ed 'irror to the'( +inn still see'ed to stare straight at 'e# , pic$ed up 'y s$etchpad and pencil and prepared to beco'e the unwilling "oyeur# BBBBB , had ne"er thought about what 'ade so'eone a good whore ? too close to ho'e( perhaps ? but , only needed to watch +inn %or 'o'ents to see he was s$illed at his trade# He could ha"e been her attenti"e( in%atuated toyboy as he cupped her %ace in his hands and $issed her until she slid her ar's around his nec$ and pulled hi' to her# , recalled one o% 'y 'other)s %a"ourite rants( about how she had ne"er let punters $iss her because o% the %ilth they le%t behind( and how 'y %ather was the %irst and that was how she had $nown he was the one# , guessed +inn was past the stage where he ga"e a shit# Candlelight granted -aura a hard beauty that would not e7ist outside this roo'( and as she threw her head bac$ in pleasure( art%ully strea$ed blonde curls began to escape %ro' her chignon# +inn unclipped the sil"er clasp that held it in place so that the rest o% her hair %ell loose around her shoulders# ,n the ti'e it would ha"e ta$en 'e to %uc$( shower and consider round two(

he drew a path o% gentle $isses down -aura)s nec$ be%ore leading her to the bed( all the while caressing her %ace and ar's and %inally letting the tips o% his %ingers brush her nipples through the "el"et o% her dress# +ro' a distance( you could belie"e this was his chosen li%e# +ro' a distance( he 'ade it loo$ li$e lo"e# &ow it was -aura)s turn# 3he undid the buttons on +inn)s shirt and tugged it down his ar's li$e a child unwrapping the %irst present o% Christ'as# 3he ran her hands across his e7posed chest( then she 'ust ha"e as$ed ? ordered ? hi' to undress because he suddenly stepped away %ro' the bed and un%astened his trousers so that they %ell to the %loor and he stood( lean( s'ooth2li'bed and na$ed( be%ore her# The sa'e candlelight that had gi"en such so%tness to -aura)s pinched %ace hid his scars and bathed hi' in a gentle radiance( and , began to draw# +inn beca'e 'y unwitting 'anne=uin( and e"ery pencil2stro$e %elt li$e an intrusion as , captured his i'ageE the long %ringe o% hair that %ell and "eiled his %ace( the conca"e cur"e o% his belly and so%t( golden curls o% pubic hair that reached %ro' his na"el to his sti%%ening coc$# -aura let her dress %all to the %loor( $issed hi' hungrily and entwined her thin hands behind her new lo"er)s head( holding hi' close as i% he 'ight "anish without her sel%ish grasp# , $ept drawing as +inn laid her tenderly on the bed and slipped two da'pened %ingers inside her( gently rubbing her clit with his thu'b as she arched her bac$ in pleasure# +inally he parted her legs and slid his erection easily into her( 'o"ing in long( languorous stro$es until she ca'e( greedily pulling hi' %urther in with each thrust( and then the per%or'ance was o"er# -aura released her grip on +inn and he rolled away %ro' her( already reaching %or his clothes# , dropped the closed s$etchpad onto the "el"et seat and let 'y tensed breath out in a long( weary sigh# BBBBB .laine let hersel% into the "iewing roo'( her porcelain %ace hidden in shadow# /3o( what did you thin$1 4o you still assu'e that +inn)s so'e poor( disabused ingGnue1 Ad'it it( -ilith( you were i'pressed# Maybe you e"en allowed yoursel% to beco'e 8ust a little aroused1 ;ust a little da'p

between those ascetic( principled thighs1) 3he sat down ne7t to 'e to inspect 'y wor$# /These really are superb# &ow( i% you)ll e7cuse 'e , thin$ ,)ll see i% , can persuade -aura to be a touch 'ore ad"enturous# 5ou can go to bed now i% you li$e ? ,)d hate to in"o$e your disappro"al a%ter such a rewarding day#) BBBBB ,n the early hours o% the 'orning( , cleaned 'y bathroo' %or two hours straight# , raided Henry)s cupboards %or cloths and scourers and disin%ectant( and scrubbed e"ery sur%ace until , could see 'y re%lection in the 'arble( and still sleep re%used to co'e# +inn /3o( how does it %eel to be the one getting %uc$ed now1) -aura +enworth( pissed as a rat( slurred into 'y ear# , lay tied %ace2down to the bed %ra'e with the sil$ scar"es she)d wrapped around 'y wrists and an$les( and was only too glad the =uestion was rhetorical# /Ta$e this#) 3he held a tiny sil"er spoon piled high with co$e under 'y nose# /&oC) , turned 'y head away and she 'ade a petulant sound# /.laine said you would#) , snorted( %eeling the acid bite at 'y sinuses( and $issed goodbye to any decent rest %or the ne7t two days# -aura scooped up twice as 'uch powder %or hersel% and too$ it in one sni%%( be%ore chec$ing that , was securely restrained# , sincerely hoped she didn)t e7pect 'e to screw her againE e"en >iagra had its li'its# Cocaine and te'a<epa' began a tug2o%2war in 'y syste' and 'y heart began to ha''er its way out o% 'y ribcage# , closed 'y eyes and tried to %ocus on not %rea$ing out and had a %leeting i'age o% -ilith)s tran=uil( ordered bedroo' and 'ore than anything , wanted to be bac$ there# Then 'y %ocus was nowhere at all( because -aura +enworth was all o"er 'e(

and not in a good way# The wo'an went berser$# 3he started with her %ists( screa'ing abuse that , si'ply stopped hearing( and pounding 'e on 'y head and bac$# , $new what she wanted nowE she wanted 'e to cry out( to beg her to stop( to plead with her 8ust so she could tell 'e to shut the %uc$ up and hit 'e e"en harder# .ut the tric$ was in the ti'ingE i% , sang out too soon clients sensed that , was %a$ing ? guilty o% spoiling that precious /real) e7perience ? and i% , le%t it too long they in"ariably went too %ar and , got to spend the ne7t couple o% days %eeling li$e ,)d been $ic$ed downstairs# The decision about when to 'a$e so'e noise beca'e "oid when she bit 'e# At %irst , thought she was stopping to $iss 'e again( which would ha"e been bad enough( but -aura suddenly decided to sin$ her teeth deep into the so%t %lesh o% 'y lower lip and , yelped be%ore , had ti'e to chec$ 'ysel%# .lood poured unchec$ed down 'y chin and onto the pristine linen pillowcase( and that really got her going# As 'y cry echoed into the dispassionate night( 'y client grabbed a leather2 handled dog chain %ro' the range o% i'ple'ents that .laine had thought%ully arranged on the dresser# , braced 'ysel% against the sting o% the strap and %ound 'ysel% hollering again as -aura laid into 'e with the 'etal2clipped end and 'y bac$ beca'e a sea o% %ire# , lost count o% the nu'ber o% ti'es she hit 'e# The blows 'erged into one and she began to 'oan with e7ertion instead o% pleasure# , didn)t hear the door open( but the a'used "oice that cut through the pain was all too %a'iliar# /, see so'eone)s been ha"ing %un() .laine obser"ed# /.ut , thin$ he)s probably had =uite enough %or now( ha"en)t you( +inn darling1) , didn)t answerE , was too busy re'e'bering how to breathe as .laine untied 'e# 3he ran her %ingers e%%iciently across 'y shoulders and 'o'entarily %elt sic$# As , sat up( sweat ran in strea's down 'y spine# -aura let the dog lead %all to the %loor and stared at 'e in horror# /*h 'y God() she stu'bled# /, didn)tC , 'ean( that wasn)tC) .laine placed a co'%orting ar' around her shoulder# /5ou $now( it ne"er

ceases to a'a<e 'e 8ust how 'uch aggression we store up in our day2to2 day li"es# &ow( why don)t you help yoursel% to a brandy then settle down to a good night)s sleep1 0e can ha"e a chat o"er brea$%ast# 3ay( se"en2 thirty1) /.rea$%ast1) -aura %rowned( still in shoc$ %ro' getting in touch with her inner nutter# /*h# *% course# ,)ll be there#) .laine turned to 'e# /And why don)t you get yoursel% cleaned up1 ,)d be 'ost grate%ul i% you didn)t ruin the bed linen#) ,t was then , realised that it wasn)t sweat running down 'y bac$# ,t was blood# , grabbed 'y discarded clothes and pulled the' on( wincing as 'y shirt 'et the raw welts( then stu'bled out into the corridor( ready to turn le%t and return to 'y roo' as ordered# ,nstead( as 'y heart suddenly renewed its atte'pt to lea"e 'y chest( , turned right and ran blindly into the dar$ness# -ilith , e'ptied out 'y drawers into a pile on the bed and began to re%old e"ery single ite'# , returned the' according to colour( creating a spectru' o% 8eans( trac$suit botto's and t2shirts# 0hen , had %inished , re'ade 'y pristine bed and collapsed onto it( %inally ready to sleep# ;ust 'inutes later the ha''ering on 'y door dragged 'e awa$e# /-ilith1 -ili1 Are you there1) +inn stood in the corridor( a wild2eyed "a'pire with a trail o% blood running down his chin# He was dressed in his dinner suit and shirt( but they had been thrown on( and he was bare%oot# /4irty %uc$ing e"il bitch6) He staggered into 'y roo'# , stepped aside to let hi' past( and he threw hi'sel% onto 'y bed# /+uc$ing bit 'e6 , 'ean( who the %uc$ loo$s at so'eone and thin$s that)s their %uc$ing idea o% a good ti'e ? ;esus( it %uc$ing hurts ? and bites the'1 &ot

so'e lo"e bite shit either ? bit 'e li$e a sodding dog# .itch#) , 'ust ha"e loo$ed 'ore than a little stunned( because he bro$e o%% %ro' his tirade# /,)' sorry( , didn)t thin$ ? 8ust neededC so'ewhere# +uc$( ,)' so'e %uc$in) stupid twat( , 'ust)"e $inda %rea$ed and this was the only place , could thin$ o%#) He wiped at the dusting o% white powder around his nostrils and s'eared a little 'ore blood around his %ace# /God( , hate this shit# 0ires 'e %or %uc$ing hours#) , stared at the car2crash that had 8ust landed on 'y %reshly2'ade bed# Aight now( he 'anaged to represent 8ust about e"erything , had banished %ro' 'y li%e %or the last ten years( and , had absolutely no idea where to start# +inn)s %ace %ell# /,)' sorry# 5ou saidC /Any ti'e)( and( %uc$ it( ,)ll 8ust go###) /&o# 5ou won)t#) , $nelt on the %loorboards# /Co'e on( let 'e see your %ace#) +inn , tried to pull away# /&o( it)s %ine#) -ilith shoo$ her head# /,t)s not %ine( and that)s why you)re here# , 'ade an o%%er and you too$ 'e up on it( and now here , a' standing around li$e so'e bloody idiot# 3o( %ace# &ow#) 3he ga"e a so%t laugh# /-isten to 'e ? English upper class# .orn to rule#) /,rish pi$ey class# .orn to be %uc$ed() , said through clenched teeth# , let her ta$e 'y %ace in her cool( clean hands and -ilith ran a care%ul %inger under the gash in 'y lip# /,t)s not too deep( but she)s certainly decided to get her 'oney)s worth# Hope you)"e had your rabies shot#) /&ah# 4oesn)t 'atter anyway# M)probably gonna get tetanus %irst( o%% the 'ess she 'ade o% 'y bac$#) /0ould you li$e 'e to ta$e a loo$1) -ilith as$ed#

/&o# &o o%%ense n) all that( but it too$ 'e all 'y ti'e 8ust to get 'y shirt on# The lunatic ended up whac$in) 'e with the clip end o% a dog lead#) -ilith stood and leant against the wall# /God( what $ind o% 'adhouse is this( +inn1) ,n 'y ti'e at the Hall( , had ne"er done such a thing# Here , was( sitting unin"ited on a guest)s bed( hurting and co$ed up to the eyeballs and ree$ing o% se7 and -aura +enworth)s cloying per%u'e# , was a 'ess( and 'y dri"ing need that night had been to see$ out the order that -ilith 'ust ha"e represented in 'y reptilian brain# /0ould you 'ind i% , used your bathroo'1) , as$ed# /&eed to wash so'e o% this o%%#) -ilith si'ply nodded( watching 'e %ro' the shadows# Her bathroo' was li$e a shoot %ro' one o% those ho'e 'aga<ines that Henry de"oured# The $ind o% place that you)d glance at and reassure yoursel% that no2one)s bathroo' could be that i''aculate in real li%e# ,% anything( it was e"en cleaner than when Henry had scrubbed e"ery sur%ace with a toothbrush in preparation %or -ilith)s arri"al( and a neat row o% potions stood to attention( labels outward( at the sin$# /Are you o$ay in there1) -ilith called through the door# /;ust 'ar"ellous#) , too$ a towel that appeared to ha"e been %olded with the aid o% a set2s=uare and draped it o"er the 'irror( then reached past the cos'etics counter and pic$ed up the bleach# , didn)t notice the door open until it was too late# -ilith /+or %uc$)s sa$e( +inn6) My bathroo' sin$ %illed with pale pin$ water as +inn poured bleach o"er hands stained with the blood %ro' his 'outh# /5ou want to gi"e 'e that1)

/&o#) /*2$ay#) , winced as he too$ a scouring pad to his $nuc$les# /, understand# 5ou want to get clean# .ut that stu%% is good %or getting shit o%% a toilet# &ot %or handwash#) , pic$ed up a bottle o% ridiculously e7pensi"e cleanser that , had bought in another li%e( on a wee$end trip to .arcelona# /Here# 3wap you#) +or what %elt li$e %ore"er +inn stared at 'y outstretched hand( 'istrust clouding his %ace# +inally( he too$ the bottle and turned his bac$ on 'e# As , stood outside 'y bathroo'( waiting %or 'y guest to co'plete his sa"age ritual( Henry padded into 'y roo' in his carpet slippers( as dapper as e"er in paisley py8a'as and a na"y blue sil$ dressing gown# /-ilith( , don)t suppose you)"e seen +inn1 *nly there)s been a bit o% a to2do( and -ady Alber'arle was a little concerned as to his whereabouts#) /0ould this /bit o% a to2do) in"ol"e hi' being co$ed up to the eyeballs and getting beaten with a dog2chain1) /3he didn)t say() Henry began( then winced# /*h goodness( is that what happened1) /,)' here( Henry#) The "oice %ro' the bathroo' was laden with threat# /+inn( what the hell are you doing in a guest)s roo'1) ,t was the %irst ti'e , had heard Henry swear# /+uc$ o%%() +inn growled# /He)s here by in"itation() , e7plained# Henry shoo$ his head# /+inn( this really isn)t a good idea#) /5eah( whereas tyin) 'e to the bed in the co'pany o% so'e nut8ob is a wor$ o% towering genius#) He stepped past 'e# /Go away( Henry# , hurt( ,)' $nac$ered( and to be per%ectly honest with you ,)' right in the 'ood to hit so'eone#)

/Co'e on( son# -et)s get you bac$ to your own roo'# 5ou ha"en)t got li$e this in a long ti'e() Henry pleaded# +inn glowered at hi'# /5eah( well it)s been long ti'e since it hurt this 'uch( little 'an# And ,)' not your %uc$in) son#) /He)s %ine to stay here %or a while() , assured# /,t)s not a proble'#) +inn was so nearly cal' enough to reason with( when Henry 'essed up e"erything# /0hy don)t you 8ust co'e with 'e1) he as$ed( and put his hand on +inn)s ar'# /4on)t touch 'e6) +inn howled and lashed out# , thought he was about to dec$ Henry( but instead he swung his %ist across the dresser and brought e"erything on it crashing to the %loor# An e'pty glass and a crystal "ase e7ploded across the %loorboards( and 'y ears rang with the noise they 'ade against the silence o% the night# /*h 'y goodness( ,)' so sorry6) Henry 'o"ed to catch +inn)s ar' again# This ti'e , $new the s'aller 'an would 8oin the pile o% bro$en glass on the %loor# /That)s enough#) The words were said with a %ir'ness that , really didn)t %eel# /+inn( sit down o"er there until ,)"e got the glass cleared up# , really don)t want to add a couple o% a'putated toes to the carnage#) To 'y relie%( +inn 'utely obeyed and dropped into the ar'chair# The dull grating clic$ o% his lighter heralded the %act that he had 'anaged to produce a cigarette %ro' so'ewhere# , turned to Henry# /Gi"e hi' a little longer here#) /0ellC How long1 Ten 'inutes( perhaps1) /As long as it ta$es# ,% you try to 'o"e hi' now you ris$ the whole 'ess %laring up again#) Henry hesitated( but , could see the te'ptation on his %ace# /, 'ean( what i%( you $nowC) he gestured at the wrec$age and then nodded in +inn)s direction# /0hen he gets li$e this( things can get a little unpredictable#)

/The stor')s passed# -oo$( , did this 'ore ti'es than , could count with 'y 'other( and she was co'pletely bar$ing# +inn)s a ran$ a'ateur co'pared to her#) /,)' really not sure about this###) /-oo$( ,)' assu'ing that .laine)s going to want to $now where you %ound hi'1) /&aturally#) /3o we)re all already in the shit# @nless she turns up on 'y doorstep( another hour or so isn)t going to 'a$e 'uch o% a di%%erence now( is it1) /0ell( when you put it li$e thatC And , don)t see' to ha"e had 'uch success in sorting things out so %ar( do ,1) /5ou did what you could#) , 'anaged to 'uster a s'ile o% encourage'ent# /Go to bed( Henry# 3o'eone)s got to be in a state to do brea$%ast#) /Than$ you#) Henry %inally stepped bac$ into the corridor# /, %eel rather li$e ,)' abandoning you( but than$ you#) /,)"e really %uc$ed up your night( ha"en)t ,1) +inn as$ed# /, 'ean( you get up at God $nows what ti'e( and you)"e got wor$ to do and 2) , began to pic$ up the larger o% the shards o% glass and place the' in the bin# /,t)s o$ay#) /3orry %or twatting your stu%%#) /,t)s o$ay( +inn# Aeally#) /Could ha"e been worse() +inn added# /-ast ti'e , got li$e this( , twatted Henry# .ro$e his wrist#) He sat in silence %or a while# /H'# 3houldn)t ha"e told you that( should ,1 ,t was an accident( though# , wasn)t ai'ing %or hi' ? he 8ust $inda got in 'y way# , 'ean( , wouldn)t hit you( y)$now1) /5eah( , $now# 5ou)re not that du'b#)

He s'iled %or the %irst ti'e that night# /Too %uc$in) right ,)' not#) BBBBB 0hen , was satis%ied that the last %rag'ent o% glass had been re'o"ed %ro' the %loor( , %inally returned to 'y bed# +inn had sat 'otionless throughout( silently watching 'e( co'ing bac$ to hi'sel%# /,)ll go soon( honest#) /Ta$e whate"er ti'e you need# How)re you doing now1) /0ell , don)t %eel li$e ,)' about to go on a 'assacre any'ore# .ut 'y bac$)s ha"ing a proper %ight with 'y %ace to see which one hurts 'ost#) /Help yoursel% to codeine# They)re in that top drawer#) ,t was a si'ple o%%er( but , 'ust ha"e been e7hausted to say anything so stupid# All , could do was lie still in the hal%2light and hope , hadn)t 8ust 'ade things a 'illion ti'es worse# +inn Two hundred and twel"e breaths# That)s how long it too$ 'e to ris$ 'o"ing again# , hadn)t intended to ta$e up -ilith)s o%%er( but as , hauled 'ysel% to 'y %eet( , %elt the deeper o% the gashes across 'y shoulders re2open# The ne7t day pro'ised to be real %un( and , $new 'y 'eagre supply o% ibupro%en wouldn)t begin to touch it# , pic$ed up the s'all a'ber bottle and turned it in 'y hands# -ilith)s na'e was on the label along with so'e stu%% in 3panish( probably telling 'e not to 'i7 this 'edication with other drugs or alcohol( which was actually pretty %unny( all things considered# 4osC Two( , %igured# , tipped two tiny pills into 'y hand# There were perhaps another %i%ty le%t in the bottle and , tapped the side until they all tu'bled out and %or'ed a hapha<ard pyra'id in 'y pal'#

A thin %il' o% sweat co"ered 'y %ace# , had trained 'ysel% not to do this with 'y te'a<epa'# &ot a%ter the last ti'e# .ut this was a whole new challenge# Codeine# &ot one o% the big guns( li$e s'ac$ or 'orphine( but , guessed , held enough in 'y hand %or a peace%ul night)s sleep without the added co'plication o% wa$ing up# ,t was the best opportunity ,)d had in 'onths# 0ith e"erything else in 'y bloodstrea' , could easily 'a$e it loo$ li$e an accident( and , could e"en hear -ilith saying( .ut , let hi' ta$e the'C , glanced across at -ilith)s sleeping %or' and idly wondered i% she)d be bothered( then re'e'bered her gentle hands e7a'ining the 'ess -aura +enworth had 'ade o% 'y %ace( and as soon as , thought about that it all %ell apart# , counted another %i%ty two breaths whilst , stared at 'y one2way tic$et( then care%ully tipped all but si7 tablets bac$ into the bottle# &ot this ti'e# Chapter Thirteen -ilith A%ter only three hours) sleep( that 'orning)s run was a real test o% 'y tenacity# , could so easily ha"e pulled the du"et o"er 'y head and stayed in that war' burrow all day( but , $new that e"en one lapse would be a sign that 'y resol"e was beginning to cru'ble# 3o under an a<ure s$y that taunted 'e with 'e'ories o% 3anta Marita( , 'ade 'y ele"enth and %inal circuit o% the island# As usual( .ran had 8oined 'e %or this last slow lap( and now the little lurcher ca'e to obser"e the stretches that 'ar$ed the end o% 'y run# 3he le%t 'e as , reached the solid side door that too$ 'e bac$ into the Hall( trotting o%% to the greenhouse where she spent 'ost o% her day# As , wal$ed through the dining hall on the way to 'y brea$%ast in the

$itchen( , saw -aura +enworth sitting alone at the head o% the table# Any pleasure %ro' the pre"ious night)s acti"ities had long goneD she ga<ed down at the e'pty plate be%ore her and , guessed she was scheduled %or a 'eeting with .laine# /-o"ely 'orning( isn)t it1) , as$ed with studied bree<y insouciance# -aura loo$ed up in surprise# 3he had been lost in her own thoughts( and , wondered which part o% her e"ening she was recalling# /,)' sorry( do , $now you1) /-ilith .resson# Court Artist# Enchanted to 'eet you#) , o%%ered -aura 'y hand( which she declined# /, understand you had a particularly energetic night#) There was an in"oluntary twitch at the corner o% her 'outh# /How the hell do you $now what , did last night1) My %alse s'ile "anished# /.ecause a%ter you)d %inished with +inn( what was le%t o% hi' ca'e to see 'e#) /*h#) /5eah( oh#) , didn)t ha"e to say anything else then# , 8ust stood there in 'y sweat2 stained t2shirt and stared her down# 3he loo$ed away %irst# /,)"e been ha"ing a hard ti'e# My hus### My e72husband### That wasn)t 'e( not really ? but .laine 'ade it sound soC) /Easy1) , suggested# /En8oyable1) /3he said it was his 8ob#) 3he closed her eyes# /5ou)"e 8ust heard yoursel%( ha"en)t you1 5ou)"e 8ust listened to your own pathetic atte'pt at 8usti%ication( and realised what shit it actually is#) /, really don)t want to tal$ about this#) -aura +enworth)s thin( clawed hands

toyed with a sil"er teaspoon# , leant %orward so that she was %orced to see 'y %ace# /That)s because no 'atter how 'uch you try to 8usti%y your actions( or tell yoursel% the bad lady 'ade you do it( you $now that last night was who you beco'e when you thin$ no2one)s watching# Congratulations on your 'oral ban$ruptcy( Ms +enworth#) .laine 'et 'e in the narrow doorway that led to the sta%% =uarters where she had no doubt been getting the details o% last night)s dra'a %ro' Henry# /Good 'orning( -ilith# , assu'e so'e beauti%ully 'odulated sel%2righteous outburst has 8ust pa"ed the way %or 'y 'eeting with Ms +enworthy1 3o than$ you# ,t 'a$es a rather pleasant change to share the wor$load#) 3he strolled away %ro' 'e and o"er to the table where her ne7t "icti' waited( and the scant satis%action , %elt at attac$ing -aura disappeared at a stro$e# BBBBB /Are you wor$ing all day1) Henry as$ed nonchalantly as he ser"ed co%%ee# /, was planning to( but ,)' hardly in the 'ood#) /&o( , can =uite i'agine#) Henry pulled up a chair# /-oo$( -ilith( , can)t apologise enough %or last night# 5ou should ne"er ha"e been dragged into it( but to be honest you dealt with +inn %ar better than , could e"er ha"e done#) /, didn)t deal with hi'( Henry( %or %uc$)s sa$e ? it 'a$es hi' sound li$e so'e $ind o% wild ani'al#) /,)' sorry# That)s not how it was 'eant to sound# ,t)s 8ust that when he gets li$e that( the outco'e tends to be a littleC uncertain#) , bac$ed o%%# /0ell( at least we got you out intact this ti'e#) /Ah#) Henry rolled his eyes# /&ow that was an interesting night#) /Ha"e you seen hi' this 'orning1) /&ot yet# Perhaps the poor boy)s actually 'anaged to grab a %ew hours)

sleep#) , thought o% the hal%2do<en codeine tablets that had gone %ro' the bottle# /Perhaps# 3o( why did you as$1) /As$ what1) Henry %rowned# /*h# That# Ah# ,t)s 8ust that( well( ,)"e got so'e shopping to do in the "illage# +inn usually co'es with 'e( but a%ter last night( things 'ight be a little( wellC) he tailed o%%# /, was 8ust wondered i% you 'ight %ancy a 'orning o%% to 8oin us#) /3ure#) /&o( , shouldn)t ha"e as$ed in the %irst place# , had no right ?) /Henry( ,)' saying yes# A brea$ %ro' this place would be good# There)re a %ew things , need 'ysel%( and , really don)t %ancy staring at .laine)s %ace right now#) /*h#) Henry)s %ace bro$e into a delighted grin# /That)ll be wonder%ul# About ten o)cloc$( at the 8etty1) BBBBB /, always ta$e +inn with 'e %or the big shop#) Henry e7pertly guided the little boat to shore# /He)s rather use%ul %or the hea"ier ite's#) , lay with 'y %ace pointed to the sun and idly trailed 'y %ingers in the %oa'ing wa$e# *pposite 'e( his eyes %ocused on so'e distant point across the la$e( sat +inn# He hadn)t said a word %ro' the 'o'ent he 'et us at the tiny landing stage# , wasn)t surprised# , wasn)t e7actly ready %or con"ersation 'ysel%# He wore the sa'e 8eans and nearly2white t2shirt that he had worn on the day he 'ade his 'o"e on 'e( and , realised that his own wardrobe consisted o% about hal%2a2do<en ite's# , had 'erely swapped 'y sweat2 soa$ed trac$ pants and t2shirt %or a clean set( and put in 'y brown contact lensesE 'y disguise when "enturing out into the world# *nly Henry had dressed %or the occasion# ,n his crea' chinos and 'au"e gingha' shirt( he loo$ed li$e he was going to spend an a%ternoon at his country club#

BBBBB The stares started as Henry tied our boat to the 'oorings# Two wo'en tal$ing on the 8etty %ell silent as we stepped ashore( and a cluster o% young 'en( lolling on a bench o"erloo$ing the la$e( gawped with a%%ected slac$2 8awed indi%%erence# ,n their sorry collection o% stonewashed 8eans and trac$suits that had ne"er seen a second)s physical e7ertion( they 'ade 'e loo$ well2dressed# /God( it)s li$e %uc$ing 4eli"erance#) As we wal$ed past the bench( its inhabitants passed whispered( giggling co''ents behind their hands# , 8ust about 'ade out /%aggot) and /gi'p) in their highly i'aginati"e barrage o% abuse# /Coyle)s cronies() Henry e7plained# /3o called /3ecurity) and general 'aintenance# 5ou get used to it#) /, sincerely hope , don)t# How 'uch do they $now1) +inn glanced bac$ at the gathering# /;ust enough to stir up rando' shit as a hobby# They)"e got 'e pinned as so'e %uc$in) gay house pet# The rest they 'a$e up a'ongst the'sel"es( with a %ew well2placed suggestions %ro' Coyle#) , was glad when we turned a corner that hid us %ro' their sightlines# /,sn)t she worried that they 'ight say so'ething1 , 'ean( outside this place1) /*ne did( once# 3aid to his cousin that he rec$oned .laine 'ust be so'e $inda ny'pho'aniac on account o% all the "isitors she was getting# ;ust 8o$in) on( really#) /And1) /Coyle had a little chat with hi'# &ow his 'other "isits hi' e"ery wee$ and on a good day he recognises her#) He $ept wal$ing( head down against the %ading catcalls# /Anyway( they all $now they)"e got it good# Hanging around the "illage and indulging in a little paid thuggery to pass the ti'e#) /5eah( , can)t really see the' 'a$ing it big in the city() , agreed# /3o# 0hat now1)

/0e trawl around the "illage( Henry loads 'e up li$e a cart horse( then we go bac$ be%ore .laine unleashes hell because we)re out a%ter cur%ew#) /Aight# &o o%%ence Henry( but , really don)t %ancy wasting 'y precious %reedo' hunting down organic $ohlrabi# ,s it all right i% , 'eet you bac$ here in an hour1) , as$ed# /.etter o%% brea$ing your car out o% the co'pound then dri"ing li$e the hounds o% hell are trying to gnaw on your e7haust() +inn replied( be%ore Henry could open his 'outh# , rolled 'y eyes# /.etter o%% not te'pting 'e# ,)d li$e 'y brother)s school trips to go ahead without the need %or an a'bulance#) BBBBB Anony'ous and unrecogni<ed( , spent 'y hour wandering ai'lessly around the "illage o% Alber'arle# The well2scrubbed %a'ilies that inhabited the holiday cottages in%ested the street# , pic$ed up snatches o% con"ersation about what they 'ight do %or dinner ? eat at that nice i% slightly pricey restaurant or ha"e a barbecue1 ? where they 'ight go i% it rained to'orrowD what e7citing tales o% windsur%ing and %ishing they would tell Grandad when they e'ailed hi' later that day# ,t was as i% , was obser"ing the' %ro' behind the sa'e screen that had separated 'e %ro' +inn the night be%ore# , could see the'( but they were so %ar re'o"ed %ro' 'y li%e that they could ha"e been %ro' a distant planet# , dri%ted in and out o% the taste%ul( e7pensi"e shops li$e a wraith( not e"en loo$ing at the 'erchandise as 'e'ories o% the pre"ious night ran through 'y head in a continuous( sic$ loop# E"entually , ga"e up and began a slow stroll bac$ to the 'eeting point 8ust as the sun disappeared behind a ban$ o% grey cloud and the te'perature dropped by ten degrees# ,n 3anta Marita( the pa"e'ent( the trees( the air itsel% would ha"e held onto the war'th so that it stayed wrapped around 'e li$e a cloa$ long a%ter the sun "anished# Ho'esic$ness hit 'e li$e a punch to the sto'ach and , loo$ed %orward to 'y rende<"ous with Henry and +inn( the only people in the world

who 'ight understand# .y the ti'e , caught up with the'( they were weighed down under shopping( Henry 'anaging %our bags and +inn appearing to ha"e at least ten# , $new then that , wasn)t ready to go bac$# , wanted a %ew hours away %ro' Alber'arle Hall in the sa'e way , cra"ed co'pany and nor'ality when , %inished a piece in 3anta Marita# /3o( has our hard wor$ earned us a "isit to the pub1) , as$ed# +inn glanced at the s'all carrier bag that , hung o%% two %ingers# /Hard wor$1 And what the %uc$ ha"e you done1) /.ought a pac$ o% disposable ra<ors( a bo7 o% ta'pons and an apple#)/0ow# Knoc$ yoursel% out( lady#) He had %inally rela7ed a little# Henry was "isibly relie"ed at +inn)s return to relati"e nor'ality( and , wondered how 'any ti'es this endless cycle o% pro"ocation and %orgi"eness had been played out# /3o# Pub1) , as$ed again# /*h# @'( wellC , don)t $now#) Henry said( s$ittishly# /+inn1) , pleaded( li$e a naughty schoolgirl persuading the class swots to bun$ o%% %or the a%ternoon# /Henry( we)re doing %ine %or ti'e# C)'on( one s'all sherry won)t $ill you#) Henry pursed his lips( te'pted# +inally he ga"e a dra'atic little sigh# /*oh( go on then# ;ust the one( 'ind you#) +inn grinned# /0ay to go( you rebel# Aight( Ms .resson ? there are two pubs in the delight%ul "illage o% Alber'arle( but one)s %or guests only so ,)' barred( which 'eans it)s going to ha"e to be The +o7( 8ust down the side street there ? it)s where all the estate wor$ers go %or a pint( and closest thing Alber'arle)s got to a di"e# -andlord)s an absolute shitehaw$( but at least he)ll sell 'e beer#) He began to lead the way( then paused# /*h( and you)re buying( on account o% 'e not being allowed to carry cash#) BBBBB

According to the peeling ena'el pla=ue that nestled into the lu7uriant i"y on the wall( The +o7 and Grapes had been a public house %or o"er three hundred and %i%ty years( and was ru'ored to ha"e been the base %or a plot against King Charles the 3econd# ,t certainly pro"ided enough low bea's and shadowed noo$s %or any nu'ber o% conspirators to conceal the'sel"es( which 'atched 'y 'ood per%ectly# The per%u'e o% stale beer and decades o% cigarette s'o$e assailed us as we wal$ed into the barroo'# A dilapidated 8u$ebo7 stood against the wall( obscuring the last picture in a set that portrayed dogs playing snoo$er( and the carpet by the bar had worn away to nothing# 4e%initely o%% the tourist trail# +our o% the youths %ro' the la$eside now continued their obser"ations %ro' a pool table by the leaded window# 4ust2laden sha%ts o% light illu'inated their stares as they conte'plated our little party( and , was desperate to %ind our own dar$ corner where we could hide# The asinine sniggers began again as we stood at the bar# At %irst , assu'ed that it was 8ust another e7a'ple o% the attention Alber'arle Hall)s per'anent residents recei"ed whene"er they dared "enture into ci"ilisation( but one ginger haired youth ? whose bone structure suggested a particularly stagnant gene pool ? was grinning inanely at +inn# /Must)"e been a good night( 'ate6) he spluttered( and pointed his pool cue at +inn)s bac$# /Turn around() , ordered( and as +inn obeyed( Henry "isibly paled# +inn)s thin t2shirt was turning dar$ red across the shoulders as blood seeped through the cloth# , winced# /-oo$s li$e you)"e reopened old wounds#) /Ah( %uc$# -et)s go#) /5eah( ti'e to get bac$ in your gi'p 'as$() the 'outhy red2haired $id added( to the great a'use'ent o% his %riends# /0e)re staying put#) , strode o"er to the bar( where the landlord was pretending to rearrange a row o% pint glasses so he could get a better "iew

o% the dra'a# , hated the 'an the 'o'ent , set eyes on hi'# 4ecades o% sa'pling his own wares had gi"en the 'an the gut o% a su'o wrestler and the wa7y co'ple7ion o% a drowned corpse( and as , approached he ga"e 'e a stare that peeled away 'y "est top# ,n any other circu'stances , wouldn)t ha"e "entured within a 'ile o% the old letch# /Can , help you( lo"e1) he as$ed( his eyes %i7ed at chest height# , supposed that his breast %i7ation at least reduced the ris$ o% recognition# /4o you ha"e a side roo'1) /5eah# 4own the hall#) /And 'ay we use it1) /Pri"ate parties only# 3orry#) He ga"e a leer that was %ar %ro' apologetic# , %elt +inn)s hand on 'y shoulder# /-ili( c)'on( 8ust lea"e itC) , ignored hi' and pic$ed up a dog2eared( beer2stained lea%let %ro' the barE +o7 and Grapes ? Aoo' Aate)s# , began to read# /5ou going to order or what( lo"e1) , let hi' wait %or another 'inute( then reached into 'y poc$et and pushed %i"e care%ully %olded twenty pound notes across the bar# /There# *ne pri"ate roo' %or the rest o% the day#) , ga"e the corpulent 'an a %rigid s'ile# /0ith waiter ser"ice( according to your classy( beauti%ully punctuated little brochure here#) , pic$ed up hal% o% +inn)s load o% bags# /3o that)s a double "od$a and tonic %or 'e( a pint o% 3tella %or hi'() , nodded at +inn( /and a large "od$a 'artini %or ;a'es .ond there# 0hene"er you)re ready#) , threw down another twenty# /That should co"er it#) .e%ore the landlord)s 8aw had ti'e to drop( , %ollowed +inn and Henry out o% the oppressi"e bar and into the hallowed /Pri"ate Aoo') that was 8ust a little larger than 'y 3anta Marita bathroo'# /That was a'a<ing6) Henry e7clai'ed as the dar$ oa$ door thudded behind

us# /,)"e ne"er seen that old goat lost %or words be%ore#) He sat down on a worn red "elour ban=uette and ga"e 'e an i'pish s'ile# />od$a 'artini indeed# , shall be drun$ in charge o% a boat i% ,)' not care%ul#) +inn ga"e 'e a wry glance# /0ay to $eep a low pro%ile( -ilith# 3ho"in) 'ore 'oney at the %at oa% than he ta$es all wee$#) , du'ped the bags by our table# /, $now( , $now# And that thing about /4on)t antagonise the nati"es)# 3orry#) +inn threw his own collection o% bags on top o% 'ine# A %eeble e7cuse %or a log %ire s'ouldered to its death in a soot2encrusted hearth and he gra"itated towards it# /Ah( what the %uc$# 3uppose it was only the %ellas that $now to $eep their 'ouths shut anyway# 0hen it gets bac$ to .laine ,)ll 8ust say old lard2arse behind the bar started it#) /,t will get bac$ then1) /*h yes() +inn and Henry replied in unison# , saw +inn gingerly touch his shoulders# /Aight( wait here %or 'ein host# ,)ll be bac$ in %i"e 'inutes#) +inn /0here on earth is she going1) Henry as$ed# , shrugged and winced in one 'o"e# /*w# +uc$ $nows#) /3he was rather i'pressi"e( wasn)t she1) /3he carries on li$e that( she)s going to get her head $ic$ed in( and ,)d rather , wasn)t there to witness it#) Henry tutted# /3he was de%ending you( +inn# And there)s a distinct paucity o% indi"iduals who still ha"e the necessary courage to do that#) He began to rearrange the bags that ,)d thrown in a heap# /Mysel% included( to 'y chagrin#)

/That)s because you $now how .laine)s world wor$s# And i% she)d ha"e stayed put %or 'ore than ten seconds( , could ha"e gi"en her the bolloc$ing she deser"ed#) /*% course#) /And you)re not entirely %orgi"en %or being a stupid twat last night( so don)t push it#) Perhaps , should ha"e been harder on her# Ae2e'phasised the need to $eep your head down and pretend you were in"isible# .ut bac$ then it was too easy to belie"e that -ilith .resson was i''une to the sic$ness that Alber'arle could cause( that she so'ehow held the secret o% how a soul could pass through hell unscathed# , $now , was stupidly beginning to belie"e it 'ysel%# /0hat)s she then1 3o'e rich bitch who %ancies slu''in) it1) The landlord sla''ed down the tray with our drin$s and lager slopped onto the table top# /5eah( so'ething li$e that# 3)why we ca'e to this salubrious establish'ent#) He ga"e a grunting laugh# +unny# 5ou want 'e to 'a$e a =uic$ call to Her -adyship( lad1) , re'e'bered a ti'e when it had shoc$ed 'e that people whose na'es , didn)t e"en $now would =uite happily line 'e up %or a battering# /&ot really# 5ou want 'e to tell .laine that that)s how you were tal$ing about one o% her "alued guests1) /H'ph# 4oesn)t loo$ li$e anyone , recognise# Thought they was 'eant to be %a'ous be%ore they was allowed to set %oot in the hallowed halls() the landlord blustered( but ,)d rattled hi' ? , wasn)t alone in 'y %ear o% .laine)s wrath# /&ot that it)s any o% 'y business# People pay %or their beer( they can drin$ where the %uc$ they li$e# &ow ta$e these bloody glasses so , can ha"e 'e tray bac$#) He trudged out and , touched 'y glass to Henry)s# /Cheers( little 'an# To an interesting 'orning#)

-ilith ,n the end( it too$ 'e %i%teen 'inutes to get what , needed( but that was due to the stupid wo'an in %ront o% 'e at the che'ist)s( who was brought to a grinding halt by the li%e2changing decision o% which hae'orrhoid crea' to buy %or her husband# .y the ti'e , returned to the pub with two new carrier bags( +inn had hal% an inch o% lager le%t in his glass# /0e were 8ust thin$ing you)d ta$en 'y ad"ice and %uc$ed o%%#) /&ot without 'y "od$a and tonic# Aight( let)s see the da'age( then#) /4on)t be such a bossy wee cow() +inn gru'bled# /,t)s %ine now#) /5our t2shirt loo$s li$e the Psycho shower curtain and , will not let you wal$ bac$ down the street li$e that 8ust to pro"ide the 'atinee per%or'ance %or a tribe o% "illage idiots#) /, really thin$ you should let -ilith ta$e a loo$( +inn# ,t doesn)t loo$ good at all() Henry added# /Pair o% bloody old wo'en#) +inn reluctantly peeled his t2shirt o%% to re"eal the %ull da'age %ro' the night be%ore# /*h'ygod#) Henry cho$ed on a 'outh%ul o% 'artini# /0ell( so'eone didn)t use their sa%e word() , obser"ed# /Hah# 3a%e word# , wish# .ad1) /-i$e so'eone)s %ed your bac$ into a paper shredder#) , wished ,)d slapped -aura +enworth clean o%% her chair when ,)d had the chance# , pulled another twenty %ro' 'y purse# /Henry( be a lo"e and go and get another round in( would you1 3a'e again( with a double bourbon as well#) Henry nodded grate%ully( happy to be out o% sight o% blood( and , tipped the che'ist)s bag out onto the table#

/5ou buy up the whole shop1) +inn as$ed as he edged his way out o% the blood2stained shirt# /&early#) , tore open a pac$ o% sterile dressings# /, was denied the last o% the pile crea'( though#) , too$ a closer loo$ at the carnage# A %ew o% these latest welts had begun to crust o"er( but others continued to weep blood where they had been rubbed open by the %abric o% his t2shirt# /,)ll be as gentle as , can( but this 'ight hurt# ,)' sorry() , said( in between ripping o%% strips o% surgical tape with 'y teeth# +inn ga"e a so%t laugh# /0hat)s so %unny1) /, thin$ you)re the %irst person to actually apologise %or in%licting pain# @sually it)s so'eone)s hobby#) He %ell silent %or a while as , sprayed a %ine 'ist o% antiseptic o"er the raw s$in# ,t 'ust ha"e stung li$e hell# /5ou $now( you are allowed to e7press your disco'%ort at any point during this process() , assured hi'# /&ah( 8ust gi"e us a hand digging 'y %ingernails out o% the tabletop when you)re done#) ,t too$ se"en separate dressings to patch up +inn)s bac$( and , too$ care to position the' so that he would be able to 'o"e %reely without the' tearing away# , was glad o% the %ocusE although there was no spare %lesh on hi'( gardening had gi"en +inn a tone and 'usculature that any gy'2%rea$ or 'odel would en"y ? use%ul( , supposed( %or so'eone who spent 'ore ti'e out o% his clothes than in the'# ,t was the %irst ti'e , had e"er %elt guilt at %inding a 'an attracti"e# , s'oothed down the %inal piece o% tape# /There# All done#) +inn e7haled# /Cheers %or that() he said( 8ust as Henry returned with the second round#

, handed +inn the bourbon# /There you go# +or being a bra"e little soldier#) The whis$ey was dispatched in one 'outh%ul# /3)better# 3o what)s in the other bag1) +inn as$ed# +inn /A dile''a() -ilith said# /Aeally1 4idn)t $now they sold the'#) /+unny# ,t)s 8ust that , $now what ,)d do i% so'eone did this to 'e( so ,)' a%raid ,)' going to ha"e to go %or the radical approach#) /4o what1 0hat the hell are you going on about1) , as$ed# /This() -ilith replied( and pic$ed up 'y t2shirt and threw it on the %ire# /0hat the ? %or %uc$)s sa$e( -ili6 , don)t ha"e 'uch o% a bloody wardrobe to begin with6) , watched in dis'ay as the thin %abric began to s'oulder and catch# /5ou)d better wear this then#) -ilith e'ptied the second bag out onto the table and handed 'e the contentsE a s'o$e2grey cash'ere sweater that , $new would %it 'e as i% , had been there to try it on in the shop# ,t was the 'ost beauti%ul ? and e7pensi"e ? ite' o% clothing , had e"er been gi"en( and there was no way , could accept it# /, can)t ta$e this#) /3ee1 That)s what , $new you)d say# Hence the alternati"e %uel# +ro' what , can see( it)s either put that on or wal$ bac$ to the boat hal%2na$ed#) , glared at her( %urious beyond words( but she unblin$ingly held 'y ga<e %or a good hal%2'inute# /5ou $now( your eyeballs are going to dry up any second() she said# /*h( you are a %uc$ing night'are6) , was an e7pert at $nowing when , was

beat# , reluctantly reached out and touched the down2so%t wool# , could already i'agine how it would %eel ne7t to 'y s$in# /There was no need %or this( -ili# , could ha"e 8ust rinsed 'y shirt under a tapC) /5es( , $now#) 3he $ept loo$ing straight at 'e# /.ut you deser"e better#) , didn)t $now what the hell to say to that# , 8ust ga"e an ungrate%ul sigh o% e7asperation and pulled the sweater o"er 'y head# /,t)s 8ust your colour() Henry enthused# /And you can %uc$ right o%%() , said( but he was right# ,t was ne"er going to be anything less than per%ect i% -ilith had anything to do with it# 3o , sat and dran$ 'y second pint( en"eloped in a rare war'th that wasn)t entirely to do with the latest addition to 'y wardrobe# 0e sat there %or the best part o% an hour# ,nconse=uential banter %or the 'ost part( but , couldn)t re'e'ber last ti'e ,)d en8oyed a =uiet beer so 'uch# 0ith hindsight( , should ha"e 'ar$ed the date in a diary ? it would be the last ti'e in a while be%ore any o% us %elt li$e s'iling again# Chapter +ourteen -ilith .laine draped hersel% o"er se"eral thousand pounds) worth o% ancient so%a and watched 'e wor$ with an unner"ing blend o% a'use'ent and close scrutiny# As , had predicted be%ore 'y arri"al she had decided on the %inal pose %or her portrait( so , was stuc$ with the clichG o% /0o'an( Aeclining)# 3he was ebullient( rela7ed and entirely na$ed# The %anci%ul theory that a person)s li%e was etched on their physical %or' ? be it despair( happiness( or in this case sheer depra"ity ? was entirely dispro"ed by .laine# That( or she already had a huge portrait o% hersel% slowly decaying in the attic# A wo'an twenty years younger would ha"e en"ied herE there wasn)t a ble'ish on her i"ory s$in( and her discreetly enhanced breasts hardly 'o"ed no 'atter how she positioned hersel%# /3o( do you e"er###) she began# , had co'e to dread these 'o'entsE her

atte'pts at light con"ersation now %elt 'ore li$e interrogation# /&o#) /.e%ore ,)"e e"en %inished the =uestion1) /&o( , ne"er get turned on# ,t)s wor$# 3i'ple as that#) 0hich hadn)t always been true( but the less .laine $new about 'e( the 'ore secure , %elt# /,t)s no wonder people thin$ you)re psychic() .laine laughed( a'used rather than o%%ended# /3uch sel%2control# ,)"e always %ound it to be one o% the bonuses o% 'y line o% wor$( i% ,)' honest# Perhaps you)"e ne"er had the right sitterE so'e irresistible 'an to brea$ through the ice#) /, doubt it#) /*r 'aybe so'e irresistible wo'an1 There are so'e "ery interesting ru'ours surrounding you( a%ter all#) /0hich should be placed in the sa'e %ile as 'y se"en abortions( planned se72change and pro%ound belie% in alien li<ards ruling the nation() , lied# /+or so'eone with such an ability to dissect others( you)re a "eritable 3wiss ban$ "ault yoursel%( aren)t you( -ilith1 Perhaps , should send +inn to sit %or you again#) /M'() , said by way o% reply( in a way that suggested , was now too engrossed in the tas$ to respond# As technical drawings( these %inal s$etches were near2per%ect( but that 'orning , hated the' 'ore than e"er# E"en at this stage( long be%ore the 'eticulous blending and layering o% pig'ents that would lea"e 'e red2eyed %or wee$s %ro' wor$ing inches %ro' the can"as( , had co'e to dread wor$ing on the piece# *nly a need to earn 'y %reedo' $ept 'e going# BBBBB .laine spent only two hours with 'e( announcing that she would be too busy to do a %ull sitting( as i% that were a bad thing# ;ust as , was re"elling in the relie% o% being le%t alone with a pile o% 'ute and pliable preparatory

s$etches instead o% the real thing( , heard the %irst distant crash %ro' so'ewhere in the "ast houseD the distinct sharp sound o% cera'ic shattering against stone# Grate%ul %or the di"ersion( , rested 'y brush on the easel)s shel% and went to in"estigate# BBBBB ,t loo$ed as though the $itchen had played host to a particularly 'ale"olent poltergeist# An entire dinner ser"ice appeared to ha"e been sacri%iced to the slate( and by the %ar wall a pool o% 'il$ seeped in strea's around 8agged little islands o% ato'ised croc$ery# ,n the centre o% this de"astation crouched Henry( obli"ious to 'y presence as he pic$ed up the wrec$age piece by piece and placed it in a cru'pled super'ar$et carrier bag# /&eed a hand1) , as$ed %ro' the doorway# Henry started at the sound o% 'y "oice# /*h( -ilith### 3orry( , didn)t### .e care%ul in your bare %eet( dear ? you)ll rip the' to shreds i% you co'e in here#) , hardly needed the warning as , cautiously began to 'a$e 'y way to his side# /0hat the hell happened1) , as$ed( already sensing what the answer would be# Henry con%ir'ed 'y %ears# /,t was +inn# He( well ? you can see( really# ,t was un%ortunate that ,)d 8ust %inished washing up ? another %i"e 'inutes and there)d ha"e been nothing out %or hi' to brea$#) The second ti'e he had lashed out in as 'any wee$s# &ot good# , $nelt down to help Henry clean up# /, thought you said it was a rare occurrence1) /Than$ you() he sni%%ed# /,t is# 0as# *h -ilith lo"e( he had good reason this ti'e# ,)"e done such a dread%ul thing#) This was the point when , would traditionally lea"e the roo'E so'eone else)s 'ess( so'eone else)s proble' that , didn)t need( or want( to $now

about# Ti'e to run away# Howe"er at Alber'arle Hall , esti'ated that the %urthest , could run in any gi"en direction was considerably less than =uarter o% a 'ile# , dropped a dise'bodied teacup handle into the bag be%ore sitting cross2legged on a $itchen chair# /3o( what caused it1) Henry 8oined 'e at the table and pro'ptly burst into tears# , tore o%% a length o% paper towel and handed it to hi'# He wiped at his eyes %ro' under his glasses( noisily blew his nose and %inally too$ a deep breath as i% about to pronounce a death sentence# /As you)re aware( part o% 'y 8ob is to per%or' certain secretarial duties %or -ady Alber'arle#) ,t wasn)t the 'ost ob"ious lead2in to an unspea$able cri'e# /And1) /5ou)"e heard 'ention o% her -ondon establish'ent1 /Marley)s)1 3e"eral 'illion pounds) worth o% 3outh Kensington real estate that she li$es to thin$ o% as an e7clusi"e playground %or well2heeled hedonists# ,n truth it)s nothing 'ore than( well###) /A brothel1) , "olunteered# /+inn)s said so'ething about it# , gather it)s a little 'ore 'ainstrea' than this delight%ul %uc$2%est( though#) /;ust your a"erage( run2o%2the2'ill whorehouse( as long as your inco'e)s in si7 %igures() Henry said acidly# /0ell( it was until this 'orning#) He sighed and %ell silent( rolling a corner o% $itchen paper between %inger and thu'b# /*"er the past %ew years there ha"e always been re=uests %ro' clients that .laine has turned down( either through so'e "estigial 'orality( or 'ore li$ely( e7cessi"e ris$ o% e7posure# This 'orning( she san$ lower than , thought she could possibly go#) , thought o% what +inn had been through in the %ew wee$s , had spent on the island# /3o'e %eat#) /,ndeed#) Henry %ought tears again# /There are two A'erican gentle'en ? so'ething big in 'usic production( apparently ? who)"e spent the last year petitioning .laine %or a boy who)s still under the age o% consent#) /*h no###) /*h yes#) Henry ga"e 'e an in%initely sad little s'ile# /He)s called ;a$e( he)s a runaway who got pic$ed up in -eicester 3=uare( and he was thirteen last

;anuary# , spent a considerable part o% this 'orning on the telephone to -ondon( arranging the logistics o% his secure acco''odation at the club until those beasts ha"e %inished their su''er brea$ in the Cay'an ,slands#) More shredded $itchen roll was added to the pile on the table# /And howe"er unwillingly , per%or'ed that tas$( , can now add pederasty by association to 'y list o% sins#) /Henry( , don)t belie"e %or a 'o'ent 2) /5ou 'ight not( on the basis that you)re an intelligent young wo'an in %ull possession o% the truth# .ut let)s %ace it( to anyone else( ,)' 8ust a pathetic old =ueen doing what all pathetic old =ueens really want to do#) Henry brushed the scraps o% paper into his hand and dropped the' into the bag be%ore starting a %resh pile# /, did argue with her( you $now# ,)"e ne"er spo$en to her in the way , did this 'orning( but it was ne"er going to do 'uch good# All she had to do was 'erely threaten a call to Mother)s ho'e and , ca"ed# 3he didn)t e"en ha"e to pic$ up the phone# 0hat $ind o% a 'onster does that 'a$e 'e( -ilith1 ) Henry sat 'otionless( waiting %or 'e to pass 8udge'ent on hi'# ;ust wee$s ago , would ha"e $nown e7actly what it 'ade hi'( and would ha"e happily told hi' as we sat there# ;ust wee$s ago , was li"ing in an altogether di%%erent country# Aealisation tasted "o'it2sharp in 'y 'outh# /,t 'a$es you the sa'e breed o% 'onster that sits and draws a 'an who)s being %orced to screw a wo'an who)ll 'ai' hi' as her therapy# And who patches hi' up so that he can do e7actly the sa'e thing again the ne7t ti'e he)s called#) Henry shoo$ his head# /,t)s hardly the sa'e( lo"e() he reassured 'e# /,t)s e7actly the sa'e# 0e)re both assisting whilst so'e poor bastard gets %uc$ed %or %un# 3o how did +inn %ind out1) /.laine told hi'( naturally# ;ust a%ter dictating a couple o% letters to 'e( and 8ust be%ore wor$ing on her >AT return# As you 'ight i'agine( he decided to co'e straight downstairs and 'a$e his %eelings $nown#)

/0here is he now1) /0ith .laine# 3he re=uested his co'pany %or the rest o% the 'orning# Accounts bore her#) 4isgust tightened 'y %ace# /A%ter this1) /.ecause o% this() Henry corrected 'e# /,)' sorry( Henry ? ,)' being a little slow on the upta$e( but what the %uc$ does that 'ean1) Henry dropped the carrier bag %ull o% bro$en %rag'ents into the bin# /,t)s because his despair arouses her beyond 'easure#) BBBBB Minutes passed be%ore , %elt able to spea$ again# /0hy does she do it1) /.ecause she can# .ecause she en8oys wielding se7 as power in the sa'e way that her %ather did( and 8ust about e"ery generation o% her accursed %a'ily be%ore that# E"en the 'ost rudi'entary research will dig up a tawdry detail about a -ord or -ady Alber'arle entwined in so'e society scandal or other# 5ou)"e ne"er read about it1) /&o#) , ga"e a hu'ourless laugh# /,)"e had enough o% that with 'y own %a'ily#) /,t)s al'ost %unny ? .laine)s 'eant to be the one responsible %or rehabilitating the %a'ily na'eE a respectable businesswo'an( tireless charity wor$er( de"oted 'other###) /0hoa#) , held up a hand# /3he bred1 5ou 'ean so'e 'ad bastard actually i'pregnated her1) /Married her and ga"e her two children( be%ore he saw sense and snu%%ed it %ro' a brain aneuris'# Michael)s at *7%ord( E'ily)s wor$ing %or a senator in 0ashington 4C# 3weet girl( a'a<ingly# Mu''y o%%ered her +inn as an eighteenth birthday present( and that was the last we saw# ,% ,)' honest(

Michael would ha"e been the %ar 'ore grate%ul recipient# &ow there)s a young 'an destined to go into the %a'ily business#) +inn ,n 'y long and illustrious career , had been %uc$ed by a procession o% e"il bastards( but none e"er =uite 'atched the subli'e cruelty o% .laine# 0e lay side by side in the "ast e7panse o% her bed and she ran a per%ect %ingernail in languid circles around 'y le%t nipple# /5ou $now( , really can)t %ind the energy to do anything right now( darling() she purred in 'y ear# /3hall we 8ust tal$ %or a while1) 3he 'o"ed her hand down 'y sto'ach and stro$ed 'y che'ically2induced erection# /0hy don)t you tell 'e the story o% your %irst ti'e1) , %elt the %a'iliar dar$ness close in# -ying wasn)t an optionD neither was s$i'ping on the worst o% it# .laine $new too 'uch %or that# *nly the truth in all its sordid( blea$ detail was e"er going to satis%y her# , closed 'y eyes and began to tell 'y lo"er her tale# -ilith , le%t Henry to his preparations %or dinner and trudged bac$ to 'y studio# , tried to drown 'ysel% in 'y wor$( but when that wor$ in"ol"ed surrounding 'ysel% with a do<en detailed s$etches o% the wo'an who was the cause o% 'y proble's in the %irst place( , was always going to struggle# E"erywhere , turned she stared up at 'e with that sa'e supercilious e7pression# E"entually , ga"e up on .laine and stac$ed the drawings %ace2down on 'y des$ be%ore busying 'ysel% with a s$etch o% a bac$ground %lower arrange'ent# , was wor$ing on this when the studio door crea$ed open 8ust wide enough %or +inn to peer around# /@'( can ,1 , 'ean( i% it)s not###) He tailed o%%# Each word was an e%%ort and his "oice was sandpaper rough# /3ure# 5ou all right i% , $eep wor$ing( though1)

A tense nod in reply# , would ha"e stopped and tal$ed to hi' i% , thought it would help( but this way he had a reason to be silent( and could 8ust curl up in the chair in the bay window( his grey hooded 8ersey pulled around hi' li$e a co'%ort blan$et( until he %elt li$e co''unicating# ,t was o"er an hour be%ore he spo$e again# /5ou want a co%%ee1 , could go to the $itchen# 4o us co%%ee# ,% you want#) ,% , was wor$ing( , tried to a"oid itD , couldn)t ris$ the slight sha$e , would get %ro' the ca%%eine( but that wasn)t the point# +inn was desperate %or so'ething to do with his hands( and , rec$oned co%%ee2'a$ing was a better option than using his s$in to stub out the ne7t cigarette# /5eah( that would be good#) BBBBB Ten 'inutes later +inn handed 'e a dar$( sweet blac$ co%%ee and returned to his seat( cradling his own 'ug close to his chest to absorb the war'th# He had not loo$ed at 'e once# He was hal%way down his second cigarette the ne7t ti'e he spo$e# /+uc$in) thirteen#) /, $now#) /The %ilthy( %ilthy bastards# 5ou)re a $id( y)$now1 E"en i% you)re starting to loo$ li$e a 'an( you still thin$ li$e a $id( and you %uc$in) hurt li$e one#) He %inally glanced up at 'e# /0orst thing is( they $now it e"en when they say they don)t# /Cos deep down( that)s the real %un# God( the poor little shit#) There was nothing , could say# &o reassurance( no platitude about things not being as bad as they see'ed( or turning out all right in the end# 3o'ewhere beyond +inn)s reach( a boy was starting out on the sa'e blea$ 8ourney that he had 'ade# He drained his 'ug# /,)ll lea"e you to it#) /5ou can stay( you $now# 5ou)re not e7actly causing a riot#)

/&ah# ,)' not good at the 'o'ent# &ot### straight# &eed to try and get 'y head together#) 0ith nothing le%t to say( , wal$ed silently to where he sat and let 'y hand rest lightly on his le%t shoulder and waited %or hi' to %linch away# ,nstead( he brought his cold right hand up to co"er 'ine( be%ore so%tly resting his chee$ against it with a barely perceptible sigh# Then he le%t 'y studio without loo$ing bac$# BBBBB ,t was gone %i"e when Henry ga"e his 'ee$ little tap at the door# , was cleaning each brush in turn( 'eticulously re'o"ing any trace o% paint in readiness %or the ne7t day)s session( and ta$ing scant co'%ort in the routine and 'onotony# /Hi# +eeling any better1) , as$ed# /0ell( ,)' no longer doing 'y best i'pression o% *ur -ady o% 3orrows# Than$ you so 'uch %or putting up with 'y ridiculous nonsense be%ore#) /Any ti'e#) , blin$ed hard( %eeling the grit o% %atigue in 'y eyes# ,t had been a long day# /, don)t suppose you want a =uic$ bourbon1 ,)' 8ust clearing up now#) /To be truth%ul( ,)d lo"e to#) Henry ga"e a regret%ul glance at the bottle on the dresser# /.ut .laine has re=uested that you call into her o%%ice %or a catch2 up 'eeting as soon as you)re done %or the day# ,)' sorry#) Chapter +i%teen -ilith My considerate hostess was 8ust pouring out two delicate porcelain cups o% 4ar8eeling when , arri"ed# .rilliant su''er light strea'ed into the roo' and re%lected o%% pri'rose2painted walls that only ser"ed to intensi%y the brightness( li$e being called to a con%erence on the sur%ace o% the 3un# , %lopped down onto the di"an with the bad grace o% a teenager# E"en a%ter washing 'y %ace in cold water , still %elt cru'pled and be'used( whilst she sat at her des$ as tran=uil as a 'other superior# , waited %or the

usual banal niceties# ,nstead( she went straight on the attac$# /, see that you +inn ha"e beco'e rather close %riends#) /A side e%%ect o% pro7i'ity() , shrugged( i''ediately on 'y guard at the 'ention o% his na'e# /There)s no need to be so de%ensi"e# , thin$ it)s rather lo"ely that you)"e beco'e his new%ound ha"en ? Henry in%or's 'e that you)re e"en willing to deal with hi' at his 'ost unpredictable#) ,t was no surprise that any o% this had got bac$ to herD Henry was as trapped as any o% us( but hearing +inn discussed in this dispassionate way 'ade 'e %eel sic$# .laine continued# /,n truth ,)' grate%ul that you see' to be brea$ing through that sullen little wall he)d de"eloped o% late( and ,)' sure his clients %eel the sa'e() she said with honeyed sincerity# /,)d draw the line at you %uc$ing hi' without 'y per'ission( but other than that( any ti'e spent with you see's to be 'a$ing hi' hu'an again# 3o than$ you#) 3he was lo"ing e"ery 'o'ent# -i$e a cat snapping a 'ouse)s legs one by one instead o% si'ply despatching it( she intended to play with 'e %or as long as it a'used her to do so( and , could say or do nothing in response until , disco"ered a 'oti"e beyond wanton cruelty# /3hall , tell you a little 'ore about how , %ound +inn( while you drin$ your tea1) she en=uired# /Perhaps it 'ight pro"ide a little conte7t %or the rest o% our con"ersation#) , didn)t e"en bother to reply# ;ust sat bac$ with 'y saucer balanced on 'y $nee and waited %or the story# /5ou should $now that 'y %a'ily has dealt with the ,rish %or centuries ? we owned land o"er there( and 'y Great Grand%ather was a Colonel in the .lac$ and Tans# ,n 'y opinion( they)re a people entirely suited to this $ind o% e'ploy'ent# @n%ortunately( there)s o%ten a coarseness there( but , don)t need to tell you

thatD you see it in Coyle# +inn( on the other handC) .laine pushed a blac$ and white photograph across her des$ and , wondered how 'any pictures she had accu'ulated %ro' her years o% playing her ga'es# /0ell( ta$e a loo$ %or yoursel%# 4ublin( three years ago this ;anuary ? our boy( pro"iding %or an ungrate%ul alcoholic 'other( and two little sisters who)"e no doubt ta$en up that "ery sa'e pitch he "acated#) The picture had the granulated te7ture o% a long lens shot( but there was no 'ista$ing the sub8ectE +inn stood hunched against a gra%%iti2co"ered wall# He wore %rayed 8eans and a co'bat 8ac$et that was pulled tight around his nec$ to $eep out the dri"ing sleet# Heroin 'ade hi' twenty pounds lighter and his blond hair was cropped close to his head( and he loo$ed about %i%teen# His gaunt( haunted %ace stared out at 'e( eyes burning into the lens# /4o you ha"e any idea how long it ta$es to %ind so'eone li$e hi'1) .laine as$ed# , said nothing# /,t too$ o"er %our wee$s o% loo$ing in e"ery shadowed corner that the tourists wouldn)t touch#) .laine s'iled at the 'e'ory# /, had people searching all o"er the city# Those boys that were attracti"e enough %or clients o% the calibre , in"ite to Alber'arle tended to turn s=uea'ish at any re=uest beyond the "ery basics( and those that were prepared to engage in so'ething a little 'ore ad"enturous tended to do so because their %ace wasn)t li$ely to be their %ortune#) 3he tapped the photograph with a %ingernail# /And then , got word o% this young 'an# @nderneath all that %ilth( the %ace o% Cal"in Klein)s ne7t 'odel( and the ability ? not to 'ention willingness ? to do 8ust about anything( %or what turned out to be a ridiculously low price#) /.laine( why are you telling 'e all this1) /As you)re clearly not in the 'ood %or the niceties( ,)ll get to the point# 4uring your stay ,)"e been screening your e'ails 2) /5ou)"e what1) My plan to stay cal' "aporised# /5ou ha"e no %uc$ing right6 0hat the hell did you do1 Hac$ 'y account1)

/,)' not an e7pert in these things( but , ha"e an ,T technician who)s an absolute wi<ard# Added security %or 'e( but in a way it)s a ser"ice to you( as well# A%ter all( , would hate %or your business to su%%er through your residency( and i% anything i'portant arises , can in%or' you# +or e7a'ple( there was a note %ro' your agent( letting you $now you)"e won the Helicon Award %or Triptych# The cere'ony)s in -ondon in si7 wee$s) ti'e( apparently# ,)' sure we can co'e to so'e arrange'ent that lets you attend# ,)d hate %or you to 'iss out on 'y behal%#) The words hardly registered as , struggled not to e7plode( but .laine was content to carry on# /5ou also recei"ed this yesterday 'orning#) 3he handed 'e a paper copy o% an e'ail# /,t)s %ro' your step'other#) , read# 4arling -ilith ,)' so sorry , ha"en)t written in such a long ti'e# , thin$ o% you o%ten( and the support you ha"e gi"en 4aniel and 'e is one o% the %ew good things , ha"e %ro' 'y ti'e with your %ather# , a' typing this at a co'puter in the departure lounge at Heathrow( and ,)' not sure how long , ha"e on this 'achine be%ore the 'oney runs out( so please %orgi"e 'y bre"ity# 5esterday , returned %ro' town to %ind your %ather in our bed with his latest personal assistant when he was supposed to be loo$ing a%ter 4aniel on his wee$end ho'e %ro' .eechwood# , had already told hi' that , could not put up with his beha"iour( and he had 'ade his usual e'pty pro'ises to change( but , realise that the rest o% 'y 'arried li%e will be %illed with si'ilar e7periences unless , lea"e# My %a'ily has pro'ised to support 'e and 4aniel# , pro'ise , will write with our new address and %urther details once we are settled in our new ho'e# All 'y lo"e( than$s and best wishes# , a' still proud to call you 'y stepdaughter# 777 Mai

My hand shoo$ so hard that the paper rattled# A%ter ten 'iserable years o% putting up with 'y %ather screwing anything with an ori%ice 'y obedient( long2su%%ering step'other had %inally seen sense# /5ou can see how that presented so'ething o% a proble'() .laine con%ided# /5our %ather was ada'ant that she would ne"er lea"e hi'( and based on what he told 'e about her de"otion to hi'( , was inclined to agree# .ut it see's that the "ery 'ee$est o% wor's can turn i% they)re pushed to their li'its# E"en i% we assu'e that she)s ta$en your brother ho'e to Thailand( 'y in%luence doesn)t e7tend =uite that %ar#) Aeali<ation dawned( and with it( brie% but unbounded 8oy# /He)s escaped# you can)t touch hi' now( can you1 , bet that)s pissed you o%%#) , threw the paper bac$ onto her des$( grinning at the thought that 4aniel was out o% her reach# /,)' glad you %ind it so a'using#) There was so'ething particularly satis%ying about the way that per'anent s'ile hardened as her 8aw clenched( e"en though , $new she was about to go %or 'y 8ugular# /0ould you belie"e that this ? ) she held the e'ail up as i% it were radioacti"e ? /was the "ery best , could do when it ca'e to arranging so'e %or' o% insurance %or your co'plicity( -ilith1 0ith any other guest( , nor'ally ha"e to spend hours selecting the 'ost suitable people %or sur"eillance( %ro' a list o% lo"ers( %riends( %a'ily ? but you1 &othing# 5ou)"e had twenty2eight years on this planet( and the nearest thing , could get to a %igure o% a%%ection in your li%e was so'e retarded child who you see three ti'es a year i% you)re luc$y#) /*uch() , winced# The 'alice in her "oice suggested that whate"er was co'ing ne7t( it wasn)t going to be a %irst2class tic$et to Alicante and a polite $iss goodbye# /4o you belie"e in synchronicity1) /,n what1) , as$ed( co'pletely wrong2%ooted# /+ate# 3erendipity# The ro'antic notion that things happen %or a reason# That we 'eet people at 8ust the right ti'e###) /, $now what it 'eans( .laine# And no( , don)t#)

3he rested her chin in lightly entwined hands# /0hen , %irst saw you on that dread%ul progra''e( , honestly thought it would be Alber'arle)s opportunity %or catharsis that would attract you# , rarely 'a$e a 'ista$e( but %or once , was wrong# And , 'ust say( the truth is %ar 'ore entertaining# ,t wasn)t the need to lash out that was the priority at all( was it1 ,t was the need to %ind a soul to sa"e#) /5ou)"e lost 'e#) /&o , ha"en)t# ,)"e %ound you# 0ell( to be %air( +inn %ound you( albeit through blundering his way into your beauti%ully de%ended little world# ,% you choose to lea"e Alber'arle now( , gi"e you 'y sole'n pro'ise that , will hurt +inn 3trachan beyond all 'easure# How does that 'a$e you %eel( -ilith1) BBBBB , didn)t e"en $now where he slept# , $new that he was scared o% the dar$( that he consu'ed 'ore drugs than could be %ound in a 'ediu'2si<ed 3outh A'erican nation( but , had no idea where +inn actually spent the night# , could only guess that .laine wouldn)t gi"e hi' anything approaching a proper roo'( so , headed down the spiral staircase to the cellar and ha''ered on a low door down the corridor %ro' the dungeon# /4on)t co'e inC) +inn began( but it was too late# /*h( good grie%#) , hadn)t seen a 'idden li$e it since 'y 'other)s %inal decline# A space only slightly larger than Henry)s pantry housed a 'attress ? with +inn and .ran huddled under a thin du"et ? a hapha<ard pile o% boo$s( and a battered chest o% drawers# The %loor was hidden %ro' "iew by a collection o% discarded clothes( lager cans( bottles( e'pty cigarette pac$ets and an entire dri%t o% super'ar$et carrier bags# The drawers had disgorged 'ost o% their contents( and now e7isted as a plat%or' %or eight 'ugs( all o% the' containing enough 'ould to =uali%y as an intelligent li%e %or'( and at least a do<en e'pty te'a<epa' blister pac$s# /0elco'e to 'y world() +inn said( stoned as hell#

+inn /,% ,)d /"e $nown , was e7pecting co'pany( would)"e tidied round a bit#) , atte'pted a s'ile( but couldn)t =uite get 'y %ace to wor$# , hadn)t anticipated entertaining a guest when ,)d e'ptied an entire strip o% dope down 'y nec$# , lit another cigarette %ro' the one that , was about to %inish whilst -ilith 8ust stood there %or what 'ight ha"e been hours and stared at the bo'bsite that had passed %or ho'e %or the last three years# -ost %or words li$e , had ne"er seen her be%ore# Then as , sat( stunned and 'ute( she began to tidy up with a "engeance# Aando'( accu'ulated crap was scooped up by the ar'%ul and thrown into a selection o% stray carrier bags# ,n one %urious session( e"erything %ro' cans to cru'pled and e'pty sweet pac$ets disappeared into one bag( clothes into another# This latter collection included a great deal 'ore discarded underwear than , was co'%ortable with( but the e7pression on -ilith)s %ace suggested that it was unwise to interrupt# +inally( -ilith slu'ped onto the end o% 'y 'attress# /0hat the hell is this place1) she %inally as$ed# /,t loo$s li$e a bloody prison cell#) /That)s because it is# 3e"enteenth century prison cell( to be accurate ? one o% the 'ore 'odern additions# Cro'well)s lot used it as a base in the Ci"il 0ar( and built a gaol down here# .ut hey( at least , get an ensuite#) -ilith ran her pal' across the %rigid( whitewashed stone# /3he can loc$ you in#) /*nly when , play up# .elie"e 'e( you ha"en)t li"ed until you)"e had to shit in a buc$et %or a couple o% nights#) , lay bac$ and pulled 'y du"et o"er 'y head# ,t %elt li$e a day %or hiding# .ran gru'bled at the disturbance( but soon settled onto 'y chest# /3o() -ilith as$ed( /on a scale o% one to ten( 8ust how %uc$ed would you say we were1) /Ele"en() , replied( 'y "oice 'u%%led by an inch o% polyester %illing# /@'( ,

don)t 'ean to be rude or anything() , said( /but you)re actually scaring 'e now# This to do with her1) , heard -ilith $ic$ a bag %ull o% dead clothes to one side so that she could close the door behind her# /5eah() she %inally said( in a =uiet( dangerous "oice# /5ou could say it was so'ething to do with her#) /And1) /,t see's 'y sweet( pliable step'other)s %inally seen sense and %uc$ed o%% without warning# Ta$en 4aniel out o% .laine)s grip#) , e'erged %ro' the du"et and %rowned( trying to e=uate the good news with the e7pression on her %ace# /.ut that)s good# ,sn)t it1) /*h( yes# A'a<ing# And only 'arginally less li$ely than the second co'ing#) /And##1) /And now you)re /it)( +inn# My ? what should , call it1 My 'oti"ation1 My raison d)Mtre1 My shiny( new and i'pro"ed grounds %or staying put and $eeping 'y 'outh shut and doing whate"er that twisted bitch wants 'e to do# 5our ability to wal$ unaided depends on 'y good beha"iour#) /*h shit( no( you)"e got to be $idding 'e#) /5eah( this is 'y special co'edy %ace( +inn# 0ell spotted#) -ilith leaned against the door and buried her head in her hands# , wondered i% she was about to cry( and wondered what the hell , would do i% she did# , held .ran tight to 'e so that her heart =ui"ered against 'y chest as , searched %or the right thing to say# , %elt the words care%ully with 'y tongue be%ore , allowed the' to escape# /This is it( -ili# 5our chance# ;ust get Henry to ta$e you across the la$e( and that)s it# 5ou)re gone#) -ilith 8ust $ept to her hands to her %ace li$e a 'as$# , $ept going# /-ili1 Are you listening to 'e1 , don)t 'atter6 5ou)"e $nown 'e( what1 Two 'onths1 ,)' nothing( -ili ? you)"e got a li%e out there waiting %or you and all you need to do is step into that boat6)

3ilence# /Please go#) /, can)t#) And that was it# +or reasons she did not want to gi"e( and , 'ost certainly didn)t want to hear( -ilith)s %reedo' had been snatched away %ro' her be%ore she e"en $new it was there# , heard her release her breath( let out in a long sigh that could ha"e been anger or e7haustion# Probably both# /.loody hell +inn( , don)t do this6 , don)t $eep %uc$ing gold%ish on the grounds they)re high %uc$ing 'aintenance6) /, $now# , $now( , $now and ,)' sorry#) /0hat the %uc$ are you sorry %or1) -ilith as$ed# /How about du'ping on your entire li%e( as a starter1) /*h( %or %uc$)s sa$e#) -ilith rubbed wearily at her shoulder# /5ou)"e ne"er really had a choice in any o% this( ha"e you1 E"en bac$ in 4ublin# 5ou got yoursel% trapped years ago#) , ris$ed pulling the du"et down so that 8ust 'y eyes appeared# /3he been telling you stu%%1) /3howing 'e /stu%%)( to be accurate# A picture o% you# +ro' bac$ then#) /0hat( the one o% 'e toutin) %or business1) /Aha#) /, loo$ about twel"e( huh1) /,% that#) /;anuary it was( and %uc$ing %ree<ing# 4ay a%ter that was ta$en( , was done o"er by a punter ? a real "icious bastard# -i$ed it rough# 4ragged 'e into a public la"( %uc$ed 'e li$e an ani'al( then legged it with a day)s ta$ings and

'y wrap o% s'ac$# &e7t thing( this posh cow got 'e in her car( stuc$ a glass o% whis$ey in 'y hand and told 'e she could ta$e 'e away %ro' it all# , was a suc$er %or a clichG#) /3he arranged the whole thing() -ilith stated( seeing through the bullshit in a way that , had %ailed to# /3ee( you)re way s'arter than 'e# The entire ti'e she was tal$ing( she was playing with this poly bag with hal% a gra' o% phar'aceutical grade s'ac$ in it# .y the ti'e she sho"ed a contract under 'y nose( , was sla"ering li$e a 'ad dog#) , shoo$ 'y head at 'y stupidity# /-et)s 8ust say she got a da'n good deal#) /0hat were the ter's1) ,t hurt to re'e'ber# /*ne2o%% pay'ent o% twenty thousand Euros# +or %uture ser"ices rendered#) /And that was( what1 Ten to each sister1) , groaned# /Hell# 3he told you#) /There)s nothing else that could really $eep you here( is there1) -ilith was suddenly gentle# /, 'ean( it wasn)t 8ust your habit ? you can pic$ that shit up anywhere# And this is her speciality( a%ter all# Threatening the people we### well( we care about#) There was no longer any point in $eeping this( the last o% 'y big secrets# 3uddenly , wanted her to $now e"erything# /&ia'h# 3he)ll be nineteen now# And 3inGad# +ourteen# God( the pair o% the' are beauti%ul# All three o% us na'ed in a bla<e o% pissed2up nationalistic splendour( and none o% us with the sa'e da#) , couldn)t re'e'ber the last ti'e , had spo$en their na'es out loud# /Couple o% 'onths a%ter , tried to do the runner ? the do with the police helicopter( yeah1 ? ,)d had enough# 0anted out( whate"er it too$# Aattled until ,)d sa"ed up enough to do the 8ob# +elt li$e it was the easiest thing in the world#) /.ut1) /Ha# Always that /but)# , wo$e up in here with a tube down 'y throat and

4octor Parnell draining 'y sto'ach into a buc$et#) .ran whined in protest at the close e'brace and , let her go# 3he padded o"er to -ilith( who reached a hand out to pet her# /0hat did she do1) /Two newspaper clippings %ro' 4ublin waiting %or 'e once ,)d slept it o%%# .oth on page bloody thirteen( or so'ething ? pi$eys don)t 'a$e %ront page unless we)re the ones causing the trouble# @nconnected incidents on the sa'e estate# An ele"en2year old $id assaulted on her way ho'e %ro' school( and a %ire in a bloc$ o% %lats# 3i7teen2year old girl treated %or s'o$e inhalation# -ess than twenty %our hours a%ter ,)d swallowed the last tablet#) , was grate%ul %or -ilith)s co'posure# Any sy'pathy would ha"e cut li$e a $ni%e right then# 3he 8ust ga"e a nod and as$ed( /How1) /The *)Halloran %a'ily# 0ell( one in particular# Coyle)s identical twin ? Ciaran# He would ha"e done both 8obs %or %ree# Actually( he)s the $ind o% guy who would ha"e paid( 8ust %or the sport# Ma$es Coyle loo$ li$e the 4alai -a'a#) , dug a nail into the s$in by 'y le%t thu'bnail %or reassurance and pulled until a tiny sphere o% blood appeared# /3o anyway( Coyle( and Ciaran( and .laine ? they still $now where the girls li"e# They $now and , don)t# &ot any'ore# ,)"e done 'y best to be a good boy e"er since# 3o there you ha"e it#) -ilith sat bac$( one hand still rhyth'ically stro$ing .ran)s ears( and considered e"erything ,)d told her# 3he loo$ed co'pletely spent# /Than$ you# Than$ you %or your honesty# ,t)s### re%reshing# Around here( , 'ean#) /Any ti'e# 3o# 0hat now1) /Me1 ,)' going %or a run#) /That)s not###) /, $now# Truth is( , can)t thin$ about it( +inn# &ot now# 3o ,)' going to do a %ew hundred 'ore circuits around the sa'e bloody island# .y 'y calculations( i% ,)d ha"e been running in a straight line( ,)d be in Ka<a$hstan by now#) /,t)s 'eant to be nice this ti'e o% year#)

/5eah1 Might try it# .etter than %uc$ing &orthu'berland#) 3he released .ran so that she ca'e trotting bac$ to 'e# /And you1) /3leep( i% it)ll co'e# ,% not( ,)ll read# &othing hea"y# ,)"e got one o% Henry)s poo% style 'aga<ines lur$ing so'ewhere( i% you didn)t sho"el it up in your blit<#) , loo$ed around the trans%or'ed space %or the %irst ti'e# /0ow# 0ould you loo$ at that1 , ha"e a %loor# &ice to $now so'ething good ca'e out o% all this#) -ilith stood to lea"e# /5up# 0e)re both screwed all to hell( but at least you)"e got a nice tidy roo'#) /3il"er linings and all that#) /5eah( sil"er linings#) -ilith scratched .ran behind the ears( and 'y dog ga"e a so%t grunt o% pleasure# /Try and get so'e rest( huh1) 3he pic$ed up the bags o% rubbish and le%t# , co"ered 'y head with a pillow and $new that sleep was beyond 'e# Chapter 3i7teen -ilith +ollowing .laine)s latest twist o% the $ni%e( we had wee$s o% warped nor'ality to lull 'e into co'placency# The su''er reached its late pea$ and , hid in 'y studio and engrossed 'ysel% in the portrait that , was now treating as a technical drawing until so'ething rese'bling inspiration e"er %elt li$e turning up# At least , had begun to apply paint to can"as( and .laine)s daily sittings beca'e a once2a2wee$ ordeal as , wor$ed 'ore and 'ore %ro' 'e'ory# According to Henry( she was caught up in the organisation o% so'e charity %undraiser or other ? her -ady .ounti%ul 'as$ that she wore to the rest o% the world ? and that suited 'e 8ust %ine# *n the hottest day o% the year( the s'ell o% linseed oil hung hea"y in the hu'id air( seeping into 'y clothes and lingering on 'y s$in# The %a'iliar scent taunted 'e with 'e'ories and , had to stop and chec$ 'ysel% be%ore ho'esic$ness dealt its suc$er punch# , continued to tell 'ysel% that each

brush2stro$e too$ 'e one step nearer 3anta Marita( but e"en this was sullied# E"ery i'age that , constructed was i''ediately polluted by what , would lea"e behind# BBBBB A%ter twel"e hours o% standing at the easel( , reluctantly conceded de%eat# The best o% the light had %aded o"er an hour be%ore( and , %ell into the ar'chair and closed 'y stinging eyes# 0hen , reopened the' 'inutes later( .laine was standing in %ront o% 'e with an a'used loo$ on her %ace# , wondered how long she had been there watching 'e do<e# /-ilith1 , hate to disturb your conte'plation( but would you care to co'e downstairs1 There)s so'eone ,)' dying %or you to 'eet#) , sighed with %rustration# The only thing , really cared %or at that 'o'ent was a hot bath( but the re=uest was a direct order# /Gi"e 'e a 'o'ent#) , slid 'y %eet into a pair o% 8ewelled Moroccan slippers and grabbed a deni' shirt that doubled as 'y s'oc$# /E7cuse 'e i% ,)' not dressed %or co'pany#) BBBBB /Ah( here)s 'y artist() .laine announced as , padded down the corridor and into the "ast( %or'al drawing roo'# 3he was i''aculate in a %loor2length blac$ sil$ s$irt and teal "el"et s'o$ing 8ac$et( and stood with a solid( ruddily handso'e 'an in a blac$ tie and tu7edo who re'inded 'e o% a /.est in 3how) bull# /Alasdair 4al<iell( 'ay , introduce -ilith .resson1) she as$ed# , shoo$ the hand o% the 'an who had terrorised 'e when , rode out with +inn# /0e)"e 'et#) Alasdair turned to .laine# /,)' a%raid the entrancing Miss .resson and , got o%% to a rather un%ortunate start# , thin$ her ride was a little too challenging# &ot entirely her %ault( 'ind you ? you really 'ust get your ani'als used to tra%%ic( .laine#) /Ah() .laine s'iled# /+inn 'entioned she)d ta$en a tu'ble# 3o( that was you1) 3he glanced o"er her shoulder# /+inn( darling( you didn)t tell 'e

Alasdair was in"ol"ed#) , hadn)t realised +inn was in the roo'# He sat by the %ire( hidden by the high bac$ o% a green leather ar'chair# /4idn)t thin$ it was i'portant#N /E"ening( +inn() , ac$nowledged( and he turned to raise an e'pty brandy glass to 'e( his s'ile already a little lop2sided# He too wore a dinner 8ac$et( although his bow tie re'ained un%astened and draped around his nec$# /, thought perhaps you 'ight partner 'e %or dinner tonight() Alasdair suggested( although his sel%2satis%ied e7pression said that( in his 'ind( there was no /'ight) about it# He ran his hand o"er thic$( red hair that had been gelled into sub'ission# /5ou ha"e no idea how hard it is to be sad and single in the co'pany o% such a per%ect couple#) .ehind hi'( +inn caught 'y eye and ga"e a barely perceptible sha$e o% his head# , hoped , understood# /,)' sorry( .laine() , announced# /Than$ you %or the introduction( but , really don)t %eel that Mr 4al<iell and , ha"e anything in co''on#) Alasdair ga"e an indulgent chuc$le# /-ili ? 'ay , call you that1 ? , can only apologise %or our un%ortunate %irst 'eeting# May , suggest that you consider choosing an easier ride1) /&o#) , narrowed 'y eyes# /&o( you 'ay not suggest that( and you 'ay not call 'e that( since you as$# May , suggest that i% you want a %uc$ out o% this e"ening( you start being nice to your right hand1) +inn ga"e a so%t( cho$ed laugh that he tried to disguise behind a cough( and Alasdair)s s'ile hardened# /, can)t say ,)' not disappointed# -ady Alber'arle assured 'e that her houseguest would be only too delighted to o%%er 'e her co'panionship#) He glanced at .laine with ill2disguised ire# /,)' only sorry , don)t 'eet with your appro"al#) The wo'an who prided hersel% on pro"iding %or her guests) e"ery desire struggled to reco"er her co'posure# /Alasdair( what can , say1 ,)"e clearly 'ade a terrible error o% 8udge'ent# Howe"er ,)' sure there are ways we can co'pensate you %or a wasted 8ourney#) 3he placed long %ingers on his hand and li%ted it to her lips( placing a delicate $iss on the bac$ o% his wrist#

/&e"er let it be said that ,)' an unreasonable 'an#) Alasdair returned the $iss# /,% that)ll be all1) , as$ed( already edging towards the door# /,)' planning a pro'pt start to'orrow ? , could do with the early night#) /*% course() .laine said# /,)' sorry %or disturbing your rest# Perhaps you)d li$e to ta$e a brandy as a nightcap1) /That would be### nice( than$ you() , %altered( relie"ed at getting away =uite so easily# +inn , turned to .laine# /,)ll lea"e you to it( with your per'ission1 ,)' really not that hungry#) , $new that i% , 'ade it to the door( e"erything would be %ineE i% she was intent on screwing another 'an( , was usually guaranteed a =uiet night( and Alasdair)s ob"ious desire pro'ised to satis%y her needs# , reached the door handle and than$ed God# /0ait a 'o'ent() Alasdair de'anded# 5et again( God was playing the cunt# /5eah1) /, don)t thin$ , li$e your attitude#) Alasdair turned to .laine( who was still pouring -ilith)s brandy# 3he ga"e a nod o% appro"al %or whate"er was about to co'e# /, 'eant no o%%ence#) , $ept 'y "oice steady# Aesigned# /, thin$ you did# And belie"e 'e( ,)' o%%ended# Paddy#) The last word spat at 'e# /*h +inn( will you ne"er learn1) .laine 'o"ed to Alasdair)s side and beginning to caress the s'all o% his bac$# /4)you $now what we)d do to the boys at 'y school who didn)t $now their place1) 'y latest tor'entor continued#

0hate"er , said now wasn)t going to 'a$e a blind bit o% di%%erence# /&o() ca'e 'y disinterested reply# /0ell( you)re about to %ind out#) Alasdair put one elegantly clad ar' around .laine)s shoulder# /5ou say he)ll do anything1) He $issed her %orehead# /Absolutely() she said# /-ilith( ,)d li$e you to stay a 'o'ent longer( please#) +ro' the corner o% 'y eye( , could see -ilith clutch her glass to her chest with both hands( and , desperately wished that , could 'agic her %ro' the roo' so that she would be spared whate"er sport was co'ing# /E7cellent# *n your $nees( boy() Alasdair co''anded# , obeyed without =uestionD , pretty 'uch $new the script %ro' here# 0ith his right hand( Alasdair undid his %ly# His le%t hand held 'y 8aw in a %ir' grip# /*pen wide() he ordered( bringing out his broad( already2engorged coc$ and cradling it with pride# He sho"ed it into 'y 'outh with a %orce that 'ade 'e gag( and ga"e a s'all ah o% pleasure# /That)s it# Ta$e it li$e a good little paddy bastard#) Perhaps at %irst Alasdair had intended this to be an a'using prea'ble to screwing .laine senseless( but that brutal( pri'e"al dri"e that such 'en possessed too$ o"er and he grabbed 'y hair with a harsh grunt( using both hands to pull 'y head %urther into his ran$ groin# /3orry() he gasped to .laine between thrusts# /Might ha"e to wait a while %or the ne7t per%or'ance#) /Please carry on#) .laine grace%ully perched on the ar' o% a chair to better obser"e the show# /0e ha"e all night#) Close2tri''ed nails ra$ed 'y scalp and %orced 'e e"er closer( and all , could do was ac=uiesce as i% held at gunpoint# +inally( he reached a "icious cli'a7# /3wallow( you little bastard# Ta$e it all or ,)ll %uc$ing strangle you#) 0ith a 'u%%led( inarticulate roar he ca'e( and e8aculated so hard into 'y 'outh that , cho$ed and retched# /God### That ta$es 'e bac$#) Alasdair ga"e a depra"ed giggle and sho"ed 'e away %ro' hi'# He grinned at -ilith# /*ne whore shuts and another one

opens( eh1) , sat bac$ on 'y heels and wiped 'y slee"e across 'y %ace as -ilith silently le%t the roo'#BBBBB, $nelt o"er the toilet bowl and %orced 'y %ingers down 'y throat until bitter "o'it rose in 'y 'outh and , threw up in "iolent spas's( %eeling relie% and disgust in %airly e=ual 'easure# ,n a li%e %illed with crap nights( this was a real beauty# 0orse had happened ? and no doubt continue to happen ? but tonight( -ilith had been there and seen 'e %or who , really was# , re'e'bered the loo$ o% horror on her %ace and threw up again# /Hey there#) , spun round( clutching a towel to 'y 'outh# /0hat are you doing here1) /, thought you 'ight want so'e 'outhwash#) -ilith ga"e a gri' s'ile( and threw 'e her bottle o% bourbon# , turned the bottle in 'y hands( wanting to tell her to %uc$ o%% and lea"e 'e alone# 3ha'e hardened 'y "oice# /0hat the hell do you want 'e to say1) /0ell( i% you start with /Than$s %or the drin$() ,)ll start with /3orry , got you %uc$ed in the 'outh by an inade=uate bastard)#) -ilith too$ the bottle %ro' 'e( uncor$ed it and handed it bac$# , too$ a long drin$( swilling the whis$ey around 'y 'outh to wash away the traces o% "o'it and se'en# +inally , swallowed( welco'ing the burn o% hard li=uor as it hit the bac$ o% 'y throat# /Than$s#) /Aight( this is what ,)' going to do now#) -ilith too$ the bottle %ro' 'e and tipping a healthy shot or three down her own throat# /*n the basis that , can)t e"en begin to unra"el the shit ,)"e 8ust witnessed( ,)' entering an o%%icial period o% denial# ,)' going to get Henry to run 'e o"er to that delight%ul pub in the "illage so , can get pissed on o"erpriced "od$a and listen to crap on the 8u$ebo7# ,% you want to 8oin 'e( ,)ll be there until your cur%ew#) 0ithout waiting %or a reply( she set o%% bac$ down the corridor# /And ,)' buying() she called as she retreated# -ilith

, stared unblin$ing at 'y se"enth double "od$a and tonic# 3uch was 'y de'eanour that no2one approached 'e( and e"en the lecherous landlord o% the +o7 and Grapes $ept a disrespect%ul distance# Henry had been surprised at the late re=uest %or transport to shore( but one loo$ at 'y %ace had hi' putting down his copy o% GH and %etching his coat# &ow , cursed 'ysel% %or presu'ing that +inn 'ight want to 8oin 'e# , too$ a 'outh%ul that drained the glass and wal$ed o"er to the 8u$ebo7( staring at trac$s that hadn)t been changed since be%ore the 'illenniu' and not caring what , chose as long as the noise bloc$ed out the sound o% Alasdair 4al<iell)s obscene cry o% pleasure that re%used to lea"e 'y s$ull# /Mine)s a pint#) +inn stood behind 'e( dar$2ringed( bloodshot eyes still not =uite 'eeting 'ine# /3o# 4)you rec$on we can get pissed in an hour and a hal%1) /, don)t $now# 5ou)"e got so'e serious catching up to do#) /.ring it on# ,n %act( you don)t %ancy 'a$ing that two pints and a chaser( do you1 4ouble( i% you)re %eeling %lash# , thin$ , pu$ed up 'ost o% .laine)s brandy#)BBBBB+inn sat down to 8oin 'e at a stic$y( wobbling table in the %urthest corner o% the bar and pulled the %rayed cu%%s o% his grey hooded top o"er $nuc$les that were raw %ro' being %orced down his throat# He too$ up his %irst drin$ without 'eeting 'y eye( and was hal%way down the glass be%ore he %inally spo$e# /.ac$ there# , didn)t want### that# Hi'#) /, $now() , said %ro' under the table as , 8a''ed a %olded beer 'at under one o% its wooden legs# He ga"e a hard laugh o% disdain# /5eah( right# ,t)d be 'e gi"ing hi' a blow8ob that con"inced you( huh1) , re2e'erged# /*h co'e on( +inn# 0hat , saw bac$ there had %uc$ all to do with desire( and e"erything to do with that twat stating his do'inance# ,)' surprised he didn)t 8ust dispense with the %or'alities and pin you down by the nec$ be%ore 'ounting you#) He ris$ed a dar$ s'ile# /He)s probably sa"ing that one %or ne7t ti'e#)

/,t)s not e"en that it didn)t 'atter to hi' what your %eelings were about the 'atter( is it1 The "ery %act that you don)t /want it) is the uni=ue selling point#) The %irst pint disappeared be%ore he spo$e again# /,s there nothing you 'iss1) The double whis$ey "anished ne7t# /&o#) , shrugged# /&ot really#) /5ou)re also $inda hard to shoc$#) /,t 'ight happen one day() , assured hi'# /-oo$( i% you)re in the 'ood( %eel %ree to tal$# , warn you now , truly a' the world)s worst shrin$ ? , %ind 'y opinion $eeps getting in the way( but at least ,)' pissed so , won)t re'e'ber in the 'orning#) /, dunno# The %ew ti'es ,)"e opened 'y 'outh in the past ,)"e sounded li$e one o% those boo$s ? y)$now( /How 3hite 0as My Childhood ? A True 3tory by yet another ,rish 0hite2Trash .astard)#) /*oh( we could ha"e a Crap Parent co'petition() , suggested# /, could enter 'y %ather in the /-ying( 3pineless Twat) category and , rec$on 'y 'other)d be a dead cert %or the /3chi<ophrenic Anore7ic Prostitute) class#) /At least your 'other had the sense to get paid %or it# All 'ine e"er got was hal% a ton o% gold2plated 8ewellery and recurrent herpes# Mind you( gi"e the wo'an her dueE she did pro"ide 'e with a %ine succession o% uncles#) He raised his glass to ghosts# , was watching hi' drin$ the entire second pint in one go when , realised# /That)s where it began# ,t was one o% the'() , stated( and +inn %u'bled and dropped the lighter that he had been turning in his %ingers# /*ops# 3orry# That was a bit o% %ull2on#) /3)all right# ,)' getting used to you#) He reco"ered the Oippo %ro' the carpet and lit his ne7t s'o$e# /And anyway( you)re right# ;ust what e"ery twel"e2 year old wants %ro' his %a"ourite uncle %or Christ'as ? a good buggerin) across his 'a)s bed( while she sleeps o%% a tur$ey 'icrowa"e2'eal and a

gallon o% 3pecial .rew#) He downed his whis$ey chaser and sla''ed the glass down# /Ah( %uc$ it( ,)' not wasting tonight on this shit# 4)you play pool1) , shoo$ 'y head# /&e"er tried it#) /5ou don)t $now what you)re 'issing# Aight( co'e on# ,)ll teach you# .ut ,)' warning you( , ta$e no prisoners#) /0e need another drin$ %irst() , declared# /Good idea# Go and get /e' in then( wo'an# 3a'e again( i% ,)' playing catch2up#) /, need crisps# To soa$ up the alcohol#) , stopped 'id28ourney and %rowned# /5ou want so'e1) /3ounds good#) /0hat d)you want1) +inn suddenly ga"e 'e an glorious drun$en s'ile# /Any# -ong as they)re not spun$ %la"our#) My last 'outh%ul o% "od$a erupted %ro' 'y nose and , had to grab the nearest table as the landlord glared at 'y laughter# , stuc$ out 'y tongue in suitably 'ature response# +inn /Cow#) -ilith potted her third consecuti"e yellow ball o% the %irst ga'e# /5ou sure you)"e ne"er done this be%ore1) /&e"er# Honest# .ut it)s about lines( isn)t it1 -ines and angles and logic# , can do that#) /&o( it)s an art() , argued through a 'outh%ul o% prawn coc$tail crispsE -ilith)s 8o$e# /A beauti%ul( noble art# Played by pissheads#)

/*h# 0ell in that case , can do that as well#) -ilith leant o"er the table to line up her ne7t shot# 3he was so tiny that she had to stand on the "ery tips o% her toes to reach hal%way across the bai<e# 3he had discarded the sweater o% Henry)s she)d been burrowed into( and now , caught a gli'pse o% shell2 pin$( lace tri''ed bra under her white "est top# Her tongue was caught between her teeth as she concentrated on %inding that crucial angle( and a strand o% 'idnight2blac$ hair had bro$en %ree o% its tie and draped itsel% across her %orehead# 3he was no longer 'y %antasy 'er'aid( but no less beauti%ul# /0hat are you loo$ing at1 Ha"e , grown a bloody tail or so'ething1) she drawled( upper2class pissed( as yet another ball sla''ed into a poc$et# /5eah# &)whi$sers# , 'ean whis$ers() , grinned# , suddenly wondered how twisted it 'ade 'e that , was happier at this 'o'ent than , had been in years# , re'e'bered reading an article in one o% Henry)s 'aga<ines about /-i"ing in the &ow) ? sei<ing the 'o'ent( appreciating the power o% the present and "arious other ge's o% utter psycho2bolloc$s# , was a world e7pert# BBBBB , won that %irst ga'e by a particularly pathetic three balls# /How long ha"e we got1) -ilith as$ed( be%ore , e"en had ti'e to gloat# , glanced up at the cloc$ o"er the bar# A%ter another %our pints to %ollow the two ,)d started with( and with attendant chasers( , needed to shut one eye and s=uint be%ore the nu'bers would %all into %ocus# /Hal% n)hour be%ore Henry pic$s us up#) /Good# Ti'e %or another ga'e then# 3ee i% , can beat you now , $now what ,)' doing#) /,n your drea's#) , sounded 'ore con%ident than , %elt# , was 8ust about to brea$ when the door to the bar2roo' shuddered open under the weight o% a boot and the night went tits2up %or the second ti'e#

-awson( Philly and 4a'o were Coyle)s three closest co'rades# ,% he wasn)t with the' it 'eant that he was screwing one o% the cha'ber'aids %ro' the holiday "illage( but it loo$ed as though they)d been drin$ing at his %ilthy %lat %or 'ost o% the day as they staggered to the bar# /4o you want to lea"e1) -ilith as$ed# Part o% 'e wanted to "anish li$e the Cheshire Cat( lea"ing nothing but a contented s'ile ho"ering o"er the pool table# /4o you want to lea"e1 They)re going to be arseholes# Especially -awson there ? li$es to thin$ he)s Coyle)s lieutenant#) -ilith glared at the'( then turned to 'e# /To hell with that# ,)' not wasting %orty pence on those genetically2challenged bastards# 3till your brea$( isn)t it1) /5eah() , grinned# /3till 'y brea$#) BBBBB ,t started the second , went to play the %irst shot# Philly( considered to be the ladies) 'an o% the three( le%t his little huddle by the bar and deliberately stepped o"er the in"isible boundary and into our territory# /Assu'in) the position already( %ag1) , ignored hi' and glanced at -ilith( who 'erely rolled her eyes( and %or the ne7t ten 'inutes we endured a barrage o% schoolboy obscenity# The landlord stood scratching his arse and pretending that nothing untoward was happening( allowing hi'sel% an occasional s'ir$ at the 'ore crass co''ents# -awson was ne7t# /Hey( gorgeous ? , got %i%ty pence hereE you want to %uc$ Philly %or 'e1 He)s right up %or a bit o% 'an2lo"e# 5ou can $eep the change#) -ilith $ept her head down and played pool as i% our tor'entors were nothing 'ore than a particularly tedious hallucination( and all the while , wanted to $ill the %uc$ers#

An hour and a hal% was all ,)d wanted ? ninety po7y 'inutes with a wo'an who was content to share 'y co'pany without lea"ing the $ind o% sou"enir that re=uired 'edical attention( and those three bastards were shitting all o"er it# , could do nothing( and they $new it# As long as it was 8ust 'e and not a guest on the recei"ing end o% the abuse , would ha"e to ta$e it in the sa'e way , too$ e"ery other sha%ting# , had 8ust resigned 'ysel% to yet another night %lushed down the great pan o% creation when the unthin$able happenedE %ate s'iled on 'e# ,t began when -ilith staggered o%% to the toilets# Philly and -awson continued their sport with 'e ? loudly blowing $isses across the roo' and howling at their own co'edic brilliance ? but 4a'o decided to ha"e a go at -ilith# /That your new girl%riend( arse bandit1) he drawled( once she was out o% the roo'# /)+ancied pretendin) to be a real 'an %or the night( eh1) His two co'panions too$ a step bac$( and -awson( the only one with any intelligence to spea$ o%( pulled at 4a'o to bring hi' bac$ into their %old# Either he didn)t notice or didn)t care ? he was about to ha"e his 'o'ent in the spotlight# /Mind you( si<e o% her tits( it)d be li$e screwin) another blo$e anyway ? /specially i% you ta$e her up the arse#) He 'i'ed the appropriate action in case , didn)t =uite get the point# He was so pleased with his per%or'ance that he closed his eyes in 'oc$ ecstasy and began to add sound e%%ects( then 'ust ha"e wondered why his 'ates were no longer laughing( because he %ro<e 'id2thrust and opened one eye to see -ilith standing right behind hi'# /*h dear# Ha"e you 8ust insulted .laine)s guest( 4a'o1) , as$ed hi'# That rattled hi'# /&ah ? , 'ean( , was 8ust ha"in) a laugh# 4idn)t 'ean anythin) by it( $now what , 'ean1) 4a'o blustered( as -ilith stood there and stared at hi' in 'easured disgust# /Has this nasty little scrote 8ust insulted you( -ilith1) , as$ed( willing her to gi"e 'e the answer , cra"ed# /Most de%initely#)

That was all it needed# -ilith +inn %lashed 'e a s'ile o% intense gratitude then hit 4a'o with a per%ect hay'a$er to the chin# He staggered bac$wards and %ell onto a table stac$ed with e'pty and hal%2%inished glasses that si'ply ca"ed in under his bul$( be%ore struggling bac$ to his %eet( soa$ed in stale beer( at which point +inn hit hi' %or a second ti'e ? a powerhouse upper cut with his le%t that sent the 'an)s eyes rolling bac$ in his head ? and then di"ed on top o% hi'( pu''elling hi' as though he were an o"erstu%%ed punch bag# The landlord shouted so'ething unintelligible abo"e the noise o% shattering glass and wood( but was loathe to lea"e the sa%e <one behind his bar# +or once , was happy to lea"e so'eone else to do the %ighting( and 'y drin$ing partner was thoroughly en8oying hi'sel%# 4a'o 'anaged to land a %ew stray( desperate punches( and , saw the spray o% blood as +inn)s nose too$ a direct hit( but he %ought with an instincti"e grace that suggested he)d done this $ind o% thing 'ore than once be%ore# -awson stepped ner"ously %orward( and , thought he was going to do the sensible thing and drag his beaten %riend out o% the %ray( until , saw his hand slide into the poc$et o% his leather 8ac$et# The so%t( solid clic$ warned 'e( e"en be%ore he brought out the %lic$ $ni%e intended %or +inn)s e7posed bac$# /+uc$ing coward6) , howled( as -awson prepared to 'a$e his 'o"e# He was still laughing at 'y i'potent protest when , bro$e a pool cue in two across the bac$ o% his head# He ga"e a surprised grunt o% protest and sprawled out cold across the pool table( the $ni%e %alling %ro' his grip and clattering onto the %loor ne7t to 4a'o# /&ice shot#) +inn ga"e an appreciati"e nod# Philly was now their last 'an standing( and he loo$ed decidedly worried# He was clearly not a %ighter ? his gelled and preened hair and care%ully tri''ed 'oustache told 'e that this was a 'an who "alued his %ace# Honour( howe"er( de'anded that he 'ade so'e $ind o% e%%ort( so he rushed %orward with a drun$en roar that was his atte'pt at a battle cry( and swung his right ar' in a clu'sy arc to where +inn was 8ust getting to his

%eet# 3heer 'o'entu' 'eant that his gold so"ereign2decorated %ist 'issed +inn by a 'ile( and instead s'ac$ed 'e %ull in the 'outh# , %elt 'y teeth pierce 'y botto' lip as 'y blood and sali"a created a tribute to ;ac$son Polloc$ across the wooden %loor( and Philly stood clutching his %ist to his chest( still in shoc$ at actually 'anaging to hit so'ething# , reco"ered enough to plant a decent right 8ab on 'y assailant)s 8aw( then +inn thu'ped hi' so hard in the sto'ach that all his breath was pushed out in one whee<e and he slu'ped bac$ on the ban=uette# He 'ade one last atte'pt to push hi'sel% out o% his seat( but +inn si'ply reached o"er and slapped hi' hard on the bac$ o% his head so that he hit the table %ace2 %irst# There was an audible crunching noise as his %ront teeth cru'bled against the solid sur%ace( and Philly stopped %ighting# /,)ll ha"e you %uc$ing 'urdered %or this6) the landlord yelled( %inally %inding the courage to do so'ething other than cower behind his counter# /-oo$ at the state o% 'y bloody bar6) , loo$ed around at the wrec$age# /,)d say we)"e caused at least three grand)s worth o% i'pro"e'ents#) +inn laughed( and the landlord glowered at hi'# /5eah( it)s %unny now( isn)t it( you coc$y little bugger1 3ee how 'uch you bloody well laugh when , tell her -adyship#) /3ee i% it)s any louder than you laugh when , tell her you stood there li$e a spare pric$ at an orgy whilst three o% her sta%% assaulted her houseguest() +inn retorted# That worried the 'an# He loo$ed at 'e properly %or the %irst ti'e( and his %ace paled at the thought o% .laine)s wrath# /;ust get out# The pair o% you# And don)t bloody well co'e bac$ /til you learn so'e 'anners#) /0e were 8ust lea"ing anyway#) , gathered up 'y sweater and +inn)s hoodie# /, hate ha"ing one too 'any on a school night#) , stepped unsteadily o"er 4a'o( and wal$ed triu'phantly out into the night# +inn staggered out a%ter 'e# .lood dripped %ro' his nose and soa$ed his t2 shirt( but he was grinning li$e a 'ad'an#

, too$ his ar'# /That was a'a<ing6 0here)d you learn to %ight li$e that1) +inn ga"e a bash%ul shrug# /Ah( you $now # Here and there# Care ho'e( %irst up ? turnin) up on 'y %irst night with a %ace li$e a girl# Then the odd bit o% bare2$nuc$le stu%% round and about the city# 0hat about you1 5ou were pretty handy with that pool cue# -i$e %uc$in) .ruce -ee or so'ething# And that punch###) /3econdary school# Turning up on 'y %irst day with an accent li$e Princess Anne# , gate2crashed the local Catholic boys) bo7ing club on the second day and de'anded lessons o%% the nice priest that ran it# ) /Ah# Aight you are#) /5ou 'ight want to do so'ething about that#) Huge drops o% blood %ell %ro' his nose and spattered onto the slate pa"e'ent# /*h#) +inn too$ his hoodie %ro' 'e and used it to ste' the %low o% blood( then sni%%ed# /5)$now( , could %uc$in) $ill a bag o% chips#) /0ow# Crisps and chips all in one night# 5ou)ll turn into a real %at bastard i% you)re not care%ul# 3o( is there a ta$eaway in the "illage1) /5eah###) /.ut1) /.ut ,)' not allowed to use it( a' ,1 Guests only#) , %rowned# /,)' a guest( aren)t ,( technically1 Apart %ro' the /not allowed to lea"e) bit# , 'ean( that)s why you had to de%end 'y honour and e"erything#) /5eah###) /Then ,)ll buy the chips#) +inn loo$ed 'e up and down# /@h( you)re a bit o% a 'ess( y)$now1 5our lip and all thatC) /And is there a dress code at this %uc$ing ta$eaway1)

/&ot that , $now o%#) /Then ,)ll buy the chips#) +inn -ilith winced and put the chip bac$ in the bag# /*w# 3alt and "inegar and open wounds# &ot a good co'bination# 5ou can %inish the'#) 0e sat on the bench on the la$eshore and ate hot chips as protection against the cooling night while we waited %or Henry to pic$ us up# , was 8ust gathering up the last grains o% salt with 'y %inger when the distincti"e cough o% the tiny boat)s engine dri%ted o"er the water# , ga"e a resigned sigh# /This is it( then#) /This is it# 3ha'e#) ;ust as -ilith was about to add so'ething else( Henry yelled out %or 'e to grab the rope to pull hi' to the =uay and she thought better o% it# , grudgingly headed towards the water# /+inn1) she called# , turned bac$# /5eah1) /3pun$ %la"our() -ilith 'outhed( and we both shuddered with shared( secreti"e laughter as a horri%ied Henry caught sight o% our bruised and battered %aces# BBBBB A bris$ wind whipped the sur%ace o% the la$e into white2tipped wa"es that beca'e as solid as cobblestones against the prow o% the boat# Hal% way bac$ to the island a wild gust caught us and roc$ed the little launch %ro' side to side( and -ilith tu'bled into 'e# , instincti"ely reached out to catch her and 'y le%t hand accidentally landed on a s'all( %ir' breast# /3hit( ,)' sorry6) /3)all right() she s'iled drun$enly( and settled bac$ on the seat# Then( so

gently that at %irst , thought it 'ight only be 'y i'agination( she leant into 'e so that the entire arc o% her spine rested against 'y chest# , didn)t dare 'o"e( partly because , didn)t want Henry to see( but 'ainly because , didn)t want to lose the war'th o% the wo'an currently using 'e as a bac$rest# A 8ourney that , wanted to last %ore"er too$ a little under %i"e 'inutes( and all too soon the wooden s$eleton o% the island)s 8etty loo'ed out o% the dar$ness# /&e7t stop( Alber'arle Hall() Henry called out with %orced cheeriness( as the boat bu'ped against the tyres that hung o%% the little pier# -ilith reluctantly 'o"ed %ro' 'y ar's( and coldness %illed the space that she le%t# , went to %ollow her out o% the boat( but Henry bec$oned 'e bac$# /0e need to tal$( lad() he said =uietly( and the sadness in his "oice only co'pounded that sudden chill# BBBBB , sat sullenly at the $itchen table and deliberately blew as 'uch s'o$e as , could in Henry)s direction as he brewed strong co%%ee# 0hate"er he was about to say was car"ing worry2lines into his %orehead as he thought about the words( and , didn)t want to ha"e to do reality tonight# , wanted to do as -ilith had done( to stu'ble o%% to bed and try to sleep and capture 8ust so'e o% the good stu%%( instead o% being 'ade to sit at the table whilst 'y nose and %ists throbbed %ro' the %ight# , was sic$ o% waiting %or Henry to %ind the right place to start# /3o what)s all this about( little 'an1 5ou want a %reebie or so'ething1) /4on)t e"er say that6) Henry snapped# , held 'y hands up# /;o$e# 3orry# .ut you)re clearly building up to so'ething %airly %uc$in) 'a''oth( and , wouldn)t 'ind getting 'y head down so'e ti'e be%ore dawn#) Henry sat across %ro' 'e and %rowned into his co%%ee as i% a script was about to appear on its sur%ace# +inally he spo$e# /5ou need to be care%ul#)

/Hal% an hour o% 'oping around the $itchen li$e a wet %art to co'e up with that1 0hat the %uc$)s that supposed to 'ean1) /5ou $now what it 'eans( +inn# 5ou and -ilith#) , had a sudden urge to hit hi' 8ust %or 'entioning her na'e# , sat on 'y hands until it passed# /There is no /'e and -ilith)# 0e ha"en)t bro$en any rules( Henry#) He shoo$ his head# /, thin$ we both $now it)s not that si'ple# 4o you $now what)s so aw%ul1 ,n any other circu'stance e7cept this( that girl would be the best thing that)s e"er happened to you# , don)t thin$ you e"er laughed be%ore she arri"ed#) /4on)t be so bloody 'elodra'atic( you stupid old =ueen# Course , laughed#) /0ell i% you did( , ne"er heard you# And it 'a$es you terribly "ulnerable# &ights li$e tonight 8ust co'pound that "ulnerability#) , hated hi' tal$ing about it# /God( Henry( 8ust %or a while bac$ there it was great( you $now1 ;ust sitting and drin$ing with this beauti%ul girl( with no agenda ? no wondering what she had planned %or later# ,t was li$e , had a li%e6) /, $now( , $now# .ut in a couple o% 'onths she)ll be gone( and we)ll need to get bac$ to how things used to be#) He too$ a deep breath# /And that 'eans the less o% this### $ind o% thing there is( the easier it)ll be %or you# 3o'eti'es the 'ore you ha"e( the 'ore you)ll 'iss it when it)s gone#) /And what do , ha"e( Henry1 4)you want to gi"e 'e a detailed in"entory1 .ecause , can only co'e up with the clothes ,)' sitting in and a li%e %ull o% shit( so i% you can thin$ o% anything else ,)d be really %uc$ing grate%ul#) There was enough "eno' in 'y "oice to 'a$e Henry run a 'ile( but %or once he stood his ground# /4o you want the truth1) he as$ed# /5ou)"e got hope# 5ou)"e got so'ething ? so'eone ? in your li%e who)s 'anaged to bring a s'ile to your %ace# And you $now e"en better than , do that gi"en the slightest opportunity( .laine will use that to destroy you#) He reached across the table( stopping an inch short o% touching 'y hand# /Pull bac$( +inn# +or both your sa$es#)

/, can ta$e it#) /5ou 'ight be able to# .ut can -ilith1) And with that( the "ery last spar$ o% en8oy'ent died# , wanted to argue through the night to pro"e hi' wrong( but we both $new he was right# And , was the only one who could do anything to %i7 it# Chapter 3e"enteen -ilith Towards the end o% her 'orning sitting( .laine announced( /, ha"e a re=uest#) The portrait was now as near to per%ect as , e"er got( but , was no nearer brea$ing through .laine)s 'as$ now than , had been on 'y %irst night at Alber'arle Hall# , was used to seeing 'y wor$ co'e ali"e on the can"as as , re'o"ed each layer that li%e had le%t on 'y sitter)s s$in but day a%ter day .laine Alber'arle stared out at 'e with that sa'e i'penetrable( per%ect %aPade# My latest piece was beginning to scare 'e# /Ha"e you heard o% a gentle'an na'ed Aoyce Gar"ey1) .laine as$ed# /&o#) The na'e was "aguely %a'iliar( but surly %elt better# As usual( .laine didn)t rise# /He)s a tele"ision presenter ? strictly highbrow( you)ll be pleased to $now# He)s 'ade so'e 'ar"ellous docu'entaries about the Ao'an E'pire# 0on all $inds o% awards#) /,)' so "ery pleased %or hi'# And this has what to do with 'e1) /He and his %iancGe are guests at the Hall tonight ? a birthday treat %or her# He)s a huge %an o% yours#) @nease began to rise in 'y chest as though a horde o% 'aggots s=uir'ed there# /0hen Aoyce heard that you were staying on the island( he en=uired about

the possibility o% 'eeting you( pre%erably o"er dinner# , should i'agine he)d be per%ectly content to spend the %irst hour o% his e"ening chatting with you ? 8ust so'e gentle s'alltal$ to pander to his ego#) /&o#) 3he sighed# /, $new , 'ight encounter a little resistance#) , glanced up %ro' 'y can"as# /, would say it)s a little outside 'y re'it( wouldn)t you1) /Absolutely() .laine agreed( and , tensed# , had learned now that this reasonable tone signalled trouble# /As , said( it was 'erely a re=uest#) /Good# Can you $eep your head still %or 'e( please1) /*% course# ,)' sorry#) Manne=uin2still( .laine continued( /Howe"er ,)' sure +inn would be grate%ul %or your in"ol"e'ent#) /Meaning1) /Aoyce is rather $een to i'press his %iancGe( by all accounts# .etween you and 'e( , thin$ he %eels he needs to co'pensate %or a signi%icant age2gap and wants to pro"ide her with a little e7cite'ent# He)s re=uested +inn %or the entire night#) 3he %inally turned her head so that she loo$ed directly at 'e# /;udging by certain in%or'ation in his introductory letter( it would appear that your %riend is in %or a rather unco'%ortable ti'e# *% course( i% you %eel that this is /outside your re'it)( ,)ll 8ust in%or' +inn that he)s starting a little earlier# , $now how i'portant your 'orals are to you#) 3he stood( signalling the end o% the sitting( and reached %or her bathrobe# /Howe"er , can share with you that Aoyce has boo$ed the dungeon as his roo' o% choice#) The line that was once so clear began to erode that little bit 'ore under 'y bare %eet and , $new , was da'ned whate"er , decided# .laine hadn)t %inished# /,)' sure +inn would understand# A%ter all( he dealt so ad'irably with the a%ter2e%%ects o% your other recent re%usal#) , was no longer so sure# Ten days had passed( but this was the %irst ti'e

that .laine had alluded to the e"ents o% that e"eningD in %act( it was the %irst ti'e anyone in the house had 'entioned it ? +inn included# He had hardly said a word to 'e beyond a curt /'orning) since# , told 'ysel%( o"er and o"er( that it had not been a date# That we had both been stupid in %louting unwritten yet unbrea$able rules( and luc$y to e'erge %ro' that night with little 'ore than hango"ers and bloodied noses( and that +inn had done the right thing in pulling away# , cringed when , thought about what 'y clu'sy( drun$en pass in the boat 'ust ha"e done to his head( and 'ost o% all , tried 'y "ery best not to thin$ o% 'ysel% as anything so ridiculous as du'ped# &ow .laine brought e"erything %looding unbidden to the sur%ace( and , realised that , could not shi%t +inn( with his new%ound "ulnerability and shared secrets( %ro' 'y 'ind# Through 'y own stupidity( , had gi"en 'ysel% the "ery worst o% both worlds# , pic$ed up a cloth and care%ully wiped away the e7cess paint %ro' 'y brush be%ore putting it to one side# /3o Aoyce is as$ing %or( what1 My co'pany and nothing else1) /&othing at all# , belie"e that intellectual sti'ulation is 8ust as i'portant %or 'y guests as any other ser"ice# 4o , ta$e this to 'ean he)ll 'eet 'y artist at dinner1) , ga"e a 'ute nod( not trusting 'ysel% to spea$# /E7cellent#) .laine s'iled with delight# /Than$ you( -ilith# ,)' sure it)ll be =uite a surprise %or +inn( too#) 3he too$ a step towards the door( her 'ind already on the ne7t stage o% preparations %or the e"ening( then paused# /*h( and , don)t 'ean to be harsh( but 'ight , suggest you ta$e so'e ti'e this a%ternoon to "isit 'y hairdresser in the "illage1 5ou)ll %ind she)s "ery discreet( and at the 'o'ent you hardly loo$ li$e the -ilith .resson that Aoyce will be e7pecting# And at dinner( please wear so'ething that co"ers your ar's# 5ou and , 'ight be aware that it)s ec<e'a( but , don)t want our guests thin$ing it)s so'ething contagious#) BBBBB /4oing so'ething special tonight( are we1)

/3o'ething li$e that#) , lay with 'y head o"er the hairdresser)s sin$ as she rinsed out conditioner that s'elled o% sherbet# , had been ushered into a plush pri"ate roo' in the salon the 'o'ent , arri"ed ? the discretion that .laine had pro'ised ? and was now hal% way through 'y trans%or'ation( bac$ into the recognisable brand that was -ilith .resson( Contro"ersial Chat23how2Host2Attac$ing Artist# /3o( how long ha"e you been at the Hall1) , could tell her( down to the nu'ber o% hours# /About three 'onths#) That surprised her# , supposed the resort sta%% were used to seeing people arri"e %or a single night( or a wee$end at 'ost# /0ow( really1 ,t 'ust really cost so'ething to stay on the island %or that long#) /5ou could say that#) The hairdresser blushed( e'barrassed at being caught thin$ing aloud# /,)' sorry ? that was so rude o% 'e# ,t)s none o% 'y business#) /4on)t worry about it# ,)' doing so'e wor$ %or .laine#) /-uc$y old you# -ady Alber'arle)s a'a<ing( isn)t she1 , 'ean( all the things she does %or the area ? this whole place would be a wasteland without her# 4o you $now( when , %irst ca'e to the "illage there was no nursery( so she donated this old barn and paid %or absolutely e"erything ? reno"ations( toys( e"en the wages %or the %irst year( /til the %unding ca'e through# .oth o% 'y $ids went there ? we)d ha"e had to tra"el 'iles into town without it# They)re at secondary now###) , stopped listening to her describe a wo'an who didn)t e7ist# Her words %lowed away with the water and as she began a co'plicated head 'assage all , could %eel was despair# , shut 'y eyes and tried to listen to the new2age tin$ling and whale song that passed %or bac$ground 'usic# /And as %or that young 'an o% hers###)

/0hat1) My eyes snapped open# /*h( were you dri%ting o%% there1 , was 8ust saying( the boy%riend ? that pretty young 'an# 0e see hi' in the "illage %ro' ti'e to ti'e( wandering around with not a care in the world# Maybe i% , loo$ hal% as good at her age( , could get one li$e that# 0hat do you rec$on1) /, don)t $now###) The hairdresser laughed at 'y struggle %or a reply# /,t)s all right lo"e( you don)t ha"e to answer that# Mind you( he)s really %allen on his %eet( hasn)t he1 , can)t i'agine hi' wanting %or 'uch#) +inn /Are you going to be 'uch longer( darling1) .laine as$ed# /*ur guests will be here in less than two hours#) That was 'y direct order to stop what , was doing and start beco'ing whoe"er she needed 'e to be %or this e"ening# , rubbed 'y hands together to loosen the ingrained soil and .ran instincti"ely crept behind 'y legs as .laine cast an eye around the greenhouse# /, don)t $now why you can)t $eep your roo' as tidy as you $eep this place() she said( li$e the irritated 'other o% a teenager# , hated it when .laine ca'e here# , li$ed to 'aintain the illusion( howe"er pathetic( that this was 'y territory( a space that was 'ine and 'ine only# , i'agined row upon row o% delicate seedlings shri"elling and dying in her shadow# /5ou $now( you 'ight %ind that tonight won)t be all bad#) 3he stood behind 'e and wrapped her ar's around 'y waist# /5ou 'ight e"en %ind ,)"e got a little surprise %or you#) , tensed under her e'brace# .laine)s idea o% a /little surprise) usually tended to result in 'y inability to sit down %or a wee$# /*h( stop that( silly# ,)' sure you)ll li$e this one#) Her hand crept to 'y balls(

as natural an action %or her as brushing a stray hair %ro' her eyes# 3he ga"e a proprietorial s=uee<e# /And dinner 8ac$et %or tonight( please ? it)s a real /dress to i'press) e"ening#) , wasn)t allowed to see the letter( but Coyle had supplied 'e with so'e scant detail ? not enough to gi"e 'e any real in%or'ation( but enough to trigger those %irst stirrings o% dreadE it was a particular s$ill o% his# 3o , $new it was a couple( that they had pre2boo$ed the dungeon( and without doubt that it wasn)t going to be %un# ,t also 'ade one thing abundantly clear# As 'uch as it hurt to ad'it it( Henry had been right# The %urther away -ilith was %ro' this li%e( the sa%er she would be( both now and when she %inally escaped# , started doing the calculations in 'y head# ,% , too$ %our te'a<epa' as soon as , got to 'y roo'( , would be able to ta$e another %our 8ust be%ore , 'et 'y clients without collapsing %ace %irst into the soup# -ilith 3o'ewhere beyond the hori<on a stor' was brewing# Although the s$y was still clear( the %aint whistle that escaped %ro' 'y lungs e"ery ti'e , e7haled warned o% the building pressure# Aelie% would only co'e once the stor' bro$eD until then , would ha"e to 'a$e do with 'y inhaler# , stood behind the dining roo' door and prepared to 'a$e 'y entrance# , s'oothed down the s$irt o% the dress , always chose when , needed a boost to 'y courageE the teal satin 4ior that , had last worn when , went head2to2head with ;ohnny .uc$le# *nly this ti'e( as per .laine)s re=uest( it was tea'ed with an Edwardian lace throw to hide the raw ec<e'a that blighted 'y ar's# , straightened 'y bac$ and wal$ed into the roo'# The couple .laine had hired 'e to entertain stood with their hostess( 'a$ing the 'ost o% the sparse bree<e that dri%ted through open patio doors# /And here)s 'y artist#) .laine ga"e her best Hollywood s'ile# 3he had opted %or red2carpet gla'our %or the e"ening( and loo$ed war'er and so%ter than she deser"ed in a cara'el sil$ coc$tail dress# 3he too$ 'y ar'( patting it so%tly li$e a proud owner# /-ilith .resson( 'ay , introduce Aoyce

Gar"ey( historian and docu'entary2'a$er( and his %iancGe( 3elena Clar$e#) /Miss .resson( can , 8ust say , a' a tre'endous %an o% your( ah### wor$#) Aoyce too$ 'y pro%%ered hand and raised it to his lips# He ga"e it an o"erly2 'oist( noisy $iss that le%t 'e with a wet hand and nowhere to wipe it# He straightened( and , realised he was only scant inches taller than , was# /, really do %eel that in this repressed society( anyone who approaches se7uality in art with the### glee%ul abandon that you do should be cha'pioned#) He s'oothed his greying co'b2o"er neatly into place and de"oured 'e with tiny eyes( hal%2hidden behind eyebrows that hadn)t been pruned %or decades# /And 'ay , 8ust say you loo$ absolutely###) ,n lieu o% words( he 'ade a noise that was 'eant to be appreciati"e but would not ha"e been out o% place in an obscene phone call# , wondered what the hell his 'anu%actured young %iancGe 'ight thin$ about such ob"ious leching so early in the proceedings( but , needn)t ha"e worriedE 3elena)s own carni"orous ga<e was %ir'ly %i7ed on the beauti%ul( i''aculately2groo'ed young 'an who had 8ust 'ade his custo'ary entrance at the top o% the stairs# +inn( %or his part( had eyes %or no2one else but 'e# Con%usion and betrayal scourged his %eatures be%ore he had chance to hide his shoc$( then , watched as he stepped %aultlessly into the act that would carry hi' through the e"ening# /,)' so sorry ,)' late( .laine#) He wal$ed con%idently o"er to our little group# /4a'n bow tie threatened to get the better o% 'e# , swear( you should be able to study %or a degree in tying those things#) Polite laughter %or'ed the soundtrac$ as he $issed her on both chee$s( then turned to 'e with a %i7ed s'ile# His pupils were saucer2wide already# /-ilith() he nodded in 'y direction( and to 'e alone( his resent'ent was palpable# &ow it was .laine)s turn to ta$e charge o% the proceedings# This was( a%ter all( her business# The introductions were co'pleted and she ushered us to the table# , sat on Aoyce)s le%tD +inn( as brittle as deadwood( too$ the seat ne7t to 3elena ? 'uch to her ob"ious delight ? and our hostess went to the head o% the table# /3elena( darling( you loo$ absolutely stunning# 3uch an unusual dress() she said as she too$ her seat#

, watched with 'orbid %ascination as yet one 'ore supposedly intelligent adult 'elted under .laine)s polished brand o% bullshit %lattery# /This1 *h( it)s %ro' a little bouti=ue in -A# Aoycie had it designed %or 'e when we were o"er there last autu'n# He was pic$ing up so'e award or other %or his /3e7 -i"es o% the E'perors) doc#) 3he had a piercing "oice that needed conscious 'odulation to stop it beco'ing glass2brea$ingly shrill# 3o'ewhere down the line( daddy had paid %or hours o% elocution lessons to get his little darling a %ew 'ore steps up the social ladder# /0hat do you thin$( -ilith1) .laine as$ed 'e# , already wanted to strangle 3elena si'ply %or shortening the per%ectly ade=uate word( /docu'entary)( but that was beside the pointD , was 'erely e7pected to contribute to this nauseating %arce and try not to outshine the birthday girl# My tas$ wasn)t 'ade any easier by her choice o% out%it# 3he wore a cantile"ered ( aug'ented2breast2s$i''ing satin dress the colour o% egg2yol$# 3o'ewhere in deepest &ebras$a( a pro' =ueen two si<es s'aller than 3elena was wondering where the %uc$ her out%it had disappeared to# 3he wore her honey2toned hair piled high on her head( and e"en in candlelight , could see the hidden welds o% hair2e7tensions# @nderneath the thin "eneer o% ostentatious gla'our she loo$ed absolutely appalling( but /0hat do you thin$( -ilith1) was nothing to do with co'pli'enting 3elena( and e"erything to do with .laine testing the e7tent o% 'y co'pliance# inn , waited %or -ilith)s barbed re8oinder ? %or her to point out that 3elena loo$ed li$e she)d been %ed into sausage2casing to %it into that dress( or that yellow was a poor choice o% colour %or so'eone whose s$in2tone could best be described as /tangerine)# ,t ne"er ca'e# />ery stri$ing#) -ilith ga"e a thin s'ile( and , wanted to howl at herD to ta$e e"ery piece o% crystal and sil"er and heirloo' china that adorned the table and hurl it to the %loor be%ore sha$ing her until reason returned# ,nstead ,

too$ re%uge in silence and prayed %or the te'a<epa' to start $illing 'y senses# +ro' her cowed( %alse words to her choice o% out%it( the 'essage couldn)t ha"e been clearerE %or whate"er price( -ilith .resson had %inally been bought#

-ilith Henry( pro%essionally in"isible( cleared away the dishes that contained the dying slush o% a cha'pagne sorbet a'use2bouche# , had co'e to adore Henry)s %ood( but in this instance , could ha"e been eating cardboard as , obsessi"ely scrutini<ed our guests# Aoyce had eaten li$e a rooting tru%%le2 pig( and i% , had been in the least hungry to start with( the eager snu%%ling sounds he 'ade as he spooned the stu%% into his already o"er2'oist 'outh would ha"e $illed 'y appetite %or the ne7t 'onth or so# 3elena had that in%uriating habit o% ostentatious dieters that in"ol"ed her sa'pling two 'outh%uls be%ore deliberately pushing the rest around the bowl to show that she would not be ingesting those re'aining %i"e calories( and , let 'y initial disli$e bloo' into un%ettered( i% well2hidden( hatred# +inn had si'ply pushed his dish to one side the 'o'ent it arri"ed# /4o you 'ind i% we###1) Aoyce as$ed( and placed a tiny sil"er %iligreed snu%%bo7 on the table be%ore %u'bling in his top poc$et and bringing out a 'atching 'iniature spoon# /0ouldn)t nor'ally and all that( but it)s been rather a long day( what with all the tra"el# 0ould hate to be asleep be%ore the( er### 'ain course( so to spea$#) .laine ga"e her 'elli%luous laugh# /Aoyce( as , e7plained when you boo$ed ? once you)re at Alber'arle( you don)t need an e7cuse %or anything# ,% you)d ha"e re=uested it( , would ha"e supplied 'y own#) /Ah# Mar"ellous# -ilith( would you care to###1) , wondered i% we would be playing /guess the rest o% the sentence) %or the

re'ainder o% the e"ening# /&o( than$ you#) The re%usal ca'e harder than , intended( and he ga"e an oddly childish pout# /Goodness# , didn)t ta$e you %or a puritan in such things#) .laine glanced at 'e and , $new , had been reined in# , %orced an apologetic s'ile# /4on)t get 'e wrong ? under nor'al circu'stances( ,)d be 'ore than happy to 8oin you# .ut ,)' at a rather tric$y stage with .laine)s portrait# Morning2a%ter 8uddering wouldn)t be a good idea right now#) Aoyce clearly understood# /The sacri%ices we artists 'a$e( eh1 , 'ust ad'it( , tend to abstain i% ,)' %il'ing# Can)t ha"e anything a%%ecting the ti'bre o% the >#*#) /That)s /"oice2o"er)() 3elena e7plained to +inn( in the style o% an aide to the ter'inally stupid# /Telly %ol$# They spea$ a di%%erent language#) Aoyce noisily snorted a spoon%ul o% cocaine be%ore reloading and passing it to 3elena# *nce she had ta$en her %ill( she o%%ered the spoon to +inn# He loo$ed to .laine( appealing %or a reprie"e( but the subtlest o% nods %ro' her 'eant that yet another che'ical began to surge its way around his already o"erloaded syste'# , had ne"er seen anyone ta$e cocaine and not beco'e a sel%2obsessed arse# Aoyce was already there to begin with( so with phar'aceutical assistance he beca'e an absolute beast# , was no longer needed %or con"ersationE , was reduced to a pair o% tits %or hi' to leer at( and a pair o% ears to be %illed with an e7tended "ersion o% the glorious career o% Aoyce Gar"ey( as the tortuous 'eal progressed# .y the ti'e Henry ser"ed icy( sharp ga<pacho 2 chosen to %it in with the strict de'ands o% 3elena)s diet 2 , $new about his in%ancy as a childhood prodigyD his glorious years at *7%ord and his internationally applauded Ph4D local( tender la'b with wild herbs was acco'panied by the tale o% the natural progression into tele"isionE apparently una"oidable %or one with such a 'agnetic personality as his# Although , set 'y body language to /enthralled) and nodded in all the right places( the only thing that held 'y attention was 3elena as she began to 'o"e in on +inn#

,t started with acrylic2tipped %ingers casually 'o"ing %ro' the table top to his thigh# At %irst it was done so so%tly that it could be dis'issed as accidental i% she was spotted( but as Aoyce droned on( obli"ious to anyone but hi'sel%( she beca'e 'ore bra<en# As , was tutored at length about the in%luence o% Greco2Ao'an art on 'odern erotica she began to $nead at his leg with %ingers that were well2practiced in arousal# 3he e"en $ic$ed o%% a dia'antGd sandal and began to play scarlet2painted toes against his cal%( as .laine loo$ed on# ,t was only when +inn %inally brought his own hand down to rest in the s'all o% 3elena)s bac$ that , %orced 'ysel% to loo$ away and %eign an e"en deeper interest in the endless proble's o% %il'ing with an ,talian crew# Aoyce didn)t stop to draw breath until dessert( and only pure greed at the stac$ o% "irginal 'eringues and %resh raspberries bro$e his stride# As he stac$ed his bowl so that 8uice o"er%lowed and spilled li$e blood onto the white linen( .laine decided to bring 3elena into the con"ersation# /, a' 8ust desperate to $now() she began( and 3elena)s hand snapped away %ro' +inn)s %ly button as i% she had been stung( /how did the pair o% you happen to 'eet1) /Er### ,### 0hat1 ) ca'e 3elena)s guilty( blustering response( and Aoyce ga"e her a reassuring( indulgent s'ile# /Carry on( 'y darling ? as -ady Alber'arle so beauti%ully e7plained( we are in a place where e7cuses are not re=uired#) 3elena( not entirely con"inced( $ept her hands to hersel% whilst she told her anecdote( although her toes continued to slide around +inn)s leg# /,t was 8ust one o% those things( really ? , was PA to Colin PrendergastE he)s Head o% Children)s Progra''ing %or Alpha Tele"ision ? and Aoycie had co'e in to discuss a history series %or young people# Aoycie)s "ery big on encouraging young people( you $now#) /3uch public spirit#) Aoyce)s chest e7panded 8ust a little 'ore# /Anyway() 3elena continued( /, si'ply thought he was the 'ost interesting(

di%%erent 'an ,)d e"er 'et( and then on his way out o% the 'eeting Aoycie in"ited 'e out to lunch( and well( o"er a bottle or two o% cha'pers( let)s 8ust say we %ound we had one or two rather### adult interests in co''on#) 3he glanced at her %iancG with a coy s'ile# /Aeally1) .laine as$ed( genuinely interested# /0ould you care to elaborate1 ,t)s been so long since we)"e had the opportunity %or candid con"ersation li$e this#) Aoyce cleared his throat as a clue that he wanted to continue the tale( and 3elena)s hand swi%tly returned to its e7ploration o% +inn)s genitalia# /,n that case( .laine( -ilith( er### +lynn( was it1 Allow 'e to be %ran$# 0e ? that is( 3elena and , ? li$e to re%er to it as the( er( the /dar$ side) ? you $now( that pri'al %acet o% our se7ual sel"es that we see' to ha"e obscured in sanitised conte'porary society#) Aoyce Gar"ey was bac$ on the lecture circuit( with the added bonus o% a cocaine2induced sense o% his own brilliance# , wondered what the hell people saw in his docu'entaries( aside %ro' a cure %or inso'nia# /0e are( a%ter all( si'ply a higher order o% predatory 'a''al ? and we need to re'e'ber that our( er( congress( %or want o% a better word( is ine7tricably lin$ed with "iolence ? a need to do'inate( to de%eat be%ore we( in essence( "iolate our ob8ect o% desire#) +inally# .ehind all that o"erblown( pseudo2scienti%ic ponti%ication( they were a couple o% desperate sadists in search o% so'ewhere to act out their grubby( brutal %antasies# 3o'ewhere li$e Alber'arle Hall# Across the table( 3elena)s birthday surprise blan$ly rolled a dessert %or$ between his %ingers as a cigarette substitute whilst the "ice around 'y chest tightened and , scrabbled through 'y clutch bag %or 'y inhaler# /Are you all right( -ilith1) Aoyce as$ed( 'ore out o% worry that his audience had deserted hi' than any real concern %or 'y health# /A touch o% asth'a() .laine e7plained bree<ily# /,s the weather a%%ecting you( -ilith1) /A little#)

/Perhaps you 'ight allow 'e to 'assage your chest1) Aoyce suggested# , s=uirted two shots o% salbuta'ol down 'y throat# /,)ll be %ine now( than$ you#) /Pity() Aoyce leered( and , %orced 'ysel% not to shudder as unbidden( he began to gi"e 'y shoulders a co'pensatory rub# /There# ,s that better1 3elena always says , ha"e 'agic %ingers#) +inn The %at( ugly( dirty %uc$er# He didn)t e"en deser"e to sit within a 'ile o% -ilith( ne"er 'ind touch her with those %ilthy hands# , could ha"e had his head through the patio doors in two seconds %lat( but right now , had other proble's to deal with# The bloody wo'an , was due to shag hadn)t stopped in her =uest once in the last hal%2hour# ,% 3elena Clar$e thought she was going to gi"e 'e a hard2on with her constant pawing at 'y coc$ through 'y trousers( she was going to be sadly disappointed# That $ind o% thing had been strictly arti%icially induced %or the last three years# My co$e2wired heart began to pound# , shut 'y eyes %or a 'o'ent and tried to i'agine 'ysel% out o% the roo'( sitting on the 'ost secluded shore on the island with .ran at 'y side# ,nstead o% tran=uil water and sunlight , saw only -ilith)s trapped and de%eated %ace# , reached into 'y breast poc$et %or the ne7t three te'a<epa' ,)d secreted there( slipping the' into 'y chee$ as , raised 'y hand to cough# Aoyce pushed a s'all plastic bag into the centre o% the table# /Anyone else care %or an /E)1) /,)' %ine( than$ you() .laine said as 3elena helped hersel%# /.ut ,)' sure +inn wouldn)t say no#) /3ure# 0hate"er#) , a"oided -ilith)s loo$ o% horror as , nec$ed a tab# Part o% 'e was actually =uite curious now as to what would happen when all the che'icals in 'y bloodstrea' 'et# , supposed spontaneous co'bustion

was out o% the =uestion( but , li"ed in hope# 3elena watched 'e closely# /5ou 'ust ha"e =uite an appetite#) As , hadn)t actually eaten anything yet( , guessed at what she was insinuating# And naturally( so did .laine#/*h( he does# +or all sorts o% things#) As 3elena ga"e a ner"ous s'ile( 'y e'ployer 'o"ed in# /5ou rather li$e 'y +inn( don)t you1) /,### no( , 'ean yes( ob"iously( but###) 3elena wittered( and loo$ed at Aoyce %or assistance out o% the pit she was digging# /3weetie( , wasn)t doing anything###) The slug in a suit si'ply ga"e a tolerant( paternal s'ir$ in response# /3o( d)you thin$ it)s ti'e we put her out o% her 'isery( .laine1) he as$ed# .laine casually topped up her wine glass# /0hene"er you thin$ is appropriate# ,t is your night( a%ter all#) /Aoycie( what)s going on1 , don)t li$e being $ept out o% things( you $now that() 3elena whined# , thought he was about to e7plode with s'ug anticipation# /Happy birthday( 'y lo"e() he bea'ed# /0hat1 , don)t understand ? is there a present1 0here is it1 0hat do you 'ean( /Happy birthday1)) Aoyce chuc$led with a'use'ent# He)d ha"e been loo$ing %orward to this %ro' the 'o'ent he sent o%% his che=ue to Alber'arle E7ecuti"e -eisure 3er"ices# /4o you re'e'ber that little tal$ we once had( about (er( what one 'ight do i% society)s restraints were li%ted( as it were1) .y the bo"ine e7pression on her %ace( 3elena e"idently didn)t re'e'ber at all( but with the a'ount o% drugs and alcohol she)d "acuu'ed up in the last hour( , rec$oned she)d be pushed to recall her shoe2si<e right at this 'o'ent# Her adoring %iancG ga"e an indulgent chuc$le# /About what 'ight happen i%( theoretically( we 'anaged to %ind so'eone o% su%%icient( er( broad2

'indedness ? sta'ina( e"en ? to indulge in a certain scenario1 5es1) He nodded in 'y direction to indicate beyond doubt that , was indeed that luc$y /so'eone#) /*h6) That did the tric$# 3erena)s eyes opened wide in shoc$ and delight# /*h 'y God Aoycie( you 'ean###) 3he loo$ed to .laine %or con%ir'ation( and our hostess ga"e a gracious s'ile# /Aoyce thought you both 'ight li$e hi' to play with %or a while# .y your response( ,)d say he 'ade a good choice1) /0e ha"e all night() Aoyce re"elled in the 'o'ent# /, e"en pac$ed our( eh'( special bag#) ,t was detail li$e that that 'ade 'e glad , had a habit o% industrial proportions# , 'ade 'ysel% turn to 3elena with the 'ost welco'ing e7pression , could %ind# /3o( there you ha"e it# Anything you wantE the only real li'it)s your i'agination#) , i'agined that last state'ent on the brochure( or perhaps a sta%% t2shirt# Then , i'agined it tattooed across 'y arse and , had to gulp down 3elena)s %ull glass o% 4o' Perignon to stop the laughter that threatened to e7plode %ro' 'e# , could %eel -ilith staring( but right now she was the last person on the planet , wanted to see# -ilith 3elena pic$ed up the glass that +inn had 8ust e'ptied and ran a %inger around its ri' be%ore li%ting it to her tongue( as though she could pic$ up his taste %ro' whate"er trace he had le%t behind# /0ell( this certainly beats the per%u'e and %lowers , got last year#) Aoyce chortled with unbounded delight# Her hand ca'e bac$ down to rest on top o% +inn)s( and this ti'e it blatantly re'ained there# +ro' ti'e to ti'e( +inn would run his thu'b across her %ingers in pre2progra''ed( robotic %lirtation#

+ro' there on( the e"ening beca'e a co'petiti"e bacchanal between Aoyce and 3elena( who was desperate to 'a$e up %or the precious ti'e she had already lost through pretending to be hal%way respectable# Aoyce)s anecdotes about ancient tortures and botched e7ecutions were 'atched or bettered by 3elena)s own contributions about the 'en she had screwed in a succession o% sado2'asochistic clichGs be%ore she had %inally %ound her Aoycie# Any pretence at sophistication was destroyed by %lagrant( cheap lust( %uelled by 'ore drugs than , had e"er seen ta$en in one session# 0ith co%%ee( 'ore co$e was passed around the table( and the happy couple both too$ a >iagra with their %ourth brandy# 0ords beca'e slurred and so'e tales re'ained hal%2%inished while others were repeated three or %our ti'es( and when 3elena began to describe ? yet again ? how Aoyce had told her all about the Ao'an E'perors who used to use wild ani'als to %uc$ prisoners to death %or entertain'ent( , $new , had to get out o% the roo' %or so'e untainted air be%ore , "o'ited o"er the tablecloth# BBBBB , stood at the open %ront door and slowly inhaled to the count o% ten# The hu'id( pollen2thic$ air did little to ease the restriction( but at least , could actually still breathe# The only %ight , could win tonight# , heard the dining roo' door open behind 'e( and hoped it wasn)t Aoyce about to o%%er his /assistance) once again# The scratch o% a lighter told 'e it was +inn# /Hope you en8oy the rest o% your e"ening( Ms .resson() he called out# /M)a%raid ,)"e got to 'a$e 'y e7cuses an) all that ? boss)s orders#) , %illed 'y lungs one last ti'e( then turned to %ace hi'# /+inn( wait###) He leaned against the wall and glowered at 'e# /0hat1 .etter not ta$e too long 2 got to get ready %or a busy night at the o%%ice( i% y)$now what , 'ean#) The catch in his speech should ha"e told 'e# He was already 'ore loaded than , had e"er seen hi'# +oolishly( , still 'o"ed to his side# /3hit( +inn6 How 'uch ha"e you ta$en1)

/4unno# Hal% a do<en o% the usual1) he lied# /Couple 'ore( 'ebbe# &one o% your %uc$in) business( , $now that# Enough to get through screwin) that bitch and $eep s'iling# Enough to sit there and watch you "erbally %uc$ the pair o% the'#) , let that one go# /.e care%ul( please( +inn#) , touched hi' on the ar'( ai'ing %or neutral ground but %or +inn( doped and edgy( it was too 'uch# /Get o%% 'e# 0hat are you1 My %uc$ing counsellor1 My pi'p1 Piss o%%( -ili# .ac$ to your party %or a nightcap and a good laugh about the rough trade that)s about to get sha%ted#) /,t)s not li$e that# 5ou $now it)s not# There)s so'ething about the' ? a cruelty 2) /0ill you shut up( you stupid cow1 4)you thin$ ,)' loo$ing %orward to this( huh1 -oo$( they)"e paid a couple o% e7tra grand 8ust to eat with -ilith bloody .resson the up'ar$et coc$2tease and right now you)re depri"ing the' o% their added e7tra#) , winced despite 'ysel% at his coarseness and his hard s'ile registered the hit# /, do this( all right1 3o'e i'potent( rich old bastard out to i'press his child2 bride( throwing the cash around to get her 'oist( then sitting bac$ and wan$ing hi'sel% senseless while she gets screwed by a pro# Maybe a bit o% the $in$y stu%% to 'a$e /e' %eel li$e they)re getting their 'oney)s worth# 5ou $now1 A chance %or hi' to sho"e his coc$ up a %ella)s arse( 8ust to see what it)s li$e1 He)s happy( she)s happy and ,)' su%%iciently out o% 'y head not to gi"e a %uc$# ,t)s all right# 5ou can go to bed with a clear conscience ? you)"e said your piece and ,)' duly warned#) He ground the re'ains o% his cigarette under his shoe( lea"ing a circle o% ash on the %lagstone# /,)' doing this %or you() , hissed indignantly( suddenly less angry at +inn %or his nihilis' than at 'ysel% %or being so stupid as to thin$ this was ser"ing any use whatsoe"er# +inn turned on 'e# /*h( don)t you %uc$ing dare( lady6 The only person you)re doin) this %or is yoursel%( you sel%ish bitch6)

/That)s right# , had to beg .laine to let 'e sit and ha"e dinner with a couple o% hal%2wit per"erts#) /Tha)s not what , 'ean#) /Then what do you 'ean1) , as$ed# /Co'e on( enlighten 'e#) /All right( let 'e as$ you this# At any point today did you 8ust happen to %eel 8us) that wee bit better /cos you $new you were doing your thing to help 'e out1) /Go to hell#) +inn laughed# /5eah( , prob)ly will#) /.laine said 2) /+or %uc$)s sa$e( -ilith6 0hy now1 5ou)"e spent 'onths saying no and staying out o% her grasp and then you do this6) He reached out with a tre'bling hand and touched the %abric o% 'y dress as though it were 'olten# /And this1 God -ili( that)s a nice touch# 4id she as$ you to wear it( huh1 ;ust one 'ore thing to send her pet whore o"er the edge1) /*h no() , winced as , realised# /3hit( ,)' sorry( +inn ? this dress ? it was the %irst ti'e you### That)s not the reason ? it)s a costu'e( nothing else###) His hand 'o"ed upwards so that now he held 'y 8aw in a sha$y grip# /5ou)re so beauti%ul( you $now that1 ) His "oice crac$ed with desolation( and he %linched at its betrayal# /,t %uc$ing burned 'e 8ust to loo$ at you in there6) /,)' sorry() , repeated# His %ace hardened once 'ore and his %ury redoubled( as i% %uelled by this 'o'entary lapse# /5ou thin$ that word %i7es anything at all1 This 'a$es you part o% it( you do $now that( don)t you1 5ou sitting there and s'iling and tal$ing your intellectual bolloc$s with those %rea$s 'eans that so'ewhere down the line you agreed to so'ething that says it)s o$ay %or 'e to get %uc$ed o"er at the end o% it all#) He went to wal$ away( but then so'ething else occurred to hi' and he closed in again#

/And you $now what1) he 8abbed an accusatory %inger in 'y %ace# /,t 'a$es a 'oc$ery o% those other ti'es# , dunno why you didn)t 8ust di"e straight in and whac$ the li"ing shit out o% 'e that %irst day# ,t would ha"e been less o% a %uc$in) stab in the bac$ than this# And ne7t ti'e( you can suc$ Alasdair 4al<iell o%% yoursel% ? ,)' sure you)"e got the techni=ue# , bet your slut o% a 'other ga"e you a %ew lessons in the %a'ily business be%ore she did the decent thing and topped hersel%#) , ga"e hi' an open2handed slap across the %ace that was so hard that the bac$ o% his head hit the wall# +inn held his %ingers to his 'outh where a single ruby o% blood shone on his botto' lip# He brought his hand away and e7a'ined the stain with a'used %ascination# /Than$ you( Ms .resson() he s'iled( and staggered o%% be%ore , could %ind e"en a single word o% response# /0hat an ungrate%ul boy() .laine was at 'y shoulder# , hadn)t e"en heard her enter the corridor# /&ow( , belie"e we still ha"e =uarter o% an hour o% your delight%ul co'pany# Aoyce was particularly aggrie"ed that you)d slipped away#) , ga"e one last try# /.laine( those people in there ? they)re not rightC) Her eyes %lashed# /,t)s his 8ob( you stupid( naL"e girl# 5ou paint( he %uc$s#) 3he paused( and beca'e 'ore conciliatory# /,% it)s any reassurance( Coyle will ha"e done so'e bac$ground research on the pair o% the'# They 'ight ha"e slightly di%%erent tastes( but that)s what , cater %or here at Alber'arle# &ow co'e on# Perhaps the 'ore char'ing you are( the 'ore pleasant +inn)s e7perience will be#) +inn , listened to Henry)s regular( bris$ %oot%alls echo and recede as he escaped .laine)s dungeon to the ha"en o% his $itchen to crac$ on with the washing up# The poor bastard always hated stringing 'e upD he apologised all the while e"en though he had as 'uch control o"er his 8ob as , did( and he couldn)t bring hi'sel% to loo$ at 'e once , was na$ed# , was only glad it wasn)t Coyle)s 8ob tonight#

, waited in the dar$ness( breathing deeply and urging the e"erything ,)d nec$ed o"er the last %ew hours to $ic$ in %ast and hard so that it would begin to =uell the panic that the shadows always caused 'e# A nocturnal 8un$ie( scared o% needles and scared o% the dar$# The irony was hilarious# A%ter what could ha"e been ten 'inutes or an hour( , %elt the 'uscles in 'y shoulders begin to release their grip as the dope continued its steady( reassuring 8ourney around 'y body# , shi%ted 'y weight whilst 'y legs could still support 'eE , had 'inutes at 'ost until it would be easier to gi"e in and hang by 'y wrists# Paybac$ would co'e the ne7t day when e"ery 8oint in 'y ar's would screa' at 'e %or the slightest 'o"e'ent( but in the now o% 'y i''easurably %uc$ed2up e7istence( /to'orrow) was nothing 'ore than a shi%ting( inconse=uential concept# 0hat , needed 'ore than anything else in the whole wide world was %or the grey blan$et to co"er 'y soul and turn 'y thoughts into 'u%%led thuds in a distant roo' and to s'other the loathing li$e it always did once , trusted and let go# -ilith)s ice2blue eyes( piercing the e"ening)s dar$ness as she challenged 'e( haunted 'e still# , had been a cunt to the only wo'an who had e"er shown a sign o% gi"ing a da'n( and as the "el"et %og closed in , ga"e a secret s'ile to the wall# ,t loo$ed as though 'y penance had already been wor$ed out# , heard her "oice %irst# /, see the guards ha"e caught our runaway#) Great( , thought# Aole2play( and crap role2play at that# The location really didn)t help# ,n 'y ti'e at Alber'arle( , had been %uc$ed and %logged by 'ore $nights and their ladies than , cared to count( and it was always the sa'e banal( predictable shit# Howe"er 'any grand a night( 'onths o% 'eticulous( erotically2charged planning( and they couldn)t get beyond ten yards o% lurid polyester satin and a %ew 'angled thees and thous %or their 'oney#

/&ow sla"e( you)re going to ha"e to be punished() Aoyce said( in a low "oice that was his best pissed atte'pt at co''and# 3criptless( , $ept still and silent# Knew that 'y %irst wrong 'o"e could get 'e seriously hurt# &aturally( this was 'y %irst wrong 'o"e# /, said you)re going to ha"e to be punished( you ignorant shit() Aoyce snarled# /, e7pect a %uc$ing response#) He grabbed a hand%ul o% 'y hair and wrenched 'y head bac$( and , yelped in e=ual parts pain and shoc$# /5es 'aster() , o%%ered( sounding li$e a co'plete twat( but hope%ully playing the role# /5es( E'peror() Aoyce corrected 'e( and , s=uinted and %orced 'ysel% to %ocus on 'y clients# +or the %irst ti'e , saw what they were wearing( and , than$ed God that , was too doped to re'e'ber how to laugh# , should ha"e guessed by the a%ter2dinner s'alltal$E Aoyce plainly %ancied hi'sel% as ;ulius Caesar( or 'ore li$ely Caligula( and had changed into an ill2%itting ho'e'ade toga that e'phasised a pot belly and legs li$e twigs# He loo$ed li$e the sa'e( sad little 'an( albeit in a white $ing2si<ed sheet( but in his 'ind he was a Ao'an e'peror# 3elena sat on the edge o% the bed( stoned and pissed to high hea"en on the coc$tail o% narcotics they)d been nec$ing o"er dinner( her new and i'pro"ed breasts spilling out o% a li'e green chiton that barely co"ered her long( bron<ed thighs( and her calculating ga<e appraising 'e as though , was her latest purchase# 0hich( to 'y rapidly gathering concern( , was# To start( Aoyce ran a tre'bling hand o"er 'y hair and then down 'y nec$( spine and arse# There was the usual 'o'ent)s dread that he had suddenly decided to get curious %or his 'oney( and , began to alter 'y breathing and will those 'uscles to rela7 in anticipation o% the co'ing assault# , could hear his e7cited( raw breath and , wondered i% he was together enough to re'e'ber to use lube# He blu%%ed 'e# The only ti'e his hand lingered was when it reached the so%t %lesh behind 'y le%t $nee# , %elt the ball o% his thu'b brush across the

tendons and delicate s$in there and %oolishly thought( &ot too bad# /Are you sure you brought it1) 3elena de'anded( her "oice urgent and shrill# Aoyce straightened %ro' his e7a'ination# /,t)s in 'y bag( darling# , was hardly li$ely to %orget now( was ,1 , e"en %ound a sterile one#) , didn)t ha"e a clue what they were on about# 4idn)t care# Clients brought their own toys all the ti'e( $een to play without 8udge'ent or boundaries( and as %ar as , was concerned it usually ca'e down to so'e arsing around on the night %ollowed by a couple o% ibupro%en and a hot bath the ne7t day# My ar's ached( 'y head %elt li$e it was %ull o% wet 'ud and , wanted a piss( a cigarette and 'y bed( pre%erably in that order# 0hate"er they were about to do( , willed the' to get a 'o"e on# BBBBB , didn)t get it# They had paid thousands to %uc$ each other senseless whilst a glori%ied rent boy dislocated his ar's %or the best part o% a night# Aoyce and 3elena( dinner guests %ro' hell and shite actors to boot( see'ed content to ha"e noisy( artless se7 in as 'any positions as they could thin$ o%( brea$ing only to ha"e another drin$ or chec$ their capti"e %or disappointingly non2e7istent signs o% escape# , wondered what the hell it was about this set2up that was getting the' so e7cited ? especially 3elena( who was( as %ar as , could see( enthusiastically shagging a troll# At the ti'e , thought it 'ight be so'e drug2induced %ren<y# ,t wasn)t# ,t was pure( cold2 blooded anticipation# +ro' 'y li'ited angle o% "ision( , saw Aoyce use a 'onogra''ed Alber'arle %acecloth to 'op the sweat %ro' his balding head be%ore wiping down 3elena)s thighs and sha"ed bush# , had gi"en up guessing their ga'eE she)d had enough coc$ to last a year( and he loo$ed as though another round 'ight see hi' o%%# , was stupidly thin$ing that , 'ight actually get the chance to %all into 'y own bed when Aoyce wal$ed o"er and slapped 'e hard across the head# He caught 'e on the ear and 'y eardru' throbbed to the sound o% a tidal wa"e# , hated getting hit by a'ateurs# , would settle %or a real bondage %rea$ any

dayE they at least $new how to a"oid any real da'age# Aoyce( li$e 'ost o% 'y clients( was si'ply a git with too 'uch 'oney and an urge to hurt so'eone who couldn)t thu'p hi' bac$# Are you ready %or your punish'ent( sla"e1) he de'anded# /5es( E'peror() , replied( hoping that this was the response he was a%ter this ti'e# , began to i'agine 'y bac$ turning into a sheet o% ice in anticipation o% whate"er he)d %ound to whac$ 'e with# ,nstead o% the i'pact there was an odd( plastic rustle that , didn)t recognise and , %elt the %irst dull( indistinct nudges o% panic# This wasn)t what , was e7pecting and , was in no position to do anything about it# 3elena pic$ed up the cloth that Aoyce had used on her and %orced it into 'y 'outh# *nly the thought that , 'ight cho$e to death stopped 'e pu$ing on the spot# /3la"es who try to run need to be taught a lesson# 3o'ething that)ll 'a$e sure they don)t do it again#) There was so'ething in her tone o% "oice that suggested she was no longer role2playingE hal% a $ilo o% Colu'bia)s %inest and a %ew pints o% cha'pagne had sent her into her own 'a$e2belie"e world# This wasn)t good ? the concept o% /boundaries) was well out o% her reach( and , was star$ na$ed and tied to a wall# , %ought hard not to gag as she stood on the tips o% her toes and entwined her ar's around 'y nec$# , could %eel her hot( desperate breath on 'y chee$ and , instincti"ely recoiled as she began to nu<<le 'y %ace# /5ou)re going to ha"e to be ha'strung( sla"e#) ,t)s hard to e7plain the sheer ball2shrin$ing terror that co'es with such words( $nowing that you)re in a place where they)re not 8ust an e'pty threat but a pro'iseD the cul'ination o% so'eone)s /special night)# , wondered i% in"oluntarily pissing 'ysel% 'ight be enough to put the' o%%# ;udging by their e7pressions( it was unli$ely# Are you sure about this( 'y sweet1) Aoyce as$ed# /4o it() 3elena replied( and her lo"er( so'ewhere well and truly in another orbit by now( stooped and gripped 'y le%t leg at the an$le( cla'ping it hard in his decepti"ely strong %ingers( and 8abbed so'ething cold and sharp deep into the %lesh at the bac$ o% 'y $nee#

, rapidly learned that it too$ long seconds %or your brain to recognise that so'e sadistic %uc$er was car"ing into your leg( but when the pain %inally hit it was li$e nothing ,)d e"er e7perienced# ,t began in the pit o% 'y sto'ach( radiating out in unrelenting wa"es while the assault continued and , i'potently buc$ed against 'y restraints as 'y whole body was engul%ed and 'y 'u%%led howling beca'e nothing 'ore than an irritating bac$ground noise# Aoyce continued with his wor$( and , %elt blood %low down 'y cal% to pool on the stone %loor# He was in no hurry ? this was his big 'o'ent a%ter all ? and 3elena lay bac$ and desperately %ingered hersel%( acrylic2taloned %ingers sliding deep into her cunt as her %iancG continued his leisurely butchery# Her loudest( %iercest orgas' o% the night was reser"ed %or this# /4arling( is it 'eant to ta$e this long1 And are you 'eant to cut that deep1) 3elena)s "oice suddenly sounded worryingly sober# E'peror Aoycie paused in his tas$ and , ra''ed 'y head into the wall in agony# He didn)t notice# /0ell , don)t bloody well $now( do ,( 'y lo"e1 , shouldn)t thin$ so( but the bugger won)t $eep still#) +rustrated at 'y continued o%%2script struggling( Aoyce straightened up and punched 'e in the sto'ach# /+uc$ing well stop it6) he bar$ed# ,t wasn)t the worst blow ,)d e"er recei"ed( but 3elena ga"e a pathetic little s=uea$ o% horror# /Aoyce6) she hissed# /0hat the hell ha"e you done1 4idn)t you say we wouldn)t do anything too da'aging1) /,t)s a bit late %or that( 'y lo"e( and , didn)t thin$ this would be =uite so 'essy( did ,1 , 'ean( didn)t thin$ the bastard would %ight bac$#) /3hit( what i% he dies1 , 'ean( there)s an aw%ul lot o% bloodC) /+or %uc$)s sa$e( wo'an6 5ou were the one who wanted the authentic e7perience6 ,% he does( , can)t i'agine the ..C buying 'y ne7t series( can you1) 3elena stopped being a Ao'an e'press pretty sharpish( then# Aaw panic too$ o"er( and , heard a sob catch in her throat# /0e need to go( Aoycie() she whi'pered# /&ow( please1 , don)t want to be here any'ore#)

/And what the %uc$ do we say to -ady Alber'arle( eh1 , hardly thin$ that this is going to 'a$e %or pleasant s'all tal$ at brea$%ast( do you1 Hell( loo$ at all this 'ess ? it)s all o"er 'y toga###) /, don)t care what we say# , 8ust want to lea"e# &ow# 0e can tell that 'an who brought us here ,)' not well( and 8ust go# Please( Aoyce#) , $new what was going on in her head# 3elena( in her nai"ety( still thought that i% they ran %ar enough( %ast enough( that they could lea"e all this behind the'# , could ha"e told her that i% they ran all the way to a s'all hut in the A'a<on( .laine Alber'arle would trac$ the' down with a bill %or the dry cleaning( but the gag that had been so $indly sho"ed into 'y 'outh was 'a$ing the si'ple tas$ o% breathing pretty tric$y# Anyway( they)d %ind out the hard way soon enough# Aoyce was panting now( desperately trying to %ind a way out o% the night'are he)d 'anage to create %or hi'sel%# /Aight( co'e on then() he grunted( and , heard so'ething 'etallic s$itter across the %loorboards( %ollowed by two pairs o% bare %eet scuttling down the corridor( and then nothing at all e7cept 'y own laboured breath# , had a "ague %eeling that unconsciousness wasn)t 'eant to be s'art in situations li$e this( but couldn)t %or the li%e o% 'e re'e'ber why( and then the %inal sal"o %ro' 'y personal record dose o% te'a<epa' arri"ed and e"erything ceased to 'atter# -ilith My solid oa$ door shoo$ on its hinges as , $ic$ed it shut# /Arsehole6) , hollered( loud enough %or +inn to hear( where"er the bastard was# As , undressed( adrenaline coursed through 'y body and , tre'bled li$e a 'alaria "icti'# , had hit +inn# E"erything , $new about hi' and his li%e( e"erything that , had witnessed( had 'eant nothing in that one dread%ul 'o'ent o% betrayal in a shadow2

%illed corridor# , had no doubt that it had been engineered by hi' so that he could triu'phantly declare that he had been right all along( but this did nothing to assuage 'y guilt# /5ou twisted %uc$#) , cli'bed into bed( ha"ing decided that , didn)t gi"e a da'n what happened to hi' any'ore# .y three in the 'orning , still didn)t care# And , still hadn)t slept# The so%t tut o% the outboard 'otor cut through the silence( and , sat up# , couldn)t i'agine Henry needing to go into the "illage at this hour( and Aoyce and 3elena had paid too 'uch to lea"e so early out o% choice# The whisper o% dis=uiet that had begun the pre"ious e"ening returned as a %ull2throated roar and , retrie"ed 'y paint2stained trac$suit botto's and "est2top and ran bare%oot to the ca"ernous reception hall( where Henry had 8ust let hi'sel% bac$ into the building# /-ilith6 0hat on earth are you doing awa$e at this hour1 5ou)re not ill( are you1) , ignored his concerned =uestions# /0hat ha"e you been doing1) /;ust sorting out the launch so our latest guests could get bac$ to the 'ainland# Apparently 3elena had a 'igraine and she)d le%t her 'edication in their lodge#) , %ought down the panic that had begun to %lutter in 'y throat# /5ou let the' lea"e1 And ta$e the boat1) Henry too$ a step bac$( startled by 'y aggression# /, don)t thin$ there)s too 'uch o% a proble'# They decided she)d be better o%% staying on shore %or the rest o% the night( and they said they)d bring the launch bac$ %irst thing in the 'orning# 3he was loo$ing rather pea$y#) /+or God)s sa$e( Henry6) , e7ploded# /They pay a s'all %ortune %or a night o% high2le"el %ilth( disappear at hal% ti'e without so 'uch as a goodbye( and you don)t thin$ there)s too 'uch o% a bloody proble'1 How bloody docile do you ha"e to be not to =uestion so'ething li$e that1 This place has %uc$ing loboto'ised you6) My "oice( hard with %ury( echoed through the still

night# /0here)s +inn now1) /, assu'ed( well( , thought he 'ust be bac$ in his own roo'() Henry sta''ered# /*h 'y goodness( you don)t thin$C) /Go and get .laine() , snapped# /Go and wa$e that bitch o% a wo'an up and tell her , need to see her# &ow#) , was already wal$ing away# /-ilith( she really won)t li$e being disturbed at this hour# 0hat on earth do , tell her when she as$s 'e why1) /Anything you li$e# ;ust go and get her( Henry#) /.ut where will you be1) , began to run# /0here"er they)"e du'ped +inn() , called o"er 'y shoulder# BBBBB , sprinted down the spiral staircase to +inn)s s=ualid tip o% a roo'( hoping to see his stoned body crashed out across the 'attress# E'pty# 3ic$ with dread( , hurtled down the corridor to the dungeon( bare %eet slapping loudly against da'p stone# , hea"ed on the wrought iron handle and the door swung open# E'pty again# , stepped inside( hoping %or so'e trace o% +inn)s whereabouts( but saw only the cru'pled bed( an abandoned bottle o% cha'pagne and two s'eared( e'pty glasses( illu'inated by a guttering( dying oil la'p# , began to bac$ away( glad to be out o% that place( then realised# , %orced 'ysel% to step up to the great 3t Andrew)s cross# My %irst thought was that they had $illed hi'# +inn hung %ro' his wrists( his head bowed and still as death# ;ust as , was about to screa'( he ga"e a 8uddering breath and loo$ed up at 'e( wide2

eyed# /Got cut#) He slu'ped down again( and , had to %ight hard not to retch as , breathed in the %errous tang o% congealing blood# He 'ade a %eeble atte'pt to pull hi'sel% up by the straps around his wrists as , began %u'bling at the %irst buc$le# /Had a### a $ni%e or so'ethin)# .as)ard#) /+all into 'e( +inn# -et)s get you on the %loor and see what)s going on#) The second buc$le %lic$ed open# , hal%2caught hi' as he %ell with a wet( dull thud onto the stone slabs( and %inally , could see the da'age Alber'arle Hall)s latest guests had in%licted# /, thin$ it 'ight be a "ery good idea i% you don)t 'o"e() , 'anaged( with considerable understate'ent# The bac$ o% +inn)s right leg had been ripped wide open( and his sto'ach was daubed in blood# /*h crap() was all , could 'anage as 'y 'ind raced away %ro' 'e( dredging together scraps o% anato'y classes and the %irst2aid learnt %ro' 'y 'other)s litany o% suicide atte'pts# 4ar$ red suggested "enous rather than arterial blood( which was a blessing( but the sheer a'ount %ro' the two wounds was horri%ic and e"en worse( , couldn)t tell whether +inn)s blit<ed state was due to his ca"alier approach to sel%2'edication( or si'ple blood loss# Aight now( an interesting co'bination o% the two was loo$ing li$e a good guess# /*$ay sweetheart( , don)t $now how 'uch you)re getting o% all this( but , need you to stay really still %or 'e() , %inally 'anaged( and +inn narrowed his eyes# /5ou)re being nice to 'e# &ow ,)' scared#) /,)ll call you a pig2shagging ,rish cunt i% that 'a$es you %eel any better#) , began to tear a length o% %abric %ro' the bed sheet# , turned the strip o"er and o"er until , had a thic$ wad( then pressed it %ir'ly onto the gaping hole in +inn)s leg# He ga"e a surprised yelp o% pain and tried to haul hi'sel% away but , grabbed his shoulder and pushed hi' bac$ onto the %loor# /3till( +inn() , ordered# /0ha) you doin) here anyway1 Thought you hated 'e#)

/, do( 8ust not enough to let you bleed to death#) , 'ade another pad %ro' the ripped sheet and gently co"ered the wound on his sto'ach# There was only a tiny hole( but , had no idea how deep it was( or what Aoyce 'ight ha"e 'anaged to pierce# , wasn)t about to ta$e any ris$s# /0hat you doin)now1) +inn as$ed# /He only punched 'e#) /5eah( with a scalpel in his hand#) , nodded at the little blade that had been thrown across the roo'# , was surreptitiously chec$ing the pulse at his wrist when .laine)s "oice( clipped and irritated( rang down the corridor# /This had better be i'portant( Henry#) /-ilith was terribly agitated( -ady Alber'arle() ca'e Henry)s response# /5es( well -ilith see's intent on creating her own 'elodra'a# And i% they)re not here( ,)' going bac$ to bed#) .laine strode into the roo' and her %ace i''ediately blanched as she too$ in the bloodbath# /Tell Coyle he needs to re"iew his screening procedures() , said# +inn , was cold# 3leeping2on2the2streets( 4ublin winter cold# ,t was a strange %eeling( lying there in a pool o% 'y own blood( with the dawn)s su''er war'th seeping into the stones beneath 'e( and still sha$ing with a %erocity that 'ade 'y teeth ache# E"en when -ilith laid a blan$et %ro' the bed o"er 'e( it 'ade scant di%%erence# /Henry( go and call 4octor Parnell() .laine ordered( but there was a tre'or in her "oice that suggested that despite her outward cal'( %or once she was well and truly rattled# /*h( don)t be ridiculous# He needs a hospital( .laine() -ilith snapped( be%ore Henry had the chance to ta$e a single step# /*ut o% the =uestion#) There was no way .laine was going to let 'e o%% the island# ,% 4octor

Parnell couldn)t %i7 'e with a couple o% stic$ing plasters and an aspirin( , was 8ust going ha"e to lie star$ bolloc$2na$ed on the %loor o% a dungeon and =uietly bleed to death# , wanted to tell -ilith to sa"e her breath( but then the way she went at it with .laine( ,)d ha"e been pushed to get a word in# ,nstead( , shut 'y eyes and listened as -ilith .resson went to war on 'y behal%# -ilith)s "oice bounced o%% the stone walls# /He)s been stabbed in the sto'ach( .laine( and he)s been le%t hanging %or the best part o% an hour# And do you want 'e to teach you about the arteries in the bac$ o% his $nee1 Aight now you)re %acing the "ery real possibility o% a 'an bleeding to death in your cellar( so unless the sainted 4octor Parnell has got the %acilities to deal with anything %ro' a lacerated li"er to a blood trans%usion( , would say you)re really going to ha"e to thin$ out o% the bo7 on this one#) Then she ca'e up with the clincher# /And ,)ll tell you so'ething else( shall ,1 ,% 'y .ig Aeason +or 3taying does end up weighed down with roc$s in the la$e( ,)d probably consider that a bit o% a deal2brea$er# 0ouldn)t you1) As she spo$e( -ilith surreptitiously too$ 'y hand in hers and ga"e it a gentle s=uee<e# , was glad o% the reassurance( especially as she was discussing 'y potential de'ise with all the concern o% a %orensic scientist# /All right( all right() .laine snapped( and raised a hand in the air to halt the tirade# /;ust let 'e thin$ this through %or a 'o'ent#) 3he 'assaged her te'ples as she tried to 'a$e this 'ess "anish# /Henry# 5ou can ta$e hi'#) Henry actually too$ a step bac$# /*h God( , couldn)t# ,) ' so sorry( but it)s all that blood# 5ou $now what ,)' li$e with that#) /0ell Coyle can)t ta$e hi'# &ot with his dri"ing ban# He)s not allowed o%% the estate#) /,)ll ta$e hi'() -ilith said# .laine ga"e a hard laugh o% derision# /, don)t thin$ so( do you1 , couldn)t begin to i'agine the %eeding %ren<y i% the press %ind -ilith .resson dri"ing around &orthu'berland with a hal%2dead na$ed 'an in her passenger seat#)

E"en in the "ery depths o% a crisis( no one could accuse .laine o% %orgetting the priorities# /People don)t recognise 'e( that)s 8ust it() -ilith re8oindered# /They $now /.rand -ilith)( not so'e scru%%y cow in trac$suit botto's and 'ud2brown contacts ? how 'any ti'es has so'eone spotted 'e in the "illage( huh1 &ot once# They)re loo$ing %or the ballgown and the attitude# ,t too$ the best part o% three hours yesterday to trans%or' into the wo'an 'ost people e7pect to see#) There %ollowed a pause that lasted %or days in 'y head( and , %elt the nu'bness in 'y sto'ach begin to 'orph into so'ething in"ol"ing de"ils and hot po$ers# +inally( .laine spo$e( her "oice controlled once 'ore# /Aight# 5ou can ta$e hi' to Castlerigg Hospital# ,t)s a pri"ate clinic ? ,)ll get Henry to bring you directions ? where he)s to be seen by a 4octor ;a'es Ma7well# &obody else# He)s an old %riend o% 'ine# ,)ll 'a$e the call to in%or' hi' that you)re on the way#) /Than$ you() -ilith said( gracious in "ictory# /&o 'atter what you thin$ o% 'e( ,)' hardly the $ind o% person who would let so'eone die on the %loor# , si'ply needed a little ti'e to wor$ out a plan that wor$ed well %or e"eryone concerned#) .laine had rela7ed again now( happy that she had things under control# /, needn)t ha"e to add that his cur%ew stands# Ten o)cloc$( bac$ at the Hall( or , begin to 'a$e so'e "ery aw$ward phone calls %or both gentle'en here# 5ou tal$ to no2one else( and draw as little attention to yoursel% as is hu'anly possible# Are we per%ectly clear1) /Per%ectly#) /Henry( call Mr *)Halloran( would you1 Get hi' to dri"e his -and Ao"er to the 8etty( and bring the spare launch o"er# , thin$ -ilith)s ;aguar should stay in the garage %or this little trip#) .laine $nelt at 'y side( care%ully a"oiding the widening pool o% blood# /This ? ) she placed a per%ect %inger on 'y lips( /? stays shut( +inn# , will get to hear e"erything( and i% you so 'uch as thin$ 'y na'e between now and ten o)cloc$ tonight( there)ll be two girls in 4ublin who)ll thin$ that their God has truly deserted the'#)

3he straightened up and turned to -ilith# /,)' trusting you to 'anage thingsD all those years o% coping with %a'ily crises ha"e probably 'ade this see' li$e an absolute bree<e( but , can)t e'phasise how i'portant discretion will be#) /, understand#) /,)ll let you get on with your 'ission o% 'ercy then( seeing as , ha"e =uite a list o% tas$s o% 'y own( than$s to Mr Gar"ey and his delight%ul bride2to2be#) 0hich was .laine)s way o% saying that dear old Aoycie could $iss goodbye to his belo"ed career# , should ha"e been worried# 3hould ha"e %eared %or the sa%ety o% 'y sistersD %or Henry)s barely2there 'otherD e"en %or 'y own continued e7istence# .ut all , could thin$ was that , was about to tra"el beyond the prison walls o% Alber'arle( and it was all than$s to the wo'an ,)d so recently hated with e"ery last inch o% 'y being# BBBBB 0hen Henry returned with clean clothes and a 'ap( and to announce that Coyle was on his way( -ilith ga"e hi' a list o% orders that she counted o%% on her %ingers as she spo$e# He loo$ed scared rigid ? right now( -ilith terri%ied hi' about as 'uch as .laine did ? but the little nod he ga"e her suggested that the 'essage got through# /A' , really going to die1) , as$ed( 'ore out o% curiosity than anything# /0hat1) -ilith %rowned# ,t didn)t see' li$e too 'uch o% a co'plicated =uestion to 'e# /0hat you said# To .laine# About 'e dying#) /&o#) /5ou sounded pretty con"incing#) /That was the idea#)

/*h# Aight#) -ilith pic$ed up a pair o% 'y old 8eans that Henry had cut o%% at the $nee# /This is going to hurt li$e buggery# &o pun intended# 5ou want to bite on so'ething while we try to 'a$e you decent %or the 8ourney1) -ilith Coyle re"ersed a decrepit green -and Ao"er down to the 8etty in a cloud o% s'o$e and %lying pebbles# , could s'ell the burning engine oil( and , wondered what our chances were o% actually getting o%% the estate( ne"er 'ind 'a$ing it to Castlerigg Hospital# /Might not be as gla'orous as your 'otor( but ,)d be grate%ul i% you didn)t let that shit2stabbin) piece o% %ilth bleed to death o"er the seats#) Coyle stepped out o% the car# /&ow( are you sure this isn)t a bit too big %or you to 'anage1) /Go and %uc$ yoursel%() , spat# /&ah( than$s#) Coyle shoo$ his head# /Thin$ ,)ll wait /til you do that %or 'e#) He began to drag +inn %ro' the launch into the %ront passenger seat( and %eigned dropping hi' 8ust as he reached the door# +inn ga"e a piti%ul cry and Coyle laughed# /*ops# &ow loo$ what you)"e 'ade 'e do#) /4o that again( and ,)ll ha"e you castrated#) Coyle)s s'ile disappeared# /4on)t be pushing it now( you stuc$2up little bitch# , rec$on you)"e 8ust used up e"ery %a"our %or this li%e and the ne7t( getting our resident %uc$2toy here o%% the island# 5ou)re getting "ery close to ha"ing a wee chat with 'e about your disobedience( and then your %ancy accent and your pile o% drawings won)t count %or shit#) , cli'bed into the dri"er)s seat and had to pull it as %ar %orward as it would go be%ore the tips o% 'y toes touched the pedals# , $ic$ed a pile o% %aded( dog2eared porn 'aga<ines clear o% the clutch be%ore , tentati"ely re""ed the engine( and the whole car shoo$ and rattled li$e an ancient tractor# Coyle stuc$ his head through the open window# /Cur%ew ? ten o)cloc$( whether the %aggot)s dead or ali"e# ,% you)re a 'inute late( e"ery last

sanction on his list co'es into play( and i% there)s any ti'e le%t , get to play with dear old Henry %or a %ew hours#) Chapter Eighteen +inn -ilith handled Coyle)s $nac$ered old -and Ao"er li$e she)d been dri"ing it all her li%e( and %or the %irst %ew 'inutes o% the 8ourney it see'ed that we would be at the hospital in no ti'e at all# Then we 8oined the nearest thing to a 'ain road %or 'iles( and got stuc$ behind a cara"an# /+uc$ers6) -ilith howled at the obli"ious dri"er# /All bloody day to 'a$e this 8ourney and you decide to 'a$e it now1 And what the hell are you dri"ing1 A sodding pedal2car1) Cocooned in a du"et and light2headed %ro' lea"ing 'ost o% 'y blood on the dungeon %loor , could al'ost %ind it %unny at %irst( but as soon as -ilith had %ound space to o"erta$e we %ound another al'ost identical cara"an bloc$ing the route# /4a'n it# .an$ holiday#) -ilith thu'ped the steering wheel# /0ha)1) /,t)s the bloody August .an$ Holiday( isn)t it1 E"ery sodding cara"an in northern England)s going to be on the road between us and the hospital( and each one towed by so'e geriatric old %art who too$ his test in nineteen2bloody2thirty2two and re%uses to go %aster than twenty 'iles per hour#) 3he o"ertoo$ the ne7t trailer as she raged( and we 'issed the onco'ing 'otorbi$e by what appeared to be the depth o% a layer o% paint# /Twat6) -ilith yelled as the bi$e)s wheels threw up clouds o% dust %ro' its e'ergency swer"e to the $erb# /*w#) /3orry ? ,)ll try to $eep it a little steadier#) /&o worries# 0asn)t you ? Coyle( dropping 'e ### 8arred a bit#)

-ilith %rowned# /5ou o$ay1 , 'ean( in the whole( /8ust got stabbed) conte7t#) /5eah( sure# ,)ll be %ine# ;ust try not to $ill any co%%in2dodgers( huh1) , used 'y elbows to try and 'anoeu"re into a co'%ortable position# The old t2shirt that Henry had dug out %or 'e stuc$ wetly to 'y sto'ach( and , hoped to God it was 8ust sweat# The trees disappeared %irst# 0ell( not so 'uch disappeared( but $ind o% 'erged with the s$y and the road# ,t wasn)t an unpleasant sight( but try as , 'ight( , couldn)t get the' bac$ into %ocus# E"en with one eye shut( they stubbornly re'ained a big pastel blur# , wondered i% it was worth 'entioning to -ilith( but she was pretty preoccupied with the whole dri"ing business( and spea$ing was now a little too co'plicated %or 'e to 'anage# , shut 'y other eye( and let 'ysel% begin to %loat# /+inn1 +inn 3trachan( you %uc$er6 .loody well stay awa$e( you bastard6) -ilith hollered in 'y ear# ,t see'ed a little aggressi"e( considering ,)d only 8ust dri%ted o%%( but , grudgingly %orced 'ysel% to loo$ at her# 3he had the sa'e cotton2wool =uality as the clouds( and now the whole sensation didn)t see' hal% so pleasant# -ilith A set o% te'porary tra%%ic lights ga"e 'e the %irst opportunity to stop# 3o'ething was badly wrong# , leaned o"er and pulled the du"et aside( and saw the cherry2red stain that had spread across +inn)s t2shirt since we had started the 8ourney# , recalled Coyle)s stunt as he 'o"ed +inn into the -and Ao"er( and realised that it had done %ar 'ore da'age than , had %irst thought# /5ou $now( so'eti'es stoicis' is a "ery o"errated "irtue#) +inn ga"e 'e a drun$en loo$ o% pu<<le'ent# /Huh1) /&othing#) , rested 'y %orehead on the gri'y steering wheel and %or the %irst ti'e since ,)d started 'y rescue 'ission( began to %ear %or its success# , had nai"ely thought that getting +inn o%% the island was the end o% the proble's( but in reality it was only the start# , guessed , still had so'e twenty 'iles to go be%ore , reached the hospital( and the way things were

going( it was going to ta$e us until cur%ew to co"er the ne7t %ew yards# ;ust be%ore the lights changed( , saw the only brea$ , was li$ely to get that day# Two hundred yards ahead( sunlight %lared o%% the re%lecti"e stripe o% a police patrol car( hiding in a nest o% hawthorn and cow parsley# .e%ore , had ti'e to analyse the ris$( , placed a hand on +inn)s shoulder# /Hold on() , warned hi'# The lights turned to green and , ground the stubborn gear le"er into %irst and %loored the accelerator# 0e were already doing si7ty by the ti'e we strea$ed past the incredulous o%%icer at the wheel o% the .M0# 0ithin seconds( the cab o% the -and Ao"er was %looded with dancing blue light and , pulled into the "erge# , 8a''ed a %rayed and %ilthy baseball cap on 'y head be%ore , wound down the window# , could only hope ,)d 'anaged to bag 'ysel% a good one# /Eager to get pole position are we( 'iss1) A ruddy2%aced o%%icer in his early %i%ties peered into the car( ready to deli"er a stern telling o%% in a broad 5or$shire accent# Then he caught sight o% +inn( slu'ped in a widening puddle o% his own blood( and his co'ple7ion turned a whole shade lighter# /*h( hell %ire###) /, thin$ we need your help( o%%icer() , said( as cal'ly as , could 'anage# The 'an)s stern %acade e"aporated( to be replaced with such a loo$ o% genuine concern that , could ha"e $issed hi'# This was the Good *ne , had wished %or# /Aight( let)s 8ust ta$e it easy %or a 'inute( shall we( Miss###1) /Masterson# -ili Masterson#) , held 'y breath( waiting %or the challenge( but none ca'e# My trans%or'ation bac$ %ro' -ilith .resson was co'plete# /*$ay( -ili lo"e# ,)' 3ergeant Eddie &ewton# Call 'e Ed( why don)t you1 &ow( ,)' 8ust going to ha"e a loo$ at this %ella o% yours( see i% there)s anything , can do# 0hat happened to hi'1) /He was stabbed# 3to'ach and right leg# .ehind his $nee# About 2 God( , don)t $now ? %our( %i"e hours ago1) , e7plained( rattling out the words# , saw the %rown( and =uic$ly added( /, only %ound hi' two hours ago# ,)"e been trying to get hi' to Castlerigg e"er since#)

/0hat( the pri"ate place1) /Closest#) /Good idea# .ut it)s the bloo'in) ban$ holiday( isn)t it1 Aoads are %ull o% nu'pties on their once2a2year run out# 5ou)ll be ha"ing a right bugger o% a 8ob to get anywhere today#) 3ergeant Call2'e2Ed wal$ed around the car to open the passenger door# He had a lu'bering stride that 'ade hi' rese'ble a particularly %riendly bear# /&ow then( son# -et)s 8ust see how you)re doing( shall we1) He ga"e +inn)s shoulder a so%t( encouraging pat# E"en in his twilight world( +inn %linched away at the contact# /,t)s all right( sweetheart# He)s going to help us() , assured hi'# To 'y relie% he settled again as the o%%icer chec$ed his pulse and loo$ed into his un%ocused eyes# Ed %inished his inspection and care%ully %olded the du"et bac$ o"er +inn# /0ell( so'eone)s done a nice 8ob on you( ha"en)t they1) He straightened up and winced as he was bitten by arthritis in his $nees# /And us standing here nattering about it li$e a couple o% old biddies is doing you no good at all#) He care%ully shut the car door and ca'e to stand with 'e# /Aight( -ili pet( here)s what we)re going to do# , don)t thin$ it)s a good idea to go 'anhandling the lad any 'ore than he needs( so ,)' 8ust going to nip to 'y car and %etch a %oil blan$et so we can wrap hi' up li$e a Christ'as tur$ey( then ,)ll dri"e ahead with the blues and twos going and 'a$e sure you get a clear run to the hospital# How does that sound1) /Good#) /,)ll 8ust radio through and let the chaps at Castlerigg nic$ $now what ,)' up to while ,)' at it###) He began to a'ble bac$ to his patrol car# /*h shit() , whispered# +or all that %ol$sy( easy2going approach( Eddie &ewton wasn)t a %ool# The war'th was undoubtedly genuine( but his 'anner would ha"e been honed by years o% cal'ing irate( "iolent custo'ers# 3o'e speeding( wild2eyed young wo'an with a stabbing "icti' wasn)t going to be a secret he could $eep to hi'sel%( and .laine)s /special)

%riendship with his Chie% ,nspector loo'ed wraith2li$e in 'y 'ind# As i% he)d heard 'y thoughts( Ed stopped hal%way to the .M0 and s'iled at 'e# /,t)s all right# ,)ll gi"e /e' 8ust enough in%o to $eep /e' happy as to why their cha'pion butty2eating des$2sergeant)s suddenly turned into 3pecial .ranch( but ,)' sure e"erything else can be sorted between us once we)"e got the young /un where he needs to be( eh1) Three 'onths o% .laine Alber'arle)s rando' cruelty had 'ade 'e wary( and , paused( unsure o% how he wanted 'e to react# /Trust 'e( lo"e# ,t)s pretty ruddy ob"ious you didn)t do it( and the loo$ on your %ace( , rec$on so'ething)s scaring the### well( let)s 8ust say it)s sha$en you up pretty badly( eh1 Got a boy about his age( 'ysel% ? our 4a'on# ,)d $ic$ the arse o% anyone who laid a %inger on hi'#) As soon as he said that( , would ha"e %ollowed the 'an blind%olded# Ed returned to the -and Ao"er and wrapped the %oil insulating sheet around +inn as gently as i% he were tuc$ing a baby into its cot# /There we are( lad# &ot long now#) He loo$ed at 'e across the bonnet# /Aight( -ili ? $eep close# 4on)t be worrying about red lights and the li$e( and 8ust %ollow 'e# 5ou rec$on you can $eep up in that crate1) , 'ustered a s'ile# /,)ll do 'y best#) BBBBB , slewed the -and Ao"er to a screeching handbra$e stop in a cloud o% white s'o$e( 8a''ing it across two spaces in the hospital)s pic$2up point and ignoring the %rantic horn2blaring and gesturing o% a 'an in a Mondeo( co'ing to collect his hobbling wi%e# /They ha"e those bloody lines painted %or a reason( you $now6) the dri"er yelled out o% his window# /Piss o%%6) , hollered bac$( be%ore , could stop 'ysel%# The irate husband par$ed on a double yellow line and opened the door %or his wi%e( the pair o% the' glaring at 'e all the while#

, lowered 'ysel% onto the pa"e'ent and %elt 'y $nees buc$le# , had 8ust straightened up as Ed caught up with 'e# /&ice dri"ing( pet# .et you would)"e en8oyed that in di%%erent circu'stances( eh1) , had 8ust run se"en red lights and e"en brie%ly 'anaged to push the dilapidated heap up to a hundred on the straight# /Any other ti'e#) Ed placed huge hands on 'y shoulders( suddenly serious# /-oo$( , hate to ha"e to do this( but ,)' going to ha"e to nip o%% %or a while# Call 8ust ca'e through about so'e nonsense on one o% the estates# Too 'uch loopy 8uice and hot weather( no doubt# .loody typical ? , crawl out %ro' behind 'y nice( cosy night2des$ to co"er %or a 'ate with a case o% 4elhi belly and it all goes o%%# Anyhow( , can)t see your young 'an going anywhere %or a while( so what say you i% , pop bac$ later %or that chat1 ;ust you and 'e( li$e , said#) /,s that a pro'ise1) , as$ed# /0hat( that ,)ll be bac$( or it)ll be 'e that tal$s to you1) /.oth#) Ed sur"eyed 'y %ace# /, do 'y "ery best to be a 'an o% 'y word# And 'ost ti'es( , 'anage#) .e%ore , could respond( he ga"e 'e a spontaneous hug that 'ade 'e thin$ e"en 'ore o% bears# /5ou ta$e care o% yoursel%( -ili# 5ou and young +inn there#) 0ith that he ga"e 'e a rue%ul s'ile and went o%% to con%ront his rioters( and we were alone against the world once 'ore# BBBBB +inn had not spo$en since Ed had stopped us# , le%t hi' in the car and tried to appear as cal' as possible as , wal$ed into the deserted reception o% Castlerigg Hospital# ,t was a s'all( genteel >ictorian building( a throwbac$ to when 'onied gentle%ol$ would pay a s'all %ortune to attend the sanatoriu'( and the poor 8ust had to su%%er and %ind a =uiet corner to drop dead# , had %orgotten 8ust how 'uch , hated hospitals( and , did 'y best to breathe through 'y 'outhD anything to a"oid the uni"ersal s'ell o% disin%ectant and disease# The 'inute , saw the receptionist( , $new she 'ust ha"e co'e with the

%i7tures and %ittings# 0here Ed had been the answer to 'y non2belie"er)s prayers( this wo'an loo$ed li$e a twin2set2wearing guard dog at the gates o% hell# , stepped up to the counter# /There is a syste'#) The wo'an( identi%ied as Mar8orie .land%ord on her neat little na'e badge( stapled a shea% o% papers together and didn)t loo$ up# /, beg your pardon1) /, said( there)s a syste'# ,t)s called a =ueue and you)ll %ind that that is the start o% it#) 3he used her stapler to indicate a roped2o%% area that bore the sign( Please Hueue Here# /5ou)re $idding# ,t)s si7 o)cloc$ in the e%%ing 'orning# There)s no2one else here# 4oes it e"en class as a =ueue i% there)s only one o% you1) ,n %act( there was a bored2loo$ing young security guard standing by a %lic$ering drin$s 'achine( listening to so'ething loud and unpleasant on his MP! whilst he pic$ed at the acne on his chin( but he de%initely didn)t count# /And , a' busy( and once ,)"e %inished( ,)ll be a"ailable to help you#) 3he %inally glanced up and , %ound 'ysel% appraised by 'arble2hard( disappro"ing eyes# /And ,)d be grate%ul i% you didn)t swear#) /0hat1 , said /e%%ing() %or %### %or hea"en)s sa$e6 And it)s not %or 'e ? it)s %or 'y %riend# He)s waiting outside#) Mar8orie glared at 'e# /0ell it)s ob"iously not serious enough to warrant a trip to a proper casualty depart'ent# ,% your /%riend) re=uires pri"ate treat'ent he)ll ha"e to co'e in here and gi"e 'e his details hi'sel%# And , 'ust in%or' you( i% he)s been drin$ing( we ha"e the right to re%use 2) /;a'es Ma7well# , was told to bring hi' to see 4octor ;a'es Ma7well() , interrupted( %inally re'e'bering the 'an)s bloody na'e# /5oung lady( you can)t wal$ in here and si'ply de'and to see the 3enior Consultant# Certainly not on a ban$ holiday#) Mar8orie( with her neat( salt2 and2pepper bun and 3talinist)s blouse( had ta$en in 'y un$e'pt appearance and acted as 8udge and 8uryE , was trash( to be dealt with at ar')s length# 3he deli"ered her coup de grace# /And anyway( Mr Ma7well

isn)t in attendance# He)s gol%ing all day#) /*h( you ha"e got to be bloody $idding() , whispered# Mar8orie had hearing li$e a bat# /, will not tell you again about your language#) As e"erything began to %all apart around 'e( so'ething snapped in 'y head# /+or %uc$)s sa$e( you ignorant( boot2%aced old cow6 There)s a 'an bleeding to death in 'y %uc$ing car and all , want is one sodding doctor %ro' this po7y %uc$ing shitpile o% a hospital to see to hi'# ,s that too 'uch to %uc$ing well as$1) Mar8orie)s hand ho"ered glee%ully o"er her panic button( but be%ore she could press it( the security guard strode across and placed a restraining hand on 'y shoulder# /Get your %uc$ing hands o%% 'e6) , howled( as 'y right %ist connected with the youth)s 8aw# He staggered bac$wards onto a row o% %i7ed plastic seats# , $new %or sure , was about to get arrested whilst +inn bled out o"er the car seat# , shut 'y eyes( atte'pted to ta$e a centring breath( and raised 'y hands in a belated conciliatory gesture# /,)' sorry() , began# /5ou will be#) The security guard rubbed at his reddening 8aw and hauled hi'sel% bac$ to his %eet( ready to restore his honour# /Can , help you1) More hands on 'e( this ti'e clad in white slee"es( with s$in another shade dar$er than 'ine# There was so'ething cal' about the so%t( %e'inine "oice that stopped 'e lashing out %or a second ti'e( and , let 'y ar's rela7# Mar8orie was apoplectic# /4octor Chawla( that### that trollop has 8ust "erbally abused 'e and physically assaulted a 'e'ber o% sta%%6 3he has %or%eited any right to treat'ent( and , need to call the police as laid down in depart'ental procedure nu'ber 2) /,t)s all right( Mar8orie# ,)ll deal with it#) , turned to %ace 'y rescuer# 3he was no older than thirty( with war' brown

eyes that were hea"y with the %atigue o% a long night shi%t# A thic$( ebony plait o% hair hung down her bac$( and she could ha"e stepped out o% a Moghul E'peror)s portrait o% his true lo"e# To 'y relie%( she was also %ir'ly on the side o% Call2'e2EdE another good guy# 4octor Chawla s'iled at the security guard# /Colin1 Aeally( , can)t i'agine a strapping 'an li$e you being %loored by a girl# &ot with all that 'artial arts training you)re always telling 'e about#) Colin straightened his cap and blushed# /&ah( , tripped( that)s all# , 'ean( , could)"e had her( but , rec$on Mar8orie)s o"er2reacting a bit( li$e# 4on)t tell anyone about this( will you 4octor1) -ea"ing Mar8orie 'outhing li$e a stranded gold%ish( the doctor wal$ed 'e away %ro' the carnage# /*$ay( now we)"e dealt with that little dra'a( ,)' 3angita Chawla( and ,)ll be your doctor today# 3o( do you want to tell 'e what the hell)s going on1) , wanted to co"er the wo'an)s %ace with $isses o% undying gratitude( but instead , grabbed her hand and hauled her outside# BBBBB E7iled %ro' the treat'ent roo' where the sainted 4octor Chawla had ta$en +inn( , sat with 'y "est top pulled o"er 'y $nees on a plastic seat that had been designed to cause as 'uch disco'%ort as hu'anly possible# The last ti'e , had been anywhere li$e this it was to identi%y 'y 'other)s dead body( lying cold and pale in a side roo'( li$e a desiccated goblin# At least then , was nu'bed with cold relie% that it was all o"erE now all , had to co'%ort 'e was a dog2eared QQR Aeader)s 4igest# A%ter ten 'inutes , realised , had read the sa'e story about a $itten)s 'iraculous escape %ro' a house %ire %or the %i%th ti'e and , hadn)t understood a single word# , was e7hausted and( once 3angita had e7tracted the in%or'ation she needed %ro' 'e( utterly useless# /3hit# Can)t e"en a%%ord a co%%ee#) , was patting down 'y poc$ets in the %orlorn hope that , would hear the welco'e clin$ o% loose change when a noise li$e a thousand 'etal trays being dropped %ro' a great height re"erberated through the reception( and , hurtled to the door#

4octor Chawla 'et 'e at the threshold# /4id you $now he was scared o% needles1) BBBBB , was allowed inside that hallowed space pretty da'n =uic$ly then# +inn had chosen to co'e round 8ust as a young nurse atte'pted to insert an ,> line into the bac$ o% his hand and despite his prone state( had 'anaged an e%%ecti"e trashing o% the roo' si'ply by $ic$ing out as hard as he could# &ow he wasn)t letting anyone near hi'# 3angita ushered 'e closer# /5our %riend 2) /+inn# He)s called +inn#) /0e need to get +inn into surgery to e7plore that abdo'inal in8ury( and he)s probably going to need a trans%usion( not to 'ention so'e decent pain relie%# 0e can)t begin to do any o% that unless he cal's down# 4o you thin$ you could tal$ to hi'1) ,)ll try#) , went to his side# /-ili1 5ou)re still here1) he as$ed incredulously# /0here else was , going to go( du'b%uc$1 ,)' s$int( co"ered in your blood( and "ery nearly under house arrest# , thin$ a trip around the local stately ho'e to pass the ti'e)s out o% the =uestion#) /M) glad#) +inn)s eyes rolled in his head as he struggled to stay awa$e# /,)' shittin) 'ysel%( -ili# &eedles ? , can)t do /e'#) /They need to %i7 you( darling#) , reached out and brushed +inn)s sweat2 sodden hair away %ro' his %ace# /, $now# , $now# ;ust### %uc$( don)t go#) He grasped 'y hand( gripping it so tightly that what re'ained o% his bitten %ingernails 'ade li"id crescents in 'y brown s$in# /, won)t# , pro'ise#) , used 'y %ree hand to stro$e his ar' as though , were

cal'ing a scared dog# /,gnore e"erything else and 8ust loo$ at 'e( huh1 ,t)ll be o"er be%ore you $now it#) Through 'y %ingertips , %elt hi' begin to rela7 and gi"e 'e the trust , had as$ed %or# , glanced up at 3angita# /Than$ you() she 'outhed( and slid the cannula into the bac$ o% +inn)s rigid hand as he clung on to 'e li$e a drowning 'an# A%ter that( , was allowed to stay without argu'ent( %ro' when they pu'ped his sto'ach to %lush out the re'ains o% the te'a<epa' until he was ta$en to the theatre anteroo'# The anaesthetist co''ented that he had ne"er $nown anyone ta$e so 'uch anaesthetic be%ore they would %inally let go o% a hand# BBBBB , would ne"er =uite re'e'ber what , did %or the hours that +inn was in surgery# , had a "ague recollection o% re2par$ing the -and Ao"er ? di"ing behind the wheel 8ust be%ore it was cla'ped ? and wandering the corridors and gardens o% the digni%ied old building# , e"en spent ti'e in the tiny chapel( alternately ad'iring a stained glass window that had seen out two centuries and swearing at a God in who' , did not belie"e# +inally( , stretched out on three chairs outside the operating theatre and %ell into a %it%ul sleep( blan$eted only by the cloying( stor'2%illed air# , was awo$en by 3angita gently sha$ing 'y shoulder# /-ili1 That)s your na'e( isn)t it1) , tensed when she called 'e by +inn)s di'inuti"e( but i% she recognised 'e she hid it well# /+inn)s out o% surgery# ,)"e had a chat with the surgeon( and e"erything went 8ust %ine ? apparently they)"e e"en 'anaged to replace so'e o% that blood that)s redecorated your car# ;ust watch what he drin$s %or the ne7t day or so ? you don)t want hi' lea$ing now( do you1) 3he ga"e 'e an i'pish little win$ and , li$ed her 'ore than e"er# /,)ll $eep that in 'ind#) , rubbed the sleep %ro' 'y eyes# /He)s in reco"ery now# Perhaps you)d li$e to sit with hi'1 ,t)s not strictly allowed( but he see's a lot happier i% you)re within grabbing distance#) , chec$ed 'y watchE ele"en thirty ? still plenty o% ti'e# , stood and

stretched( and %ollowed 3angita# +inn was still out coldD a 'as$ o"er his nose and 'outh pushed o7ygen into his lungs and a drip steadily replaced the precious %luids he needed# He loo$ed li$e road$ill# , su''oned 'ore restraint than , had e"er needed in 'y li%e and allowed 'ysel% to stro$e his chee$# /5ou)re a %uc$ing liability( 3trachan() , whispered# 3angita stood by the doorway( gi"ing us our space# E"entually( she as$ed( /0hy don)t you sit down1) and nodded at the chair by +inn)s bedside# , e7pected her to lea"e( but as , sat she pulled up a second chair and 8oined 'e# 3he too$ o%% her white coat and re"ealed her ci""y out%it o% $ha$i co'bats and a &ir"ana t2shirt# +or one treacherous second it %elt as though , was sitting down to chat with an old %riend# /4o you want to tell 'e how +inn got these in8uries1) she as$ed# 3he had ti'ed it beauti%ully# , dropped 'y head into 'y hands as the sudden urge to con%ess( to o%%load the night'are( beca'e enor'ous# ,t %illed 'y 'outh( 'y 'ind( e"en the roo' itsel%# , began to tre'ble with the sheer pressure o% $eeping the words inside# ;ust %i"e 'inutes was all it would ta$eE to tell e"erything to this young doctor with her $ind( in=uisiti"e %aceD 'aybe %i"e 'inutes 'ore to ring the Police 3tation and lea"e a 'essage %or Call2Me2Ed( who would surely $now how to deal with .laine Alber'arle and her sic$( debauched $ingdo'# , %u'bled %or 'y inhaler and ga"e two blasts# /-ili1 ,t)s o$ay( you can tal$ to 'e# There)s nothing to be scared o%#) The sha$ing grew worse# , glanced at +inn( whose anaesthetic2dulled eyes had now opened# He loo$ed around the roo' in disorientated alar'# , 'anaged to steady one hand enough to grasp his %ingers# /, wouldn)t $now where to start#) /The beginning1) the doctor o%%ered# /-ili( , can)t begin to guess what)s going on here( but whate"er it is( it)s terri%ying the pair o% you#) /5ou)re not the %irst person to say that today() , said with a wan s'ile# /5ou 'ean so'eone else is as s'art as 'e1) 3angita leaned %orward and co"ered 'y spare hand with both o% hers# My breath sounded ragged and

harsh in the airless roo'( as she continued# /, swear ,)ll do all , can to help you 2 there)s so 'uch support out there( you $now1 , can call people %or you# There)s no sha'e in as$ing %or help#) , pulled 'y hand away# /-oo$( 4octor Chawla( ,% , screw up here( people 'ight die# , 'ean really# &ot so'e ridiculous 'etaphor( but really dead2 and2gone# 4o you understand1) 3angita edged closer# /5es# , understand per%ectly#) , %elt the stin$ing( disin%ectant2tainted air %illing 'y lungs# Air that when e7haled would carry with it the %irst load o% tawdry e"il# , opened 'y 'outh to let the %irst word escape when the door swung open and a portly( a"uncular 'an in a straining pinstripe suit and teddy2bear patterned bowtie strode in# /4octor Chawla( according to the roster( you %inished your shi%t o"er %our hours ago# , suggest you go ho'e be%ore Castlerigg is sued %or dri"ing its house'en into the ground#) 3angita stood in de%erence to our intruder# Mr Ma7well###) she began( and , $new we were beaten# /,% you "alue your position at this hospital( you will do as you are told and lea"e# , belie"e , ha"e su%%icient e7perience in post2operati"e care to ensure our patient is well tended( don)t you1) ;a'es Ma7well( dearest %riend o% .laine Alber'arle( li%ted +inn)s hand and too$ his pulse as he tal$ed# 3angita turned apologetically to 'e# /,t loo$s li$e ,)"e got to go( but ,)' bac$ here this e"ening# ,)ll %ind +inn)s roo' and tal$ to you then( yeah1) The second pro'ise o% a tal$ /later)E a 'illion years away( %or all the good it would now do# /3ure#) 3angita Chawla bac$ed out o% the roo' with one last regret%ul glance at +inn and 'e# Ma7well waited until the door had clic$ed shut then ga"e 'e a s'ile that chilled 'y soul# /-ilith .resson# My( we are honoured# , belie"e you)re the %irst celebrity to grace our hu'ble building since Hueen Ale7andra paid us a "isit in Q0S#) He too$ the chair that 3angita had 8ust "acated and crossed

his legs to show o%% a pair o% glea'ing blac$ patent leather brogues# /3o( you)re a guest o% -ady Alber'arle( eh1) , swallowed hard to get rid o% the bile that %looded 'y 'outh# /Guest# ,nteresting word#) /0ell( %ro' what , can gather( your position is slightly di%%erent to that o% young +inn here() he said dis'issi"ely# /, was 8ust about to tee o%% when , too$ .laine)s callE you can tell her that i% , get a speeding tic$et( , shall be in"oicing her directly# To be honest( , was rather surprised that her boy had "entured so %ar a%ield#) /,t)s hardly a %uc$ing daytrip6) , snapped# /Miss .resson( your reputation as a %oul2'outhed whore precedes you( so there)s no need %or you to pro"e it in 'y presence# ,)"e 'erely co'e to chec$ that things hadn)t ta$en any unpleasant turns( and to in%or' you that ,)' ta$ing personal responsibility %or +inn)s care( until he 'a$es the %oolish decision to discharge hi'sel% this e"ening# All against his doctor)s ad"ice( o% course( but well within his rights as a patient#) /*h God( loo$ at the state o% hi'6) , pleaded( %ighting tears# /Please( 8ust let hi' stay one night###) /, want hi' out o% 'y hospital( Miss .resson() Ma7well hissed( and , shran$ bac$ into 'y chair# /Tonight# -ady Alber'arle is one o% 'y oldest %riends( and , a' not about to place her reputation under threat by allowing you to use Castlerigg as your personal %oru'# &ow( i% you can 'anage to $eep that disgusting 'outh o% yours shut( he can stay here undisturbed until the anaesthetic wears o%%# ,%( howe"er( you decide upon a repeat per%or'ance o% this 'orning)s a'ateur dra'atics( or thin$ that -ady Alber'arle is in the business o% issuing e'pty threats( you)ll get a de'onstration o% the $ind o% da'age , can do#) He stood at +inn)s side and stro$ed the prone 'an)s %ace# /5our %riend is in a "ery "ulnerable position at the 'o'ent( isn)t he1) +inn 'ade an inaudible sound o% protest and tried to 'o"e away# /+inn( 'y dear boy6) Ma7well)s de'eanour changed again and he beca'e

the char'ing consultant( adored by wo'en o% a certain age %or his so%t hands and caring 'anner# To 'e( the sudden switch 'ade the 'an e"en 'ore terri%yingE , could see hi' literally getting away with 'urder# /,t was so'ething o% a surprise to hear you)d be paying 'e a "isit at the wor$place( , 'ust say# How are you %eeling now1 A little better( yes1) &o reply# Ma7well stooped so that his %ace( with its snow2white goatee and e7pensi"e pince2ne< glasses( was 'ere inches %ro' +inn)s# /0ell( when you do %ind your tongue( , suggest you e7plain to -ilith here the "irtue o% silence#) He strutted to the door# /,)ll be seeing you at Christ'as( +inn ? ,)' sure you)ll be bac$ on your %eet by then# And Miss .resson1 ,t)s been an absolute pleasure#) The door clic$ed shut and those hand2cra%ted shoes echoed down the corridor# +inn pushed his o7ygen 'as$ to one side# /Cunt#) , didn)t need to as$# /He)s a client#) /@h2huh# 3a"es his poc$et 'oney# +uc$s 'e %) two days straight# /Christ'as treat)# +ilthy bastard#) He %rowned( as i% hearing his words %or the %irst ti'e# /;esus( -ili( this isn)t a %uc$in) li%e( is it1) He s=uee<ed his eyes shut against the world and turned his %ace to the wall# , pulled the orange nylon blan$et o"er his shoulders and ran 'y hand o"er his %orehead as i% by doing so , could wipe away the traces o% Ma7well)s corrupted touch# /Can , sleep now1) he as$ed( already tu'bling bac$ into a drugged slu'ber# /5ou do that() , whispered# /3weet drea's#) , didn)t 'o"e until , was certain +inn was sound asleep then( a%raid that i% , too began to do<e , would ne"er wa$e up in ti'e( , stood and stretched and caught sight o% 'ysel% in the 'irror abo"e the sin$# The slee$( ebony bob o% the pre"ious day now hung in lan$ strands around 'y %ace( and the hard glare o% the strip light ga"e 'e a ghost)s pallor and illu'inated the sooty shadows under 'y eyes# /God( Clarissa( you loo$ li$e Chi2Chi the %uc$ing panda#)

, said the na'e without thin$ing( and in doing so su''oned up a de'on# The walls closed in and the hospital)s 'ias'a clawed at 'y nec$ and , bolted %ro' the roo'( blindly hurtling along the 'a<e o% corridors until , crashed through a %ire door into an o"ergrown =uadrangle with a stagnant( sli'e2%illed pond# , threw up the 'eagre contents o% 'y sto'ach into a straggling( diseased rosebush# .e%ore , $new it( 'y retching trans%or'ed into desperate sobs that beca'e great( rac$ing howls that hurt 'y chest and burned 'y nec$ and 'ade %at tears that carried the %inal traces o% last night)s 'ascara in stygian strea's down 'y %ace# /*h duc$( why don)t you co'e in be%ore you drown1) , spun around( wiping snot( tears and 'a$e2up across 'y %ace with the bac$ o% 'y hand# A s'iling wo'an with a neat per' and a 'atter2o%2%act %ace stood in the doorway( pro%%ering a 'ug o% co%%ee and a clean hand$erchie%# The na'e badge on her bottle green tabard told 'e she was Agnes( a +riend o% Castlerigg Hospital( Happy to Help# /3tanding there in the pouring rain in 8ust your "est# 5ou)ll catch your death#) / ,)' not that luc$y() , sni%%ed# , hadn)t e"en realised it was raining( but the stor' had %inally bro$en# Huge raindrops pounded the earth and sent up tiny e7plosions o% dust and the distant ru'ble o% thunder pro'ised relie% %ro' 'y slow su%%ocation# , was already soa$ed through# /Co'e on( lo"e# Get inside and drin$ this#) Agnes enticed 'e bac$ inside as though , were a %eral cat# /,)' a%raid , ha"en)t got any change on 'e() , began( but Agnes shushed 'e# /Apparently you told the 0ic$ed 0itch o% the 0est what she could do with her bloo'in) stapler() the wo'an said with a wic$ed little grin# /And %lattened that little security beggar in his Hitler suit# 5ou)"e earned a co%%ee# ,n %act( , 'ight e"en stretch to a chocolate digesti"e#) , too$ the 'ug %ro' her and the tears threatened to return# /Please don)t be too nice to 'e() , i'plored# /, don)t thin$ , could cope with that right now#)

/5ou see a lot o% that( wor$ing in this place#) Agnes handed 'e a tissue# /People holding it together( , 'ean# Especially the wo'en# , ta$e it that)s your young 'an in one o% those roo's bac$ there1) , was going to say that it was %ar 'ore co'plicated than that ? in another ti'e , 'ight ha"e told her to 'ind her own bloody business ? but %or now( , was da'n certain , wasn)t going to let anyone else ha"e hi'# /5es( he)s 'ine#) The words were nowhere near as di%%icult as , thought they 'ight be# /,)' sure you)ll loo$ a%ter hi' beauti%ully() Agnes assured 'e( then chec$ed her watch# /*h hec$( 'y 4a"e)ll be cursing 'e# He)ll ha"e been sitting in that car par$ %or the best part o% hal%2an2hour( waiting to pic$ 'e up#) 3he unclipped her tabard and pulled it o%% o"er her head# /0ell lo"e( , hate to lea"e you li$e this( but ,)' a%raid that)s 'e done %or the day# ;ust pop the 'ug down there when you)"e %inished#) /Than$s#) , began to rally a little as , dried 'y eyes and gulped down scalding( sweet co%%ee# /&ice 8u'per( by the way#) Agnes loo$ed down at the design o% two yellow -abradors against a burgundy bac$ground# /This old thing1 Knitted it years ago#) /,t)s "ery cool# , could ne"er 'a$e anything li$e that#) My co'panion s'iled with delight# /0ell that)s praise( co'ing %ro' you#) &o disguise was e"er per%ect# /Ah# 5ou $now#) /*h yes() Agnes nodded# /Art History /A) le"el at night class ? $eeps the old grey 'atter %ro' turning to 8elly# A bit tric$y 'ind( with you loo$ing li$e you)"e been dragged through a hedge bac$wards( and with those lenses in# 0asn)t , 'eant to recognise you1) /,t would 'a$e things an aw%ul lot easier i% you didn)t#) /0ell in that case duc$( this has all been a %ig'ent o% 'y i'agination( not to be shared with anyone( e"en 'y 4a"e# ,s that better1) , nodded# /Than$ you# Again#)

Agnes was hal%way down the corridor when she turned on her heels and ca'e bustling bac$ towards 'e# /Here( why don)t you ta$e this1 , rec$on it)s war' enough %or 'e to go ho'e in 8ust 'y blouse( and you)ll be nithered be%ore too long#) 3he too$ her sweater o%% and handed it to 'e# /, $now it)s not e7actly the height o% %ashion( but 2) /*h no( , can)t ta$e that###) , tried re%using# /&onsense# , can ha"e a new one $nitted in a wee$( and it)s not going to help your young 'an i% you catch pneu'onia now( is it1) 3he was ta$ing no %urther argu'ent %ro' 'e( because she pulled the -abrador sweater o"er 'y head# /There now# That)s better# And here)s a couple o% pounds ? 'a$e sure get yoursel% a bar o% chocolate %ro' the 'achine( or so'ething#) 3he pressed the coins into 'y pal' and ga"e 'e one last concerned appraisal# /&ow( will you be o$ay1) , %ound 'ysel% e'braced in war'th and %loral per%u'e and , had to gulp 'ore co%%ee to stop the tears returning# , nodded( and she s'iled# /Good girl# 5ou ta$e care now( won)t you1) , watched Agnes disappear down the hallway( o%% to 'eet her 4a"e( and let the last inch o% co%%ee and thic$ sugar syrup slide down 'y throat# ;un$ie)s co%%ee# , set the 'ug down be%ore returning to +inn)s side# +inn ,n a bene"olent uni"erse( , would ha"e stayed in hospital# , would ha"e been gi"en ti'e to heal properly( and "ast a'ounts o% drugs( and whilst , was co'piling 'y wish list( -ilith as 'y only "isitor( bearing grapes( a large bottle o% "od$a and the latest edition o% Gardener)s 0orld Maga<ine# ,nstead( we were being escorted to the deli"ery entrance o% Castlerigg Hospital by a cantan$erous old porter who( in the absence o% the truth( had 'ade up his own reasons %or 'y rapid departure# He was 'ore than eager to share the' with -ilith# /,% it was up to 'e( ,)d lea"e this lot where they bloody well %ell() he grunted as pushed 'y wheelchair#

/Meaning1) -ilith as$ed# /.loody 8un$ies# 4ruggies# 0hate"er you want to call /e'# 5ou can always spot /e'# Co'e in here( doped up to the bloody eyeballs thin$in) we)re &H3( bleeding %ro' God $nows where and no idea how it happened( then bugger o%% be%ore the police can get to /e'# ,)d 8ust let /e' rot in the gutter ? it)d 8ust need a couple to go li$e that %or the rest to get the 'essage#) -ilith)s %ingers clenched into 'y shoulder# /5ou should thin$ about running %or pri'e 'inister#) , could hear the e7haustion in her "oice# /Aye( 'ebbe , will# ,)d stop the' bloody dar$ies bringing all the' drugs into our country in the %irst place#) /E7cellent plan() -ilith agreed as we reached the -and Ao"er# /,)ll ta$e hi' %ro' here( shall ,1) /0hate"er you want( 8ust as long as you get hi' out o% our bloody car par$() the 'an gru'bled( already heading bac$ inside# /+uc$ing dar$ies1) -ilith said incredulously# /0ell( that 8ust about 'a$es a per%ect day#) /0ell done# 5ou didn)t hit hi'#) -ilith began to load pillows and blan$ets into the %ront passenger seat( padding it out %or an unco'%ortable ride bac$ to Alber'arle# /4idn)t ha"e the energy# ,)ll wait until ,)' %ree( then ,)ll co'e bac$ and %latten the twat#) BBBBB The return 8ourney was hell# E"en the s'allest o% 'o"e'ents pulled at the stitches in 'y sto'ach and , was haunted by the irrational %ear that they would split at any 'o'ent and spill 'y guts out onto 'y lap# .ut i% there was one lesson 'y li%e had taught 'e( it was that as bad as all this was( there was always roo' %or things to get 8ust that little bit worse# The %irst herald was the tension that began in 'y nec$ and began to hu' li$e telegraph wire along e"ery 'uscle in 'y body( =uic$ly %ollowed by a

%luttering( baseless %eeling o% panic that 'ade 'e bite 'y lip to a"oid crying out li$e a child# As lightning started to %lic$er around us and the windscreen wipers struggled to clear the deluge( , told 'ysel% that , was sa%e in this car with -ilith( that we would soon be ho'e so , could %i7 things# &othing wor$ed# 3oon the pounding rain on the cab roo% beca'e artillery2loud and the only thing , could do to stop it splitting 'y s$ull in two was to sla' 'y head into the 'etal door%ra'e# At %irst -ilith 'ust ha"e thought it was an accident( that , had 8olted 'ysel% as , tried to get co'%ortable# Then , did it again# And again# 3he hauled the steering wheel round and pulled us into a "erge# /0hat)s wrong1) she as$ed( her eyes wide with alar'# 0ith di%%iculty , turned to loo$ at her# /,)' starting 'y %uc$in) rattle( aren)t ,1 The bastards in there thought ,)d *4)d and %lushed all the shit out o% 'y syste' ? didn)t bother putting any bac$#) E"en as , spo$e , could hear 'y breath begin to decay into the panting little sighs that preceded %ull2on hysteria# /How soon( -ili1 How %ast can we get bac$1) /Three =uarters o% an hour1 Maybe 'oreC) /Too long#) , arched 'y bac$ as the %irst o% the 'uscle spas's hit# /;esus() , howled( /, hurt6) /,t)s o$ay( , can sort this ?) -ilith began# /0hat( you a %uc$in) phar'acy1) , snapped# /, said , can sort it( +inn() -ilith said( sounding a hundred ti'es cal'er than , deser"ed# 3he reached behind her to grab a bag %ro' the bac$ seat( and brought out a %resh strip o% te'a<epa'# /Anal personality ? we co'e prepared#) /*h( you %uc$ing angel#) , rubbed at the crawling %lesh on 'y %ace# 3he pushed the %irst tablet out o% its blister# /How 'any1) /;ust gi"e 'e the strip# ,)ll do it# Pro'ise , won)t top 'ysel%# ;ust gi"e 'e it#) 3he reluctantly handed it o"er and , pushed a clawed hand through lan$

hair# /4on)t watch 'e -ili( please don)t watch 'e do this# ,)' not proud o% it( y)$now1) 3he did her best not to loo$ as , pushed hal%2a2do<en white tablets into 'y sha$ing pal' and threw the' into 'y 'outh# , bit down on the' to grind the' up and reduce the ti'e it would ta$e %or 'y desperate syste' to absorb the drug( then winced at the bitterness and cho$ed as the powder stuc$ in 'y anaesthetic2dry throat# -ilith scrabbled around at her %eet and e'erged holding a bottle o% 'ineral water# /Here# This should help#) , too$ a swig o% the lu$ewar' li=uid# /Than$s() , %inally 'anaged# , pulled one o% the pillows %ro' the %ootwell and co"ered 'y %ace with it# /,)ll be out in ten 'inutes# ;ust need e"erything to go away# Too big right now# .ut ,)ll be better# 3oon#) , stayed hidden li$e that( s'othered in pillows( until the wool %illed 'y head to the point where the world outside the -and Ao"er no longer threatened to scare 'e to death# 0hen , %inally e'erged( -ilith had her bac$ to 'e as she e7a'ined the raindrops 'a$ing a hapha<ard run down the dri"er)s window# /There# 3ee1 Hu'an again# ,sh# Hu'an2ish() , announced( to signal 'y re2 entry# /5)$now( e"en , wouldn)t ha"e thought o% bringing that shit along# How the hell did you %ind the space in your head to thin$ o% stu%% li$e that1) /Hope# 3tupid( %orlorn( nai"e hope#) /, don)t get you#) /That we 'ight 8ust be able to $eep dri"ing### ,% there was the slightest gap#) /Ah#) , got her then# /-i$e , said# 3tupid# There was ne"er going to be a %uc$ing gap( was there1 &ot with her#) /&o# &ot with her# +air play to you %or gi"in) it a go( 'ind#) , re'e'bered so'ething %ro' the hell , had inhabited 8ust hours be%ore# /5ou nearly said

so'ething( didn)t you1 To that other doctor# The wo'an#) /&early#) -ilith pressed her %orehead against the 'isted glass# /God( +inn( what the hell was , thin$ing1) There was an odd catch in her "oice that ,)d ne"er heard be%ore# /-ili1 Are you crying1) /&o#) 3he scrubbed at her chee$s with the bac$ o% her hand and ga"e a discreet sni%%# /5es# ;ust re'nants# Thought ,)d got rid o% it all earlier( to be honest#) , watched her bac$ sti%%en as she %ought to bring the tears bac$ under control# /0hat)s wrong1) /;ust### e"erything ? All o% it# All o% today( and all the bastards out there# The whole bloody world( populated by 'onsters# Gar"ey( Ma7well( bloody 3erena#) 3he too$ a breath# /Me#) /5ou1) , as$ed incredulously# /0hat the %uc$ ha"e you done to be on that list1) /, hit you# -ast night#) , started to laugh( but had to stop when the stitches in 'y sto'ach began to %eel li$e cheesewire in 'y s$in# /*h ;esus Christ -ili( is that what)s upsetting you1 That you ga"e 'e a bit o% a well2deser"ed whac$ %or bein) an e"il2tongued shit1 The only thing that surprised 'e was that it too$ you so bloody long6) /,t was un%orgi"able#) , got a gli'pse o% the te'pered steel that was -ilith)s 'oral code# ,n that 'o'ent( , realised that e"en i% she stayed at Alber'arle %or the ne7t thousand years( .laine would ne"er ha"e her# , also $new %ro' hard e7perience that what 'y e'ployer could not possess( she destroyed( and that sudden terror 'ade 'e reach across the e7panse and grasp -ilith)s ar'# /-ili ? no2one)s e"er done anything li$e this %or 'e# E"er# Are you hearing 'e1 , sure as hell $now , wouldn)t ha"e ta$en the ris$s you did today 8ust %or a whore#)

/4on)t say that() -ilith said( and , caught sight o% her reddened eyes and tearstained chee$s# /,t)s what , a'#) /,t)s what she 'a$es you do# ,t)s not who you are() she retorted# , didn)t %ancy 'y chances in a se'antics debate with -ilith at the best o% ti'es# Aight now( $nac$ered and aching( and with hal% 'y blood supply consisting o% a charitable donation( , $new when to let it drop# There was only one other thing , could do( and it had been so long since , had dared ? wanted ? to do anything li$e it that , could barely re'e'ber the 'o"es# /Co'e here() , urged# , e7pected re%usal( or at least hesitation# ,nstead( -ilith i''ediately buried her head into 'y chest and entwined her s'all( per%ect hands around 'y bac$# The 'o'entary disco'%ort was nothing at all co'pared to the realisation that she was %inding re%uge in 'y %lawed e'brace# -ilith , had no idea how long we re'ained li$e that# -onger than , had e"er stayed in any other 'an)s ar's( , $new that %or sure# E"ery ti'e , breathed in( sweat and antiseptic 'ingled with his indi"idual scent and , could %eel the so%t pulse o% +inn)s te'a<epa'2slowed heart through his t2shirt# +or a while , was content to let that steady rhyth' begin to cal' and ready 'e %or the rest o% the 8ourney# 0hat , did $now was that as we sheltered %ro' our own pri"ate te'pests( so'ething i''utable happened to the bond between +inn 3trachan and 'e( and our unna'ed relationship shi%ted into so'ething %ar stronger than either o% us $new how to control# ,% ,)d had the energy( , 'ight ha"e halted it there( $ept 'y %ace turned away and dri"en on through the stor'# .ut right then( , needed the ha"en that +inn o%%ered 'ore than o7ygen# ,t was a grudging return to practicality and the twisted real' o% cur%ews and arbitrary punish'ent that 'ade 'e brea$ away %ro' +inn)s hold# /Than$ you() , whispered into the war'th o% his chest#

/,)' sure that)s 'eant to be the other way round#) He stro$ed 'y head one last ti'e# /@'( -ili1) he added as , started the engine( and , prepared 'ysel% %or an e7pression o% regret at our contact( or a warning not to 'ention anything o% this to .laine# /, don)t suppose you re'e'bered 'y %ags as well( did you1) , ga"e hi' 'y "ery %inest disparaging loo$# /*% course# 0hat( did you thin$ , was1 3o'e da'n a'ateur1) BBBBB At nine thirty2si7( the disappoint'ent on Coyle)s %ace was palpable as we arri"ed at his gate2lodge# , par$ed the -and Ao"er by the =uay and we sat and waited( li$e the obedient children that we were( %or Henry to collect us# He had already set o%% across the la$e in his little launch and he was carrying a %e'ale passenger that , didn)t recognise# /5)$now( you could 8ust du'p 'e out o% the door( turn this thing around and %uc$ o%%() +inn suggested# /There)s still ti'e#) /&o , couldn)t# And i% you ad"ocate that again( ,)ll personally unpic$ your stitches with 'y teeth#) +inn gri'aced# /, rec$on i% you e"er %ancied it( you could gi"e .laine a run %or her 'oney on the /creati"e sadis') %ront#) /4i%%erent league# , 8ust ha"e better things to do with 'y creati"ity( that)s all#) /Hell( ,)"e 8ust seen who 'y welco'e party is() +inn said# /4octor Parnell# -oo$s li$e all your hard wor$)s been in "ain( -ili# ,% she)s in charge o% 'y reco"ery ,)ll be in a bo7 by the end o% the wee$#) /&ot %unny#) /3)true# ,t won)t e"en be anything to do with 'y in8uries# 3he)ll gi"e 'e botulis' or anthra7 or so'ething#) He ga"e 'e a woebegone loo$ that 'ade 'e s'ile despite 'ysel%# Henry tied the boat to the 8etty and hal%28ogged to our car# /*h it)s

'ar"ellous to see you6) he cried as , 8u'ped out and opened +inn)s door# /5eah( loo$s li$e 'other)ll li"e to shit her bed %or another day( eh( Henry1) Henry)s %ace %ell# /Ae'e'berE stitches# Teeth() , warned( and +inn %lashed 'e an e"il grin# /Ah( Henry would only worry i% , was nice to hi'# This way( he $nows it)s nothing ter'inal#) Henry)s s'ile returned# /And this way( , $now it)s the real +inn that you)"e brought bac$( and not so'e ci"ilised i'poster#) /TouchG() +inn conceded# /-ilith( , don)t belie"e you)"e 'et 4octor ,ngrid Parnell1) Henry said as we approached the launch# /-ady Alber'arle has arranged that +inn here gets round2the2cloc$ care until she $nows he)s properly on the 'end#) He stepped closer so he could whisper to 'e# /, rather thin$ her concern is a little belated( but there you go# 3he e"en insisted that he was super"ised %or the la$e2crossing#) /*h( deep 8oy() +inn said( loud enough %or the wo'an to hear# +or once( Henry didn)t repri'and hi'# , cli'bed into the boat and got 'y %irst good loo$ at .laine)s ta'e doctor# At %irst glance she appeared to be in her si7ties( with a nondescript( bland %ace and a broad stripe o% white in her centre2parting where she was se"eral 'onths o"erdue %or a dye28ob# *n closer inspection( ,ngrid Parnell could be no 'ore than %orty2%i"e( but she stood as a pri'e e7a'ple o% what happened when you %inally surrendered to .laine Alber'arleE you beca'e a ghost# , loo$ed at +inn( pale and e7hausted a%ter a day that had tested hi' to the "ery li'its o% his endurance( and realised that despite e"erything( he had ne"er yet surrendered#

Chapter Twenty +inn E"en with 4octor Parnell)s 'inistrations , sur"i"ed( and %or two long wee$s , was con%ined to =uarters whilst , healed# Parnell was 'ore generous with the 'orphine than Ma7well had been and , was grate%ul %or the blurred edges it ga"e to 'y daysD it co'bined with the te'a<epa' to te'per the i'ages o% $ni"es and lunatic Ao'an e'perors that had now added the'sel"es to 'y 'ore %a'iliar night'ares# +ro' Henry( , learned that .laine had ad"ised -ilith to double her e%%orts on the portrait# , didn)t doubt %or a 'o'ent that she was $een %or her 'asterpiece to be co'pleted( but , understood her well enough to $now that this was 'y e'ployer)s way o% beginning to restore control# ,)d hoped that this en%orced separation would help to replace the sa%e distance between us( but , 'issed -ilith li$e hell# E"ery day that %ortnight she 'anaged a way to see 'e %or a grabbed hal%2hour( bringing ar'%uls o% gardening 'aga<ines and( on her "ery %irst "isit( a s$etch o% a sleeping .ran as a /get well) card %ro' the pair o% the'# Each ti'e she le%t , 'eant to tell her not to co'e again( without the words e"er lea"ing 'y 'outh# BBBBB Two wee$s to the day %ro' when Aoyce Gar"ey car"ed 'e li$e a Christ'as tur$ey( 4octor Parnell %inally ga"e her per'ission %or 'e to lea"e 'y roo'# ;ust ten 'inutes a%ter she le%t the island , was in%or'ed by Henry that , would be wor$ing that sa'e night and( on legs that %elt as though they no longer belonged to 'e( there was only one place , wanted to go# 0hen , %inally got there( -ilith)s studio was e'ptyD paint and brushes were laid out in their neat rows and the huge can"as do'inated the sunlit roo'# , was glad that it was co"ered by a white sheetE one .laine Alber'arle hanging around the place was 'ore than enough %or anyone# , continued 'y slow( unco'%ortable 8ourney down the corridor to -ilith)s bedroo'# 3he was there( but un%ortunately so was .laine# /Good 'orning( +inn# 5ou)re loo$ing well rested() she obser"ed# /0ell( hello there() -ilith s'iled# /,t li"es6)

/;ust about#) , tried to sound casual about it( but 'y legs were acting as though they had 8ust run a 'arathon ? wor$ was certainly going to be a laugh a bloody 'inute ? and .laine)s presence had 8ust pissed on 'y day# /3it down be%ore you %all down( +inn() -ilith ordered( and , sagged into the nearest chair# ,t was only then that , realised that she ta$ing a stac$ o% clothes %ro' a drawer and care%ully placing the' into an open bag# /0hat are you doing1) , as$ed# /-ilith)s pac$ing( not that it)s any o% your business whatsoe"er() .laine replied# , was glad , was already sitting down# /5ou)re what1 *h %uc$###) ,t was as though Aoyce was trying to gut 'e all o"er againE , hadn)t e7pected this 'o'ent to %eel so bad# -ilith ca'e towards 'e( and , thought she was actually going to touch 'e in %ull "iew o% .laine# /0hoa( no ? not that# God( , wouldn)t 8ust disappear6 ,)"e got a day)s %urlough( that)s all# 4ri"ing down to -ondon %or so'e award or other( %or### well( it doesn)t 'atter( really# ;ust so'ething , did ages ago# .laine told 'e about it a couple o% wee$s ago( but , guess , got distracted#) 3he deliberately $ept her tone light( as though this would be a pleasant business trip( but there was a tightness around her 'outh that told 'e she had no choice whatsoe"er about attending# /,t)s hardly /so'e award or other)() .laine re'onstrated# /-ilith will be pic$ing up the Helicon Award %or European Artist o% the 5ear( %or her Players) Triptych# ,t)s a "ery prestigious e"ent# 5ou)"e gone a little pale( +inn ? perhaps you)"e pushed yoursel% a little too %ar %or your %irst outing1) /,)ll be %ine#) Apparently 'y wal$ down the corridor was %ar 'ore cause %or concern than being %uc$ed up the ass in a %ew hours) ti'e# .laine s'oothed away an i'aginary crease on -ilith)s bedspread# /, suppose while you)re here( , should tell you ? it loo$s li$e you)ll be without both the wo'en in your li%e this wee$end( darling# My son)s in"ited 'e to Ourich to 'eet his latest girl%riend# Another /greatest lo"e)( no doubt( until

the ne7t pero7ide2e'bellished little slut appears on the hori<on# ) .oth the wo'en### The barb wasn)t lost on 'e# That -ilith had pulled away be%ore she 'ade contact( or that , had shut 'y 'outh be%ore , had e7pressed %urther dis'ay ? it didn)t 'atter# 0hen it ca'e to .laine)s eye %or "ulnerability( we 'ay as well ha"e rented a billboard and used that to ad"ertise how we %elt# There was so 'uch , wanted to say( but with .laine showing no signs o% lea"ing 8ust yet( there was nothing , could do# /,)' co'ing bac$() -ilith 'outhed behind .laine)s bac$( and , al'ost allowed 'ysel% to belie"e her# -ilith , threw 'y suitcase onto the bed and too$ out 'y costu'e %or the cere'ony# ,t was less a dress than two s$y blue sil$ hand$erchie%s sewn together( and now , regretted 'y choice# , winced as , eased 'y t2shirt o"er 'y headD , %elt li$e ,)d been attac$ed with an industrial sander# , stepped into the halogen2lit ca"ern o% 'y hotel bathroo'( and 8ust twenty 'inutes be%ore , was due to %loat down the red carpet in the style o% a 2 st Century icon( , stood in %ront o% the %ull2length 'irror and stared at 'y body in horror# ,n the hours it had ta$en %or 'e to dri"e to -ondon( 'y ec<e'a had %lared to such a degree that , loo$ed li$e a "icti' o% the .lac$ 4eath# +i%teen 'inutes to go# , stood under the shower)s sharp needles o% spray and thought o% +inn and how 'any ti'es he 'ust ha"e been through this disco'%ort# , thought o% +inn and wanted hi' with 'e# Ten 'inutes to go# , stood na$ed in the centre o% 'y hotel roo' and wondered what the hell , was going to wear# +inn

, arranged the pile o% le%to"er %ood on 'y plate to spell /%uc$) 8ust in ti'e %or Henry to clear away the dishes( and wondered i% , could get away with 'y third re%ill in twenty 'inutes %ro' the nearby wine bottle without .laine gi"ing 'e the death2glare across the table# , wore a pale pin$ casual shirt with a buttoned down collar that , guessed was one o% Henry)s spares( and a pair o% Ar'ani 8eans that , was only allowed to wear %or wor$# The casual costu'e was %or the bene%it o% tonight)s clientsE Gary so'ething2or2other was a %ootballer celebrating his trans%er to a Pre'iership tea'( and apart %ro' a presu'ed s$ill at his sport( there was absolutely nothing to the 'anE no charis'a( no wit( and certainly no loo$s( with his poc$'ar$ed chee$s and protruding %ront teeth# His thin hair had been co'bed bac$ in an atte'pt to hide the bald spot that was already e"ident despite the %act that he was two or three years younger than 'e# &e"ertheless( he brought a pneu'atic blonde co'panion who was so "apid that , didn)t e"en bother learning her na'e# 3he wouldn)t ha"e gi"en the buc$2toothed tosser a second glance i% he had wor$ed behind the counter o% a burger "an# Already pissed blind( she loo$ed at 'e with that hungry e7pression , had co'e to detest# 3uddenly all , wanted was -ilith ne7t to 'e( ta$ing e"erything in and reading it %or the bullshit it was( and , $new that when it was all o"er , would cra"e the tran=uillity o% -ilith)s roo' where , 'ight hide until , returned to 'ysel%# .ut -ilith wasn)t here# 3he would be on another planet by now( and , wondered i% her old world had already en%olded her and erased 'e %ro' her 'ind# , really needed to %ind 'y wor$ing headE .laine was already well into her routine( discussing the Pre'ier -eague with Gary as though it were her only hobby# Henry had sur'ised that she was loo$ing to in"est in a tea' and , guessed that rat2boy here was the easiest route to the directors) bo7# /3o( you goin) to use your %ingers or your tongue on 'y pussy1) The slurred whisper o% the blonde thing cut through 'y brooding# Actually( ,)d rather not co'e within a %i"e2'ile e7clusion <one o% your rancid cunt( , thought( then s'iled# /0hate"er you pre%er#)

-ilith /That your new loo$( -il1) so'e low2rent papara<<o bellowed %ro' the 'idst o% the crowd that had gathered outside the unspea$ably hip May%air club where the Helicon Awards were being held# /3o'ething li$e that#) /.it o% a departure( innit1 -e%t your ballgown at ho'e tonight1) /Hopin) ;ohnny .uc$le)s turned up %or a re'atch1) , "irtually ran down the red carpet# ,nstead o% the %rag'ent o% s$y2blue sil$ , wore the labrador sweater that Agnes had donated to 'e at the hospital# , had trans%or'ed it into a dress( pulled at the nec$ so that it hung o%% 'y shoulder( and cinched at the waist with a blac$ leather belt donated by the door'an at 'y hotel# Tea'ed with thic$ blac$ tights( it co"ered 'y ec<e'a and protected 'e %ro' a night that was already chill with the pro'ise o% an early( hard autu'n# The last ti'e , had worn it( , had been held close by a 'an whose wel%are now depended on 'y good beha"iour on this( 'y %irst night on a long leash# , had ne"er been senti'ental about such things( but now , surreptitiously rubbed at the shoulder that had rested against +inn)s chest# /,t true you)"e been in rehab1) That last =uestion bounced o%% 'y retreating bac$ as , disappeared into the ca"ernous doorway# BBBBB /-ilith6 *i( -ilith6 *"er here6) ,n the dar$ness o% the auditoriu' , couldn)t see who was shouting 'e( but the "oice was %a'iliar# The ne7t 'o'ent( Gabriel ;a'es had bounded o"er and %lung strong( %ragrant %a$e2tanned ar's around 'e# The roo' lit up li$e a nuclear test site as e"ery ca'era in the place turned on us and %lashed si'ultaneously#

/, already shi%ted the place2cards so , got you ne7t to 'e# 3eein) as you got 'e this gig and e"erythin)#) /0hat### ,)' sorry( , did what1) Gabriel grinned and his teeth were lu'inescent in the gloo'# /0here you been all su''er( bird1 , told you ,)d get a song outta you( didn)t ,1 Al'ost an Angel ? it)s only been %ac$in) nu'ber one download %or the last se"en wee$s6) /Aeally1 God( , had no idea# ,)"e been $ind o% tied up#) Gabriel placed a gentle hand under 'y chin and the coc$y brat char' "anished( to be replaced by genuine concern# /5ou all right( doll1) /&o# &ot really# .ut ,)ll get through tonight#) Gabriel)s entire de'eanour changed# He put an ar' protecti"ely around 'y shoulders and led 'e to 'y seat# There was another "olley o% %lashes and 'y co'panion turned to the nearest photographer# /5ou)"e got what you wanted( 'ate# &ow( piss o%% and lea"e us alone( would you1) /Ah( co'e on###) the 'an co'plained# /&ah( you /co'e on)() Gabriel retorted# /@nless you want your telephoto surgically e7tracting#) Across the "ast round table( two shadowy %or's loo'ed up out o% the dar$ness and the photographer 'ade the uni"ersal gesture o% surrender with his hands# ;ay and Al were in the house and , $new that %or these %ew( brie% hours , would be sa%e# /Than$ you() , 'outhed to Gabriel as our host %or the night ? a stand2up co'edian who was society)s court 8ester o% the 'onth ? began his care%ully scripted ad2libbing# /&o worries() Gabriel said( now without a trace o% Moc$ney# /Pac$ o% wan$ers#) , ga"e hi' a =uic$ hug o% gratitude and he %elt reassuringly solid and nor'al a%ter long 'onths o% insanity#

/4oes this 'ean you)"e reconsidered 'y o%%er1) Gabriel whispered hope%ully in 'y ear# +inn My whole s$in itched as 'y 'ost recent client sprawled in post2orgas'ic stupor and ga"e 'e a drun$en( s'ug s'ile %ro' the %our2poster bed# At least she)d stopped s=uealing li$e a stuc$ pig( and ,)d already begun to i'agine the harsh( welco'e sting o% the scrubbing brush against 'y ar's# Gary had sat in an ar'chair si7 %eet away %ro' the bed with his erection standing li$e a tentpole in his trousers %or the whole show# &ow he wal$ed o"er and stro$ed his girl%riend)s ar'# /Tell you what darl( why don)t you 8ust get nice and cosy under the' sheets( while , go and get 'ysel% a nightcap1) /5ou)re co'ing bac$ though( aren)t you1) she slurred# /3ure , a' babes# 0e)"e got all 'orning to ha"e our %un#) /Than$s( Ga<# ,)ll 'a$e it up to you#) 3he s=uinted up at 'e# /And than$s### God( ,)"e %orgotten your na'e( but you was brilliant#) /Any ti'e#) Gary placed a light hand on 'y ar'# /;oinin) 'e %or one( 'ate1) /3ure() , shrugged( as i% socialising with an inarticulate se7ual inade=uate was going to be the highlight o% 'y wee$end# BBBBB Gary poured us both a large 3cotch %ro' the decanter in the dining roo' and we stood in an aw$ward silence bro$en only by the solid tic$ing o% the grand%ather cloc$# /-isten 'ate( you did a great 8ob with Kayleigh bac$ there# &ice one( yeah1 Made her %uc$in) year#)

/,t)s what , do#) /0ell yeah( but you)re still pretty good( aren)t you1 Got all the 'o"es# Must be all the practice you get#) Gary %ell silent again( all out o% con"ersation# , sighed and drained 'y glass in one 'outh%ul# /3o( how do you want 'e1) -ilith /0ish they)d 'a$e these bastards a bit 'ore stoner2%riendly#) Gabriel ran his %inger down his e'bossed progra''e and s=uinted at the 'iniscule( %ussy %ont# /Can)t %ocus on 'y glass( ne"er 'ind this bloody page# -oo$s li$e you)re ne7t( anyway ? better 'a$e sure you ha"en)t tuc$ed your dress into your $nic$ers# ,% you)re wearin) any( that is#) /Kill 'e now() , whispered as the host( about as %unny as Ebola( began 'y introduction# /-adies and gentle'en( would you please welco'e the deser"ing winner o% the Helicon Award %or /European Artist o% the 5ear)( and 8oin 'e in 'y prayers that she)s le%t her bo7ing glo"es at ho'e### -ilith .resson6) The Players) Triptych loo'ed large on the screen ahead o% 'e as , 'ade the long wal$ to the stage# , could ha"e stared at it all night and it still wouldn)t ha"e %elt part o% 'eD the -ilith .resson who had created it o"er a long( hedonistic ,talian su''er no longer e7isted# The applause could ha"e belonged to anyone as , recei"ed a 8agged piece o% a=ua'arine glass on a brushed steel plinth( and a sealed brie%case# Than$s to .laine)s strictly rationed in%or'ation( , had no idea how 'uch it held( and , didn)t care# , %orced a s'ile %or the ca'eras as , posed with a 3wedish super'odel who was appro7i'ately twice 'y height and said a brie% /than$ you) at the 'icrophone( then ran %ro' the stage and bac$ to the shelter o% Gabriel( ;ay and Al# Gabriel pulled 'y chair out %or 'e and $issed 'e on the chee$# /0ell done( gorgeous# 3o( you goin) to handcu%% that to your wrist1) He nodded at the case#

/0hy1) He ga"e a leonine laugh# /5ou)re away with the %airies tonight( ain)t you1 There)s %orty grand in used notes in there# Apparently it)s 'ore /hip) than using new ones# ,t)s 'eant to loo$ li$e a ban$ 8ob( yeah1) , stared at the suitcase# /3hit#) /&o shit# 3o how /bout you and 'e pool our winnings and blow it on one glorious night o% cha'pagne and libertine indulgence1) He rested a hand in the s'all o% 'y bac$ and wor$ed at the 'uscles tightened by an eight2hour dri"e# He ga"e 'e a s'ile o% such innocent e7pectation that , had to laugh# /There( see1 Knew there was a s'ile hiding in there so'ewhere#) He patted the case# /Might not get us a yacht( but , rec$on there)s gotta be so'ething in -ondon we can buy to celebrate# 0haddya rec$on1) The case beca'e leaden in 'y hands# /5ou)"e thought o% so'ething( ha"en)t you1 -oo$( ,)' getting up there and do 'y thing in a 'inute ? got to go and get 'y nose powdered bac$stage i% you get 'y dri%t ? but hold that thought /til , get bac$#) Gabriel got to his %eet and bent down to whisper in 'y ear# /4o , get a clue1) /4o you thin$ e"eryone has a price1) , as$ed =uietly# /0ow# Cryptic#) He shrugged# /Prob)ly# ;ust so'e are higher than others# 4on)t 'o"e %ro' that seat( will you1 , rec$on you)re gonna lo"e what ,)' about to do#) He paused# /0ell( , hope you li$e it# , $now ,)' co'in) o%% as a bit o% a dic$ right now( but , $ind o% %eel , need to i'press you#) Then he threw his shoulders bac$( %lic$ed his head o% .yronic curls and straightened a pair o% blac$ leather 8eans that loo$ed as though they had been sprayed on# , watched hi' 'a$e his way through the crowd( grasping outstretched hands and blowing $isses as i% he were a separate species( e"ol"ed to e7ist in the public eye# Across 'y $nees( the brie%case lay s=uat as a toad as , considered Gabriel)s answer#

+inn /*h yeah( that)s good( God( you)re a dirty( dirty bastard( 8ust hold it there###) , didn)t ha"e a lot o% choice about holding anything anywhere( but at least getting %uc$ed against the dining table 'eant there was less chance o% 'y leg gi"ing way under 'e( and what Gary lac$ed in techni=ue he certainly 'ade up %or in enthusias'# His %ingers dug hard into 'y hips as he ha''ered his well2lubed coc$ into 'e( bringing hi'sel% o%% with a series o% child2li$e s=uea$s# , concentrated on rela7ing 'y abdo'en( granting hi' easier passage and ?hope%ully ? 'a$ing it %eel a little less li$e ,)d been attac$ed with a pile2dri"er the ne7t 'orning# A%ter what see'ed li$e aeons , %elt hi' sho"e his way e"en %urther in than , would ha"e thought possible( so that his balls sla''ed against 'e( and he shot his load into 'e with a loud cry# 3weat %ro' his %orehead spattered onto 'y bare bac$( where he had sho"ed 'y shirt up %or easier access# As he pulled out , winced as 'y sto'ach ga"e its custo'ary in"oluntary spas'# , silently pulled 'y 8eans bac$ up %ro' around 'y an$les and clenched 'y arse to stop the grubby little %uc$er)s cu' %ro' lea$ing out be%ore , could rip 'y clothes o%% and %ling the' into a boil wash( and pre%erably be%ore , had the added hu'iliation o% Henry collecting 'y dirty laundry# , hated barebac$ %uc$ing( e"en though .laine de'anded proo% %ro' each o% her clients that they were negati"e be%ore they set %oot on the island ? , already $new ,)d be spending the best part o% an hour scouring away at 'y s$in to rid 'ysel% o% e"ery trace o% this bastard)s assorted bodily %luids# /Er###) Gary 'u'bled# /4on)t worry() , said as , %astened 'y %ly# /This didn)t happen#) /Good# Than$s# This isn)t so'ething people $now about# , 'ean( it)s not li$e ,)' not into birds( but e"ery now and again( it)s good to ha"e a bit o% a change# ,t)s not li$e ,)' per'anently trans%erring to the other tea'#) He chuc$led at his own wit and , pictured the %ire2po$er e'bedded in his le%t te'ple# /,t)s cool to co'e so'ewhere , can be 'ysel%( to be honest# Cost a bloody %ortune( but worth e"ery penny#)

, lit up a cigarette and Gary shoo$ his head# /Those things)ll $ill you#) /&ot %uc$ing =uic$ly enough() Gary loo$ed con%used# /Aight( better get bac$ to Kayleigh# 5ou $now what birds are li$e i% you lea"e /e' too long# 0ell( 'aybe you don)t### Anyway###) /Aight#) Gary reached into his poc$et( pulled out a twenty2pound note and %olded it into 'y pal'# , waited until , could no longer hear his %ootsteps then threw 'y per%or'ance2related bonus onto the %ire# ,t %lared bright blue( the colour o% -ilith)s eyes( be%ore "anishing in the %la'es# -ilith Gabriel stood in the centre o% the stage( swathed in dry2ice and adoration# He raised a hand to the crowds and appealed %or silence# /+or those o% you who)"e been wonderin)() he announced in an accent that now 'ade hi' sound li$e the Art%ul 4odger( /, rec$on it)s ti'e , put you out o% your 'isery( yeah1) He laughed in delight as the audience roared its appro"al# /3o yeah( this is about a %riend o% 'ine( and yeah( she)s here tonight#) Three thousand pairs o% eyes turned to stare at 'e# /*h( %or %uc$)s sa$e() , groaned( as , slid down 'y seat and tried to disguise 'ysel% against the tablecloth# , had e7pected Gabriel to si'ply stand at a 'icrophone( but to 'y surprise he wal$ed o"er to a specially placed grand piano and pulled up the stool# /-ilith .resson( this one)s %or you#) He e%%ortlessly played a breathta$ing( al'ost classical( se=uence o% chords# , honestly hadn)t e7pected hi' to be this good# /Al'ost an angel( 5ou too$ 'e to hea"en on a scheduled %light#

Al'ost an angel( Then you bro$e 'y heart in two li$e a creature o% the night###) ,t was a cle"er( %unny( song that re"ealed the talent behind the 'anu%actured gla'our# ;ay and Al sat rapt( proud aunts at a 8unior piano recital( and , saw the lo"e they had %or their charge# , en"ied hi'# /###0ar'( sweet lips and ice2cold $isses 3uc$ed out 'y soul and le%t 'e wanting 'ore# Pic$ up your 'ail( answer your phone( Answer 'y te7ts( ,)' so sic$ o% being alone# 3pread your wings and %ly 'y way( .e the de"il , $now %or a hea"enly day#) A %inal s$illed %lourish on the piano( and the song was %inished# Applause thundered around the roo'( and 'ine 8oined it# Gabriel too$ his bow( and , could see hi' scouring the audience %or 'y %ace( loo$ing %or 'y reaction li$e a tourna'ent $night appealing to his lady# 0hen he caught sight o% 'e standing and clapping( his grin widened and he blew hand%uls o% $isses in 'y direction# He leapt %ro' the stage and landed on the %irst table( to cheers o% encourage'ent %ro' the crowd# The tables that separated Gabriel %ro' 'e beca'e stepping stones and he 8u'ped %ro' one to the other( lithe and agile and high on li%e itsel%( until he was bac$ at his own seat# He li%ted 'e o%% 'y %eet( swung 'e around and $issed 'e %ull on the lips and still the applause didn)t stop# E"ery red2top in the country had its co"er story %or the ne7t day# /3o( what we doin) to celebrate then( se7y1) Gabriel as$ed( between 'outh%uls %ro' his cha'pagne bottle# He o%%ered 'e a drin$( but , shoo$ 'y head# /4ri"ing( later() , e7plained#

Gabriel)s whole %ace cru'pled# /5ou)re $idding 'e6) /,)"e got so'ewhere , ha"e to be#) /A so'ewhere( or a so'eone1) he as$ed( with a real edge o% hurt to his "oice# , said nothing( and Gabriel put the bottle down# /This is so'ething to do with you ha"in) a %ace li$e %uc$ earlier( isn)t it1) /Kind o%#) /Anything , can do1) ,t was a genuine o%%er( and %or an intensely pleasurable second , en"isaged ;ay and Al dis'e'bering Coyle in a li"ely ga'e o% tug o) war( then , loo$ed at Gabriel)s eager( pretty %ace and suddenly realised e7actly what he could do %or 'e( and %elt the adrenaline charge around 'y syste' and chase away the i'potence that had s'othered 'e in these recent wee$s# , had to act now( be%ore any thought o% repercussion or conse=uence bit at 'y heels# , lin$ed 'y %ingers behind Gabriel)s nec$( and he ga"e the s'ile o% a 'an who $new his luc$ was in# /, ta$e it that)s a /yes)1) he as$ed# , ga"e hi' a secreti"e s'ile in return and $issed his nose# /&ot here# +i"e 'inutes# Meet 'e in the ladies)( third cubicle down# ,)ll tell you 'ore then#) Chapter Twenty *ne +inn As soon as .laine le%t %or the airport in the early hours o% the 'orning( Coyle installed hi'sel% as -ord Alber'arle# He ca'e bac$ on the launch with Henry( bringing with hi' three bottles o% ,rish whis$ey( %i"e hardcore 8a<< 'ags( a gra' o% co$e and a s'ug bastard grin that heralded trouble# , had spent two long hours unsuccess%ully chasing sleep( and was s$il%ully co'bining lethal doses o% ca%%eine and nicotine in the $itchen when the s'ir$ing bastard i'posed his co'pany on 'e#

/&ow then( %ag ? good night( was it1 Gobble enough coc$ to $eep you s'iling1) As Henry washed up and did his best to beco'e in"isible Coyle pulled up a chair( spinning it so that the bac$ %aced 'e and he could straddle the seat in a per%ect display o% 'acho posturing# He too$ a cigarette %ro' 'y open pac$et be%ore as$ing( /3he bac$1) , too$ the pac$et bac$ and lit 'y twel%th s'o$e o% that shiny new 'orning# /&ot yet#) /)5et)1) Coyle snorted with a'use'ent# /+uc$ 'e( you)re sittin) here waiting %or that pric$2teasing bitch to co'e running bac$ to your side li$e your ugly 'utt there1) He nodded at .ran be%ore leaning bac$ and blowing a s'o$e ring into the air# /Anyway( enough o% the s'all tal$# Got a wee present %or you 2 hot o%% the press() he s'ir$ed# /Called into the newsagent)s to pic$ up 'y %ags( and loo$ who , %ound starin) up at 'e %ro' the %ront page1) He threw that day)s copy o% The Herald across the table# /Ta$e a loo$ at that( %aggot# Then tell 'e she)s co'in) bac$ to you#) Against e"ery instinct( , loo$ed# /&,CE P@PP,E3( -,-,TH666) the headline screa'ed( and there she was on the %ront page( wearing the sweater she)d 'anaged to pic$ up %ro' the hospital and nothing 'uch else( glued to the side o% so'e in%ant Adonis and caught in the glare o% a hundred ca'era %lashes as they 'ade a dash %ro' the doorway o% a nightclub# He was holding -ilith li$e a 'an would( i% she were his# *ne tanned( %lawless ar' was curled around her shoulder( protecting her %ro' the hordes but also undoubtedly clai'ing her as his own# +or all her argu'ents( this was where she belonged# 3he %itted into that world li$e a 8igsaw piece and in that boy( with his per%ect white teeth and stylist2tousled hair( she had her per%ect 'an# /+inn( don)t loo$ at that rubbish#) Henry tried to ta$e the paper %ro' 'y hands# /+uc$ o%%() , snapped( and snatched it bac$ %ro' hi'# , began to read# /0ild child o% the .ritish art world -ilith .resson was up to her usual antics at last night)s up'ar$et Helicon Awards Cere'ony( held at &eon( the celeb world)s %a"e May%air club#

-ilith( 2S( en8oyed a passionate reunion with her toyboy lo"er and singer o% the 'o'ent 2 2year2old Gabriel ;a'es a%ter he con%ir'ed ru'ours that his s'ash hit /Al'ost an Angel) was written %or the contro"ersial winner o% /European Artist o% the 5ear)# The two ha"e already shared a +irst Class ro'p bac$ in ;une on a %light %ro' Alicante to Heathrow# .ac$ then The Herald reported how passengers were le%t shoc$ed as -ilith and Gabriel had a drun$en inti'ate ad"enture under a s$i'py airline blan$et( obli"ious to the %a'ilies ? 'any with toddlers ? sitting 8ust %eet away# 3tunned obser"ers at last night)s cere'ony witnessed Gabriel and a bi<arrely dressed -ilithE e'brace %or the %irst ti'e since their raunchy %lightD share an K2rated $iss a%ter the hun$y singer %inished the per%or'ance o% Al'ost an Angel that he dedicated to his lo"erD di"e into a single cubicle in the ladies) toilets( only to reappear twenty 'inutes later( loo$ing %lushed and breathless# A %ellow guest said( /They couldn)t $eep their hands o%% each other ? -ilith didn)t e"en wait to say than$s %or her pri<e be%ore she was bac$ in Gabriel)s ar's#) The lo"ed2up pair le%t the club ar'2in2ar' and unwilling to tal$ to our reporter( and sped to Gabriel)s lu7ury Chelsea pad where -ilith spent the night# This was the shoc$ing artist)s %irst public appearance since her li"e2on2air brawl with Herald colu'nist and people)s %a"ourite( ;ohnny .uc$le# &either -ilith nor her agent has e"er denied that she chec$ed hersel% into rehab 8ust wee$s a%ter her unpro"o$ed attac$# Ti'e will tell i% Gabriel beco'es a %ull2ti'e s=uee<e %or the e7hibitionist painter( or 8ust another notch on an i'pressi"e bedpost that includes A#C Torino)s star stri$er Alessandro .ertolli( actor .en .ate'an( and the bi2 curious chic$2lit writer Carina McGuire#) /Tell you what( +inn2boy ? you loo$ li$e you)"e been s'ac$ed right in the %ace6) Coyle leered# /5ou rec$on she)s really goin) to haul her s$inny arse all the way bac$ here %or so'e sorry little spun$2collector when she)s got that

to gi"e her a good po$in)1) /+inn( don)t let hi'###) Henry began( but be%ore Coyle could e"en start on his ne7t taunt , threw the paper across the $itchen and staggered %ro' the roo'# BBBBB , sat on the %loor o% the greenhouse with 'y $nees pulled close to 'y chest# , dragged hard on 'y thirteenth cigarette o% the day( listening to the %aint crac$le o% tobacco and paper as it burned down# , $new e7actly when , needed to stop# .ran( do<ing in a pool o% glass2%iltered sunlight( la<ily opened one eye as , pulled up the le%t slee"e o% 'y hoodie( then settled bac$ to sleep as , turned 'y ar' to inspect the e7panse o% pale s$in between 'y wrist and the croo$ o% 'y elbow# There was a ti'e when , would ha"e struggled to %ind a clean site( but now there was only this sorry scattering o% tiny white dents# 5ou could %eel the slight raise o% scar tissue i% you ran a light %inger down 'y ar'( but it was one o% the places on 'y body where clients didn)t linger# Anyhow( , healed well# ,ronically( it was .laine who had bro$en this habit# The collection o% raw( bloody craters that had spread up 'y ar's and across the bac$s o% 'y hands when we %irst 'et was not( she had coldly in%or'ed 'e( in $eeping with the i'age o% Alber'arle Hall# 3o until today)s %orthco'ing lapse , had stopped the thing with the cigarettes and put 'y energy into the thing with the te'a<epa' instead# , was still %uc$ed( but only on the inside now( and that was %ar less li$ely to put a client o%%# ,nside 'y head on an endless loop -ilith turned to Gabriel and $issed hi' hard and laughed at her luc$y escape( and , ga"e one last drag on 'y cigarette until the tip glowed and then , ground it hard into 'y s$in at a point e7actly hal%way between wrist and elbow# -ilith and Gabriel disappeared as the pain surged bright and welco'e into the space they had occupied# , sighed with the closest thing to pleasure , could %eel( and .ran wrin$led her nose in her sleep as the slightest scent o% burnt %lesh dri%ted o"er to where she lay#

BBBBB , spent the rest o% that bitter( grey day in the greenhouse( hiding out with a %irst edition 3ol<henitsyn that ,)d snea$ed out o% .laine)s library until the last o% the light %aded %ro' the hori<on and , could no longer $eep the autu'n da'p %ro' seeping deep into 'y core# , still wasn)t hungry( but needed a gallon or so o% tea to begin to thaw 'e out# , also needed to scrounge a couple o% paraceta'ol to ta$e the sting out o% 'y latest branding# The $itchen was deserted# Coyle( already drun$ %or all ,reland( had retired to the biggest suite in the hall where he would spend the rest o% his ti'e $eeping a do<en cartels in business and wan$ing hi'sel% blind( unless , did so'ething stupid that su''oned hi' out o% his lair so that he could $ic$ 'y head in %or sport# , had no idea where Henry was( and -ilith was still nowhere to be seen# , %illed the $ettle and set it on the sto"e( sla''ing it around as though the cacophony could dri"e away the 'e'ory o% her sitting( neat and beauti%ul( at the sa'e table where that bloody newspaper now 'oc$ed 'e# , pulled 'y sweatshirt o"er 'y head and winced as the %abric pulled away the top layer o% 'y cigarette burn# , rec$oned Henry 'ust ha"e a bo7 o% .and2Aids so'ewhere in his 'eticulously arranged drawers( and began to ri%le through the'# /5ou $now( you could 8ust as$ nicely and ,)d %ind whate"er it is you)re loo$ing %or#) Henry re'o"ed his rain2spattered wa7ed 8ac$et and draped it o"er a hoo$ on the bac$ o% the door# He began to %ollow 'e around the $itchen( replacing the ite's ,)d scattered o"er the %loor and pushing the drawers bac$ in# /3o1) /3o( what1) /0hat are you loo$ing %or1 *r are you 8ust destroying 'y $itchen %or the a'use'ent "alue1) /.and2Aid#) , didn)t loo$ up %ro' 'y search# , $new , was sending Henry)s blood pressure s$y2high as , scattered his collections o% arranged2by2si<e elastic bands and date2ordered discount "ouchers( but it was the nearest thing , was going to get to a laugh that day#

Henry)s %ace i''ediately creased with concern( despite the %act , was destroying his uni"erse# /0hat %or1 Ha"e you hurt yoursel%1) /+or this( all right1) , spat( and showed hi' the burn that was now a weeping( angry red disc# Henry didn)t say anything to that# He si'ply went to the right drawer and handed 'e the bo7# , didn)t bother with than$s# /0here the hell were you( anyway1) /0ell , was hardly going to swi' bac$ to the bloody island( was ,1) -ilith said %ro' the doorway# 3he was still wearing her out%it %ro' the night be%ore# /3o# How was your trip1) , didn)t e"en try to $eep the resent'ent %ro' 'y "oice# /E7pensi"e#) /5eah( , can i'agine# 0hat was it1 A 'agnu' o% cha'pagne and a pac$ o% three %or your %uc$%est with Gabriel bastard ;a'es1) /+inn6) Henry snapped# /,)' so sorry( -ilith# Coyle)s been in( winding +inn up with that#) He pointed to the newspaper as though it were radioacti"e waste# /+uc$ o%% and die( Henry#) , was beha"ing li$e a twat again( and , didn)t care# The %act that -ilith( who had 8ust had her best opportunity to disappear yet had chosen to return to this 'adhouse( 'eant less to 'e than the %ront page o% The Herald# /Ah# , didn)t plan on you reading that() -ilith said# /&o( , bet you %uc$ing didn)t#) -ilith ignored 'e and pic$ed up the paper# 3he stood and slowly read that bloody article %ro' beginning to end( an in%uriating s'ile %lic$ering across her lips as she too$ in the 'ost a'using details# +inally she %olded the pages per%ectly in hal% and dropped it in the bin# /0ell that wor$ed#)

/0hat did1 3orting out your ne7t shag %or when you)re done here1) /&o# My i'pro'ptu atte'pt at 'isdirection#) 3he pulled an elastic band %ro' her ponytail and shoo$ her hair %ree# ,t hung in da'p strands across her %ace and , %inally realised 8ust how e7hausted she loo$ed# Then , thought about what had caused that e7haustion and 'y anger spar$ed once 'ore# /4on)t play with 'e( -ilith#) , tried to barge past her# 3he caught 'e by the shoulder# /+inn( the 'ost , did with Gabriel was drin$ %orty cups o% co%%ee so , could get bac$ to Alber'arle be%ore 'y cur%ew#) /5eah( right#) , pulled 'y ar' away but didn)t 'o"e %ro' the spot# /5ou were about to tell us how the trip went( -ilith() Henry chi'ed( desperate to brea$ the stor' that was building in his sacred space# He ignored 'y glare and began to brew the tea that , had started hal% an hour earlier# /-i$e , said( e7pensi"e() -ilith reiterated# /And ,)ll tell you why( shall ,1) she as$ed pleasantly# /&o1 0ell( ,)ll tell you anyway#) 3he pulled an o"ernight bag %ro' where she had dropped it in the doorway and threw two pac$ages across the table# /Twenty pounds on presents %or 'y %a"ourite boys#) Henry got a baseball cap decorated with a %lashing Tower .ridge# , got a t2 shirt that read /My %riend went to -ondon( and all , got was this %uc$ing t2 shirt#) /Another twenty %or enough speed to let 'e dri"e three hundred 'iles nonstop without %alling asleep at the wheel() -ilith continued# This shoc$ed 'e# -ilith was the second straightest person , $new a%ter Henry ? God $new what she)d been up to %or her to end up scoring a bag o% street phet# 3he pulled her hair bac$ into its ponytail and loo$ed 'e straight in the eye# /And thirty eight thousand in used notes to buy a thirteen2year old rent boy %ro' .laine)s -ondon brothel#) , thought ,)d 'isheard# .y Henry)s nonplussed e7pression( he %elt the

sa'e# /5ou did what1) , %inally 'anaged to as$( searching -ilith)s %ace %or any sign o% a wind2up# , %ound none( but in truly loo$ing at her %or the %irst ti'e , realised her nonchalance was only s$in deep# ,n reality( she was co'pletely wiredE her pale eyes glittered in an unnaturally wan %ace# Too slowly( , began to understand# /;esus Christ( -ilith( what did you do1) -ilith /*h goodness( what### , 'ean where### , 'ean( how1) Henry babbled# All +inn could do was slu'p 'utely into the nearest chair and stare at 'e# As a precautionary 'o"e , used 'y inhaler be%ore , began# /, waited until the paps had set up ca'p on Gabe)s doorstep( then le%t by the %ire e7it# , went to Marley)s( spo$e nicely to the door'an( started bidding at ten grand( and $ept going up until , %ound his price ? a one2way tic$et bac$ to Poland and a s'all apart'ent in -od<( apparently# He brought ;a$e to 'e( , bundled hi' into a ta7i 2 which is where the last thousand went( incidentally ? and sent hi' to a sa%e house in .righton#) , started to laugh# /My sa%e house# My conscience2appeasing( sorry2%or2being2rich charity# ,)' bloody glad , didn)t in"est in a cat shelter ? ,)d ha"e been totally %uc$ed %or so'ewhere to send hi'#) /4oes .laine###) Henry began( but , was ahead o% hi'# /&o2one does# E"en the place itsel% doesn)t $now ,)' its bene%actor# My agent)s always gi"en 'e hell %or not using it in 'y publicity ? it would gi"e 'e a /'uch2needed hu'an %ace) apparently#) /3o he)s truly out o% her reach1) Henry as$ed( and , could hear the %ragile( un%a'iliar hope in his "oice# , nodded# /And i%### when the worst co'es to the worst and .laine %inds out that he)s gone( e"en Gabriel)s in the clear ? it 8ust loo$s as though , did a runner on hi' a%ter we shagged#) , =uic$ly loo$ed at +inn# /E"en though we didn)t( 'uch to his disappoint'ent#) ,n %act( %or a 'an who had thought his luc$ was in( Gabriel ;a'es had been

a per%ect gentle'an# +orbidden to as$ any =uestions whatsoe"er( he had si'ply pro"ided 'e with an internet connection and 'ade co%%ee whilst , went about 'y clandestine wor$# .y the ti'e , le%t his 'ews apart'ent at three in the 'orning( he still didn)t $now where , was staying( or why , re%used to tal$# Most i'portantly( , had ne"er once 'entioned .laine)s na'e# /3trictly spea$ing( there)s nothing to lin$ any o% it to 'e until .laine trac$s down the door'an and has hi' shot in the head ? it could si'ply be a coincidence that , was in -ondon at the sa'e ti'e# Although that 'ight be being a little opti'istic# And that)s about it#) My heart began to pound as , addressed the' both# /.eyond that( , ha"e no idea how 'uch shit this is going to cause %or any o% us( but it was the only opportunity , was going to get#) , placed 'y hand o"er +inn)s and this ti'e he didn)t pull away# My "oice began to brea$ as , pleaded( /And %or God)s sa$e would you say so'ething6) E"en his %ury was pre%erable to this wall o% silence as he stared at 'e as though , were an alien being# 3uddenly he leapt to his %eet# , stood to 'eet hi' and he %lung his ar's around 'e( burying his %ace in 'y hair# /5ou ca'e bac$() he whispered# /5ou did all that( and you still ca'e bac$#) , %elt 'y legs buc$le with e7haustion and relie%( and still he bore 'y weight# , let 'y ar's slip through his( reaching around his sli' waist to return the e'brace# /5ou stupid( 'ad cow() +inn continued# /;esus %uc$( -ili( you could ha"e gone# 0hy the hell did you co'e bac$ to this1) , pushed away 8ust enough to let 'y eyes 'eet his# /0hy do you thin$1) , as$ed( and was pulled bac$ in so hard that the breath was s=uee<ed %ro' 'e# /5ou)re shi"ering() +inn said# /Go and run yoursel% a bath( a chuisle# Get war'ed up#) /0hat did you call 'e1) /Ah# A chuisle# Gaelic# /My darling)# , pre%er the proper translation( 'ind you#)

/0hich is1) He ga"e a bash%ul s'ile# /My pulse#) +inn , waited %or -ilith to 'o"e( but she stood rooted to the spot# /0hat)s wrong1) , as$ed# /, really don)t want to be alone right now#) , didn)t e"en start to argue# 4idn)t want to( truth be told# /Gi"e 'e ten to get cleaned up a bit( huh1 ,)ll co'e to your roo'# Coyle will be out o% his s$ull by now( so we should be sa%e enough#) -ilith sighed with relie%# /5eah( , saw his %ace gurning at 'e %ro' behind a bedroo' blind when , ca'e up the pathD he loo$ed pretty ha''ered# Than$s# Than$s a lot#) 3he turned on her heels( ga"e Henry a =uic$ hug( pic$ed up her bag and headed o%% to her =uarters# The si'ple pro'ise o% 'y co'pany had reassured her enough to 'o"e( and , was still s'iling li$e an idiot as , lit 'y cigarette# /4on)t say it( Henry() , warned# Henry raised an eyebrow# /0ould it 'a$e any di%%erence in the world i% , did1) /&ope#) /Then , won)t say it#) /Good 'an#) BBBBB , was on 'y way to -ilith)s roo' when Henry called 'e bac$#

/*ne 'o'ent#) He disappeared into his "ast larder and , heard hi' ri%ling through whate"er the hell he $ept in there# 0hen he e'erged( he was cradling a wine bottle that was encrusted with a good century)s worth o% dust# He passed it to 'e with the tender care o% a 'idwi%e handing o"er a newborn baby# /Carpe die'( +inn# 0ell( carpe nocte' to be accurate( , suppose#) /,t)s a bit %uc$in) grubby( isn)t it1 Ha"en)t you got a clean one1) , teased# /Philistine() Henry tutted# /+or your in%or'ation( that is a >ille de la 4o'aine Ao'anee ContG worth appro7i'ately eight hundred pounds on today)s 'ar$et and considered to be a $ing a'ongst wines# ,% you gulp it bac$ in the sa'e 'anner you insist on i'bibing 'ost alcohol( you will hear an entire chorus o% angels sobbing# At least -ilith will appreciate it#) /Than$s %or this( little 'an#) , was suddenly aw$ward with the enor'ity o% what we were all doing# /3he)ll ne"er 'iss it#) He brushed 'y words away with his hand# /An insigni%icant gesture( all things considered# ;ust raise a toast on 'y behal%( would you1 Perhaps /To a courage %ew possess)1) , grinned# /How about 8ust( /Eat( drin$( %or to'orrow we die)1) /4on)t# &ow go( wash# And don)t %orget to clean your teeth ? your breath s'ells worse than a pub carpet#) , saluted( and turned to go# /*h( and one last thing 2) /5eah1) , braced 'ysel% %or so'e dire warning or other# /That)s not the %ull =uote# ,% you 'ust $now( it)s /Eat( drin$ and be 'erry( %or to'orrow we die#)) Henry grasped 'y hand# /3o go( be 'erry( dear boy# God $nows( you deser"e it this once#) -ilith

/5ou decent yet1) +inn called %ro' behind the door# , e'erged %ro' the bathroo'( clad in 'y new winter py8a'as and thic$ white Alber'arle bathrobe( with a towel wrapped around 'y newly2washed hair# +inn was already waiting %or 'e# He sat on the edge o% 'y bed with .ran at his %eet# /.etter1) he as$ed# /&early( but it would help i% , could stop sha$ing#) , rubbed at 'y hair with the towel# /,)' still bloody %ree<ing ? but , suppose that)s what you get %or dri"ing with all your windows down %or si7 hours# And a couple o% gallons o% adrenaline and speed still swilling around 'y syste' isn)t helping 'uch#) /,)d probably be a wee bit 8ittery i% ,)d 8ust pulled your stunt#) +inn patted the bed ne7t to where he sat# /C)'on( ta$e a seat# Henry)s sent a present that 'ight help ta$e the edge o%%#) He pic$ed up a bottle o% "ery decent red %ro' 'y bedside table# , 8oined hi'# /&ice# -ast supper1) /4on)t# 4on)t thin$ about it( don)t tal$ about it#) He poured two generous glasses with a steady hand# /;ust drin$ and sleep and we)ll deal with the rest when it happens# -et)s 8ust $eep tonight %or oursel"es( huh1) He ga"e an e7asperated sigh# /That ca'e out wrong# &ot that we### , 'ean###) , too$ the nearest glass and s'iled# /,t)s o$ay# , $now what you 'ean#) That +inn was prepared to do this 'uch was so'ething to be treasured# /Cheers#) , touched 'y glass against his# /3lTinte# 3orry ,)' not e7actly dressed %or the occasion( by the way# 4idn)t %ancy turning up in any o% 'y wor$ uni%or'( y)$now1) , $new( but it didn)t help 'y resol"e in the slightest# +inn was wearing his bashed2up blue and white py8a'a botto's tea'ed with the t2shirt , had 8ust bought hi'( and he too had 8ust washed his hair# He loo$ed co'pletely adorable( %ro' the ru%%led( da'p %ringe that al'ost hid his 'uddied 8ade eyes to his delicate bare %eet( and , had an al'ost o"erwhel'ing urge to co"er his entire body with $isses# , too$ hal% a glass o% wine in one 'outh%ul# ,t was subli'e#

/3teady( girl6) +inn laughed# /That)s a two2hundred =uid gob%ul you)"e 8ust swigged there#) /0orth e"ery penny() , assured hi'( and held out 'y glass %or a re%ill# He obliged then topped up his own glass( and , wanted to plant another $iss s=uarely on the stic$ing plaster that hid his 'ost recent da'age# He pulled the du"et bac$ %or 'e# /Aight( co'e on ? get under here# -et the war'th begin to build up#) /@'() , said( hesitant again# /@'1) +inn as$ed( concerned# /,s there a proble'1 , can go###) /Hell( no6) /Then what( sweetheart1 5ou can tell 'e#) /Honestly1) My heart began ha''ering li$e a teenager)s on a %irst date# /5eah( /honestly)( da%t arse#) A gathering o% butter%lies danced in 'y sto'ach( and , couldn)t =uite loo$ at hi'# /The only thing , want is to lie there and be held by you again#) +inn didn)t say anything# He 8ust leaned o"er and wrapped his ar's around 'y tre'bling body# /-i$e this1) he as$ed# /5eah( li$e this#) , %inally let 'ysel% rela7 into the e'brace o% the 'an ,)d 8ust dri"en three hundred 'iles to be with# /3o# Aeady to lie down now1) , eased 'y way under the du"et( shi"ering again at the te'porary chill o% new sheets# +inn settled down beside 'e and , lay with 'y bac$ to hi'( al'ost %oetal# His ar's stayed entwined around 'e( and his %ingers $nit loosely together around 'y waist so that , was pulled close to the 'an , had wanted %ro' the "ery 'o'ent , 'et hi'# 0ith a contented sigh that he thought , couldn)t hear he buried his %ace in 'y hair( and , told 'ysel% that

he was 'erely %inding co'%ort in the contact# , told 'ysel% that( but $new , was lying# , was wetter than , had e"er been# /*h %uc$( ,)' so sorry ? that)s not 'eant to### ;esus###) 3uddenly +inn pushed away( and , was scared that he was about to run# He ga"e an e'barrassed laugh against 'y ear# /Three %uc$ing years( and it)s ne"er happened# 4idn)t thin$ it could( any 'ore#) ,t was then that , %elt his hard2on against the s'all o% 'y bac$# , turned to loo$ at hi' and his e7pression was one o% co'plete 'orti%ication and be'use'ent at his nascent desire# , %elt 'y nipples harden instincti"ely in responseD , couldn)t re'e'ber the last ti'e , had %elt so aroused# This was when , would usually 'a$e 'y 'o"eE instant grati%ication( with 'y partner)s satis%action a distant secondary goal# This ti'e( it was so di%%erent that , %ound 'ysel% unsure what to do ne7t ? it %elt 'ore li$e 'y %irst ti'e than 'y %irst ti'e e"er had# And therein lay 'y answer( because , suddenly realised that it was a %irst ti'e %or +inn as well( and , $new e7actly what , wanted %ro' this stolen encounter# ,n answer to his panic , brought 'y right hand up to cradle his %ace( %inally letting 'y %ingers play %reely o"er those chee$bones and stubborn 8aw# Each 'o"e see'ed to ta$e a li%eti'eE 'ore than anything( , needed hi' to $now that this was all done with his consentD that at any 'o'ent he could say /no) or 'o"e away and e"erything would still be o$ay# .ut he stayed( his eyes ne"er lea"ing 'y %ace# , let two %ingers linger on his wind2coarsened lips# /3hh() , whispered( and s'iled in wonder that , had so'ething so beauti%ul within 'y reach# /-et 'e### please1) The s'ile was returned( hesitant at %irst( then bloo'ing into a beauti%ul( un%ettered grin# ,n reply( he $issed 'e# At %irst( a =uic$( chaste $iss to 'y lips to chec$ that this was allowed( and a 'illion 'iles away %ro' the 'anu%actured passion , had witnessed o"er the past 'onths# , 'o"ed 'y %ace closer to his( in"iting a second# Aeassured( +inn $issed 'e again ? properly this ti'e( so that toothpaste and wine and tobacco 'ingled in 'y 'outh( and the tip o% his tongue tentati"ely e7plored 'y lips and the points o% 'y teeth# His 'oan o%

desire was 'u%%led by our e'brace as , began to 'o"e 'y le%t hand down his chest( spreading 'y %ingers to ta$e in the war'th o% s$in and so%t down o% his hair# My 8ourney too$ 'e to the dip o% his sto'ach and the new( raised scar o% Aoyce)s attac$( and , stopped %or a 'o'ent to gi"e hi' ti'e to accept and allow what , was about to do# 3ubconsciously he pushed his hips towards 'e and( per'ission gi"en( , unbuttoned his py8a'a pants and eased the' o"er the sharply de%ined corners o% his pel"is# , 'anaged to resist touching his coc$ %or now( instead stro$ing around his hips and around to the hollow o% his bac$ to allow 'e to pull hi' e"en closer# He $issed 'e again( longer and harder than be%ore and the delicate s$in o% 'y inner thighs turned to sil$# 0e %inally bro$e away and , rested 'y chee$ against his shoulder so that 'y %ace nu<<led into his nec$( and , could breathe in +inn)s uni=ue( subtle scent# 0hen , was con%ident that , had all his trust( , %inally too$ his erect coc$ in 'y right hand# 0ith 'y le%t( , entwined 'y %ingers through the da'p hair at the nape o% his nec$ and our %aces were now so close that we were sharing the sa'e breath# , increased the pressure in 'y grip( 8ust enough to elicit another groan o% sheer pleasure( and brushed 'y thu'b o"er the tip to 'assage a bead o% pre2cu' around the sha%t# , had only 8ust begun to 'o"e 'y hand along the length in a steady( insistent rhyth' when +inn)s eyes widened in surpriseD he ga"e a series o% stuttering little gasps and ca'e# , %elt his bac$ arch as 'uscle and tendon contracted( and his se'en %lowed o"er 'y %ingers# /*h God() he whispered( and buried his head into 'y chest# /*h God oh God oh God### that### , 'ean( oh 'y %uc$in) God###) He re2e'erged to loo$ 'e directly in the eye# /That was a'a<ing### 8ust so bloody =uic$( ,)' sorry###) /3hh() , soothed once 'ore( caressing his beauti%ul %ace( his nec$( his chest( and ne"er wanting the contact to end# /,)' 'eant to### , 'ean( do you###1) , shoo$ 'y head# /&o# ;ust en8oy this#)

+inn &othing see'ed real# &othing o% what had happened( what we had dared to do ? what 'y body had 8ust pro"ed itsel% capable o% doing ? and , didn)t e"en want to start thin$ing about any o% it( as i% analysis 'ight pro"e that the whole wonder%ul thing was nothing 'ore than a belated hallucination# To'orrow was going to bring hell %or 'e ? , had $nown that the second -ilith told her tale ? and , didn)t begrudge a 'o'ent o% it# Her tenure here was al'ost done and then it would be ti'e %or her to reclai' her li%e( and , would be bac$ where , was be%ore she had stepped into 'y world# , couldn)t i'agine .laine doing anything to 'e that was going to %eel worse than that# , pushed the whole brewing shitstor' into the s'allest bo7 , could %ind( and concentrated instead on the wo'an whose spine was pressed against the contours o% 'y chest# , was o"erwhel'ed with a good( clean tiredness( and , decided that %or once , was going to let it ta$e 'e# My last coherent thought was that she s'elled a'a<ing# ;ust soap and sha'poo( and nothing li$e the o"er2preened hags who thought that a gallon or so o% e7pensi"e per%u'e 'ight 'as$ the stench o% what they were doing to 'e# 0ith 'y nose buried in -ilith)s hair( , bro$e the %inal taboo and slept# -ilith ,t was still dar$ when the cry dragged 'e %ro' sleep# +inn sat bolt upright ne7t to 'e( and in the dying light o% a near2e'pty oil la'p his %orehead shone slic$ with sweat# /.ad drea'1) , as$ed( with i'pressi"e understate'ent# , hated to thin$ what night'ares 'ust ha"e caused the sheer terror in his "oice# /3o'ething li$e# 0ha) ti'e is it1) , s=uinted at the bedside cloc$# /+our( 8ust about#)

/+uc$# 0ow# , can)t re'e'ber the last ti'e , slept this long# ) /Are you all right1) , stro$ed his chee$# /5eah yeah() he caught 'y %ingers and $issed the'# /3a'e old shit( that)s all# 3orry %or wa$ing you#) , hugged hi'( still hungry %or contact( and planted 'y own $iss on his chest# He sighed# /-oo$( , really don)t want to lea"e( but ,)' going to ha"e to go bac$ to 'y roo' ? didn)t bring e"erything , needed( y)$now1) /, $now#) , didn)t need tellingE , could already %eel the tension beginning to bu<< in his sinews# /3leep while you can( huh1 , pro'ise( ,)ll co'e bac$ ? then we can start thin$ing about how we)re going to play today( o$ay1) He ran a hand %ro' 'y 8aw to 'y waist as though he was reading 'e in .raille( then pulled the du"et around 'e so that , was en"eloped in its war'th# //Kay#) My eyes were already beginning to close by the ti'e he reached the door# Chapter Twenty Two -ilith /Alar' call %or Ms .resson#) Coyle *)Halloran dragged 'e out o% bed by 'y hair and threw 'e onto the %loor# , didn)t e"en ha"e ti'e to screa' as he cla'ped one sweating hand o"er 'y 'outh and grabbed 'y wrists with the other# He leered at 'e through the dar$ness# /5ou any idea how long ,)"e waited to do this( you stuc$2up slut1) His breath ree$ed o% stale whis$ey and sic$ness( and , recoiled# /0hat( a' , not up to your usual standard o% %uc$( eh1 -i$e a certain scrawny2arsed %aggot1) He hauled 'e to 'y %eet( twisting 'e so that , had 'y bac$ to hi'# /Ach( don)t be worrying about that 8ust yet ? ,)' under strict orders to deli"er you in a hal%2decent condition#)

That hardly reassured 'e# , tried to cry out( but e"en i% Coyle)s hand had not still been across 'y 'outh( an i''inent asth'a attac$ and sheer %ear would ha"e rendered 'e speechless# /0hat)s that( bitch1 ,% you)re calling out %or our +inn2boy( you)re wasting precious breath ? 'e and 'y boys ha"e already seen to hi'( and it was the 'ost %un ,)"e had in years( let 'e tell you#) He began to drag 'e towards the door# 3till sleep2da<ed and subdued( any struggle had no e%%ect# /4on)t thin$ you)d %ind hi' such a pretty boy now( 'ind you ? 'y lads got 8ust a wee bit slap2happy( i% you get 'y dri%t# 0anted to get one bac$ %or that 'essy business in the pub#) +atal 'inutes too late , %ound so'e %ight# , let Coyle ta$e 'y weight and $ic$ed bac$ hard against his shins# , 'ade good contact and , heard hi' gi"e a sharp( rewarding hiss o% pain# /+uc$in) bitch6) he yelped( but 'y rebellion 'erely 'ade hi' e"en angrier# He brought his other hand away %ro' 'y 'outh and began to bundle 'e down the corridor# , had no idea where we were going( or what was about to happenD , only $new that where"er , was being ta$en it was highly unli$ely to be pleasant( so as Coyle dragged 'e down the long corridor( , battled hi' e"ery step o% the way# ,t wouldn)t do 'e any good ? 'y sel%2de%ence training had ne"er co"ered being hauled( still asleep %ro' 'y bed by a co$ed2up ( steroid2 pu'ped bastard ? but , could no 'ore ha"e surrendered than grown wings and %lown# The only outco'e was that by the ti'e we reached the $itchen( , was already e7hausted# The table had been pushed to one side so that the %loor was clear( e7cept %or two car"er chairs that now %aced each other across the e7panse# *ne was e'pty( but the other was already ta$en# /3till %ancy hi' now1) Coyle laughed# +inn was tied to the chair)s %ra'e by strips o% sil"er duct tape at his wrists and an$les( and another piece had been stuc$ o"er his 'outh# He still wore his py8a'a pants( but he was bare2chested now( and Coyle)s coterie had certainly had %un#

His chest and sto'ach were co"ered with boot 'ar$s that were already turning stor'2cloud blac$( and by his 8agged( pain%ul breathing , guessed they)d 'anaged to brea$ a rib# A strea$ o% %resh blood 'ar$ed an unchec$ed trail %ro' his nose and down the tape across his 'outh( and his le%t eye was swollen shut# /0hat)s that1) Coyle as$ed +inn# /5ou want to say so'ethin) to your new girl%riend1 -i$e( /3orry , needed 'y %i7 'ore than , needed to protect you)1 or 'aybe( /3orry , 8ust landed you in 'ore shit than you)"e e"er $nown in your entire e7istence)1) 0ith one ar' still loc$ed around 'e( Coyle reached o"er and ripped the tape %ro' +inn)s 'outh# /*h God Coyle( don)t hurt her# 4o whate"er the hell you li$e to 'e( but don)t hurt -ilith# PleaseC) /3hut the %uc$ up6) Coyle hollered# /4)you thin$ anything you say)s going to 'a$e any $ind o% di%%erence to what , do to this little slut1 Huh1 ,)' about to do whate"er , li$e to you( 8ust as soon as ,)"e %inished here#) , %inally 'anaged to steady 'y breath so , could ta$e a chest%ul o% air again# /+uc$ing coward6) , screa'ed at Coyle( and attac$ed hi' with teeth and nails and %eet ? anything to try and run %ro' whate"er was co'ing ne7t# +inn ,n a clean %ight( -ilith 'ight ha"e stood a chance( but with Coyle it was ne"er going to be clean# 0hen we were both teenagers on the sa'e bare2 $nuc$le circuit( Coyle *)Halloran was notorious %or concealing a short length o% lead pipe in his %ist( or landing the %irst punch be%ore his opponent had e"en turned around to %ace hi'# .ac$ then , had been one o% the %ew to e"er %loor hi'( and the bastard had been ta$ing his re"enge e"er since# &ow , could only watch and continue to 'a$e useless( e'pty entreaties %or Coyle to stop as he began his attac$ on the wo'an , had %ailed# 0hen ,)d le%t -ilith and returned rattling and hal%2asleep to 'y roo'( Coyle( Philly( -awson and 4a'o had been waiting %or 'e there# , %ought li$e hell to get bac$ to -ilith( but Coyle( hidden behind the door( had swung his boot into 'y wea$ened $nee so that , crashed to the %loor( and as soon as 4a'o

slapped the duct tape across 'y 'outh( it was already o"er# The additional $ic$ing was 'erely entertain'ent %or the'( and the start o% a well2deser"ed penance %or 'e# ,)d heard 'y rib crac$ as -awson hoo%ed 'e once , was down( but , hardly %elt that pain nowD it was nothing new( and it was nothing at all co'pared to 'y horror at -ilith)s arri"al# , couldn)t belie"e how badly , had 'iscalculated ? , had only prepared %or 'y own punish'ent( stupidly thin$ing that -ilith was so'ehow beyond reach# Coyle now had -ilith pinned to the %loor# /3o do , scare you now( you s'ug wee bitch1) he crowed# -ilith could only 'anage a breathless cry o% terror in reply( and , $new that Coyle wouldn)t gi"e a shit about her asth'a( and that she 'ight die right there si'ply because he was an ignorant beast o% a 'an who didn)t $now what was happening to her# , tried to %ind the words to warn hi'( but be%ore , could say anything( he grabbed -ilith)s wrists in one hand and with the other he yan$ed down her py8a'a pants# He used his $nees to push her legs apart and , was "aguely aware o% yelling /&o) o"er and o"er again( and $nowing that there was nothing that could stop Coyle)s ga'e# /En8oying the show( %ag1) Coyle called to 'e# /Ae'ind you o% last night( eh1 0hat did you do1 @se so'e o% your special tric$s o% the trade to get her screa'in) %or 'ore1) Huestion a%ter =uestion( all o% the' unanswered and unanswerable# He bent low so that his %ace was ne7t to -ilith)s# /Aeady to see what a real 'an can do instead o% your little shit2stabber there1 , can)t %uc$in) belie"e you let that %ilthy coc$ anywhere near#) -ilith had al'ost stopped struggling now( and , didn)t $now whether it was through %ear or absence o% breath# , didn)t e"en ha"e the ha"en o% hoping this was all e'pty posturing ? Coyle had done this so 'any ti'es be%ore# /Aight( your ladyship( let)s see i% you)re up %or a bit o% proper lo"in)#) He loo$ed up to win$ at 'e then 8abbed his %ingers deep inside her# -ilith screa'ed in pain and shoc$ and 'y own i'potent bellow o% rage added to the cacophony( but no sound was as loud as her attac$er)s 'anic laughter as she tried to writhe away %ro' his assault#

Coyle li%ted his hand to show 'e the blood# /3o( no tits( and a cunt so dry it)d be li$e stic$in) it up a %ella)s arse ? is that what wor$ed %or you( %aggot1) he as$ed 'e con"ersationally# He was lic$ing his %ingers when -ilith bro$e %ree o% his grip and head2butted hi'# 3he gashed open the %leshy bulge abo"e the bridge o% his nose and %or an insane 'o'ent , i'agined her winning the %ight as a %ine spray o% Coyle)s blood coated her %ace( but with a pri'e"al roar he grabbed her by the shoulders and threw her across the $itchen# His ga'e was cut short as -ilith %ell hea"ily against Henry)s belo"ed sto"e( and there was a sic$ening crac$ as her scalp split at the hairline# /That)s =uite enough( Mr *)Halloran#) .laine 'ade her sedate entrance# /Playti'e)s o"er# ,ngrid( attend to -ilith( please# And Henry( , suggest you clean up the 'ess be%ore it soa$s into the slate#) Three paces behind .laine ca'e 4octor Parnell ? the only ti'e ,)d e"er been glad to see the wo'an ? and hiding behind her was Henry# *ne loo$ at his stric$en %ace told 'e that , no longer needed to as$ how .laine had disco"ered our transgressions so da'n =uic$ly# -ilith A pyrotechnic display e7ploded in 'y head as , %orced 'y eyes to open# , re'e'bered %alling and , could %eel blood congealing in 'y hair and right eyebrow but to 'y pu<<le'ent , couldn)t bring 'y hand up to wipe it away# ,t too$ 'e %ore"er to realise whyD , was still in the $itchen( but now , was sitting in the chair opposite +inn( and 'y wrists were bound with the sa'e duct tape that held hi' %ast# A new strip o% tape sealed his 'outh again( and his eyes were wide with concern and sha'e# A s'all plastic 'as$ co"ered 'y nose and 'outh( and by the %a'iliar dusty taste , $new , was being %ed a ha<e o% salbuta'ol to $eep 'y lungs wor$ing# A sharp cra'ping in 'y sto'ach and across 'y thighs ser"ed as a hard re'inder o% Coyle)s in"asion# The pain in 'y head o"erwhel'ed e"erything else %or a 'o'ent( and , had to swallow hard to stop 'ysel% %ro' throwing up# /3he see's a little better() said a 'ee$( dry "oice# As a pair o% sha$ing hands re'o"ed the nebuliser 'as$( , recognised 4octor Parnell)s

parch'ent2white %ace# /The head wound will need stitching( but steri2strips will hold it %or now# ,)ll co'e bac$ later( once you)re done with your### 'eeting( shall ,1) /,)d pre%er it i% you stayed() said .laine %ro' so'ewhere beyond 'y "ision# /,)ll need you shortly# ,% you)d care to 8oin Mr *)Halloran at the table there( ,)' sure Henry will be only too happy to 'a$e you co%%ee#) 3o , now $new that we had three guests %or whate"er spectacle was about to un%old# Henry( Coyle and 4octor Parnell too$ their positions on the 'argins o% the roo' as .laine 'o"ed to centre stage# There was the sound o% a hea"y wooden chair being scraped across the slate %loor and then she was sitting ne7t to 'e( groo'ed and serene# 3he conte'plated 'e with a chilling co'bination o% pity and regret and tapped an inde7 %inger against her lips as she considered her opening line# /,)' so disappointed in you( -ilith#) E"en i% , had been capable o% saying anything( , rec$oned the best thing right now was to $eep 'y 'outh tightly shut# .laine had already written the script( and , wasn)t about to do anything that added to the ordeal# /The "ery %irst thing you need to $now is that so'eti'es( no reply at all is 8ust as telling as the longest( 'ost inti'ate phonecall# 0hen Mr *)Halloran hadn)t contacted 'e by one o)cloc$ this 'orning , assu'ed that so'ething 'ust ha"e gone a little awry#) /, told you( it was %ood poisonin)# , was shitting through the eye o% a needle###) /Enough() .laine snapped( and raised a hand# /, 'ust ad'it , couldn)t ha"e guessed the true e7tent o% the da'age done( but the unease was su%%icient %or 'e to catch an early %light ho'e# +ortunately( Henry was sensible enough to realise the unpleasantness 'ight be 'ini'ised i% he pro"ided 'e with so'e o% the details# 5ou really didn)t need too 'uch persuasion at all( did you( Henry1) , heard Henry gi"e a low 'oan o% utter 'isery# , tried to cling on to the $nowledge that whate"er Henry had di"ulged( ;a$e 'ust be sa%e by now( 'aybe e"en sound asleep in so'e cosy( secure roo' at the re%uge# The leaden weight on 'y chest di'inished( but did not co'pletely disappearE

+inn and , were co'pletely screwed# /-ilith( you need to understand that you cannot( under any circu'stances( ta$e so'ething that is 'ine#) 3he %inally glanced o"er at +inn# /And certainly not twice in one day#) 3he strolled o"er to hi'( and placed a hand bene"olently on his head# /5ou could ha"e borrowed hi' at any ti'e( did you $now that1 All you had to do was as$#) Her "oice was %illed with disappoint'ent at 'y lac$ o% eti=uette# 3uddenly she clawed her %ingers( grabbing a hand%ul o% +inn)s hair so that he ga"e a s'othered grunt through the duct tape# 3he pulled his head bac$ and bent to address hi'# /And you( 'y beauti%ul( 'isguided boy# 0hat a' , to do with you1) Her %ingers tightened %urther( and , saw the sinew in his nec$ begin to distort as she twisted her hand# /,)"e clearly been a little too indulgent with you o% late#) 3he released her grip and +inn)s head %ell %orward# /, thin$ it)s ti'e we ended that lenience# ,)"e already as$ed Mr *)Halloran to ensure that you return to a rather 'ore basic regi'e#) /All too happy to oblige() Coyle called( and , $new beyond doubt that 'y actions had landed +inn in hell# +or a 'o'ent , didn)t care what 'ight happen to 'eE the thought o% hi' being gi"en to Coyle as a plaything was 'ore than , could bear# .laine returned to 'y side# /0ith so'e people( ,)"e disco"ered that the only way they will e"er learn is through physical repri'and# , can truly say , would ne"er ha"e considered you as one o% those people( -ilith#) The cal'ness o% her "oice( co'bined with the $nowledge that she had both the wherewithal and the te'pera'ent to do 8ust about anything( threatened to stop 'y breath again# /, want you to $now that , ga"e a great deal o% thought to this# , need you to understand that ,)' a wo'an o% 'y word( but , really don)t wish to in%lict any lasting da'age#) 3he stro$ed her %ingers tenderly along 'y right ar' as she spo$e( and %inally held 'y %ingers in a light( steady grip# /,t wouldn)t 'atter about the =uality o% the can"as( or the paint( i% the hand that actually needed to create the i'age was de%ecti"e( would it1) 3he ga"e 'e a co'%orting s'ile# /, pro'ise( this will be as e%%icient as , can 'a$e it( and it truly gi"es 'e no pleasure# Mr *)Halloran1 0hen you)re ready1)

As Coyle swaggered towards 'e , tried to rip the duct tape by tensing 'y %eet and wrists against it( to no a"ail# .laine ignored 'y struggle# /;ust the two1) Coyle as$ed# .laine $ept her ga<e on 'e# /;ust the two ?one %or each stolen boy#) 3he stepped bac$# /And +inn1 5ou need to watch e"ery 'o'ent o% this# ,% , see you as 'uch as blin$( ,)ll ensure that the whole thing is repeated with the other hand#) Coyle $nelt so he could see 'y %ace# /Can , 8ust say( Miss .resson( that this gi"es 'e i''ense %uc$in) pleasure indeed1) He gripped 'y right ring %inger %ir'ly and snapped it li$e a da'p twig# All the pain that , %elt in 'y body was channelled to 'y hand( and , screa'ed despite 'ysel%# ;ust as , was %ully registering the agony( Coyle repeated the action on 'y 'iddle %inger and , howled so that 'y "oice crac$ed# , struggled uselessly against 'y restraints as i% the 'o"e'ent 'ight switch o%% the sic$ening( relentless %ire in 'y ar'( and , was only di'ly aware o% the tears %lowing down 'y %ace# , heard Henry sob so'ewhere in the distance# /Than$ you( Mr *)Halloran() .laine said# /,ngrid( would you ensure that -ilith)s %ingers are bound so that they set straight1 And 'a$e sure she has any pain relie% she re=uires#) 4octor Parnell began to ner"ously scrabble in her bag# /Pethedine# That)ll ta$e the worst away#) , began to shi"er as the shoc$ began to hit 'y battered body# The doctor pushed 'y slee"e up and slid a hypoder'ic needle into the "ein in the croo$ o% 'y ar' with a tre'bling hand( and a war' blan$et began to en%old 'e as the pain di'inished# /3o( do , get to %inish the 8ob1) Coyle as$ed# /5ou said , could( and , owe hi' one#) /,% you 'ust() .laine sighed# /;ust re'e'ber to $eep away %ro' his %ace this ti'e# Henry( can you carry -ilith to her roo'( please1 , thin$ we)re done here#) As a =uietly weeping Henry began to cut away the tape at 'y wrists( Coyle

got to play once 'ore# He ripped the tape %ro' +inn)s 'outh and s=uared up to his de%enceless opponent# He postured and swaggered li$e a 'artial arts e7pert be%ore $ic$ing +inn s=uare in the chest so that the chair toppled bac$wards# *nce he was on the %loor( Coyle began punching and $ic$ing hi' with an un%ettered pleasure that bordered on orgas'ic# As Henry gathered 'e in his ar's and carried 'e %ro' the $itchen( 'y pethedine2dulled brain realised +inn had not cried out once# +inn 0hen Coyle had %inally e7hausted hi'sel%( he si'ply wal$ed out o% the $itchen with a slurred( /, need a %uc$in) drin$ () and le%t 'e cru'pled on the %loor( still tied to the chair# ,t was a sign o% his inco'petence that , was still consciousE at that 'o'ent ,)d ha"e relished a %ew 'inutes) respite( or e"en better( per'anent brain da'age# As , lay there( , urged 'ysel% to hurt 'ore so that , could bloc$ out the sound o% -ilith)s screa' as Coyle had bro$en her# 0ith the one eye that would still open( , could see Henry)s collection o% hand2'ade ;apanese $itchen $ni"es on their 'agnetic strip ne7t to the sto"e and , cursed Coyle %or not releasing 'e be%ore he le%t# , rec$oned , had 8ust enough energy re'aining to draw one o% the' down 'y wrists# /+inn1) The glow o% a la'p cast a circle on the %loor by the doorway and , recognised 4octor Parnell)s reedy "oice# ,t sounded e"en 'ore insubstantial than usualD , supposed this scenario was a pretty high price to pay %or a %ew dodgy prescriptions and a couple o% bottles o% /lost) "aliu'# /-ady Alber'arle as$ed that , chec$ you o"er#) 3he began to cut away the duct tape with a pair o% surgical scissors and as 'y hands and %eet were released %ro' the chair %ra'e , realised that , wasn)t in a condition to stand unaided( ne"er 'ind cross the $itchen to grab a $ni%e# 0ith the doctor)s assistance , was 8ust about able to sit upright with 'y bac$ resting against a cupboard door# /This 'ust be hurting you#) 3he dabbed cotton wool soa$ed in antiseptic o"er the swollen s$in around 'y eye# /-ady Alber'arle insisted that , shouldn)t gi"e you any pain relie%# ,)' sorry#)

/How is she1) , %inally 'anaged to as$# Parnell loo$ed away( pretending to retrie"e so'ething %ro' her bag# /,)' not really 'eant to 'ention her#) /And you)re not really 'eant to $eep -ady Alber'arle)s pet whore supplied with a truc$load o% dodgy te'a<epa'( but , can)t recall that stopping you#) 3he winced# /3he)s not too badD both %ingers ha"e clean brea$s# 3he)s a little groggy %ro' the bu'p on the head and the pethedine( but that)s probably not a bad thing all things considered( is it1) /&o( all things considered() , concurred# /0hat , 'eant### 0here Coyle###) , couldn)t bring 'ysel% to say it# The assault wasn)t as serious as it loo$ed# ;ust so'e super%icial tearing( caused by a %ingernail 2) /;ust1) , tensed and the already terri%ied doctor %linched away %ro' 'e as , swung a hand out to send the contents o% her bag scattering o"er the $itchen %loor# /That)s not what , 'eant() she began as she scooped up plastic bottles %ro' the tiles# /, 8ust 'ean( it could ha"e been so 'uch worse i% we hadn)t arri"ed###) /+uc$ you#) , 'anaged to $ic$ the chair in at her# ,t 'issed( but the harsh clatter was satis%ying against the silence# Henry pic$ed up the chair and set it by the wall# /That)s enough( +inn lad() he soothed# The cowardly little shit had decided to stay out o% 'y sight until now# /,ngrid( perhaps you 'ight want to wait outside1) As the doctor grate%ully collected her bag and scuttled %ro' the roo'( , pulled 'ysel% upright and leaned against the sin$ %or support# /Henry( you %uc$ing bastard# 0hat did .laine o%%er you( huh1 3ta%% discount1) Henry)s eyes were already %ull o% tears# /, ha"e ne"er thought o% you li$e that#)

/5eah( , bet you ha"en)t#) /3he had Mother on the phone( +inn# 3he was telling 'e about the nice young 'an who was there to ta$e her out %or the day( %or pity)s sa$e6 He could ha"e $illed her there and then6) /, wish he had( you pathetic little shit# , wish he)d strangled the senile old hag as she stood there and %uc$ed her still2war'( pissing corpse whilst you were still on the line#) /5ou don)t 'ean that#) /*h yes , do#) , too$ a breath that %elt li$e , was inhaling %ire# /5ou could ha"e held out# 5ou could ha"e played stupid and denied it all( le%t .laine to ring around and 'aybe( 8ust 'aybe( thin$ that it was so'e %uc$ing huge coincidence that -ilith was in -ondon that night# , $now you can)t get away with shit li$e that %ore"er( but %or %uc$)s sa$e we could ha"e got -ilith o%% the island( instead o% letting Coyle###) /Please don)t say it() Henry pleaded# Tal$ing hurt %ar 'ore than ,)d e7pected( but , was hitting 'y stride now# /5ou $now what , thin$ happened( Henry old chap1 , rec$on she saw you shitting yoursel% the second she got bac$ to the island and read the whole %uc$ing story on your %ace be%ore you e"en had to open your 'outh#) /, thought , could do it( truly , did# 5ou and -ilith ha"e this ability to $eep your heads under the 'ost appalling pressure and , hoped so'e o% that courage had rubbed o%% on 'e( but .laine too$ one loo$ at 'e and , swear she 8ust $new#) /3o you told her e"erything#) /&o( not e"erything# .laine doesn)t $now where ;a$e is# He)s sa%e###) /.ut you told her what -ilith had done# -et her ta$e all that# Christ6) , had to stop spea$ing to cough( and 'y bro$en rib 'ade 'y chest %eel li$e it had been wired to a car battery# , clung on to the edge o% the sin$ and spat red %oa' onto the white ena'el#

/Please try to cal' down() Henry begged( and placed a hand on 'y shoulders# /This is part o% 'y punish'ent( you $now that( don)t you1 5ou and -ilith 'ean the world to 'e ? that)s why she ordered 'e to stay and watch# Knew that seeing the pair o% you hurt would be 'ore than , could stand#) /0hat( 'ore than being 'auled by Coyle *)Halloran( or gettin) hoo%ed around the $itchen( or ha"in) a couple o% %ingers snapped %or a laugh1 More than that( Henry1 That what you)re tryin) to tell 'e( little 'an1) /&o6) Henry wiped his eyes# /*h +inn( loo$ at what they did to you ? ,)' so( so sorry###) He pulled out a hand$erchie% and went to clean 'y %ace o% blood2stained drool# ,t was too 'uch# , grabbed his wrist be%ore he 'anaged to touch 'e# /0hat)s this( Henry1 +uc$in) %oreplay( huh1 This your big chance to 'a$e a 'o"e1 Tell you what( you 8ust wait a %ew days /til Coyle)s had his chance to play with 'e( because , tell you now( , won)t be in a state to run anywhere# 5ou can do what the hell you li$e to 'e( then# .ut %or now( you lay a %inger on 'e and , pro'ise you ,)ll do 'y best to brea$ your treacherous %uc$in) nec$#) Henry let his hand drop( de%eated# /, tried to warn you() he whispered# /All those wee$s ago# Told you not to get in"ol"ed###) ,t wasn)t the 'ost grace%ul punch ,)d e"er thrown( but it still bro$e Henry)s nose# , si'ply let the 'o'entu' carry us both to the %loor( where , rec$oned , 'ight get to throttle the 'an be%ore , passed out( especially as Henry didn)t see' particularly $een to %ight bac$# He was 8ust beginning to 'a$e so'e %airly interesting cho$ing noises when Coyle returned %ro' his pic$2'e2up and $ic$ed 'e o%% Henry( 'anaging to brea$ the second rib o% the 'orning# /;esus( you don)t learn too =uic$( do you ( %aggot1) He hauled 'e into a headloc$ to allow Henry to crawl away# /Co'e on( ti'e to go and see your new cage#) BBBBB Coyle)s buddies had prepared 'y roo' whilst he was dealing with 'e# My li%e)s possessions now consisted o% the py8a'a pants , was wearing( an

ancient sweatshirt( a stripped 'attress and a thin du"et# 0orst o% all( no oil la'p# The %ew things , had %oolishly thought o% as 'ine ? 8ust boo$s %or the 'ost part( and 'y precious s$etch o% .ran ? were nowhere to be seen# +uelling a bon%ire so'ewhere( no doubt# /5ou stupid little shit#) He threw 'e to the bac$ wall# /;esus( i% you thought you had a crap li%e be%ore this( you)re going to lo"e your world %ro' now on#) He crouched at 'y side# /Aight( ti'e %or the ground2rules# *ne() he began to count o%% on his %ingers( /and this)ll co'e as no surprise( no 'ore swanning around li$e lord o% the %uc$ing 'anorD you)re either in here or you)re wor$ing# Two ? you ha"e any ideas about 'eeting up with our resident artist and ,)ll hurt her in whiche"er way , %ancy( and three( ,)' in charge o% that nasty little habit o% yours# 5ou get two "isits a day( and , watch you swallow so you can)t stoc$pile and do anything stupid# ,% you)re a good boy , 'ight up your dose( but i% you $ic$ o%%( you $now , can gi"e you 8ust enough to $eep you screa'ing on the edge o% a rattle %or days# Are we clear( you shit2stabbin) piece o% %ilth1) /Per%ectly#) My 'outh now %elt as though it had been sto"ed in with a housebric$# /Good dog#) Coyle got to his %eet and placed the tip o% his boot on 'y latest bro$en rib and nudged his %oot %orwards# , cried out despite 'ysel%# /*h( and tal$in) o% useless 'ongrels( there)ll be one less in about( ooh( ten 'inutes) ti'e# A bit o% target practice( i% you get 'y dri%t1) He 'i'ed raising a shotgun and %iring at 'e# , got his dri%t# .ran was already as good as dead( and ,)d $illed her# /3ee you in a %ew hours %or your ne7t %i7( %aggot() Coyle called as he sla''ed the door# /As long as , don)t %orget( that is#) BBBBB , heard the 'u%%led report o% a shotgun being %ired at close range# A ter'inal( nu'bing e'ptiness %illed 'e as , lay down on the 'attress( shut 'y eyes against the approaching dar$ness( and began to go =uietly 'ad# -ilith

The %irst 'orning a%ter the con%lagration was the worst# 3leep hadn)t stopped the hurtE the night was %illed with pethedine drea's o% Coyle)s hard( 8abbing %ingers deep inside 'e( and the sound o% 'y %ingers snapping and Coyle)s boot sla''ing into +inn# , awo$e sha$ing with %ear and pain( and $new what , had to do i% , had any intention o% sur"i"ing# E"ery 'uscle screa'ed as , swung 'y legs o"er the side o% 'y bed# , tentati"ely placed 'y unbro$en hand between 'y legs and chec$ed 'y %ingers# The bleeding had stopped and , clung on to this s'all act o% healing as , dragged 'y trainers %ro' under 'y bed using 'y clenched toes# ,t was si7 thirty in the 'orning and , was still breathing# , was going %or 'y run# BBBBB /Aun) was a 'isno'er# A 'eagre three circuits o% the island too$ 'e the best part o% an hour( but in that ti'e , learned two i'portant thingsE , was considered su%%iciently ta'ed to be le%t alone( and , was still capable o% putting one %oot in %ront o% the other so , could do the only thing in the world that 'ight stop 'e going cra<y with longing %or +inn# &o 'atter how di%%icult , %ound it( , $new the only way o% $eeping hi' sa%e %or now was %or .laine to thin$ , had learned 'y lesson# A so%t dri<<le cloa$ed the roc$s as , began 'y %inal lap# , pushed da'p hair %ro' 'y eyes and touched the stitches in 'y headD a row o% tiny thorns# , cursed Coyle and wal$ed on into the grey dawn# Chapter Twenty Three +inn , $new it was Coyle long be%ore he appeared# E"en i% , hadn)t recognised the sound his custo'ary hea"y2%ooted swagger 'ade on the bare stone( , could ha"e guessed purely on the basis that he was the only soul ,)d seen since the beginning o% 'y con%ine'ent# , wasn)t sure how long it had beenD with no cloc$ to $eep 'easure o% the ti'e( and enough te'a<epa' in 'y syste' to dull 'y "ision to a

'onochro'e blur( it could ha"e been se"en days or se"enty# -ong enough %or 'y %ear o% the dar$ness to de"elop into a constant( low2le"el howl( and long enough %or the noise o% Coyle)s %oot%all ha"e 'e sla"ering li$e a Pa"lo"ian dog in anticipation o% 'y ne7t %i7 ? that 'uch , $new( at least# &ow the 'eagre light %ro' the la'p2lit corridor hurt 'y eyes as Coyle $ic$ed the door open and strutted in# He held a basin o% water( and had a ragged towel( a clean pair o% 8eans and a t2shirt that loo$ed "aguely %a'iliar draped o"er his le%t ar'# /3tand up( %ag#) He was bored( drun$ and belligerent# Always a winning co'bination# He clu'sily set the bowl down so that water and suds slopped o"er the sides( then threw the clothes at 'e# /Get yoursel% washed( then get those on# 5ou)re bac$ wor$ing tonight ? couple o% %ellas co'e all the way %ro' the @ 3 o% A loo$in) %or so'e hot twin$ action( you luc$y( luc$y bastard# Can)t ha"e you stin$ing li$e the shit you are now( can we1) , didn)t 'o"e# ,nitially it was si'ply because , couldn)t %ind the energy( but there was also so'ething satis%ying about Coyle)s irritation at 'y disobedience# /0hat the %uc$ you waiting %or1 Christ'as1) , decided to stay put# /5ou thin$ /cos ,)' not allowed to 'ar$ you( , can)t hurt you1) Coyle sub'erged the towel in the water# /.ecause ,)' telling you now( that)s a bloody stupid 'ista$e to 'a$e#) He brought the towel out and wrung it out tightly( sending %at drops o% water splattering across the stone %lags# /&ow( get the %uc$ up#) , watched hi' with detached curiosity( wondering when the tal$ing was going to stop# The answer was( pretty 'uch i''ediately# As ,)d hoped( the rolled2up towel s'ac$ed into 'y bro$en ribs with a %orce that $noc$ed the breath %ro' 'e# , welco'ed the %a'iliarity and waited %or the pain to register# /Get# The# +uc$# @p#) Each word on a separate i'pact# The wet towel was cudgel hard and Coyle was su%%iciently s$illed to ensure a good beating

without lea"ing so 'uch as a single bruise( but to 'y dis'ay , was a dispassionate obser"er( watching %ro' the %ar side o% the roo' as so'eone else got the crap beaten out o% hi' %or a change# , had lost the ability to %eel# My lac$ o% response in%uriated Coyle( and he began to brea$ sweat in his atte'pt to 'a$e 'e cry out# /0hat)s the %uc$in) 'atter with you1 5ou gone si'ple a%ter a %ew days in the dar$1) , giggled at hi'D a high( child)s laugh that , didn)t recognise as 'ine# *nce ,)d started( , couldn)t stop 'ysel%( e"en as Coyle rained harder and harder blows down on 'e# /5ou can)t hurt 'e() , gasped( the 'ost hilarious punchline in the world# Coyle %inally stopped# /,s that right1 3o( shall we ha"e a wee chat about -ilith and see i% that)s still the case1) The 'ere 'ention o% her na'e did what any nu'ber o% whac$s had %ailed to do# Coyle had 8ust 'anaged to rip 'y chest open and grab 'y heart# /Thought that would get your attention#) /, swear( i% you)"e touched her###) /5ou)ll what1 3lobber on 'y %eet1 -oo$ at the state o% you( you pathetic turd# Anyway( it)d be a bit %uc$in) tric$y to hurt her now( seein) as she %uc$ed o%% bac$ to 3pain three days ago#) The hand around 'y heart s=uee<ed tight# /&o#) /0hat1 5ou thin$ she was going to wait around %or the gi'p who)d got her %inger2%uc$ed on the $itchen %loor1 3he %inished her pretty picture and ran( %irst chance she got# 3traight into the lo"ing ar's o% that Gabriel %ella( according to The Herald# ,)ll bring it down to show you on 'y ne7t "isit ? a bit o% light reading to while away the hours( eh1) 0ith that news( e"erything ended# Coyle had won# , hurt harder than ,)d e"er hurt in 'y li%e# /3o now will you %uc$in) well stand up1)

, nu'bly staggered to 'y %eet( using the rough wall as support as 'y wasted leg buc$led under 'e# /&eed to get sorted# Clean# ,% ,)' wor$ing###) The words sounded thic$ and dead# Coyle casually lit a cigarette and o%%ered 'e one# /, don)t thin$ there)s anything le%t in your arse to wash out( is there1 Ha"en)t seen you eat anything %or the past %ew days#) /, need###) , repeated# /, really don)t gi"e a shite what you need# The nice gentle'en who)"e paid %or your ser"ices want you as you co'e( so to spea$# Probably want to scrub the shit out o% you the'sel"es#) He shrugged# /*r eat it# 0hate"er it is you dirty bunch o% bastards get up to#) He threw the towel bac$ into the basin# /&ow( do as you)re told and ,)ll e"en let you ha"e a couple o% "allies to ta$e the edge o%% be%ore your shi%t starts#) BBBBB The si'ple tas$ o% wal$ing to the dining roo' hal%2$illed 'e( e"en with Coyle beside 'e with one hand cla'ped around 'y ar'# -i$e , was capable o% running anywhere# /, read their letter() 'y attendant said# /;esus( you)re in %or so'e %un tonight# Al'ost worth abandoning 'y principles 8ust to catch a bit o% the action#) , didn)t respondD , was too busy trying to $eep one %oot 'o"ing in %ront o% the other# /Ah( here he is now#) .laine deli"ered her custo'ary opening line as the door swung open# 3he wal$ed o"er to welco'e 'e and Coyle patted 'e on the bac$( be%ore lea"ing 'e to get on with 'y 8ob# /4arling6) .laine greeted 'e with a gushing war'th that suggested ,)d been out %or the day( rather than loc$ed in her cellar# /Co'e and 'eet Chester#) The patio doors were %lung open onto an in$2blac$ night and the autu'n air raised goose%lesh on 'y bare ar's# , ai'ed %or the nearest chair and 'anaged to sha'ble to it without %alling %lat on 'y %ace( and stood with

both hands gripping the bac$ to ta$e a %irst blurred glance at 'y client# He was a 'an in a well2preser"ed( gy'2toned 'iddle age( and a study in understated wealth# E"en without Coyle)s tip2o%% , would ha"e placed hi' as a 5an$( with his sharply creased chinos and his per%ect( sculpted hair# He stood at well o"er si7 %eet( and the width o% his shoulders 'ade hi' appear taller still# /0ell( loo$ at you() he said in a "oice that was used to %illing a roo'# CE* o% so'ething or other( no doubt# His accent belonged to one o% those Anglophile northern statesD , %ound 'ysel% thin$ing that -ilith would ha"e $nown which one( right down to the guy)s <ip code and house nu'ber( and 8ust the 'erest thought o% her 'ade the pain surge through 'y narcotic barricade# /Chester He'ing%ord# Pleasure to 'eet you( +inn# Please( call 'e Chet#) Good ol) Chet grinned with his 'illion2dollar teeth and held out a 'assi"e paw o% a hand# His grip was so%t( but the %ir' pressure %ro' his %ingers told 'e that he was already chec$ing out his purchase# /0as , right1) .laine as$ed hi'# /*h hell( yeah() Chester laughed# /Got to ad'it( , was a little concerned when plans went awry( but yeah( you were one hundred percent correct( -ady Alber'arle#) /.laine( please#) /My apologies ? .laine# Ti'e to call the better hal% indoors( , thin$# 3ee i% the scenery in here i'presses hi' as 'uch as your garden does#) He strode to the open patio door( lea"ing a scent o% so'ething e7pensi"e in his wa$e# /Ellis1 5ou want to co'e in and 'eet our boy1) he called into the gloo'# /A'a<ing "iew you ha"e###) the so%t 0est Coast "oice dri%ted in 'o'ents be%ore , saw its owner# Ellis was nearer to both 'y age and build( slight but 'uscular in blac$ 8eans and shirt( to 'atch his dar$( close2cut hair# His A'erican heritage was represented by a sil"er and tur=uoise belt buc$le highlighting a sli' waist( and , had an i'age o% the two 'en wor$ing out side by side in a chro'e2plated gy'( gi"ing each other big( sweat2soa$ed

grins o% encourage'ent# , was 8ust i'agining a two2hundred pound barbell crushing Chester He'ing%ord)s windpipe when he ga"e a light cough# /Ellis 3i'onette( ,)d li$e you to 'eet +inn###) he began( but %altered as he realised .laine hadn)t supplied hi' with 'y surna'e# /3trachan() , 'anaged to recall# /3trachan() Chester echoed# Ellis) ac=uisiti"e eyes glittered as he caught his %irst sight o% 'e# /*h wow#) The sa'e response ,)d gi"en when , saw -ilith %or the %irst ti'e( but so "ery di%%erent in its 'eaning# /,sn)t he 8ust1) Chester said with pride( as i% he)d 8ust hunted 'e down and dragged 'e into the dining roo' hi'sel%# He turned to 'e# /5ou)ll 8oin us %or dinner1) *ne o% those =uestions that wasn)t a =uestion# /*% course he will() .laine replied %or 'e( and placed a steering hand on 'y shoulder( directing 'e to a seat# /,t)ll gi"e you boys so'e ti'e to get to $now each other#) BBBBB , 'anaged a couple o% glasses o% wine ? so'ething red( , thin$ ? that 'i7ed with e"erything else in 'y bloodstrea' to add to the ha<e( but all 'y %ood was returned to the $itchen in the sa'e state it arri"ed# /That)s one hell o% a diet you ha"e there() Chester co''ented as Henry ? with two %ading blac$ eyes that 'ade hi' loo$ e"en 'ore li$e a s'all( ner"ous owl ? cleared away 'y untouched stea$# /3uppose that)s what helps $eep that %igure( huh1) /3o'ething li$e#) /, thought Ellis was strict with all that 'acrobiotic nonsense( but you see' to be ta$ing it to a whole new le"el#) He gestured at his cleared plate with his %or$# /, don)t $now how you can resist this stu%%# 3o'e che% you ha"e( -ady### 3orry( .laine#)

Ellis patted his %lat sto'ach# /That)s -A %or you# A %at actor)s an une'ployed actor#) Their lo"ers) banter beca'e a hiss o% white noise# As long as , s'iled or nodded in the right place e"ery %ew 'inutes it satis%ied the' that , was part o% the con"ersation( and it le%t 'e %ree to conte'plate the rest o% 'y li%e without -ilith# -ilith , hadn)t realised how 'uch , had 'issed war'th# My entire body cra"ed it( as though that part o% 'e that was Algerian could only be recharged by the sun# , lay prone( letting 'y bones and s$in absorb the delicious heat( and shut 'y eyes# My eyes snapped open# , couldn)t let 'ysel% switch o%% li$e this# &ot yet# , e"en slept %ully clothed( with a chair pushed against 'y door and the largest car"ing $ni%e , could %ind under 'y pillow# , cla'bered aw$wardly %ro' the bath( still unable to ta$e any weight on 'y bro$en %ingers( already starting to shi"er as the %rigid autu'nal air crept under the bathroo' door and clung on to 'e li$e a wraith# E"en i% , ban$ed the %ire in 'y bedroo' until it roared( the cold had ta$en up per'anent residence at Alber'arle Hall# My trac$ pants and sweater were %olded neatly in the cornerD , wouldn)t ris$ stepping out o% the bathroo' until , was %ully dressed and ready %or any e"entuality# , hadn)t seen Coyle since our encounter in the $itchen nine days pre"iously and , was 'ore than happy to 'aintain the distance between us# , hadn)t had any real contact with anyone since that 'orning# .laine still %elt that , was still unworthy o% her presence( and Henry si'ply placed a beauti%ully arranged tray o% %ood outside 'y bedroo' or the studio and ran be%ore he had to 'a$e eye contact with 'e( lea"ing only sel%2loathing in his wa$e# And +inn### Pic$ing at the re'ains o% the stitches in 'y %orehead caused less disco'%ort than thin$ing o% hi'# E"erywhere , loo$ed( , saw hi'# E"en in his absence he %illed e"ery corner o% 'y shrun$en worldE when , ran ,

saw hi' in the gardensD he sat hunched and surly at the $itchen table i% , called there to 'a$e 'ysel% a co%%eeD he curled into the chair in 'y studio as , began to add the last details o% .laine)s portrait# And when , lay in bed , could still %eel his ar's holding 'e close# &o 'atter how 'uch , re'inded 'ysel% that 'y obeying the rules was the only thing that $ept hi' ali"e( it didn)t alter the %act that it had been nine long days since , had last seen +inn( and , 'issed hi' li$e a lost li'b# +inn , atte'pted to set 'y co%%ee cup down in one o% the two saucers that , could see in %ront o% 'e( and 'anaged to clip the real one so that the porcelain crac$ed and the spoon clattered to the %loor# /3hit# 3orry() , 'u'bled# They all 'ust ha"e $nown , was absolutely loaded( but whate"er the hell was going on( 'y ability to appear hu'an didn)t see' to be essential to 'y clients) needs# Chester continued to bea' at 'e li$e he)d 8ust pic$ed 'e up at his high school pri<e gi"ing( and Ellis hadn)t ta$en his eyes o%% 'e all nightD the na$ed greed in his e7pression told 'e loud and clear that he wasn)t going to settle %or a straight %uc$ and a $iss goodnight# ,t started with a si'ple /@'() %ro' Chester as he helped hi'sel% to a brandy# Ellis placed his 'ineral water down in the centre o% his place setting( and it was ob"ious that the pair o% the' were building up to so'e big procla'ation or other# /The detail we were discussing ? , ta$e it that it)s still o$ay1) Chester as$ed# /*% course() .laine graciously concurred# , rec$oned she was passing hersel% o%% as %irst cousin to the Hueen %or this one# 5an$s went %or that $ind o% shit# The big 'an didn)t see' entirely con"inced# /*nly it)s not the $ind o% thing 'ost guys)d go along with###) .laine too$ his hand across the table# /5es( but we)re hardly /'ost guys)

here( are we( Chester1) /0ell( no ti'e li$e the present( huh1) Chester pushed his chair bac$# /Ellis1 5ou want to get the gear1) This was the cue his partner had been waiting %or# He positi"ely sprang to his %eet to collect a blac$ 8ac$et %ro' the high2bac$ed chair by the %ire# He too$ so'ething %ro' the breast poc$et and returned to the table# /This will only ta$e a 'o'ent( +inn#) Chester ga"e 'e a $indly( al'ost a"uncular s'ile# /0hat will1) /0ell( Ellis and ,( we need you $inda### rela7ed tonight# 3o this is 8ust a little so'ething to 'a$e things a little easier %or you( really###) That was when , saw Ellis open the pac$ that held two a'poules and a syringe and( too late( , tried to bolt# /;esus no .laine %or %uc$)s sa$e no( please no###) , garbled as , sho"ed 'ysel% away %ro' the table# As i% , had anywhere le%t to run# .laine was at 'y side in a second( turning her bac$ on her guests so she could address 'e in pri"ate# Her %ingernails dug into 'y wrist# /5es( +inn# That)s the word you)re loo$ing %or#) Chester loo$ed on( concerned# /E"erything o$ay1) /,)' a%raid +inn is a little silly about needles() .laine e7plained# /,t won)t be a proble'( will it1) Chester as$ed( and the slightest %rown bro$e through the boto7 to crease Ellis) sy''etrical %ace# /&o( not at all() .laine reassured# /Although you 'ight want to $eep hi' still1) /*h# 3ure#) Chester ca'e to stand behind 'e# /0hy don)t we 8ust ta$e a seat here( +inn1) he ca8oled( and that certainly wasn)t a =uestion( because he pushed 'e bac$ into the chair and wrapped one great ar' around 'y chest and placed the other hand on 'y %orehead( pulling 'y head bac$ so

that it was trapped against his chest# /There() .laine said# /&ow( i% you gentle'en will e7cuse 'e( ,)ll thin$ ,)ll retire and lea"e you to en8oy the rest o% your e"ening#) /G)night( 'a)a'( and than$ you() Ellis called politely without loo$ing up %ro' his wor$# , watched hi' care%ully 'i7 distilled water with white powder be%ore drawing up the solution into the syringe# He dispassionately tapped the plastic to displace the air bubbles( and 8oined his lo"er at 'y side# 4read %illed e"ery %ibre o% 'e as Ellis patted the "ein in the croo$ o% 'y le%t ar' to raise it( and the 'ore , struggled the 'ore , could %eel their e7cite'ent rising# My %ear was a power%ul aphrodisiac# /3hh( there now( pretty thing( it)s %ine( e"erything)s going to be o$ay() Chester soothed( and increased his grip on 'y head and chest# /There)s a good boy ? 8ust a little scratch( and that)s the last you)ll $now about it#) As the needle pierced 'y s$in( , re'e'bered# Ae'e'bered where ,)d been the %irst ti'e this had happened( what had been done( why , had been terri%ied e"er since# Then as Ellis depressed the plunger( all o% it ceased to 'atter# My last lucid thought was that , 'ight 8ust get the e7it %ro' Alber'arle that , had so o%ten cra"ed( then the drug %inished its circuit around 'y o"erloaded syste' and , stopped being able to thin$ at all# .ere%t( de%eated and utterly e7hausted( , had reached the end o% a long( hard road# , stopped %ighting( and let 'ysel% %all# Chapter Twenty +our -ilith , sat in bed with the =uilt tuc$ed up to 'y chest and a blan$et draped o"er 'y shoulders and atte'pted to s$etch the 'ar$etplace in 3anta Marita %ro' 'e'ory# The early dar$ness 'eant that , couldn)t wor$ on .laine)s portrait 'uch a%ter %our o)cloc$ but , needed to $eep 'ysel% busy until , beca'e e7hausted enough to sleep# Adding a second run to the end o% 'y day helped a little( but 'y head still raced until the "ery 'o'ent sleep o"erca'e 'e#

, was 8ust considering a trip to the $itchen to war' so'e 'il$( car"ing $ni%e tuc$ed into the waistband o% 'y pants( when there was a distincti"e rap at the door# , pulled the chair away %ro' the door and prepared to %ace .laine %or the %irst ti'e since she)d politely re=uested that Coyle brea$ 'y %ingers# , too$ a deep breath( rested a tre'bling hand on the door handle( and prepared to gi"e 'y e'ployer a de'onstration o% the new( i'pro"ed -ilith# , opened the door( and there she was( dressed in crea' satin nightdress and dressing gown# /That really isn)t necessary( -ilith#) .laine glanced at the displaced chair# /5our beha"iour)s been e7e'plary since our last 'eeting# As long as it continues that way( you)"e absolutely nothing to worry about#) /Than$ you#) , 'anaged a good balance o% /subdued) and /sincere)# *nly two words( but so %ar( so good# May , co'e in1) , stepped aside# /0hat can , do %or you1) , could see her e7a'ining 'y %ace %or the %irst sign o% guile or 'oc$ery( but , $new she would %ind none# 3he perched daintily on the end o% 'y bed# /, %eel ,)"e been a little re'iss# , $now we)"e had our di%%erences lately( but i% ,)' honest ,)"e rather 'issed your co'pany#) , $ept =uiet# , was trying to pro"e that ,)d learned 'y lesson( but echoing that senti'ent would be pushing it# /Anyway( ,)"e %ound 'ysel% with a %ree e"ening( so , wondered i% you)d care to 8oin 'e %or a drin$1 ,n%or'al ? no need to get changed#) , paused long enough to suggest , was actually thin$ing about it properly( but not long enough to loo$ li$e , was %or'ulating a re%usal# /That would be### nice() /0onder%ul# *h( and don)t %orget your inhaler() .laine ad"ised as , wrapped 'y dressing gown around 'y shoulders#

BBBBB .laine pushed the door o% the "iewing cha'ber open and ushered 'e in# , shut 'y eyes in readiness %or whate"er horror awaited on the other side o% the glass# &othing# The roo' beyond was in dar$ness# *nly the cha'ber was lit( and a bottle o% Pouilly +uissG and two glasses stood waiting %or us# /,t)s been a while since ,)"e opened a bottle o% this#) .laine handed 'e a glass# /, thought , should ser"e your %a"ourite ? a s'all /welco'e bac$) present#) , too$ a sip o% a wine , used to adore and $new , would ne"er be able to sto'ach a single drop o% the stu%% %or the rest o% 'y li%e# 0e sat( she on the chaise longue and , on a ban$ o% cushions at her %eet li$e an obedient lapdog( and , thought that this 'ight be all that was re=uired o% 'e# .ut .laine was nothing i% not thorough# As %ar as she was concerned( , still had a %inal lesson to learn# /Here we are#) The door to the roo' be%ore us silently opened# /My latest guestsE Chester He'ing%ord and Ellis 3i'onette# Chester)s the elder o% the two() she e7plained( as i% , 'y en8oy'ent 'ight be ha'pered by not $nowing e"ery detail# A tall( thic$2set 'an held the door open so that his shorter( younger co'panion could step inside# He had his ar' %ir'ly around the waist o% a third 'an whose %ace was 'as$ed in shadows# ,n the days since , had last seen hi'( +inn had lost at least a stone# A pair o% beltless 8eans hung o%% his hips( re"ealing the sharp />) o% his pubis( and his collar bones 8utted through the thin %abric o% the t2shirt , had bought hi' in -ondon# He had been drugged to obli"ion with so'ething that had rendered hi' unable to stand unaided( and his le%t leg buc$led under hi' with each step# His eyes were dull and unblin$ing( as though a part o% hi' was already dead# 3o'ething was terribly wrong# /0hat ha"e they gi"en hi'1) , 'anaged to as$#

/,)' not entirely sure# Ellis in8ected hi' with so'e sedati"e or other#) /*h no( .laine( he)s so scared o% needles 2) /That)s all part o% the e7perience( i% you recall#) Ellis hal%2carried +inn to the edge o% the bed and sat hi' down( then paused to $iss his partner be%ore disappearing into the bathroo'# 0hen he re2e'erged( he was carrying a s'all bowl o% stea'ing water and a handtowel# Chester opened out a roll o% %abric onto the bed( be%ore re"erentially pic$ing up a cutthroat ra<or# As Ellis cradled +inn)s lolling head( Chester began to sha"e hi' with a barber)s s$ill( co"ering his stubbled %ace with %oa' be%ore re'o"ing it with long de%t stro$es# *nce e"ery trace o% sha"ing %oa' had been wiped away( Ellis pulled the t2 shirt o"er +inn)s head and yan$ed the 8eans down o"er his s$eletal hips without needing to un%asten the'# Then( with the sa'e 'eticulous care( Chester used the ra<or to re'o"e e"ery last trace o% hair %ro' +inn)s e'aciated body# +inally( Ellis handed o"er a s'all pot o% hair gel# Chester used the contents to slic$ their toy)s hair away %ro' his gaunt %ace and stepped bac$ to ad'ire his handiwor$# +inn could ha"e passed %or %i%teen again( and that was when , $new who these 'en were and what they wanted# /*h please( no() , whispered# /A little slower than usual( -ilith() .laine obser"ed# /,)d e7pected you to wor$ it out the 'o'ent you saw the'#) /Please don)t 'a$e 'e watch this#) This ti'e the hu'ility in 'y "oice was entirely genuine# Aoyce Gar"ey had scared 'e( but these two 'en were in an entirely di%%erent league# Aoyce had been a drun$en a'ateurD these 'en were sober( pro%essional sadists# .laine stro$ed 'y hair 'aternally# /,t)s %or your own good( darling# 5ou need to understand that you can)t stop this# There)ll always be a de'and( and , will always be able to %ind so'eone to cater %or whate"er re=uest , recei"e#

,% you)d 8ust let things be( this could ha"e been so'e anony'ous little 8u"enile delin=uent( hundreds o% 'iles away( instead o% the 'an you appear to lo"e# That)s why , need you to watch#) As regret%ul as she sounded( there was no doubt that this was how it had to be# , sat obediently and obser"ed as( ha"ing created their per%ect boy( the two 'en proceeded to destroy hi'# BBBBB As Ellis slu'ped in a chair and watched( an erection already ob"ious through his blac$ 8eans( Chester sat ne7t to +inn and cupped that %ragile( beauti%ul %ace in his hands( turning his head so that it was in pro%ile and $issing hi' hard( grabbing at his hair and %orcing his tongue through unwilling lips# As i% in slow 'otion( +inn began to respond and returned the $iss with auto'atic( desperate passion# .laine turned to 'e# /-oo$ at that# He)s "irtually co'atose( but he still $nows all the 'o"es# ,)"e ne"er $nown such a pro%essional little slut#) , %linched at the words and she laughed# /*h -ilith( are you still playing the 3al"ationist1 0atch hi' at wor$ and tell 'e ? what else was he going to do1 ,t)s not as though , abducted hi' %ro' the corridors o% 4ublin @ni"ersity( or stopped hi' %ro' 'a$ing the %inal brea$through in the %ight against cancer# He was a whore when , 'et hi'# A highly acco'plished one( ,)ll grant you( but a whore nonetheless# All , did was pro"ide hi' with a better territory#) Chester %inally bro$e away %ro' the $iss and began to undress( care%ully re'o"ing and %olding each gar'ent# Ellis got an opportunity to play now( and as he stepped into the pool o% light by the bed( , saw the cruelty in his designer s'ile# He casually drew his right ar' bac$ and hit +inn hard across the %ace with the bac$ o% his hand and the 'an who had once happily %ought three o% Coyle)s thugs at the sa'e ti'e collapsed bac$ onto the bed( the %irst blood o% the night lea$ing %ro' the corner o% his 'outh in a thin tric$le# He didn)t e"en raise a hand to wipe it away# .laine wore an e7pression that suggested e=ual parts arousal and triu'ph# 3he clearly %ound 'y disgust a'using# /,t)s ti'e you %aced an unpleasant truth( -ilith# , don)t thin$ you can deny that there)s so'ething in this

scenario that %ul%ils +inn in a way you ne"er will#) 3he returned to running her %ingers through 'y hair# /5ou 'ight 8ust be trying to rescue so'eone who really doesn)t want to be sa"ed#) Ellis wrapped his hands around +inn)s nec$( thu'bs resting on his windpipe( and began to s=uee<eD so%tly at %irst( al'ost a caress# As the grip tightened +inn)s %irst instinct was to reach out and rest his %ingers on Ellis) chee$ in hopeless entreaty# E"en through the silencing glass( , could understand the 'outhed /&o)# /.laine( they)re going to $ill hi'() , whispered# /4on)t be ridiculous# ,t)s 8ust air play() .laine corrected 'e# /,% you depri"e a 'an o% o7ygen %or long enough( then restore the supply( it produces a %ar 'ore i'pressi"e erection# Although in +inn)s case any erection at all would be i'pressi"e#) As , watched( i'potent and sic$ened behind our barrier( Chester grinned in delight and stro$ed his hard2on( and +inn began to con"ulse# His bac$ arched and his hands thrashed against the sheets( %lailing uselessly as Ellis continued to cho$e hi'# The second the hold was released the sei<ure stopped and +inn)s chest hea"ed( but this was the only 'o"e'ent he 'ade( 'uch to his tor'entor)s annoyance# Ellis had e7pected so'e sign o% arousal( but +inn wasn)t e"en capable o% consciousness now# /*h co'e on( +inn() .laine hissed# /Gi"e the' so'ething( %or hea"en)s sa$e#) ,% she was concerned that her latest custo'ers 'ight as$ %or a re%und( she needn)t ha"e worried# 4espite Ellis) initial irritation at +inn)s inconsiderate lapse( they were both 'ore than happy to continue playing# As Ellis began to unbutton his shirt( Chester hauled +inn o"er so that he was now lying %ace2down on the =uilt( then returned to the discreet leather holdall that held their toys# He e7tracted a tiny brown glass bottle ? a'yl( , guessed ? and an unopened tube o% lubricant# He threw the lube to Ellis but $ept the bottle %or hi'sel%# Chester unscrewed the bottle( li%ted it to his nose and inhaled deeply( be%ore holding it %or Ellis so that he could do the sa'e# +inally he 'as$ed +inn)s nose and 'outh with his cupped hands so that he had no choice but

to breathe in the %u'es as Ellis s=uee<ed a gobbet o% lube onto the bac$ o% his right hand and s'eared it across his %ingers so that they glea'ed in the candlelight# , loo$ed away( but .laine caught hold o% 'y chin and turned 'y %ace bac$ towards the window# /Conse=uences( -ilith#) +inn)s %ace contorted in agony as a clenched hand was sho"ed deep into hi'( and when Ellis pulled his %ingers away blood and shit glistened across his $nuc$les# He 'ust ha"e dee'ed hi' ready( because without any %urther cere'ony he began to %uc$ +inn with lethal sa"agery# +ro' there on in( the two 'en si'ply too$ it in turns to rip their prey apart as .laine and , loo$ed on# 3he cal'ly sipped her wine( alternating her appro"ing ga<e between the assault and 'y reaction to it# Chester was the %irst to roll away %ro' +inn)s battered body( spent and happy( as Ellis brought hi'sel% to one last hea"ing cli'a7 abo"e their plaything)s bowed and insensible head# He grinned with obscene 8oy as he ca'e( lea"ing "iscous strings o% se'en to drip o"er +inn)s hair and shoulders# 0hen it was all o"er( Chester and Ellis lay bac$ on the opulent bed with its ban$ o% cushions and pillows and opened a bottle o% cha'pagne( giggling as bubbles cascaded %ro' the bottle and o"er their na$ed thighs and %laccid coc$s# , watched in silence as they e'braced and raised their glasses to each other( congratulating the'sel"es on li"ing out their sordid %antasy# They le%t +inn slu'ped across the %oot o% the bedD he had %ul%illed his use# His head was tilted bac$ and turned towards the two2way 'irror( and his gla<ed eyes were open( the le%t one stained cri'son %ro' a burst blood "essel( staring straight at 'e in blan$ despair# His ar's were outstretched as i% in supplication and his %ingers twitched against the sheets# , was watching a 'an shutting down( and , was terri%ied# ,t wasn)t 8ust the drugs( or the "iolence he)d enduredD there was so'ething %ar worse pulling +inn away# , turned to .laine# /-et 'e ta$e hi' with 'e tonight# Please#) 3he ga"e 'e an indulgent s'ile# /My( you do li$e hi' e'asculated( don)t

you1 , can)t see hi' being o% 'uch use#) /He can)t stay there# &ot li$e that#) /And what would , get in return1) This is what it ca'e down to# .laine had no %urther need %or +inn( but she $new that , did# 0e needed to arri"e at a price# /0hat do you want1) /A $iss1) she suggested( because this was only e"er going to be a to$en( proo% that , could %inally be bought# 3o , %aced the wo'an who had recently ordered that 'y %ingers be snapped li$e twigs and , $issed her as though she were 'y %irst lo"e# /Than$ you() she s'iled( and , $new , was dis'issed# BBBBB , $noc$ed so%tly on the door o% the guest roo' and stepped in with a tray balanced on 'y pal'# Chester sat up( a loo$ o% delight on his %ace# /My God6 Ellis( it)s -ilith .resson6) A Maine accent# >er'ont# He pulled the =uilt o"er his na$ed torso in a belated atte'pt to co"er his 'odesty# /Ellis and , are such %ans() he e7plained( and Ellis ga"e 'e a casual wa"e %ro' his side o% the bed# /0hat the hell are you doing at Alber'arle Hall1 Are you a guest1) , sat the tray( carrying two glasses( down on the bedside table# /,)'### on a $ind o% sabbatical#) /, suppose this is the ideal place %or you() Chester said# /3o'e wonder%ul erotic inspiration#) , %orced 'ysel% not to glance at +inn# /, thought you both 'ight want a brandy whilst , ran you a bath#) /All this %un and -ilith .resson on roo' ser"ice# Aren)t we luc$y1) Ellis %inally spo$e# Cali%ornia "ia -ouisiana# He ga"e a $nowing win$ that suggested 'y li%elong goal had been to play cha'ber'aid to a couple o% predatory

paedophiles# , %orced 'ysel% to s'ile# /,% you don)t 'ind( ,)ll ta$e +inn with 'e when , lea"e# , don)t thin$ this bed)s =uite big enough %or three( is it1) /0e 'anaged() Chester grinned# /,)' sure you did( but i% you ha"e any intention o% getting under the co"ers a%ter your bath( it 'ight be a good idea %or 'e to 'o"e hi' bac$ to his own roo'( don)t you thin$1) Ellis ga"e +inn a cursory glance# /5ou want us to clean hi' up %irst1 0e were $inda energetic with the $id###) /0e)ll be %ine# Goodness( he)s out %or the count() , said brightly( sounding alar'ingly li$e a nanny ,)d had when , was three# /0hat on earth did you gi"e hi'1) /-ora<epa'() Chester replied# /0e)re luc$y to ha"e a %riendly M4# 3ee's to ha"e ta$en hi' a little deeper than e7pected( but , rec$on he)ll be %ine a%ter a good night)s sleep#) /,)' sure he will() , said# BBBBB *nce , was satis%ied that bathti'e was well underway( , chec$ed that the bathroo' door was %ir'ly shut( then $nelt at the %oot o% the bed# /+inn1) , whispered# /+inn( sweetheart( it)s -ili# Co'e on( wa$e up and tal$ to 'e#) He raised his head to ga<e at 'e with eyes that were the 'uted grey o% a stor'2hit sea# /-ili)s gone#) He slu'ped bac$ onto the bed# &ow , $new# As %ar as +inn was aware( , was no longer there and there was nothing le%t %or hi' to do but surrender# , too$ his cold hand in 'ine# /Please $eep 'o"ing( +inn# Co'e on( let)s go#) /&eed to sleep#)

/&o# &ot here# &ot with the'#) , wrapped 'y ar's around his shoulders and hauled hi' upright# He 'ay ha"e loo$ed s$eletal( but he was a dead weight# Mu%%led laughter %ro' the bathroo' spurred 'e on# /-et)s get you out o% here( and you can sleep in 'y bed# 5ou)ll be sa%e there( , pro'ise() which was the biggest lie ,)d e"er told( but at least +inn)s eyes opened again# He stared at 'e as though , had 8ust landed %ro' another planet as , grabbed a bathrobe %ro' the dresser and draped it o"er his shoulders# , had to pull his hands through the slee"es one at a ti'e( but although it cost precious 'inutes , was deter'ined to a%%ord hi' so'e dignity in the short 8ourney to 'y roo'# BBBBB , was glad ,)d stepped up 'y wor$outs( because it too$ a strength , hadn)t $nown , possessed to drag that 'an down the corridor and onto 'y bed# +inn stan$ li$e so'ething already deadD the cloying 'us$ o% stale se7( sweat( and tainted breath co'bined to cling to his e7hausted %ra'e# His %ace was deathly pale( sa"e %or an angry a'yl rash that was beginning to scab around his nose and 'outh# More than anything( , wanted hi' clean# , would ha"e i''ersed hi' in cool water to $ill his %e"er and wash away the %ilth( but instead , had to settle %or a crystal %ruit bowl %illed %ro' 'y bathroo' and a pile o% towels# ,n the pale glow o% the oil la'p , began 'y tas$# , bathed away e"ery trace o% shit and blood and se'en %ro' his %ace( his bac$( his thighs# *nly days ago we had shared this bed and ris$ed e"erything( and now it was as i% , were preparing his corpse %or burial# 0hen , had %inished( , hea"ed hi' o"er onto his side( settled into the chair ne7t to the bed and waited# The crisis ca'e at %our o)cloc$ in the 'orning# As , watched( what little colour he had le%t in his 'oon2pale %ace drained away( lea"ing hi' with a wa7en death 'as$# He ga"e a succession o% cho$ing grunts and( still unconscious( threw up across the pillow# , thought bac$ to how Ellis and Chester had le%t hi'D on his bac$ with his head lolling o"er the edge o% the bed( and $new this would ha"e been the 'o'ent o% his death# ;ust another 8un$ie cho$ing on his own "o'it#

+inn didn)t stir as , pulled the sodden bedding %ro' under his head# , used a da'p %lannel to wipe his 'outh clear( replaced the pillow( and continued 'y "igil# , was al'ost glad that , couldn)t lea"e hi'E , was capable o% doing real har' to the two sic$ bastards who were now no doubt sleeping peace%ully 8ust yards away# ,nstead , sat bac$ and watched +inn as he slept( as i% , could $eep his chest rising and %alling si'ply by watching it# Chapter Twenty +i"e +inn The %irst surprise o% the day was that , could open 'y eyes at all( gi"en 'y plans to be dead at this point# There was so'ething particularly %itting about the %act that , had e"en 'anaged to screw that up# As consciousness began to thaw the nu'bness in 'y li'bs( , disco"ered that , had the 'other and %ather o% all headachesD 'y te'ples throbbed in ti'e to 'y heartbeat and as , %orced 'y eyelids to open another 'illi'etre , saw a changed world di%%used with a sic$( green light# , had %uc$ all idea as to where , was ? ,)d ha"e been struggling to say who , was right at that 'o'ent ? but a ha<e o% terror s'othered 'e as a dis8ointed 'e'ory o% 'en)s "oices and hands shi''ered at the bac$ o% 'y %ebrile s$ull# The only thing in the entire world that , $new %or certain was that , wasn)t sa%e and , atte'pted to push 'ysel% up %ro' the bed# As , sat up , pu$ed# , had a bi<arre "ision o% -ilith standing there with so'e %ancy glass bowl( which was ridiculous( because she was gone %ro' 'y li%e( and then , had the thought that 'aybe , was dead a%ter all and Coyle 'ust ha"e 'urdered her and she was dead as well# The tric$y bit was %iguring out where we were because , couldn)t i'agine anyone( God included( daring to send -ilith .resson to hell# Then , had to stop thin$ing in order to pu$e again# /Good 'orning() -ilith said# /5ou)re not 'eant to be here#) My throat %elt as though it had been sandblasted#

/Apparently not#) 3he placed a cool da'p %lannel o"er 'y %orehead# /+uc$ing hell( , can)t lea"e you alone %or %i"e 'inutes( can ,( 3trachan1) , %inally let 'ysel% ac$nowledge that this was real# -ilith was here and , was in her bed( and , had belie"ed Coyle and let 'ysel% be ta$en when there was still a need to %ight# Any 8oy , had %elt at her presence was s'othered in a wa"e o% white2hot guilt# /,)' sorry() , began( but another wa"e o% hollow retching cut short 'y apology# -ilith handed 'e glass o% water( but 'y hands were sha$ing so 'uch that , couldn)t ta$e a drin$ without spilling hal% the contents across the sheets# 3he too$ the glass %ro' 'e and held it to 'y 'outh with one hand and supported the bac$ o% 'y head with the other# /3teady ? 8ust ta$e a couple o% sips %or now#) /.ad1) , dared as$( and she nodded# , shi%ted to loo$ at her properly( and winced# /+uc$( , hurt# Must)"e been hardcore#) /,t was#) The realisation 'ade 'e want to throw up again# /3he 'ade you watch#) -ilith nodded# /Part o% 'y re2education# And the %inal part( belie"e 'e#) /*h God( -ili( ,)' so sorry#) That useless( e'pty word again( %or e"erything , had let happen to her# /, can)t stay here###) , 'ade to get out o% bed again( but the world shi''ered and shi%ted around 'e and , had to swallow a 'outh%ul o% bile# , wondered when 'y sto'ach was going to catch on that there was nothing le%t to bring up# , shut 'y eyes and %orced e"erything bac$ behind a wall that was harder to 'aintain with e"ery second , re'ained in this roo'# , didn)t dare spea$ or 'o"e or e"en breathe %or %ear o% e"erything cru'bling away and lea"ing 'e entirely destroyed# , couldn)t show her that( %or both our sa$es# The $noc$ at the door threatened to tip the balance( e"en though , $new Coyle wouldn)t see the need %or such 'anners#

/,t)s .laine() -ilith said# /,t)s %ine( +inn# ,)"e been e7pecting thisD it)s part o% it# ,t)s what she does( re'e'ber1 3he wants to gloat#) 3he tied her hair bac$ %ro' her %ace and strode to the door# -ilith /Good 'orning( -ilith#) .laine stepped into 'y roo'( dressed %or a day at the o%%ice# 3he appraised 'e( still in 'y py8a'as with 'y hair 'essily scraped bac$ %ro' 'y %ace and s'iled# /Good 'orning#) 3he wouldn)t ha"e been able to resist a trip to "iew the da'age( and part o% 'e was surprised that she)d stayed away %or this long# 3he would want to ga<e upon the wrec$age o% her own 'a$ing( and prolong the pleasure %or as long as possible# , was ready %or it( but , %eared %or +inn# /5ou loo$ e7hausted() she said# /,t)s been a long night#) 3he al'ost loo$ed 'aternal# /5ou should rest today# *ur agree'ent still stands and you see' to be re'ar$ably ahead o% schedule ? ,)' sure you can spare yoursel% a %ew hours to recharge#) ,t was as i% +inn was in"isible# /, wasn)t aware there was a schedule( other than co'pleting the co''ission#) /Ah#) 3he too$ the chair , had used %or 'y "igil and turned it so she was %acing 'e# /,)' so sorryD , thought ,)d 'entioned it# My birthday ? it)s in a little less than %our wee$sD the tenth o% 4ece'ber# , usually ha"e a s'all gathering( 8ust 'y closest %riends( nothing too %or'al# , thought that 'ight be a %antastic opportunity %or the great un"eiling# 0hat do you thin$1) /,t sounds ideal#) The "ery 'o'ent , spo$e( an e'bryonic light glinted in the %urthest recesses o% 'y 'ind# , didn)t dare ac$nowledge its presence %or %ear that , 'ight e7tinguish it( or that .laine 'ight read the scrap o% hope in 'y %eatures# , pro'ised 'ysel% that , would re"isit it the 'o'ent , got the opportunity( and returned to the business in handE getting .laine where ,

wanted her# /There are a %ew %inishing touches( but nothing that)ll ta$e 'ore than a %ew days#) /E7cellent# 0ell( ,)ll lea"e you to your day o%%#) 3he placed the chair tidily by the bedside( still without so 'uch as glancing at +inn# , still had no real idea what , was going to do( but , needed to buy ti'eD 'a$e 'y %irst 'o"e# /.laine1) /5es1) /4o you thin$ we could tal$ later1 Please1 ,n pri"ate( , 'ean#) , was rewarded with the hint o% a s'ile that suggested she $new she)d %inally worn 'e down# Gracious in "ictory( she nodded# /,)ll be %ree at ele"en# 5ou can co'e to 'y study#) /Than$ you#) , %orced as 'uch hu'ility and gratitude as , possibly could into the words# , thought .laine was about to lea"e( but at the last second she turned to +inn# /5ou should be grate%ul to -ilith %or ta$ing the ti'e to loo$ a%ter you( darling#) /, a'#) /Good# And than$ you %or last night)s entertain'ent# 5ou were "ery### "ersatile( is perhaps the best word# Chester and Ellis were delighted with your per%or'ance# They as$ed that , ga"e you their gratitude( and let you $now that they)re hoping to spend so'e 'ore ti'e with you in the spring#) .laine reached inside her 8ac$et# /, thought you 'ight li$e a re'inder o% your talents#) 3he dealt three photographs o% the pre"ious night)s sa"agery neatly on the du"et# /5ou)"e always been the 'ost photogenic o% 'y sta%%#) +inn pic$ed the' up and e"erything %ell apart# 0ith a desolate howl( he di"ed %ro' the bed( retching and wild2eyed( heading %or the bathroo'# He cru'pled on the %loor be%ore he got hal%way there#

.laine obser"ed +inn)s reaction with that sa'e sel%2satis%ied s'ile she had worn the night be%ore( as i% the uni"erse e7isted si'ply to pro"ide her with an endless pri"ate 8o$e# /En8oy your 'orning() she said to 'e( once she)d had her %ill# /,)ll see you at ele"en#) A %inal appro"ing glance( and she was gone# , dragged the du"et %ro' the bed and wrapped it around +inn# He still held the photographs so tightly that his $nuc$les blanched# /Gi"e the' to 'e( sweetheart() , prised the pictures %ro' his grip and threw the' onto the %ire# They %lared brie%ly( then burned away to nothing# /Get away %ro' 'e# ,)' disgusting() +inn did his best to push 'e bac$( but , caught his wrists# /And when Coyle stuc$ his %ilthy %ingers inside 'e( did that 'a$e 'e disgusting1) /&o6) /3o loo$ at 'e#) He ga"e one last atte'pt to escape 'y grip( but there was barely any %ight le%t in hi'# /-oo$ at 'e#) His eyes %inally 'et 'ine# /0hat happened was disgusting# 0hat they didD what they 'ade you do# .ut that wasn)t you( do you hear 'e1 3tay with 'e( +inn#) /, thought you were gone( -ili# , thought you were gone( so , let the'#) /&o you didn)t# 5ou 8ust had nowhere le%t to run( and that)s not consent( +inn# ,t)s nowhere near#) , pulled hi' close# , could %eel e"ery rib as his chest began to hea"e# The %irst sob ca'e %ro' so deep inside that it bent hi' double in 'y ar's( then a li%eti'e o% grie% spilled to the sur%ace# There was nothing +inn could do but cry as it consu'ed hi'( and there was nothing , could do but hold hi' close until it ended# , had no 'ore words( so , sat on the cold %loorboards and e'braced the thing that , had once %eared 'ost in the whole worldE the chaos and %ragility o% a li%e cast so %ar adri%t that there didn)t see' to be any way to rescue it#

+inn , needed to stop# , was 'a$ing a tit o% 'ysel% o"er nothing at all# , needed to go and hide until ,)d sorted 'y head out( so , could tell -ilith that it really didn)t 'atter( but , couldn)t %or' real wordsD , needed to do a lot o% things( and none o% the' appeared to be possible right now# , had ne"er cried( as %ar as , could re'e'ber# &ot once# There was a certain 'asochistic pride to be had in that# 3ure( , had yelled out o%ten enough( but this shit with the tears and the snot and the scrabbling %or breath was entirely new to 'e( and , didn)t $now what the hell to do# All , $new was that , couldn)t stop the noise %or the li%e o% 'e( and that -ilith was the only thing anchoring 'e to what re'ained o% 'y sanity# All that ti'e( she wordlessly held 'e and let 'e howl# , cried %or 'e( %or the da'age that had been done to her( e"en %or 'y bloody dog( and by the ti'e the worst o% it had co'e to an end( , wasn)t e"en 'a$ing proper soundsD instead a strange( high rattle replaced 'y "oice( and 'y bro$en chest ached as , suc$ed in air with a series o% ridiculous( hiccoughing sobs# E"entually , %ound enough air to 'ur'ur( /M)o$ay#) /5ou)re not o$ay( +inn# ,n %act( ,)d say you were about as %ar %ro' /o$ay) as a hu'an being could get right now( short o% being dead#) , atte'pted a s'ile that probably loo$ed 'ore li$e a gargoyle)s gri'ace# /0as ai'ing %or that# The /dead) thing#) /, guessed# And you)ll ne"er $now how grate%ul , a' that you %ailed#) /Ma$es one o% us# 0hat the %uc$ do , do now1) /0hat we)re going to do now is deal with this# *ne step at a ti'e# 3tarting with getting you cleaned up#) /0e)( , 'outhed( and 8ust that word threatened to set 'e o%% again# /5ou can)t( -ili# Too ris$y# 5ou)"e got to stay away###) /0e tried that one( re'e'ber1 0e both 8ust spent the last ten days obeying the rules to the "ery last letter( and , don)t thin$ this can be called a

success%ul outco'e by anyone)s standards#) 3he sat bac$ on her heels# /Anyway( today)s co"ered# All , need to do is to %igure out what the hell we do about the rest o% our li"es( and we)re sorted#) /That)s all right then#) , glanced up at her# /0hat do you 'ean( /co"ered)1) /, need to run your bath# ,)ll tell you later() -ilith said( and , decided , was better o%% li"ing in ignorance# BBBBB ;ust ten 'inutes later , was sub'erged to 'y nec$ in water that had turned sea2green %ro' the contents o% a s'all bottle that -ilith had swirled under the running taps# /How are you doing1) 3he sat cross2legged on the %loor ne7t to the bath( in case , showed any signs o% slipping under and ne"er co'ing bac$ up# /.it better#) ,t was the truth# The war'th o% the sweet2s'elling( dar$ water had begun to seep into 'e and wash away so'e o% the taint# /+ighting the urge to reach %or the scouring pad( but better#) /4o you want 'e to do that1 &ot with the scouring pad( ob"iously#) /Please() , began( then had to shut 'y eyes tight against acting li$e a dic$head again# /5ou)re the %irst person in this whole %uc$ing place who)s e"er as$ed per'ission to touch 'e( you $now that1) -ilith ,n the tran=uillity o% our te'porary ha"en , began to wash hi'# +inn ac=uiesced to 'y touch with such trust that , ached %or hi'( and , had ne"er underta$en a tas$ with such sel%2conscious care# This was the body that , had spent 'onths co'ing to $now in a detail , could ne"er ha"e i'aginedD the days when , could gain distance by thin$ing o% hi' as an anato'ist)s 'odel were long dead# /*h# , re'e'bered() +inn suddenly %rowned#

/Ae'e'bered what1) /0hy ,)' scared o% %uc$in) needles# All those years and it %inally ca'e bac$#) His le%t hand rested on the ri' o% the bath# , curled the tips o% 'y %ingers around his and waited# /,t was this %ella# My 'a)s shag# The one### that Christ'as# , told you1) , nodded# The one who had raped a boy whilst his 'other slept drun$ and obli"ious in the ne7t roo'# /;i''y2.oy 4ean# 9;us) li$e the %ec$in) actor(: he would say# Aec$on ,)d ha"e been thirteen or so# Ma actually had so'e shitty wee$end 8ob %or once( an o%%ice cleaner( so ;i''y said he)d loo$ a%ter 'e one 3unday a%ternoon# Too$ 'e down the arcades( ga"e 'e a hand%ul o% shrapnel %or the 'achines and slipped 'e a couple o% hal"es o% lager on the sly# 3aid it was /cos it was his birthday# , won a couple o% punt ? thought , was the dog)s bolloc$s#) +inn paused to coughD a wet( rattling hac$ that didn)t =uite 'anage to lea"e his chest# /End o% the a%ternoon( we didn)t go ho'e# .astard wal$ed 'e %or 'iles to so'e old wrec$ o% a house( all boarded up( blac$ walls %ro' the da'p# +ilthy 'attress( a bust2up so%a( and hal% a do<en o% his 'ates waitin) there li$e all their birthdays had co'e at once# , guessed %uc$in) sharpish why they were there so , tried to leg it# &e"er e"en got to the door# *ne o% /e' had this syringe ready and ;i''y held 'e down whilst the bastard whac$ed it into 'y ar'( and that was it# &e7t thing , $new , was wandering bac$ ho'e( away with the %airies ? newspaper hoardings gi"ing Tuesday)s news and the blood still drippin) down the leg o% 'y 8eans#) He turned his head so he could loo$ at 'e# /Mad( huh1 All those years stuc$ at the bac$ o% 'y 'ind( then 8ust when , thin$ ,)' about to snu%% it( , get the whole thing bac$ li$e a %uc$in) 'o"ie#) He blin$ed# /;esus( you loo$ $nac$ered#) /A little tired( 'aybe#) /5ou sleep at all1) /4idn)t dare#)

/0hat did you do1 -ast o% the phet1) /, %ound blind rage to be 'ore e%%ecti"e#) , trailed 'y %ingertips across the sur%ace o% the water and watched the ripples circling out# Thought about nothing in his li%e e"er changing e7cept the decor# Thought about ;i''y2.oy 4ean)s birthday present to hi'sel% and the $ind o% party .laine Alber'arle would arrange %or her own special day and %inally 'anaged to grab the gossa'er threads o% 'y idea# &ow , had so'ething to bring to our 'eeting# +inn /Tell 'e about her party() -ilith said# /Please1) />ariation on a the'e() , said( e"ery word hurting# /3he dresses it up as one o% her %undraising e"ents ? getting her gang o% inbred hangers2on to e'pty their poc$ets %or the good o% the star"ing peasants at her gate# .ut basically they ta$e an E and a >( get ha''ered( and then , get %uc$ed by the highest bidder( howe"er they want 'e# 3he brings up one o% her best girls %ro' the -ondon place as well( 8ust in case ,)' not to e"eryone)s taste#) /3he auctions you o%%# , al'ost wish , were shoc$ed#) /, %etched about si7 grand last year# Ma7well( the doctor# 4oing his bit %or charity and all that#) , tried to laugh# /,)d be %uc$in) luc$y to 'a$e thirty pence this year( huh1 3hit#) The laugh died in 'y throat and , had to clutch %or her hand as the panic surged bac$# 3he responded with a gentle( reassuring s=uee<e o% 'y %ingers# /0hat is it( +inn1) ,t was the %irst ti'e ,)d e"er let 'ysel% consider it# /,t)s not a 8o$e( is it -ili1 , 'ean( it)s the reason ,)' here( the only thing ,)' %it %or# ,% , can)t do this( and , 'ean really can)t( then what the %uc$ is she going to do with 'e1) /4o you really want to $now1) , nodded( not entirely sure that , did#

/The wo'an)s addicted to hurting people ? you( particularly( but not e7clusi"ely#) -ilith glanced down at her right hand( where the bruises %ro' that night still hadn)t %aded# /,t stopped being si'ple pleasure %or her years ago# This isn)t 8ust .laine)s %a'ily businessD it)s her entire e7istence( and it)s been going on %or so long that the so%ter stu%% isn)t doing it %or her any'ore#) , $new this one# /3he needs to get her hands on the nastier shit 8ust to get the sa'e rush#) /E7actly# ;ust loo$ at what)s happened to you since ,)"e been here# There)s no way you)d ha"e sur"i"ed three years o% the $ind o% treat'ent ,)"e witnessed in the last %ew wee$s#) /True enough#) , lay there hal%2dead( staring at the ceiling# /,)d nearly stopped gi"ing a shit be%ore you arri"ed( you $now that1 Christ( she)d get so %uc$ing %rustrated with 'e( whac$ 'e hal% to death e"ery night %or a wee$( or pull in the roughest client in her address boo$ so she could sit and watch( and all the ti'e 'y head was slidin) out o% the door# The less , cared( the 'ore %urious she got#) -ilith nodded# /3o , was brought here to drag you bac$ to li%e and e7tend the ga'e %or as long as possible( but that ti'e)s 8ust about up( and , thin$ she)s already planning your replace'ent# 5ou)re a snu%% 'o"ie in waiting#) /;esus#) ,)d got 'y answer and , couldn)t argue with a word o% it# The water turned to ice around 'e# /+inn( listen to 'e#) -ilith)s "oice was %aint against the roaring in 'y head# /5ou as$ed 'e what , thought( and that)s the truth#) 3he $nelt up against the side o% the bath so that we were %ace to %ace# /.ut none o% that will happen( because we)re going to get the bitch %irst#) -ilith The second tap on the door that 'orning was so so%t that +inn( now clad in clean py8a'as and swaddled in 'y du"et( didn)t e"en hear it# .ut , did# /,t)s all right Henry( you can co'e in#)

/, was worried when you didn)t collect your brea$%### *h dear -ord6) Henry caught his %irst gli'pse o% what was le%t o% +inn# /,)ll go() he %inally 'anaged to splutter# He began to shut the door as he re"ersed# /&o you will not() , ordered# /5ou)ll co'e here and ta$e a good loo$ at hi'( and see what happens when you play by .laine)s rules#) /, can)t#) , strode towards hi'# /5es you can# 5ou need to stop running away %ro' the carnage that wo'an causes# Trust 'e( Henry#) Henry placed a tentati"e %oot o"er the threshold# +inn glared at hi' %ro' 'y bed# /5ou)re luc$y ,)' %uc$ed( little 'an( otherwise you)d be dead#) This ti'e , was ready( and caught Henry by the wrist be%ore he could go anywhere# /Trust 'e() , repeated# /,s there anything , can do1) he %inally as$ed( clearly praying %or a negati"e response so he could bolt bac$ to his shelter# /Actually there is# ,)"e got to see .laine in hal% an hour ? you can stay with +inn#) /The %uc$ he can() +inn spat# /&on2negotiable# ,% you want a couple o% 'y codeine on top o% whate"er else is %lowing through your "eins right now( you)re going to need a babysitter# &o argu'ents#) +inn didn)t e"en loo$ at Henry# /,n that case he sits in the corner and he doesn)t e"en atte'pt to spea$ to 'e# And i% the little shit thin$s that this lets hi' o%% any $ind o% hoo$( he can go and get %uc$ed#) Chapter Twenty 3i7 -ilith , perched on a chair in the pri'rose2painted hell o% .laine)s study whilst she

%inished an e'ail# , re'ained =uiet until she addressed 'eD abo"e all else( , needed her to obser"e 'y new2%ound obedience# At =uarter past ele"en she loo$ed away %ro' her co'puter screen# /, 'ust say ,)' delighted that you %inally %eel you can be honest with 'e( -ilith# 3o( what is it that you need to discuss that)s so terribly pri"ate1) , cleared 'y throat( suggesting 'y trepidation# /, ha"e two re=uests#) /,)' listening#) /+irstly( ,)d li$e you to allow 'e to spend so'e ti'e with +inn again( as long as it doesn)t inter%ere with the co'pletion o% your portrait# He)s hardly in a condition to wor$ at the 'o'ent( and , thin$ you)ll agree that he)s su%%iciently bro$enD 'uch 'ore and any da'age 'ight be irreparable#) , %orced the ne7t words out# /,)' sure that wouldn)t be good %or business#) /0ell( that certainly is an ac$nowledge'ent( co'ing %ro' you#) /,)"e had =uite so'e ti'e to thin$( recently#) .laine appraised 'e %or any sign o% guile( but she would %ind none# This was 'y ga'e now# /And the second re=uest1) , leant %orward slightly( in"iting her con%idence( and she 'irrored 'y 'o"e# /, wondered i% we could discuss a### long2ter' arrange'ent regarding +inn#) /*h( at last() .laine s'iled( as though this whole ordeal had been part o% her 'atch'a$ing# /And what 'ight that be1) /To be truth%ul( , don)t $now yet ? , didn)t e"en dare thin$ about it until ,)d discussed it with you# .ut ,)' prepared to 'a$e certain co'pro'ises i% , can be assured o% regular( e7clusi"e contact# ,)' sure we can negotiate#) /That)s =uite a re=uest#) /, $now#) /Certainly 'ore than any other guest has e"er as$ed %or#)

/, i'agined it 'ight be() , concurred# /And what are you prepared to bring to the table i% , agree1) This was it# , loo$ed her straight in the eye and said( /,)' a%raid , ha"e absolutely no idea whatsoe"er#) /Are you trying to be %unny( -ilith1 .ecause i% you are( ,)' a%raid you)re %ailing 'iserably#) /&o( not at all# .ut , needed to chec$ that 'y re=uests were within the real's o% possibility# ;udging by your reaction( they 'ight be( so now ,)' going to ha"e to go away and see what , can o%%er in return#) /,% , disco"er that this is blu%%###) /,)' not stupid enough to thin$ that , ha"e that lu7ury# .elie"e 'e#) , needed a ti'escale that suggested , was serious( but unused to surrendering to anyone)s will# /,% you gi"e 'e### say( %i"e days1 , pro'ise you( you)ll ha"e a deal that pro"es 'y loyalty# And i% 'y o%%er turns out to be inade=uate( we)re at your 'ercy#) 0e stared at each other across the des$# 3ilence %illed the roo' and , welco'ed itD wrapped it around 'e and rela7ed in the $nowledge that , was still in control# +inally( .laine responded# />ery well#) 3he spo$e with the good grace o% the "ictorious# /, ha"e to go away %or the wee$end ? a 'eeting in Paris ? so that gi"es you your %i"e days# &aturally you and +inn will be con%ined to the island( and Coyle will be loo$ing a%ter the Hall in 'y absence( but ,)ll 'a$e sure he understands that there are certain boundaries in place as long as you 'aintain this beha"iour#) /Than$ you#) , stood and bowed 'y head in subtle de%erence# 3he s'iled her dis'issal# /And -ilith1 , e7pect your o%%er to be spectacular#) BBBBB +inn was still asleep# He lay curled on his side with his bac$ to Henry( who

hadn)t 'o"ed an inch in his bedside "igil# /0as e"erything all right1) he as$ed# /, 'ean( nothing)s all right( but###) /E"erything was %ine( Henry# Pretty 'uch word2%or2word how ,)d e7pected it to be() , assured hi'# /0hat about here1) /He)s 8ust slept( %or the 'ost part# He stirred about ten 'inutes ago ? 8ust long enough to tell 'e to e%% o%% ? then he went straight bac$ o"er#) He loo$ed at +inn)s battered( sleeping %or'# /This was 'e( wasn)t it1 The poor boy( ending up in this 'ess( and that dread%ul business %or you# ,% ,)d ha"e $ept 'y 'outh shut###) , shoo$ 'y head# /,t would ha"e happened anyway# Maybe not last night( but one night( and then another( until there was nothing o% us le%t#) /+uc$in) opti'ist() +inn 'u'bled %ro' beneath the du"et# He e'erged %ro' its %olds to spea$ to 'e( stead%astly ignoring Henry# /3o# 0hat the hell happens now1) /, don)t $now about you( but ,)' going to grab a blan$et %ro' under 'y bed( and sleep until , wa$e up# Probably in about three days) ti'e( 8udging by how , %eel right now#) Chapter Twenty 3e"en +inn Hands groped %or 'e in the dar$ness and , yelled out and wo$e and hurt( all in one go# My sheet was wrapped around 'e( sweat2soa$ed and tight as a shroud# -ilith)s dishe"eled head appeared o"er the hori<on o% the bed# 3he rubbed the sleep %ro' her eyes and chec$ed her watch# /*ne hour and %orty2two 'inutes# 0e ha"e a new record#) /Go 'e() , panted as , atte'pted to unra"el 'ysel%# /0hat about you1) -ilith loo$ed at her watch again# /, do<ed o%% about ten 'inutes a%ter you# -et)s call it an hour and a hal%( gi"e or ta$e a 'inute#) This had been the pattern %or the last two days( since , had %ailed in 'y

atte'pt to be dead# -ilith hadn)t 'o"ed %ro' 'y sideD she 8ust bun$ed down on a ca'p bed that Henry had hauled into the roo' %or her( and slept when , slept# , swung 'y legs o%% the bed and stood to grab 'y hooded sweater %ro' the nearest chair# The roo' started spinning li$e a 'erry2go2round and , slu'ped bac$ down( trying to loo$ nonchalant and hoping that -ilith wasn)t watching 'e# +at chance# /3o when are you going to share this a'a<ing plan %or the Great Escape1) , as$ed in a sorry atte'pt at distraction# /0hen you decide to start eating again() -ilith replied# /Ah# That#) /5es( that#) /, was $inda hoping you hadn)t noticed#) /0hat( that you)re e7isting on %resh air and tea1) 3he sat down ne7t to 'e# /0hen did you last eat( +inn1) , tried to count bac$wards# /0hen did you get bac$ %ro' -ondon1) /5ou)"e got to be 8o$ing# That)s twel"e days( +inn#) /,s it1 ;esus# Guess ,)ll be bac$ in that bi$ini by su''er#) /,t)s not bloody %unny#) /, $now# , $now it)s not# And ,)' not doing it to be aw$ward( , swear# .ut , had Coyle gobbin) into e"erything he brought %or 'e when , was banged up in the cellar( and to be honest with you( %ood)s ne"er been up there on 'y list o% priorities in the %irst place# &ow ,)"e got Henry throwing stu%% together %or 'e li$e he)s going %or his ne7t Michelin star( and , can)t sto'ach a 'outh%ul %ro' the traitorous little %uc$er#) /0ell( this is the deal# 5ou eat( , tell you the plan# 3urely there)s so'ething you could 'anage1) /-ili( 'y syste')s %uc$ed to all hell ? ;un$ie)s legacy( probably# , couldn)t

%ace the shite that Henry)s trying to %orce down 'y nec$ at the best o% ti'es( but right now ,)' %eeling sic$ 8ust at the sight o% %ood#) /, need you stronger than this( +inn# , $now it)s hard %or you( but there)s one hell o% a %ight to co'e# 5ou)re going to ha"e to thin$ o% it as %uel#) 3o , thought about it# , could only con8ure up one thing( %ro' when , was a $id in 4ublin with nothing in the cupboards but dust and 'ouse2shit( and two little sisters screeching %or %ood# Then , i'agined Henry ha"ing to prepare it( and , $new what , %ancied %or brea$%ast# , s'iled %or the %irst ti'e in days# /0ell( there 'ight 8ust be so'ething#) -ilith +inn)s re=uest %or dinner bro$e Henry)s heart( and i% that wasn)t the 'a8or reason %or his choice( it certainly played a 'a8or part# ,t was li$e watching the %inal act o% a conde'ned 'an as Henry spooned hal% an inch o% condensed 'il$ onto white bread and sprin$led it liberally with sugar# /This is disgusting() he said as he carried the tray into 'y roo'# /A tra"esty#) /&ot hal% as disgusting as the shite you)"e been ser"ing 'e %or the last three years#) +inn too$ the plate %ro' Henry without e"en loo$ing at hi'# /-i$e those %uc$in) eggs with bits o% grass in /e' that you did yesterday#) /That was an o'elette au7 %ines herbes() Henry retorted# /&o( it was shite#) , tried not to hold 'y breath as +inn bro$e o%% a 'orsel o% bread and placed it tentati"ely in his 'outh# He swallowed# /Aight( that)s 'y side o% the bargain upheld# 3o( how the %uc$ do you intend to bring this e'pire o% e"il crashing down1) /, need to 'a$e a pri"ate phonecall#) /That)s i'possible() Henry inter8ected( de%eated be%ore we had e"en begun# /.laine has e"ery telephone around here tapped# E"en the public bo7 in the

resort( , thin$( %or pure a'use'ent ? but there)s no way o% using that one anywayE the boat)s $ept on the 'ainland now( and , ha"e to wait %or Coyle to pic$ 'e up be%ore , can do the shopping# ) , shrugged# /, guessed as 'uch#) /3o , really don)t see how a pri"ate call would be possible#) Henry e7plained gently# /3he hasn)t tapped 'y 'obile though( has she1) /&o( , would assu'e she hasn)t() +inn said through a 'outh%ul o% condensed2'il$ sandwich# /.ut unless you ca'e o"er here with a Motorola bunged up your arse( , would say that)s not especially help%ul#) /Actually( , would hope that it)s still sa%ely where , le%t it( in the glo"e co'part'ent o% 'y ;ag#) +inn s'iled# /*h( your ;ag# *% course# That)ll be the ;ag that)s on the other side o% the bloody la$e( is it1) That)s the one#) +inn shoo$ his head# /And how the %uc$ do you intend to get hold o% it1 +uc$in) swi'1) The three o% us sat in co'plete silence# +loorboards crea$ed and e7panded as they began to war' with the sparse heat o% the day( the grand%ather cloc$ in the dining hall chi'ed a 'u%%led hal%2hour( and +inn and Henry both stared at 'e as i% , had lost 'y wits# +inally( +inn spo$e# /;esus( you)re serious#) Chapter Twenty Eight -ilith The day .laine le%t %or Paris( winter ca'e to Alber'arle# ,t launched its assault straight %ro' 3iberia( bringing a %erocious stor' that uprooted a do<en ancient trees across the estate and scattered slate tiles and a chi'ney stac$ %ro' the roo% o% the hall# +inn and , spent a sleepless night listening to the gale wrea$ its de"astation( and the ne7t day we e'erged

%ro' our beds to ice on the insides o% the windows and a chill that cut us both to the 'arrow# This new landscape was blea$ and %rost2blasted( but .laine had le%t( and now at last , could act# BBBBB /,)"e ne"er seen the la$e li$e this() +inn said# ,t was two o)cloc$ in the 'orning# .laine was in Paris and Coyle *) Halloran ? ne"er one to learn a lesson( we hoped ? was holed up in a guestroo'( near2co'atose on dope( cheap whis$ey and barley wine( %oolishly con%ident that his charges wouldn)t dare decei"e hi' a second ti'e# +inn and , hid in the island boatshed and ga<ed out into the dar$ness as %oa'2topped wa"es rushed to the shingle and bro$en branches %loated and tossed in the churning water# , wore a swi''ing costu'e and child)s wetsuit that had once belonged to .laine)s daughter( and a down2%illed 8ac$et wrapped around 'y shoulders( yet , could still %eel the north wind bore into 'y s$in# /This is why ,)' an atheist#) A thin sleet began to pattern the sur%ace o% the la$e# +inn was hunched o"er a s'all para%%in lantern# /, don)t get you#) /0e)re the good guys( +inn# ,% there is a god up there( she should be on our side# ,nstead( right now she would appear to be bac$ing .laine bloody Alber'arle( and ,)' not prepared to belie"e that#) +inn placed the lantern on the da'p wooden %loor( tuc$ing it into a corner where there was no ris$ that it could be seen %ro' the hall# He put his ar's around 'y shoulders and pulled 'e in so that his chin rested on the crown o% 'y head# /5ou don)t ha"e to do this( -ili# , $now ,)' wasting 'y breath saying it( but , can)t lose you# ,% it co'es down to so'ething happening to you out there( or 'e staying here %or the rest o% 'y li%e###) /###Then ,)d lose you( and , can)t do that#) , buried 'y %ace in the war'th o% his %leece shirt and $issed his chest# /0e)"e been through this# ,t)s not as ris$y as it loo$s# Honestly() , tried to reassure us both# /,)"e swu' ten ti'es that distance be%ore( and ,)' in better shape than ,)"e e"er been in 'y li%e#)

This at least was trueD 'y daily runs across the island)s hard terrain had ser"ed as per%ect training %or what , was about to do# E"en 'y asth'a had %inally begun to wane as , regained control o% 'y li%e( although 'y inhaler was still sa%ely bagged and tuc$ed in a pouch inside 'y neoprene suit( right ne7t to 'y car $eys# , thought +inn 'ight ha"e one last atte'pt at dissuading 'e( but he %inally released his grip# /Then ,)ll be right here( waiting#) He s'iled# /,% there)s one thing ,)' good at( it)s hangin) around on dodgy corners in the 'iddle o% the night#) , 'ustered a grin in return and shrugged out o% 'y coat# /-et)s get going then() , said( and strode bare%oot into the la$e# /+uuuc$###) The pro%anity 'elted on 'y lips as , waded up to 'y waist# ,n these %irst 'o'ents it %elt as though li=uid nitrogen was being in8ected into the space between wetsuit and s$in and , %orced 'ysel% to e7hale# , allowed 'ysel% one bac$ward glance at +inn( then li%ted 'y %eet %ro' the sli'e and shingle o% the la$ebed( and swa'# +inn -ilith cut through the water li$e a slee$( blac$ seal# 0ith only the sparse glow o% the lantern %or light , lost sight o% her by the ti'e she was no 'ore than twenty yards %ro' the shore( although , stared out into the gloo' long a%ter that# 3he 'ight not ha"e had any belie%( but , whispered a prayer to 3aint Christopher on -ilith)s behal%# The words were snatched away %ro' 'e by the sa"age wind( and all , could do was wait and hope# , desperately wished there was 'ore , could doD that , was stronger( %itter( cleaner than , wasD or si'ply that , could wal$ in a straight line without lurching along li$e so'e street2begging cripple# /Ah( gi"e your head a sha$e() , 'uttered# -ilith 'ight well deser"e so 'uch better than 'e( but %or now( , was all she had# That was all there was to it# , pulled 'y hood up and wrapped 'y coat a little tighter around 'e( and lit a cigarette as , $ept "igil#

-ilith *n the %ar shore( +inn waited %or 'e# &othing else 'attered# &ot the cold( nor the %rustrations o% the last hour( or the night'are return swi' that awaited 'e# ;ust the thought o% +inn( standing ready to drag 'e %ro' the la$e and $eep 'e war' and sa%e# , thought o% the strength it had ta$en %or hi' to co'e this %ar %or 'e( and once 'ore( , wal$ed into the oil2blac$ water# ,t was no war'er the second ti'e around( and , was e7hausted be%ore , began# ;ust as , was about to stri$e out( a searing pain bit into 'y le%t thigh and , yelped with shoc$# , staggered bac$ to shore and in the 'eagre light o% the distant street lights , inspected the da'age# /3hit() , hissed# The leg o% the wetsuit was ripped open %ro' the top o% 'y thigh to 'y $nee( shredded on a sub'erged branch# .lood 'ingled with water( and although the wound wasn)t deep , could already %eel the sullen throb in 'y leg# 0orst o% all( the wetsuit was now useless ? a great %lap o% neoprene had been torn away and , $new , wouldn)t be able to swi' with it dragging in the water# +or a 'o'ent( sheer panic %ro<e 'eD , was stranded on the wrong side o% the la$e( with nowhere to run# ,t was the sober realisation that , only had one option that got 'e going againD , un<ipped the suit and %elt 'y s$in spas' with the cold blast o% air as , stepped out o% its protecti"e layer# , had to $eep 'o"ing now( si'ply to sur"i"e# , dragged the useless thing o"er to a bin that stood ne7t to the 8etty( pulled out the stin$ing contents and stu%%ed the wetsuit to the "ery botto' be%ore burying it as best , could under the rubbish# , recalled reading so'e cli'ber)s autobiography( where he)d stated that getting to the top o% a 'ountain was only hal% the battleD you then had to haul your dead beat body bac$ down again be%ore it counted as a successE %ailure 'eant 8ust another %ro<en carcass on a 'ountainside# My return swi' was now going to be the e=ui"alent o% doing the descent o% E"erest in "est and pants# *n that cheer%ul thought( , %ocused on the distant %lic$ering that was the para%%in %la'e o% +inn)s beacon lantern( and ran bac$ into the la$e be%ore 'y body caught on to what , e7pected it to do#

+inn Ti'e had stopped# -ilith had been away too long %or things to ha"e gone as planned( and , loo$ed out helplessly across the la$e( hoping to see so'e sign o% her return( but there was nothing e7cept churning water and dar$ness# , didn)t e"en dare raise the lantern in case Coyle chose that 'o'ent to glance out o% the window( or so'eone on the shore beca'e a little too curious about the 'o"ing light# ;ust as panic threatened to engul% 'e( a pale shape %loated into the "ery 'argins o% 'y sight# , threw 'ysel% down the shingle slope as -ilith staggered to her %eet in the shallows( letting the %rigid wa"es lap around her( and , couldn)t understand why she wasn)t cla'bering out( or why the hell she wasn)t wearing her wetsuit# , was about to call out to her when she collapsed %ace %irst into the water# , plunged into the la$e( nearly %alling 'ysel% as the e7cruciating cold wrapped itsel% around 'e( and hoisted -ilith o"er one shoulder# My le%t leg threatened to gi"e way and pitch us both to the %loor as , scrabbled up the shi%ting gra"el( and , al'ost regretted telling Henry to %uc$ o%% when he)d o%%ered 'e a wal$ing stic$# , didn)t dare chec$ on -ilith yetD , was too terri%ied at what , 'ight %ind# ,nstead , %ocused on putting one %oot in %ront o% the other( ta$ing us both to the re%uge o% the $itchen# , booted at the door( and staggered into the $itchen# , used 'y %ree hand to grab at the edge o% the table be%ore , toppled# /+inn1 0hat in hea"en)s happened1) Henry stared in terror at the li'p %or' , had hanging o%% 'y bac$# /4on)t $now() , gasped( and lowered -ilith to the %loor by the sto"e# /.ut why isn)t she wearing###) /How the %uc$ do , $now1 3he 8ust washed up li$e this#) Henry didn)t 'o"e %ro' the doorway# /.lan$et() , snapped# He scuttled to the sto"e top and passed 'e one o% the blan$ets he)d had war'ing %or our return# , wrapped it around -ilith then

and sat on the war' tiles o% the $itchen %loor and hugged her close# /Aren)t you 'eant to rub her ar's or so'ething1) Henry o%%ered( ho"ering o"er us# , considered %linging the cast iron doorstop at his head# , re'e'bered a stupid little lea%let ,)d been handed years ago ? Keeping 3a%e *utside ? Tips %or 3e7 0or$ers# 3o'e do2gooder)s %unding %inally put to use# /&o( you thic$ bastard# &eed the blood going to her heart( not her %ingers# ;ust 'a$e yoursel% use%ul and put the $ettle on( will you1) /.ut will she be all right1) , loo$ed at -ilith# Her eyes were shut and her %ingertips and lips were pale blue# 3he was breathing at least( but so lightly that it too$ agonising seconds to chec$# /, don)t $now#) My "oice crac$ed as , spo$e# Henry approached 'e with a second blan$et# /5ou)re shi"ering# -et 'e 2) , bunched 'y %ist( ready to swing at hi'# /, swear to God i% you so 'uch as touch 'e( ,)ll###) Henry was sa"ed by a 'u%%led( tuneless rendition o% /The Town , -o"ed 3o 0ell) dri%ting down the corridorD Coyle *)Halloran( drun$ and hungry( staggering to the $itchen to raid the larder( and bringing the potential to destroy e"erything# /0hat do we do now1) Henry pleaded# //0e1) 5ou)re going to get out there and stop that %uc$er %ro' co'ing in here# ,% he catches 'e and -ilith here li$e this( we)re dead#) Henry stood there( rooted to his i''aculate slate %loor tiles in panic$ed silence( the pro"erbial rabbit in the headlights# /Get out there or ,)ll bloody $ill you 'ysel%() , hissed( and Henry grabbed his cup o% tea and shot out into the corridor# , held -ilith close and silently pro'ised her that , would %ight Coyle to the

last breath i% he set %oot o"er the threshold( no 'atter how hopeless 'y odds would be# 3uddenly there was an enraged s=ueal( %ollowed by the thud o% so'ething ? or so'eone ? hea"y hitting the wall# /5ou clu'sy %uc$ing poo% twat6) Coyle roared# /5ou tryin) to castrate 'e or so'ethin)1 ;esus( ,)' %uc$in) scalded to the bone6) /3orry6 3o sorry6) ca'e Henry)s wittering( pathetic apology in reply# /, tripped ? didn)t e7pect to 'eet you### was 8ust going bac$ to 'y roo' with a drin$###) /3hut up and get out o% 'y way( %aggot# Gonna to ha"e to change 'y %uc$in) cac$s###) , held 'y breath( %ully e7pecting the door to swing open and a %urious Coyle to burst in on us# Miraculously( the sound o% his shu%%ling( pissed gait receded( and Henry staggered o"er to the $itchen table( e'pty 'ug in hand# .lood dripped %ro' his nose and splattered onto the oa$# /4id you 8ust %ling tea o"er his bolloc$s( little 'an1) /,d wad de odly thig , could thic$ ob#) Henry tore hi'sel% a sheet o% $itchen roll and held it to his %ace# /*w#) , began to shudder with silent laughter( and -ilith stirred in 'y ar's# /3o'ething %unny1) she as$ed( and , planted $iss a%ter relie"ed $iss in her sodden hair# /;ust Mr Masterson here( ta$ing one %or the tea' at last# All that practice 'a$in) a brew( 8ust %or this 'o'ent# 3ent Coyle bac$ to his roo' with a boiled ball2bag#) 4espite his in8ury( Henry 'anaged a shy s'ile o% pride# /Easy %or you to say# .loody hell( ,)' cold#) E"en with the blan$et swaddling her( -ilith was sha$ing in 'y ar's# /Any 'ore o% that tea still in the pot( Henry1) /*h God( -ili( you scared 'e shitless out there# 0hat the hell was the deal

with stripping o%%( huh1 Going swi''ing in a 4ece'ber stor' not hardcore enough %or you1) /0etsuit ripped# .y the loc$2up# ,t was either ditch it or drown#) 3he nestled a little deeper into 'y ar's and sighed# /5ou $now( , thin$ , 'ay ha"e underesti'ated 8ust how tric$y that whole thing was going to be#) /Aeally1 0ell you do %uc$in) well surprise 'e( Ms .resson# /Cos it loo$ed li$e a piece o% piss %ro' where , was standing#) , $issed her again( this ti'e on the lips( relishing the taste o% her steadily war'ing s$in# /,t doesn)t 'atter# 5ou)re here( and not at the botto' o% the la$e# ,)"e still got you( and that)s all that 'atters#) /At least you tried( lo"e() Henry said# /More than anyone else could ha"e done#) /*h( shut up( you pair o% 'audlin( de%eatist bastards#) -ilith wriggled %ro' 'y e'brace and sat up( wearing the blan$et li$e a superhero cape# /&ot e"erything that happens in this unutterable hole has to end in crushing disappoint'ent and despair( you $now#) /0hat( you 'ean###) , didn)t dare %inish the sentence( but -ilith 'anaged to stop shi"ering long enough to gi"e a rictus grin# /, did it( +inn# ,t nearly bloody $illed 'e( and , didn)t realise how long it would ta$e to dial a nu'ber when , couldn)t %eel 'y %ingers( but , did it#) 3he returned 'y $iss and whispered( /Ga'e on#) Chapter Twenty &ine -ilith A wee$ to the day since our last 'eeting( .laine and , rode out together# 3he was on .runo( and once again , too$ Auby# The little chestnut 'are was still s$ittish and ill2te'pered( but she was %ar cal'er than the day , had ridden with +inn( and despite the co'pany , relished the e7hilaration o% a %lat2out gallop o"er %ro<en %ields# There was also so'ething particularly satis%ying about pulling three lengths ahead as we thundered uphill on a trac$ away %ro' the "illage# 0e ca'e to a halt on an e7posed rise at the estate boundary wall( so that

.laine could sur"ey her %ie%do')s winter splendour# -ea%less trees stood in star$ contrast against a clear la<uline s$y( and in the distance( woods'o$e curled la<ily %ro' hal%2a2do<en holiday cottage chi'neysD the last guests o% the year en8oying a brea$ be%ore the s$i2season began# .laine was poised and technically per%ect in the saddle( but she wore a discreet pair o% spurs that she used on .runo)s sweating %lan$s( and he %retted and 'outhed at his bit as she held hi' on a tight rein# /3o( now you)"e pro"ed that you)re the superior rider( are you going to tell 'e what you want %ro' 'e( and what you)re prepared to gi"e in return1) , had rehearsed this so 'any ti'es in 'y head o"er the past se"en days# 3o'ething slightly audacious( but achie"able# /, want a wee$end with +inn( once e"ery 'onth# Here at Alber'arle( o% course#) The script trans%or'ed itsel% into cal'( 'easured words# .laine raised a disdain%ul eyebrow# /That)s certainly so'e re=uest# ,t would 'ean you spending 'ore ti'e with hi' than any other client e"er has# And %or this unprecedented generosity( what would , get1) /There are two ele'ents# The %irst is that , would bring you a new client in ti'e %or your birthday#) /,s that it1 , thin$ you)ll %ind ,)' per%ectly capable o% %inding new guests all by 'ysel%( -ilith#) .laine $ic$ed .runo into a wal$ bac$ along the bridle path( clearly disgusted by 'y 'eagre o%%er# /, wasn)t i'plying that , would si'ply grab so'eone o%% the street# , 'ean so'eone who 'eans so'ething to 'e# &o 'ore /innocent "icti') ? , beco'e co'plicit in your business#) .laine hauled .runo to a halt# /And who would this /so'eone) be1 +ro' what , recall( your address boo$ is hardly bursting at the sea's#) /Gabriel ;a'es#) And then .laine couldn)t help but s'ile# /0hat( your little puppy %ro' -ondon1) , nodded# /He)s co'pletely besotted with 'e# And he has an appetite %or

depra"ity that)s 8ust waiting to be e7plored#) /5ou)re sure o% that1) /Positi"e# 3o'e people are e7ceptionally easy to read# ,)' sure he)d be willing to per%or'( in all senses o% the word#) .laine patted .runo)s taut nec$ with a glo"ed hand# /, certainly don)t doubt your 8udge'ent on these things# 3o how were you planning to contact hi'1 Another trip to -ondon is =uite out o% the =uestion#) /,)ll call hi'# +ro' your o%%ice( with the spea$er on ? that way you)ll $now e7actly what)s been said by both o% us#) /And the second part1) 4espite her cal'( non2co''ittal response( , could see the e7cite'ent begin to glitter in her eyes at the thought o% a personal 'instrel to add to her new collection o% artists# &ow to seal it# /5ou get 'e# +inn told 'e that you usually bring one o% your girls up %ro' -ondon %or your party ? well( %ro' now on you won)t ha"e to#) .laine ga"e a harsh laugh o% surprise# /5ou 'ean you)re willing to let 'e auction you instead1) /That)s pretty 'uch it# 5es#) /-ilith( are you entirely sure about what you)re o%%ering here1 .ecause there will be no going bac$ on any o% this( i% , agree#) /,)' certain#) 3he stared at 'e %or the longest ti'e# The only noise ca'e %ro' Auby( so%tly cropping at the %rost2co"ered grass( as .laine pretended to consider 'y deal# ,n truth( there was nothing to consider ? the "ery thought o% 'e( %inally de%eated and reduced to whoring in return %or 'y one wea$ness( was 'ore than the wo'an would be able to resist# +inally she ga"e a single nod o% her head# /5ou can 'a$e the call to Gabriel

this a%ternoon( as you suggested# And ,)ll contact 'y sta%% at Marley)s and let the' $now the usual arrange'ents won)t be necessary#) .usiness done( she $ic$ed .runo into a brea$nec$ gallop downhill to the "illage# , let Auby ha"e her head and she chose to %ollow in a steady canter# This ti'e( , was content to let .laine win# Chapter Thirty +inn *n the 'orning o% .laine)s accursed birthday celebrations( %at %la$es o% snow began to curl la<ily down %ro' a loaded s$y so that by the start o% the %esti"ities( the whole island would be co"ered in a %airytale layer o% pure white# The irony was al'ost hilarious# , held the legs o% a stepladder as -ilith perched precariously on the top rung and draped a %inal garland o% %resh i"y and %ir branches into place o"er the 'irror in the great hall# ,t was about all , was good %orD than$s to Chester and Ellis) peculiar brand o% a%%ection( , hadn)t wor$ed since that night with the'# ,n %act( , would still need a stic$ o% concealer and so'e pretty i'pressi"e 'ood lighting be%ore .laine regarded 'e as bargain2base'ent saleable later that e"ening# /Aight( all done#) -ilith ni'bly leapt %ro' the last rung o% the ladder# /God( ,)' bloody %ree<ing# , 'iss central heating#) /-oo$s nice#) /,t loo$s horri%ic( +inn# ,t)s li$e so'ething 4ic$ens 'ight ha"e con8ured up i% he)d dropped acid be%ore pic$ing up his pen# And it 'a$es the whole bloody place stin$ o% pine2%resh toilet cleaner#) />ery apt() , grinned# /Anyway( , thin$ it was "ery generous o% .laine to $eep you occupied now the picture)s all done and dusted# 5ou $now you)d hate to be bored#) /0here is 'y illustrious patron( anyway1 , thin$ this is the longest she)s le%t 'e alone in days#) 3he pushed her icy hands up the slee"es o% 'y sweater# /&ew "icti')s due to arri"e at any 'inute( isn)t he1 3he)ll be up in her roo'(

painting on her 'as$ o% respectability#) As i% on cue( a distant clatter shattered the snow2'u%%led silence# /;esus %uc$( is that a %uc$in) helicopter he)s got1) /That would be Gabriel( yes#) /The %lash little get#) /Absolutely# Aight( ,)' o%% to see i% Henry will put a shot o% 'edicinal whis$y in a co%%ee %or 'e# 5ou want one1) /&ah( ,)' good# ,)ll get tidied around here( ready %or the welco'ing co''ittee#) 3he gripped 'y hands in hers# /Here we go( then#) /5up( here we go#) -ilith stood on tiptoe and $issed 'e so%tly on the chee$# /+or luc$() she whispered( be%ore lea"ing in search o% sustenance# At that 'o'ent , could ha"e 'urdered a newborn baby %or hal%2a2do<en te'a<epa'( but settled %or a =uic$ s'o$e out o% the window instead# BBBBB /;ust through here( Mr ;a'es( sir# 0elco'e to Alber'arle Hall# And 'ay , 8ust say( it)s an absolute pleasure to ha"e you here#) Coyle was in %ull2on arselic$er 'ode( which was a little surprising# ,)d ne"er had hi' pinned as a Gabriel ;a'es %an# , obser"ed this part o% the cere'ony %ro' a sa%e distance ? , was( a%ter all( still in"isible at this stage o% the ga'e# Gabriel wal$ed into the hall li$e he owned the %uc$ing place( with a strut that suggested a li%eti'e o% doors si'ply swinging open be%ore hi'# .ehind hi' ca'e a tanned( sha"en2 headed young 'an( carrying two s'all suitcases# , could 8ust i'agine the range o% possibilities running through .laine)s head at this 'o'ent# -i$e a 'oth to a particularly te'pting %la'e( .laine appeared %ro' her =uarters and 'ade her grace%ul entrance down the stairs# /Gabriel6 How lo"ely to 'eet you at last# , trust you had a good 8ourney up here1)

/Cool# Thought the snow 'ight cause a %ew proble's( but we $ept ahead o% it# Than$s %or the in"ite( yeah1) Gabriel $issed .laine on both chee$s# /-i$e so'e %airytale castle you)"e got here( ain)t it1 *h( this is &oah .ar$er( 'y PA#) &oah( by %ar the =uieter o% the two new arri"als( 'erely settled %or a polite handsha$e and shy s'ile# .laine %rowned# /+inn( where)s our artist1 ,)' sure she wouldn)t want to 'iss the welco'e party#) /-ili1 3he)s in the $itchen( , thin$# 4o you want 'e to 2) /,t)s %ine( ,)' here# Gabriel( it)s so good to see you#) -ilith wal$ed o"er with her ar's outstretched towards our latest guest( all upper2class con%idence and poise# /-ilith( babe() Gabriel grinned( and ga"e her a hug that went on %or about ten seconds longer than it had to( and %ro' the corner o% 'y eye , could see Coyle 8ust standing there( s'ir$ing li$e the twat he was# /,)ll go and get Henry to do the business whilst you %ol$s are getting re2 ac=uainted() he said( once he)d had enough o% an eye%ul# +or the %irst ti'e in three days( Henry e'erged %ro' his $itchen# He)d been wor$ing around the cloc$( roasting swan( or 'aybe a couple o% unicorns( ready %or that night)s %east# /&ice to 'eet you( Mr ;a'es# ,)' sure Mr *)Halloran e7plained the rules about technology here at the Hall# ,)ll 8ust ta$e a =uic$ loo$( i% that)s all right1) He was already hauling the larger o% the cases o"er to a s'all table in the hallway# /5eah( whate"er#) Gabriel ga"e a shrug and continued to gawp at -ilith( be%ore 'a$ing so'e ridiculous s'all tal$ with .laine about weather %ronts and %lying conditions( li$e he)d piloted the %uc$ing helicopter hi'sel%# /@'( , apologise %or interrupting( but( er###)Henry had paused %ro' his ru''aging through our "isitors) underwear and wash $it( and held a 'obile phone at ar')s length( as though it were radioacti"e# /,)' sorry( sir( but we do insist without e7ception that our guests don)t use 'obile technology

whilst they)re at the Hall#) Gabriel proceeded to $ic$ o%% li$e a right stroppy little bastard# /+or %uc$)s sa$e( , didn)t co'e here %or %uc$in) ;ee"es to start orderin) 'e around in the %irst ten seconds() he snapped# He actually snatched the thing bac$( and , thought Henry was about to turn on the waterwor$s# /Gabriel darling( , appreciate that it)s di%%icult to surrender so'ething that see's so necessary( but , can assure you that within hours you)ll hardly 'iss it#) .laine ga"e an apologetic s'ile# /And ,)' a%raid it is so'ething , insist upon i% you)re to re'ain at Alber'arle#) /,t)s o$ay( Gabe() -ilith assured hi'# /, 'anaged it without it $illing 'e#) There was a distinct stand2o%% as Gabriel clung onto his phone as though it were a $id)s co'%ort blan$et# He e"en 'anaged a pout as he reluctantly handed it o"er to .laine# /Than$ you#) 3he placed her hand o"er his and let her %ingers brie%ly caress the underside o% his wrist( already 'o"ing in %or the $ill# /&ow( why don)t the pair o% you %ollow Mr *)Halloran to your roo's so you can %reshen up1) 3he gestured towards the stairs and her latest guests %ollowed Coyle li$e two obedient little sheep# -ilith At two o) cloc$ in the a%ternoon( .laine le%t the island to "isit the salon in the "illage( ta$ing Coyle with her as boat'an and porter# +i"e hours le%t until showti'e# , waited in 'y roo' until , could no longer hear the launch engine( then ran to the Hall where Gabriel was already at the grand piano( war'ing up %or that e"ening)s per%or'ance# He was 'a$ing easy wor$ o% Aach'anino%%( his %ingers s$i''ing o"er the $eys o% .laine)s 3teinway# His =uiet young PA sat at the dining table( diligently 'a$ing notes in a s'all spiral bound notepad( and at the sound o% 'y %oot%all( he turned to %ace 'e# /3a%e1) he 'outhed#

, nodded( and ran into his e'brace# /.loody hell( -ilith( what $ind o% a 'ess are you in here( lo"ely1) he whispered# /Huge() , 'uttered into his chest# /Huge( but %i7able( now you)re here# *h God( you ha"e no idea how good it is to see you#) /E"en i% , a' a sad bastard without li%e or girl%riend1) &at Carlin( the recipient o% 'y clandestine phonecall( grinned( and , hugged hi' harder still# /E"en i%# 3hit( ,)' so sorry( &at# +or what , said### all o% it# , was an absolute bitch###) /5ou don)t need to apologise( -ilith# 3hould ha"e $nown it was so'ething pretty 'assi"e %or you to be so wor$ed up# , probably need to gi"e 'y head a sha$e( to be honest#) And with those %ew words( , was %orgi"en %aster than , truly deser"ed by the 'ost decent 'an , had e"er $nown# , %inally bro$e away# /5ou)"e got e"erything you need1) /, rec$on so# All sa%e in 'y roo'( out o% the way o% that Coyle twat# -i$e you said( they were that happy to %ind the phone( they 'issed the good stu%%# To be honest( , didn)t e"en need to hide e"erything as well as , did ? ,)' al'ost disappointed#) /Coyle)s not the brightest spar$() , said# /.ut watch hi'( please1 He)s still dangerous#) /5eah( he has that aura o% gorilla( doesn)t he1) He shoo$ his head# /+uc$ 'e( -ilith( ,)"e ne"er 'anaged to brea$ so 'any laws in such a short space o% ti'e# Means , can now add /+raudster) and /,nternational 4rug 3'uggler) to 'y C>( 'ind you#) /There you are( then# 5ou can thin$ o% it as career de"elop'ent# The hair suits you( by the way() , said( and brushed the %lat o% 'y hand across the blond stubble# /That was the hardest bit( you $now# Too$ 'e years to grow it that long# 5ou

sure it was necessary( or did you 8ust rec$on , needed a haircut1) /,t 8ust wasn)t worth the ris$# , don)t thin$ .laine)s got any shots o% 'e in 3anta Marita( but all it would need is one picture with you in the bac$ground( and she)d ha"e %igured so'ething was up# 5ou)"e got to ad'it your ringlets were pretty distincti"e#) /Curls( please() &at said( sel%2consciously running his %ingers across his newly2cropped hair# /3orry( /&oah)#) , laughed# /And where the hell did you get that na'e %ro'1) &at blushed# /@'( 'y ha'ster when , was a $id() he 'uttered# /5our ha'ster1) /0ell you used a bloody cat( didn)t you1 &e"er had a cat( so , 8ust went %or the ne7t best thing#) The 'usic ca'e to a halt( and Gabriel re"erentially lowered the lid# /3o do , get a proper hug now( or what1) he as$ed# , wal$ed o"er to the piano( stood behind hi'( and wrapped 'y ar's around his shoulders# /Than$ you() , said( and $issed hi' on the chee$# /, $now it)s a huge price to pay %or a bit o% in2%light entertain'ent###) Gabriel twisted in his seat so he %aced 'e# /0hat else a' , gonna do when so'e co'plete stranger rings 'e in the 'iddle o% the night and tells 'e so'e -adyship or other)s about to o%%er 'e a 'inibrea$ orgy1 3eriously though( babe ? as soon as /&oah) here ga"e 'e the call( , was in# ;ust wish ,)d ha"e pushed it a bit 'ore bac$ in -ondon# Knew you was in so'e $ind o% bother( didn)t ,1 3hould ha"e done a bit 'ore###) /5ou did what you could( Gabe# And i% you)re concerned in the slightest( what you)re doing now gets you a %ast pass through the Pearly Gates upon your pre'ature death %ro' a li%e o% hedonis' and e7cess#) /Pro'ise1) /Pro'ise# &ow $eep playing( would you1 , don)t thin$ this roo' is bugged(

but , $now ,)ll %eel a hell o% a lot happier with so'e bac$ground noise going on#) /.ugged1 +uc$ 'e# At so'e point( are you actually going to e7plain what the %uc$)s going on here1 /Cos all ,)"e got so %ar is a posh bird who see's to want to get her hands on 'y $nob be%ore the sun sets( and so'e stroppy ,rish super'odel blo$e who loo$s li$e he)s out to $ill 'e 8ust %or breathing#) /-ater# ,% we can pull this thing o%%( we)ll ha"e the rest o% the night to put the world to rights# 5ou get 'y ti'e and attention( and all the details that you could e"er wish %or#) Gabriel rolled his eyes and pulled his stool a little closer to the piano# /Good 8ob you)re gorgeous( Ms .resson#) /,sn)t it( though1) As the 'usic began once 'ore( &at turned to 'e and ga"e 'e a loo$ that was a per%ect co'bination o% sadness and acceptance# /The /stroppy ,rish super'odel)# He)s the one( isn)t he1) +or the brie%est 'o'ent , thought about lying( about denying e"erything and bla'ing 'y recent 'adness on si'ple altruis'# Then , loo$ed at &at and realised that he had $nown e"erything that really 'attered the 'o'ent he had sleepily pic$ed up the telephone that night# /5eah# 5eah( he)s the one#) /5ou $now how , guessed1) &at as$ed# /How1) &at ga"e a bra"e s'ile# /The luc$y sod)s ob"iously allowed to call you -ili without getting to ta$e his bolloc$s ho'e in a 8a' 8ar#) +inn ,t wasn)t e"en that , thought there was anything going on between the pair

o% the'# ,t was si'ply that loo$ing at the pair o% per'a2tanned( %lash little bastards with her was li$e watching beings %ro' another planet# *ne that , had no hope o% e"er "isiting# , shouldn)t ha"e bothered co'ing bac$ up to the Great Hall# Hadn)t e7pected this reaction( so had nothing in place to deal with it# , got that sa'e( sic$ %eeling that had coshed 'e when , read the newspaper articleD this was -ilith)s world( and these were the $ind o% 'en she was 'eant to be with# The longer , stood behind the arch( playing the "oyeur( the 'ore hellish , %elt# , was trying to cut down on so'e o% the shit ,)d been throwing down 'y nec$( and as a result , was held in the teeth o% a protracted rattle that was controlled enough not to $ill 'e on the spot( but 'ore than enough to gi"e 'e a headache that didn)t e"en lea"e 'e when , slept( and a cold sweat that soa$ed through 'y shirt as it leached the poison %ro' 'y body# , %orced 'y ga<e away %ro' the happy little reunion( and headed %or the cellars# BBBBB ;ust ten would do it# The urge to push those little white tablets %ro' their blisters threatened to o"erwhel' 'e( so 'uch so that , didn)t dare glance at the drawer where the open pac$et was $ept or e"en the bin where ,)d thrown an e'pty bo7D , could already i'agine the sharp a%tertaste lingering on 'y tongue# , shut 'y eyes and tried to %ind a centring breath that 'ight gi"e 'e another 'inute)s worth o% resistance( but 'y 'outh was already %illed with that welco'ing bitterness# , needed a better di"ersion than thin$ing happy thoughts and rainbows# , %u'bled in 'y poc$et %or 'y lighter and %ag pac$et( and rolled up 'y slee"e# /Please don)t#) , %elt her wal$ up to 'e and stand at 'y shoulder# , didn)t e"en turn 'y head# //0hat the hell do you see in 'e( -ili1 /Cos , sure as %uc$ can)t see it in 'ysel%# ;esus( ,)' this sorry( bro$en thing ne7t to the'6 , can)t e"en spea$ the sa'e language ? what can , tal$ about( huh1 How to get %uc$ed by bastards1 The top ten 'ethods o% creati"e sel%2har'1)

3he too$ the cigarette %ro' 'y %ingers and stubbed it out on the dresser top# /, don)t e7pect you to be li$e the'# 4on)t want you to be# ,t)s not the' , want( it)s you# +ro' the 'o'ent we 'et( it)s only been you#) , couldn)t spea$# , turned 'y lighter o"er and o"er in 'y hand as , %ought the urge to light another s'o$e and dri"e it into 'y ar'# , was on the "ery brin$ o% losing 'ysel% again( and , didn)t $now what the %uc$ to do about it# /, can)t do this alone( +inn# , need you beside 'e#) &obody had e"er said that to 'e# , %inally dared 'ysel% to %ace her( wanting to tell her e"erything that was going on in 'y head( e7plain away 'y idiocy( and then , was $issing her harder than , had e"er $issed anyone in 'y li%e and the %lare o% raw need le%t no %ear %or %ear( doubt( or anything else but -ilith# 3he ga"e a 'u%%led s=uea$ o% surprise( and , realised what , was doing# , bro$e away# /Aah( oh God( ,)' sorry### That was so %uc$ing inappropriate### ,### ;esus( you want to tal$ and ,### *h bolloc$s#) , had ne"er sounded li$e such a 'agni%icent wan$er# /+inn( shut up and %uc$ 'e() -ilith whispered in 'y ear# 3o , did# -ilith hauled 'y hoodie and t2shirt o"er 'y head and %lung it into a corner# 3econds later( her own sweater had 8oined it( %ollowed swi%tly by a pair o% sweatpants and a blac$ thong and bra and then she was standing na$ed be%ore 'e %or the %irst ti'e# /4ear God( you)re gorgeous() , whispered( and 'eant itD her decepti"ely slight %ra'e was all 'uscle and %lawless( tawny s$in( %ro' her s'all( high breasts to the gentle cur"e o% her hips# , wanted all o% her( all at once# Her nipples were already hard be%ore , got anywhere near the'D probably so'ething to do with the %act that the te'perature was about 'inus twenty and %alling# As , $issed her again( she entwined her ar's around 'y nec$ # , grabbed her arse( pulling her hungrily towards 'e( and we staggered bac$wards into the ancient wall# -ilith wrapped her legs around 'y waist( and , %elt 'y ribs co'plain as her thigh 'uscles gripped 'eD , was re'inded that this was a wo'an who ran a daily pre2brea$%ast assault

course 8ust %or laughs# /3orry ? are youC) she gasped( as , winced# /M)good() , said( the urgency banishing any pain# 0e %ell onto the 'attress and , pulled the %ilthy du"et o"er us to co'bat the cold# , %u'bled at the buttons o% 'y 8eans and 'anaged to $ic$ the' down the bed( and then we were both na$ed together# There was no ti'e ? no need ? %or %oreplay# 0ithin 'o'ents , was inside her( %eeling her clench against 'e( all war'th and sil$en wetness# &ow it was her hands around 'y bac$side( drawing 'e %urther in with each thrust( and , had to thin$ o% the contents o% Henry)s %ridge be%ore it %elt sa%e %or 'e to proceed# This ti'e -ilith ca'e %irst# ,n one glorious surge( , %elt her clasp 'e e"er harder( and she buried her 'outh in 'ine to so%ten her cry# , %inally let 'ysel% go( and 'atched -ilith)s rhyth' to 8oin her# 0e lay there( wrapped in a tangle o% ar's and legs# , wasn)t cold any'ore# /*h( you beauti%ul( beauti%ul 'an() -ilith whispered( and co"ered 'y %ace with butter%ly $isses# , returned each one# /A chuisle() , 'ur'ured as she laid her head on 'y chest( and %or the longest ti'e we 8ust lay there( sharing the war'th o% s$in on s$in and pretending we were the only people on the planet# BBBBB /5ou ha"e the neatest bush ,)"e e"er seen in 'y li%e( you $now that1) , as$ed( running 'y %inger o"er the so%tness# /And that surprises you1) /&ah# Pubic topiary# , li$e it() , said( and -ilith giggled# , $issed her again( 8ust because , could# Too soon( she ga"e a resigned sigh and reached %or her clothes# /0ell( , suppose ,)d better go and get ready %or this %arrago o% "illainy#)

, held onto her as i% , could $eep her# /,t)s the 'ost e"il thing( -ili( and you shouldn)t be anywhere near it# , wish to God there was another way o% doing this#) /0e)"e co'e this %ar# ;ust a little %urther( then we)re ho'e %ree#) 3he too$ 'y hands in hers and touched 'y %ingers to her lips# /3o let)s do this bloody thing( shall we1) Chapter Thirty *ne -ilith The trans%or'ation into the product $nown as -ilith .resson too$ 'e nearly two hours( by the ti'e , had bathed( dried 'y hair without the use o% a bloody hairdryer( and applied a protecti"e layer o% warpaint# .laine had chosen 'y dress %or the e"ening# ,n truth it loo$ed 'ore li$e two white sil$ hand$erchie%s sown loosely together than a dress( so'ething Tin$erbell 'ight wear i% she e"er decided to ta$e up a porn career# , supposed it wasn)t actually 'eant to be worn %or any signi%icant length o% ti'e( and it was destined %or the %ire the "ery %irst chance , got# , had 8ust %astened the button at the nape o% 'y nec$ when Coyle swaggered in# /;ust to let you $now( -ady Alber'arle doesn)t let any o% her whores out to wander on a wor$ night#) He wa"ed 'y roo' $ey in %ront o% 'y %ace# /Protectin) her in"est'ent and all that# As soon as ,)"e chec$ed you)re nice and sa%e behind a loc$ed door( ,)' gonna do the sa'e %or your pet %ag# Maybe see how his ribs are holding up( i% , get a spare %i"e 'inutes#) , ignored hi' and concentrated on $eeping 'y breathing steady# , was still terri%ied o% the 'an( and there was a new strangeness in his eyes as he grinned at 'eD so'ething not right( as i% he could no longer pretend to be hu'an# A 'uscle %lic$ered in his 8aw( and the "eins in his nec$ bulged as though they could burst open at any 'o'ent# He stepped e"en closer and loo$ed 'e up and down# /&ot bad# &ice arse( sha'e about the tits# Kinda wish ,)d $nown you were gonna be part o% the %loorshow# Maybe ,)d ha"e sa"ed up 'y poc$et 'oney and gi"en 'ysel% a Christ'as treat( eh1) His breath was hot and ran$( sour with stale alcohol#

He held up the %ingers he)d used to assault 'e and ran the' so%tly down 'y chee$# /,)d split you in two this ti'e( sweetheart() he 'ur'ured( and $issed 'e so%tly on 'y bare shoulder# ;ust as , thought , 'ight screa'( he stepped away# There was a rattle o% $eys( then a so%t clic$( and , was now o%%icially .laine)s possession( $ept securely in 'y place until needed# That sour ree$ lingered( e"en though he)d gone# , rattled at the +rench doors( but they were loc$ed( too# ,n desperation( , dragged a chair o"er and stood on it to open the top window# , stuc$ 'y head through the gap and let the %ree<ing air replace the pollution Coyle had brought with hi'# That was when , heard the "oice co'ing %ro' the roo' ne7t to 'ine# ;ust a %ew words( 'u%%led by snow and distance( and snatched away by the wind be%ore , could 'a$e sense o% the'( but enough to $noc$ the breath bac$ out o% 'e# Enough to shatter all our plans into a thousand pieces# , loo$ed at 'y watch# *nly hal% an hour to go( and then ,)d ha"e no chance o% doing anything# /*h( shit %uc$ and buggery() , hissed( and 8u'ped o%% the chair# , grabbed 'y discarded trac$suit pants and sweatshirt and pulled the' on o"er 'y ridiculous e7cuse %or a dress( sho"ed 'y bare %eet into trainers( then scribbled a %ew hurried lines on a sheet o% water'ar$ed Alber'arle notepaper# , %olded it and tuc$ed it deep into the sweatshirt poc$et( and cla'bered bac$ onto the chair# Apparently there was still e"ery chance that Alber'arle Hall would $ill 'e( this ti'e %ro' a bro$en nec$# , grabbed the sill o% the open window( and hauled 'ysel% up and through the tiny gap# The bli<<ard whirled around 'e( hiding 'y 'o"e'ents and silencing the i'pact as , rolled onto the terrace outside 'y =uarters# , grabbed the i"y that clung to the ancient bric$wor$( and began to cli'b# Twenty "ertical %eet o% scrabbling( hauling and cursing got 'e to the %irst %loor balcony directly abo"e 'y =uarters# , pulled at the door with nu'b %ingersD as ,)d hoped( .laine didn)t anticipate any burglars 'a$ing a trip across the la$e %or the %a'ily sil"er and it swung open onto a dar$ and e'pty guestroo'( although by that point , was prepared to $ic$ out the glass with 'y %oot and hide any e"idence behind the curtain# , crept along the upper hallway until , reached the 'instrel)s gallery where ,)d hidden and s$etched( all those 'onths ago# A scattering o% assorted

per"erts were already gathered in the hall( 'ingling and e7changing s'alltal$ o"er canapGs and cha'pagne# 3o'e , recognised ? Ma7well was sho"ing petits %ours into his 'outh li$e this was his last supper( and -aura +enworth had ob"iously o"erco'e her initial horror to 'a$e a return ? and others were new %aces to 'e# , hated the' all e=ually# , threw a pebble %ro' the patio down onto the piano( where Gabriel was 'a$ing last2'inute ad8ust'ents to the stool be%ore beginning his stint as .laine)s per%or'ing 'on$ey# He glanced up in pu<<le'ent( and to 'y relie% he saw 'e in the shadow o% the gallery)s drapes# , put 'y %inger to 'y lips( and although he clearly didn)t ha"e a clue as to why , had suddenly appeared on the balcony li$e a slightly 'anic ghost( he ga"e a single( subtle nod in reply# , showed hi' the paper in 'y hand( and pointed to a spot directly beneath 'e# Another nod( this ti'e disguised as an e7a'ination o% his %ingernails( and Gabriel 'o"ed into position# .laine was in her ele'ent( surrounded by sycophants and entertaining the' with so'e inutterably hilarious anecdote# As near2hysterical laughter echoed around the roo' , willed her to $eep wittering( and dropped the paper through the railings# 3econds later( Gabriel ca'e bac$ into "iew# He ga"e 'e a surreptitious thu'bs2up behind his bac$ as he strolled to his seat( and , could see the cru'pled note pal'ed in his other hand# There was nothing else %or 'e to do now but get bac$ to 'y roo' in one piece# , urged the 'erry'a$ers below to $eep drin$ing( and crept bac$ into the shadows# +inn /,)"e 8ust seen to your girl%riend() Coyle s'ir$ed( ta$ing up all the air in 'y tiny roo'# /Aec$on she)ll %etch a decent price tonight# More than you( anyway#) He was always insu%%erable on these occasions( high on the prospect o% "iolence and hu'iliation( but tonight there was an added e7traD , guessed he)d gi"en hi'sel% an early Christ'as present( because he was absolutely loaded# /Aight( %ace the wall( %ag# Ti'e to assu'e the position#)

There was no need %or any o% this# .laine only cared that , was presented appropriately to her guests( but Coyle had to ha"e his %un and %or -ilith)s sa$e , had to try and $eep 'ysel% in one piece %or the ne7t ten 'inutes# , rolled up the slee"es o% 'y dinner 8ac$et( turned 'y bac$ on the rabid bastard( and put 'y hands behind 'y bac$# As e"er( Coyle ratcheted the handcu%%s a %ew notches %urther than they were 'eant to go# , gritted 'y teeth against the disco'%ort( trying not to push hi' any %urther o%% his cli%%# , e"en 'anaged to stay silent when he pulled the blind%old tight around 'y %ace and the dar$ness closed in# 0e had 8ust 'ade it up the steps %ro' the cellars when it all started to go tits up# /;esus( will you $eep up( you stupid %ag2bastard1) My escort)s "oice was tight with rage# He grabbed 'y ar' to pull 'e %orward( and blind%olded and disoriented( , stu'bled# /+or %uc$)s sa$e6) Coyle howled# He released his grip and went in %or the $ill# The attac$ was all the 'ore sa"age %or its spontaneity# Coyle piled his boot into the side o% 'y right $nee and , went down li$e a sac$ o% shit# The pain e7ploded( white hot( in a leg that already %elt %uc$ed beyond repair( and then a hard $ic$ to the side o% 'y head threatened to send 'e into obli"ion# /*h shit( not now###) , whispered( and tried to curl away %ro' the assault# &one o% it 'ade senseD Coyle $new he couldn)t 'ar$ 'e on nights li$e this( and worse( this was in public ? we were so close to the Great Hall itsel% that it sounded li$e Gabriel was playing in the sa'e roo'# , could only guess that there were no guests around right now( but , had a %eeling that was due to luc$ rather than 8udge'ent# 0ith i''aculate ti'ing( Coyle *) Halloran had chosen right now to descend into ter'inal roid rage and , was going to get hoo%ed to death be%ore a single second o% -ilith)s grand plan could be carried out# , only hoped she)d ha"e the good sense to %uc$ o%% with Gabriel in his helicopter# /5ou all right there( 'ate1) As %irewor$s started to e7plode in %ront o% 'y eyes( the $ic$ing ca'e to a halt# , "aguely recalled the "oice as belonging to &oah( &at( whate"er the hell he was 'eant to be called# , held 'y breath# ,% he e7pressed anything

e"en approaching 'ild concern right now( we were both done %or# He was a guest at Alber'arle( so this $ind o% thing should be properly %loating his boatD he needed to let Coyle %inish his ga'e( or e"en better( as$ nicely i% he could 8oin in# /0hassat1) Coyle slurred# /, 8ust wondered i% you should be doing that() said the boy who ca'e %ro' the place where people didn)t get their heads sto"ed in %or a bit o% a laugh# /And it)s your %uc$in) business because###1) &ot a hint o% Coyle)s usual arse2 lic$ing towards guestsD he was well and truly o%% on one# /0ell( i% people are going to be putting in a bid( it)s hardly going to 'a$e top2dollar i% it)s got no %ace le%t( is it1) , tensed( waiting %or the ne7t i'pact# ,nstead( there was silence e7cept Coyle)s laboured( grunting breath# +inally( to 'y a'a<e'ent( he laughed# /),t)# Hear that( %ag1 He called you /,t)# *nly been here %i"e %uc$in) 'inutes and he)s got your 'easure# /,t)# +uc$in) lo"e it6) And with that( the stor' passed as =uic$ly as it had begun# /Aight( let)s get the party started( shall we1) A hand roughly grabbed 'y cu%%s# /Er( be%ore you go( you)"e got a bit o% a nosebleed going on there( 'ate ? 'essed up your shirt a bit() &at said# /Might be a good idea to change it be%ore you go in there1) Coyle let 'e %all again# /Aww( shite# 3ee what you)"e 'ade 'e do now( %ag1 -oo$( could you $eep an eye on hi' %or a 'inute while , go and grab a clean one1) The 'ad bastard)s blood pressure 'ust ha"e been through the ceiling i% the e7cite'ent had brought on a bleed# ,t was a pity he hadn)t gone the whole hog and gi"en hi'sel% a coronary( but the night was still young# His hea"y( shu%%ling %oot%all receded( and , heard &at e7hale# /;e2sus( ,)"e ne"er seen anything li$e that in 'y li%e6 5ou all right( 'an1) He pushed the blind%old onto 'y %orehead and , winced at the sudden light#

, could see two o% e"erything( including &at)s concerned %ace 8ust inches %ro' 'ine# /,)ll li"e# ;ust gi"e 'e a 'inute( yeah1) , inhaled tentati"ely# &othing bro$en( 8ust a new set o% bruises# /God( ,)' so sorry# ,% , could ha"e done so'ething 'ore### but -ilith said( well basically( she told 'e i% , saw anything , had to act cool( but the big 'an there loo$ed li$e he was a bit###) /Psycho1) /0ell( yeah#) /Aoids# He)s goin) o"er the top# The ne7t couple o% hours( 8ust loo$ a%ter -ilith %or 'e( will you1 ,)d do it 'ysel%( but ,)' a bit tied up right now#) ,t was hardly going to get 'e a career in co'edy( but &at 'anaged a wea$ s'ile# /,)ll do all , can# , pro'ise#) /Good 'an#) , rolled onto 'y $nees( ready to scra'ble to 'y %eet with 'y hands behind 'y bac$# My right $nee ga"e way and , %ought against pu$ing %ro' the pain as , hit the %loor# , 'anaged to li'it 'y reaction to a %airly restrained yelp( but , was going nowhere %ast# /*h( that does not loo$ good#) &at crouched ne7t to 'e# /Here# -et 'e gi"e you a hand###) He reached %or 'y ar' and , %linched bac$# , was trying to %igure out how to tell hi' why ,)d reacted li$e a tosser when he pulled his hand away# /3hit# 3orry# Again# Aight( let)s gi"e this another go( shall we1 ,% you)ll let 'e( ,)' going to put 'y hands under your elbows# Then you can use your ar's and your good leg to get upright# That o$ay1) , wondered 8ust how 'uch -ilith had 'anaged to tell hi' in their brie% phonecall# ,n truth( , didn)t ha"e 'uch choice i% , wanted to hobble( rather than crawl( to .laine)s birthday party# , nodded( and &at too$ 'y ar's in a steady grip# Considering he was essentially handling a hogtied gi'p( he 'anaged the operation with a hell o% a lot 'ore dignity than it deser"ed( but e"en with &at)s support it %elt as though so'eone had lit a bon%ire behind 'y $neecap# .y the ti'e , was "ertical again , was sweating li$e a nonce in a playpar$# , 'anaged a /Cheers) through gritted teeth#

/&o proble'( 'ate# And well done# That 'ust ha"e hurt li$e hell#) /3o'ething li$e#) /The way he went in( he)s probably done a liga'entD ,)' sure -ilith can tell you which one# -oo$( try to $eep your leg as straight as possible( yeah1 A%ter### 0ell( you $now( , can try to strap it up %or you i% you want# Might 'a$e it a bit 'ore co'%ortable1) ,)d barely had ti'e to gi"e a tentati"e nod when we heard a distant door sla'# /Coyle# Ti'e %or you to act li$e a twat again#) /3ure#) &at glanced down the corridor as though another attac$ 'ight be i''inent# /Good luc$( yeah1) /5ou too# ;ust re'e'ber( watch out %or the 'ad bastard#) /0ill do() &at whispered( then added( /3hit( nearly %orgot# God( ,)' sorry about this( 'ate#) He pulled the blind%old bac$ in place( 8ust in ti'e# /All sorted now# Cheers %or that( %ella#) Coyle grabbed 'e by the wrists and sho"ed 'e %orward towards the 'ar$etplace# BBBBB ,n pre"ious years it had been so'e anony'ous( terri%ied girlD usually eastern European ? Polish( @$rainian( -at"ian ? always beauti%ul and always petri%ied( and , would ha"e to stand with her( useless in 'y pity# Tonight was a 'illion ti'es worse because it was -ilith ne7t to 'e and e"ery sinew ached to reach and hold her( let her $now , was ne7t to her and that e"erything would be %ine# *nly hours earlier we)d been in each other)s ar's( and ,)d ha"e gi"en anything to be bac$ there again# , $new Gabriel was under orders( but it was little co'%ort# 3he would still ha"e to stand there whilst the %ilthy bunch o% %rea$s sat and ogled her and i'agined what they 'ight do to her# , prayed that Henry had $ept his head %or once( and the bastards sitting around the table had got stuc$ into the wine#

There was the delicate ring o% a sil"er $ni%e against crystal glass and the 'ur'urs and laughter subsided# /-adies and gentle'en( welco'e once 'ore to Alber'arle Hall() .laine began# /,t barely see's li$e wee$s since we were last gathered here( let alone a year# And yet here , a'( a year older 2) /5ou)d ne"er guess it() a "oice called out( and there was a ripple o% polite laughter as Ma7well bro$e the rule o% silence to get his arse2lic$ing in good and early# Probably a%ter a discount# /How gracious o% you to say() .laine said# /&ow ,)' sure those o% you %a'iliar with this e"ening)s cere'ony 'ay ha"e noticed a slight change in the proceedingsD at her own re=uest( you ha"e the opportunity to bid %or the attentions o% 'y renowned artist2in2residence( -ilith .resson# ,n the 'orning( as you)re aware( she)ll be un"eiling her latest 'asterpiece( but %or tonight she can be yours to do with as you wish#) ;ust the "ery thought o% that 'ade 'e want to grab -ilith and drag her %ro' the roo'( but %or good or ill( the e"ening had begun# /3o( shall we start with the custo'ary( but %ran$ly insulting( one thousand pounds1) .laine as$ed 'errily# BBBBB /C3old( %or %i%teen thousand pounds#) +i%teen grand# The bunch o% cheap bastards# &ot that the a'ount itsel% 'attered( 8ust the %act that -ilith was sa%e with Gabriel( but there was so'ething obscene about -ilith e"er co'ing with a price tag# /Than$ you "ery 'uch %or your generosity# Mr *)Halloran will ta$e your purchase to your roo'( and you)ll be able to 8oin her as soon as we)re %inished here# Those o% you who were disappointed ? you now ha"e a second opportunity to bid#) &ow , had to try to $eep 'ysel% in one piece long enough to be any use# ,)d hal%2e7pected .laine to lower 'y reser"e this year( 'aybe down to a couple o% =uid( but she opti'istically $ept it at the thousand# , waited %or so'eone ? probably Ma7well( a%ter a bargain ? to place the %irst bid( and

then things started to get cra<y# /+i"e thousand1 Goodness( how generous#) , could hear the shoc$ in .laine)s "oice# *"er the ne7t %ew 'inutes 'y price rose %aster than , had e"er $nown( %irst by the hundred( and then by the thousand( when it appeared that the auction 'ight go on %or the rest o% the night# To 'y a'a<e'ent , went %or thirty grandD 'ore than ,)d e"er %etched in 'y ti'e here( and 'ore than it had cost .laine to buy 'e in the %irst place# 3o'ething clearly wasn)t right# BBBBB , was sho"ed into 'y buyer)s roo' by Coyle( and waited in silence %or the great re"eal# The cu%%s were unloc$ed %irst( and 'y wrists and %ingers burned as 'y circulation returned( then , %elt tentati"e %ingers %u'bling at the $notted %abric o% 'y blind%old and guessed that ,)d got so'e pissed2up %irst ti'er( their courage %ailing now they were alone# ,t could go one o% two ways at this pointD , was either in %or a %ew hours o% being tal$ed at about /%eelings)( and a li%eti'e o% inade=uacy( and how they)d ne"er 'eant to get to this point( or they)d 8ust throw caution to the wind and go batshit cra<y# A sort o% hell( whiche"er they chose# Gabriel ;a'es too$ away 'y blind%old and , lurched %orward and pinned hi' against the wall by his throat# /5ou double2crossing little %uc$er6) , spat# /3plain6) he gasped( which didn)t 'a$e any sense( so , $ept on cho$ing hi'# His %ingers clawed at 'y wrists and his eyes began to bulge# , rec$oned that one 'ore s=uee<e would probably do the 8ob# /+inn we can e7plain() said a %a'iliar( placid "oice %ro' behind 'e# /;ust put Gabriel down be%ore you $ill hi'#) , couldn)t understand why &at suddenly %ancied a piece o% the action( but the way this night was going( nothing 'ade sense any'ore# /0here the %uc$ is -ilith( you bastards1) Gabriel)s 'outh $ept 'o"ing( but the only sound he 'ade was a %rantic s=uea$# /This was -ilith)s idea ? a last2'inute change o% plan() &at said#

/0hat d)you 'ean( /change o% plan)1 Either Plan A wor$s here( or we)re all screwed#) /, $now( , $now( but -ilith ? she got a note to Gabriel( last 'inute# -oo$( e"erything else is good so %ar() &at soothed# /Henry rec$ons he got to e"eryone)s glass with 'y 'agic potion at so'e point( so these guys should all be crashing to earth any ti'e now###) They clearly weren)t listening( so , turned up the "olu'e# /0hat %uc$ing change o% plan1) E"en &at too$ a step away %ro' 'e( as a precaution# /Two new guests# Turned up last 'inute apparently( and she said Gabriel had toC well( to buy you( no 'atter what# Two A'erican guys1 They see'ed pretty deter'ined to get their hands on you#) /*h God#) , swallowed hard against the 'e'ory( and %inally released 'y grip on Gabriel)s windpipe# As 'uch as , hated to ad'it it( -ilith had been rightD there was no way ,)d ha"e 'ade it through the night# /5ou utter head case6) Gabriel gasped# /Thirty %uc$ing grand to get strangled by a lunatic6) There was no sign o% the Coc$ney now( 8ust a highly aggrie"ed public schoolboy# ,t appeared that ,)d throttled the co''oner clean out o% hi'# , ignored hi'# There was only one thing that truly 'attered now# /3o who the hell)s got -ilith1) /@'( so'e big %ella with red hair# Got the roo' ne7t to 'e( , thin$C) /3hit# 3hit#) Alasdair 4al<iell had bought -ilith( and the night was truly beginning to unra"el# -ilith /3o where do we start with you( you uptight little slut1) As %ar as chat2up lines went( ,)d heard better but Alasdair 4al<iell)s

intentions were anything but ro'antic# .laine had led 'e through the dar$ness and now , was handcu%%ed and blind%olded in the presence o% a 'an who clearly had the constitution o% an o7( and the intellectual capacity to 'atch# , couldn)t detect the slightest slurring in his speech( when he should ha"e been at least hal%way to co'atose# 4al<iell stood behind 'e with his hard2on grinding into the s'all o% 'y bac$( and his %etid breath in 'y ear# , hal%2e7pected hi' to begin lic$ing 'y chee$( and , concentrated on $eeping 'y breathing steady as he decided what he wanted to do %irst# He had clearly decided on 'indless "iolence( and , was grabbed by 'y waist and thrown bac$wards# , %elt 'ysel% %alling( helpless( until , landed hard on a bed( and then 4al<iell pounced# He straddled 'y hips and ripped 'y blind%old away( all the better to obser"e the terror in 'y %ace# , had to re'ind 'ysel% that , wasn)t 'eant to be %ighting this( when instinct was screa'ing at 'e to do all that , could to 'a$e hi' stop# He too$ a length o% rope %ro' a selection o% toys beside the bed and threaded it through 'y handcu%%s( then roughly tied 'e to the headboard# *nce he was content that , was secure( he leaned o"er 'e to grab his wineglass# /Cheers( bitch#) He too$ a long drin$# /+irst o% the night# &o point in being too pissed to re'e'ber the highlights( eh1) He sat bac$( putting his %ull weight onto 'y thighs# /&ow( ti'e to sa'ple the goods( eh1) He tore 'y ridiculous e7cuse %or a dress %ro' 'e in one 'o"e and threw it aside( be%ore ta$ing a pair o% scissors %ro' the table and cutting away 'y thong so , was entirely na$edD .laine had clearly pro"ided all the tools %or whate"er 8ob he had in 'ind# He re%illed his glass# BBBBB /That)s a good girl() 4al<iell said( and cupped 'y breasts with his hands# He s=uee<ed hard and , could %eel his ragged %ingernails dig into 'y %lesh# /5ou $now you want it( don)t you( you littleC little whore#) He paused and %rowned( then glanced at his glass# /.loody good stu%%( that#) He was still poised abo"e 'e( but , %elt his %ocus begin to shi%t# At least it was beginning( but too slowly to be o% any use to 'e# , was going to ha"e to help the process along# , got 'y one chance when 4al<iell $nelt up to %u'ble at his %ly# /3hall we

start by seeing i% you)re as good at suc$ing coc$ as your paddy %riend( eh1 3ee i% you %uc$ing cho$e on it li$eC li$e he did#) , pulled against 'y wrist restraints and $ic$ed upwards with both legs( catching hi' under the chin %ull %orce with 'y heels# Months o% running o"er the roughest ground , had e"er encountered paid o%%( and he ga"e a grunt o% shoc$ and tu'bled bac$wards o%% the end o% the bed( out cold# , lay bac$ on the pillow and shut 'y eyes# &ow all , had to do was %igure out how the hell to pic$ a loc$ on a set o% handcu%%s and %ind so'e clothes( and , was good to go# +inn God was still %ir'ly on .laine)s side( because nothing was going right# Coyle was not only still upright( but on patrol and deliberately idling outside 4al<iell)s door# , should ha"e guessedD he was 'eant to be chec$ing that all was well with .laine)s precious guests( but he was %ar 'ore li$ely to be loo$ing %or an opportunity to catch a gli'pse o% so'e action# There was no doubt that he)d been helping hi'sel% to the drin$D &at)s 'agic potion was $ic$ing in( and by the loo$ o% "ague panic on his ugly 'ug( it didn)t loo$ li$e it was going to be the best o% trips %or the big %ella# 3till( e"en a hal%2stoned Coyle was not a good thing to 'eet down a dar$ened corridor and until the "ery second that bastard was %lat on his bac$ and snoring( he was a real threat# , turned to Gabriel# /Kiss 'e() , ordered# /0hat1) /;ust %uc$in) $iss 'e( will you1) /+uc$ o%%( no way6 ,)' notC) , grabbed hi' by his collar# /-oo$( you stupid twat ? that %ella right there is capable o% rippin) the lot o% us a new arsehole without brea$ing a sweat i% he thin$s there)s so'ething the least bit dodgy going on# 3o( you)"e 8ust paid thirty grand %or a bit o% coc$( and that)s what he needs to see going on# &ow6)

To gi"e the lad his due( he crac$ed on with it# .y the ti'e Coyle cloc$ed us( Gabriel was snogging 'e li$e his li%e depended on it ? which wasn)t too %ar %ro' the truth ? as &at stood and watched us with as 'uch interest as he could possibly 'uster# /They %ancied so'ewhere a bit 'ore public() he e7plained to a clearly disgusted Coyle# /+uc$in) per"s() he 'uttered( but didn)t stop in his sha'bling tra8ectory away %ro' the door# He loo$ed li$e he was about to topple at any second( but , waited until he was well out o% sight be%ore , sho"ed Gabriel away# He staggered bac$wards and wiped the bac$ o% his hand across his 'outh# /4ear God# 0ell( that was a %irst#) He loo$ed so shell2shoc$ed that , nearly s'iled at hi'# /Ach( not bad %or a beginner#) Then , pushed the %ire in 'y $nee to one side and ran the rest o% the way to 4al<iell)s roo'# 0ith each step , prayed that he hadn)t hurt her( but , $new all too well what the 'an was capable o%# , was the %irst inside with Gabriel and &at 8ust a stride behind 'e( and 'y i''ediate thought was that , was too late because -ilith was already na$ed and handcu%%ed to the bed# Then , saw 4al<iell( spar$ out on the %loor# /*h than$ %uc$#) , lurched to -ilith)s side and grabbed the $ey on the bedside table# As soon as the cu%%s clic$ed open she %lung hersel% into 'y ar's# /5ou stupid cow6 He could ha"e $illed you6 ,)' not letting you out o% 'y bloody sight again until we)re o%% this %uc$ing island( you hear 'e1) , pulled a sheet around her shoulders and held her close and , could %eel her tre'bling against 'e# /0hat the hell were you thin$ing( -ili1) /They would ha"e $illed you( +inn# +or de%inite() she said# /And , 8ust need you to not say anything else and hold 'e "ery close right now( i% that)s all right with you#) Gabriel ga"e a polite cough# /@'( is it o$ay to turn around yet1) .oth he and &at had been standing with their bac$s to -ilith since we ca'e into the roo'( and there was so'ething une7pectedly touching about their courtesy# /5eah( she)s decent now# Than$ you#) , loo$ed down at 4al<iell( sprawled across the %loorboards# /The stu%% wor$ed( then1)

-ilith shoo$ her head# /He didn)t want to play# He only started drin$ing ten 'inutes ago( so he was 8ust starting to get groggy#) /3o how co'e he)s down there1) /, had to i'pro"ise#) 3he wrapped the sheet around hersel% and %ashioned a 'a$eshi%t toga# /0hat( you did this1) , pointed at the prone %or' at the %oot o% the bed # /Got 'y %eet %ree# .ut , thin$ he)s stunned rather than %inished( i% you get 'y dri%t#) As she said the words( 4al<iell dragged hi'sel% to his %eet# /5ou %uc$ing little slag() he hissed( and lu'bered towards us# /,)llC) He ne"er %inished the sentence# Gabriel threw hi'sel% in his path to land a per%ect right into 4al<iell)s 8aw and the ugly ginger twat hit the %loor again# /;esus Christ6) Gabriel cradled his %ist# /,% ,)"e bro$en a %inger( ,)' $illing hi'#) , loo$ed down at 4al<iell# He didn)t loo$ li$e a 'an who was planning on wa$ing up anyti'e soon# /&icely done( posh lad#) /Hey( any ti'e( yeah1) Gabriel said( shell2shoc$ed all to hell as he inspected his hand %or da'age# , guessed this was the %irst ti'e he)d hit anything e7cept a school gy' punchbag# /Aight( gentle'en# 3hall we return to the party1) -ilith stood and s'oothed down her 'a$eshi%t dress( then lin$ed her ar' through 'ine# , too$ a step with her and 'y $nee went %ro' under 'e# ;ust %or a second , thought , was going to throw up right there on 'y shoes# /0hat happened( +inn1) -ilith as$ed( and ga"e 'e one o% those loo$s that suggested she already $new anything( so there was no need %or 'e to e"en open 'y gob# , was about to try a /&othing() but &at got there %irst# /Coyle went all postal on his ass() he said# /.ooted hi' in the $nee( the nutter# , thin$ it)s

cartilage#) /Grass() , 'uttered# /,t)s %ine( -ili# 0ell( not %ine e7actly( but ,)ll sur"i"e# , pro'ise( you can po$e it around as 'uch as you want( once we)"e got this sorted#) ,)d e7pected a bit o% an argu'ent( but to 'y surprise she 8ust too$ held 'y ar' a little 'ore %ir'ly( and nodded# /*$ay# ;ust ta$e it easy on the stairs# And you)re not allowed to brea$ anything else %or at least a year( do you hear 'e1) -ilith Henry 'et us at the door o% the Great Hall( and ,)d ne"er seen hi' loo$ so happy# /*h than$ goodness( you)re all sa%e6 , was so worried( especially when those two 'onsters started to bid %or +inn( and then Alasdair got -ilith( andC oh( %or hea"en)s sa$e( now ,)' ra'bling# Co'e in( co'e in ? ,)"e ne"er seen anything li$e it6 ,t)s li$e a scene %ro' 3leeping .eauty in here6) He bec$oned us inside# /3leepin) @gly( 'ore li$e() +inn said as we stepped o"er the threshold# The place loo$ed li$e a scene %ro' a bloodless 'assacre# *nly %i"e guests re'ainedE .laine was at the head o% the table( dead to the world with her head resting on her %olded ar's( and Ma7well was ne7t to her with his head tipped bac$wards o"er the bac$ o% his chair and his gentle snores punctuating the eerie hush# Ellis and Chester had 'ade it all the way to the so%a( where they now slu'ped against each other in obli"ion# /,t was a'a<ing ? a couple o% the' staggered o%% to their roo's( and then the rest 8ust started to do<e o%% one by one( whilst , stood here and watched# &ot a 'ur'ur %ro' anyone6 0hat on earth did you gi"e the'1) Henry as$ed# /Custo'2'ade 8ust %or tonight( 'ate() &at replied# /, ne"er got round to gi"ing it a na'e( but basically it)s got a pretty hea"y anti2psychotic %oundation( co'bined with a 'uscle rela7ant( and 'y estee'ed client here() he nodded at 'e( /stipulated that any drea's should be bad ones( so , whac$ed in a hallucinogen on top#)

/Good grie%#) Henry loo$ed ner"ously at where -aura +enworth had curled up on the rug# /They will be all right though( won)t they1) /Hell( yeah() &at said# /, tried it on 'ysel% be%ore , le%t ? twel"e hours( out %or the count# ,t wasn)t what ,)d call the best night)s sleep e"er( but there was no lasting da'age# The last thing ,)d want to do is $ill so'eone by accident#) , glanced at .laine# E"en when unconscious she was beauti%ul( but to 'y satis%action a thin trail o% sali"a dribbled %ro' the corner o% her 'outh onto the linen tablecloth# /, wouldn)t be too worried# 0e could probably co"er it up without too 'uch di%%icultyD , should i'agine the la$e)s deep enough#) &at stared at 'e# /0hat1) /&othing# &othing at all#) /;olly good# 0ell gentle'en( it would appear that we ha"e appro7i'ately twel"e hours until the grand un"eiling( so , suggest we 'a$e a start with the tidying up# Gabe( would you gi"e Henry a hand in getting these delight%ul people to their acco''odation1) /3ure( as long as he tells 'e where they)re 'eant to go() Gabriel said( plainly relie"ed at being gi"en so'ething to do in the 'idst o% this 'adness# Henry began to roll up his slee"es# /4on)t worry( lad# ,)"e got a list o% lu7ury suites lined up#) Gabriel too$ his dinner 8ac$et o%% and threw it o"er the nearest chair# /Aight then( Henry( 'y good 'an# Head or %eet1) /+ind Coyle and start with hi'( would you1) , as$ed# /,)ll %eel so 'uch better $nowing he)s behind a loc$ed door# And watch your bac$s when you)re li%ting hi'#) /5es 'a)a'6) Henry ga"e a particularly cheer%ul salute( and he and Gabriel

le%t to start their labours# /Aight( ,)d better %etch the rest o% 'y $it() &at said( once he)d surreptitiously chec$ed the pulse at Ma7well)s throat# /And a sweater or threeD ,)d %orgotten the delights o% the great .ritish winter# ,)ll be bac$ in two 'inutes#) +inn waited until he)d gone( then li'ped o"er to Ellis and Chester# He stood abo"e the' in silence( his hands clenched into %ists# /+inn1) , called( but he didn)t 'o"e# /,)' going to get us both so'e war' clothes and so'ething %or your $nee# 0hen &at gets bac$( , need you to ta$e hi' up to .laine)s study#) /4o you not trust 'e with the clean2up( then1) , loo$ed down at the two unconscious 'en( both o% the' i'peccably groo'ed and dressed to $ill# ;ust the scent o% their a%tersha"e threatened to 'a$e 'e hea"e# /4o you really thin$ that either o% the' deser"es a painless death in their sleep1) /+air play#) To 'y relie%( +inn %inally turned his bac$ on the' and ga"e 'e the tightest o% s'iles# /0onder how they)d %eel( $nowing -ilith .resson 8ust sa"ed their 'iserable li"es1) Chapter Thirty *ne -ilith The study loo$ed 'isleadingly cosy# The %ire in the hearth had been re$indled( gi"ing the roo' a war'th and so%t glow it didn)t deser"e( and &at was wor$ing by the light o% a green glass des$ la'p# .y the ti'e , got there he had switched .laine)s co'puter on( and was busy ad8usting the o%%ice chair to his satis%action# , set down an ice buc$et and an ar'%ul o% blan$ets( trac$suit botto's and sweaters onto the co%%ee table and 8oined +inn on the di"an( where he had already lit his %irst cigarette# He was as edgy as hell# &at had his wash$it with hi' and e'ptied the contents out onto .laine)s des$# He held up a s'all tube o% toothpaste and a pac$ o% ra<orblades to show 'e# /Me'ory stic$ and e7ternal hard dri"e# Pretty cool( huh1)

/0hat( that)s it1) +inn as$ed# /That)s it#) &at pulled the lid o%% the toothpaste to re"eal a @3. connector# /All , need %or a brute %orce attac$# ,)ll be %eeding 'illions o% passwords through an encryption algorith'C) /And again( in English1) /;ust thin$ o% it as bludgeoning down .laine)s %ront door#) /&ow that , can i'agine# .ut it 8ust see's $indaC insigni%icant %or what you)re goin) to ha"e to do# There)s no way she would want this stu%% lea$ing out into the world# ,% this thing doesn)t wor$C) +inn)s an7iety was an entirely unneeded re'inder o% what was at sta$e( and , doubted that any o% his concern was %or his own s$in# ,% &at was in the least ner"ous about the role he was playing in our sche'e( he hid it beauti%ully# /-oo$( %ro' what -ilith)s told 'e( and what ,)"e seen so %ar( .laine)s a collector# 0hich 'eans she)ll want to be able to loo$ through that collection whene"er she wants( yeah1) He adopted the sa'e laid2bac$ tone he would use in 3anta Marita( when discussing which bar we 'ight go to# /Thin$ o% it as her own "irtual gallery# 3he)ll rec$on that her ,T guy)s so'e $ind o% genius ? which( hey( he 'ight well be( but he)s nothing co'pared to 'e# Anyway( it)ll 'a$e her belie"e that anything that goes on behind the wall can be as sic$ as she wants it to be#) /3ounds %a'iliar() , said# &at plugged the disguised 'e'ory stic$ into .laine)s des$top# /3o once ,)' in( , can pretty 'uch guarantee that e"erything ,)ll need is going to be laid out in %ront o% 'e( probably in alphabetical order with a nice( handy inde7#) /.ut you can)t be sure1) There was real anguish in +inn)s "oice now# /, can ne"er be a hundred percent sure#) &at cal'ly turned his chair away %ro' the des$ to %ace us# /-oo$( 'ate( , don)t $now i% -ilith told you( but ,)"e done this be%ore ? , spent two years o% a Master)s degree writing progra''es to catch sic$ bastards# Aight now there are %i"e 'en still doing ti'e because they were stupid enough to thin$ a password was going to

$eep 'e out o% their grubby little collections( and , %ully intend to 'a$e it si7 a%ter tonight# &ow go and get that bloody $nee sorted out( will you1) BBBBB +inn dragged hi'sel% o%% to change his out%it( then begrudgingly sat ne7t to 'e and rolled up the leg o% his trac$suit# E"en the so%t 8ersey %abric brushing against his s$in 'ade hi' wince( and what he re"ealed was barely recognisable as a $nee# The whole 8oint was swollen and hot to the touch( and had already begun to turn an interesting shade o% claret where the tip o% Coyle)s boot had connected# /*h good grie%( +inn() , sighed# /, a' so bloody glad this is the last ti'e ,)ll do this#) /, thin$ it)s touching that the %uc$er ga"e 'e so'ething to re'e'ber hi' by() +inn said( then %ell =uiet as , tentati"ely e7plored the 'isshapen $neecap with 'y %ingertips# /That utter cunt o% a 'an#) , pac$ed hand%uls o% ice into a towel and twisted it into a parcel# /At a guess( ,)d say it was your anterior cruciate liga'ent#) &at loo$ed up %ro' the screen and gri'aced# /*uch#) /How do you $now all this shit1) +inn as$ed# /The %irst ti'e you did this %or 'e( you were rattling o%% all the -atin ? thought you were cursing 'e at %irst#) /, probably was() , s'iled( re'e'bering# /,t was a course o% anato'y lessons years ago( when , was 8ust starting out# , went out with a 8unior doctor( 8ust so he)d let 'e into the hospital 'orgue at night# , spent two solid 'onths reading all his te7tboo$s and s$etching cada"ers %ro' dus$ /til dawn( then du'ped the poor sod#) /Aeally1) He watched 'e %or a while to see i% , was being serious# /5)$now( ,)' not sure i% that)s nor'al( -ili#) , shrugged# /,t wor$ed %or GGricault#) /,% you say so#) +inn paused to ta$e a low breath as , slid a s'all sil$2

co"ered cushion under his leg# /God( there)s so 'uch , don)t $now about you( isn)t there1 A whole li%eti'e o% things , don)t ha"e a single clue about#) /And so "ery soon we)ll ha"e all the ti'e we need to catch up#) , paused in 'y nursing duties to $iss hi' on the lips# He returned the gesture and , pac$ed the ice2%illed towel around his $nee# Meltwater tric$led down onto the delicate %abric o% the cushion and the %loral pattern)s subtle colours began to run and 'erge( ruining it %ore"er# /Ah( what a sha'e() +inn said with satis%action# /, thin$ you)"e %uc$ed it#) /0hoops# Aight( that)s about the best , can do# 0e)ll %ind a proper doctor to'orrow( but %or now( $eep it ele"ated and $eep it still( do you hear 'e1) +inn rolled his eyes# /5ou ha"e distinct do'inatri7 tendencies( wo'an# 0hat i% , need a piss1) /Then ,)' sure there)ll be a Ming "ase lur$ing around so'ewhere#) BBBBB At hal% past one in the 'orning( &at suddenly pushed his chair bac$ and lin$ed his hands behind his head# +inn gripped 'y wrist# 0hat)s wrong1) /&othing at all( 'ate# &othing at all() &at said# /To =uote e"ery Hollywood hac$er clichG in e7istence( ,)' in#) , ga"e +inn)s hand a s=uee<e and stood up# /,)d better go and shout Henry#) BBBBB Gabriel escorted Henry right to the door o% the study and patted hi' %ir'ly on the bac$# /,t)ll be all right( , pro'ise#) /And you)re sure you)ll be o$ay by yoursel%( Gabriel1) Henry as$ed# /,% anything happens( or you hear anything( or need 2) /Henry( there are busier gra"eyards than this place# ,)ll be %ine#)

/5es( but 2) /,% there)s the slightest proble' , hereby pro'ise to screa' li$e a girl() Gabriel said( then loo$ed across at 'e# /3orry#) /,)ll %orgi"e you this ti'e() , said# /How)s the new 8ob going1) /*n balance( ,)d say , pre%er per%or'ing in %ront o% a %ew thousand adoring wo'en( but /3ecurity Guard at the Castle o% the 4a'ned) co'es a pretty close second# , should be %ine( as long as there are no ghosts#) /0ell done#) /Than$s# ,t)s 8ust reallyC weird( basically# 0e)"e got a couple o% guests in the larder( the big ,rish a7e2'urderer)s in +inn)s roo'( 4al<iell)s in that bloody torture cha'ber set2up with the two weird A'erican guys( and Her -adyship)s in the wine cellar# E"eryone)s out %or the count( it)s dar$( cold( and as spoo$y as all shit#) +or a second Gabriel)s sel%2assured %aPade slipped away( then he s=uared his shoulders# /Aight then( better go and see i% anyone needs roo' ser"ice( eh1 Good luc$( all o% you#) /0atch out %or the 0hite -ady() , called at his retreating bac$( and he %lic$ed 'e two %ingers# , shut the door to $eep the heat in the roo'( and returned to +inn)s side# He lit another cigarette and shut his eyes# &at clic$ed the 'ouse and a spreadsheet %illed the screen# /0ell than$ you "ery 'uch( -ady Alber'arle# 3ee1 3heet a%ter sheet o% na'es( addresses( e"en telephone nu'bers( all in alphabetical order# The docu'ent)s e"en called /Address .oo$)# The depra"ed clearly ha"e no i'agination whatsoe"er# &ot that ,)' co'plaining#) He clic$ed through a couple o% pages# /And there we go# /Henry MastersonE Contacts) and /+inn 3trachanE Contacts)( co'plete with notes# *h( so'eti'es it)s "ery nice indeed to be right#) Henry bunched an i''aculate hand$erchie% in his hands# /0hat does it say1) /-et)s see#) &at reopened the page# /*$a2ay ? according to this( your 'u')s in a care ho'e ? 3a%e Harbours ? in 0esthill( 8ust outside Aberdeen#

.oo$ed in as /Audrey 3'ith)#) /,)d ne"er ha"e %ound her() Henry said in a s'all "oice# /, 'ean( who would thin$ o% Aberdeen1 And /3'ith)1 There 'ust be thousands o% 3'iths out thereC) he used his hand$erchie% to dab at his eyes# /*h 'y# Than$ you so 'uchC ,)ll 8ust sit here and co'pose 'ysel% %or a 'inute( i% , 'ay1) He blew his nose( and added( /Marguerite# That)s her na'e# Marguerite Masterson# &ot bloody /Audrey)#) /,)ll 'a$e sure that gets passed on( 'ate() &at said( then turned to +inn# /*h Christ() +inn 'ur'ured and buried his head in his ar's# /, don)tC 3hit( -iliC) /,t)s o$ay# ,t)ll be o$ay( , pro'ise() , soothed( and wrapped 'y ar's around hi'# /,t)s your sisters( yeah1) &at as$ed( and +inn nodded in reply( beyond spea$ing# /5up# Here we are# -oo$s li$e &ia'h)s got hersel% a %lat in so'ewhere called +inglas( and 3inGad)s li"ing with her#) +inn too$ a deep breath# /+inglas# 4oes itC does it say how they)re doing1) he as$ed# &at scrolled down# /@'( yeah ? &ia'h)s in her %irst year o% 'idwi%ery training( and got a boy%riend who)s a tattoo artist# 3inGad)s in her third year at secondary school ? bit o% a rebel( according to this( but doing o$ayC .ass player in a goth band 2) +inn ga"e an in"oluntary cho$ed sob# /The bitch# *h( that %uc$ing( %uc$ing bitch#) &at le%t the co'puter to crouch by +inn)s side# /Hey( ta$e it easy6 ,)' sorry ? is there so'ething wrong with the in%o1 , 'ean( that)s all good( isn)t it1) /3he saidC she said they were on the %uc$ing ga'e( didn)t she1 Told 'e they)d %ollowed their arsehole o% a big brother into the %a'ily businessC) He %inally un%urled his ar's to loo$ at 'e( his %ace %illed with anguish# /And , %uc$ing belie"ed her# 3tupid bastard that , a'C)

&at placed a hand on +inn)s ar'# /5ou $now( , really thin$ it)s ti'e we %inished her now( yeah1) BBBBB 5ou want to 'a$e the call1) &at pic$ed up the telephone and held it out to Henry( who was now atte'pting to wear a path in the Tur$ish rug with his constant pacing# He stared at the handset in co'plete horror# /*h no# &o# , couldn)t# , wouldn)t $now what to say( where to startC) +inn dragged on his cigarette and rested his %orehead on the ar' o% the di"an# /3ort that 'an out# &ow() he whispered( /because i% he doesn)t shut up and stand still , will $ill the little %uc$er#) /,t)s o$ay() &at said( hastily# /,)ll do it# ,)ll put it o"er the spea$er( shall ,1) He pressed a series o% buttons and the digitised sound o% a phone ringing %illed the roo'# A%ter an eternity( there was a 'uted clic$# /Hell2o1) , recognised the "oice i''ediately( and &at ga"e 'e a thu'bs2up# /Can , as$ who this is( please1) he as$ed# /This is 3ergeant Edward &ewton( &orthu'bria Police# .ut you can call 'e Ed#) &at grinned# /E"ening( Ed# Good to tal$ to you again#) /How)s it going there( son1 E"eryone o$ay1) /Hello( Call2Me2Ed() , said# /,t)s -ili here#) /0ell it)s lo"ely to hear your "oice( sweetheart# And that lad o% yours1) /He)s here# He)s good# ;ust about in one piece#) /That)s "ery good to hear#) There was genuine relie% in Ed)s "oice# /,)' so bloody sorry it)s ta$en 'e so long to get bac$ to you# The Chie% ,nspector was a bit $een to ha"e his 'ates handle the case ? should ha"e $nown the

dodgepot was up to so'ething# 0e)ll get things sorted now though( lo"e# , pro'ise#) /Good# .ecause , really want to go ho'e#) /0ell let)s 'a$e a start( shall we1 &at ? ha"e you got so'e addresses %or 'e( son1) /5up() &at said# /Ha"e you got a pen handy1) BBBBB The porcelain trin$et dish that +inn was using as an ashtray began to o"er%low as he stubbed out one cigarette a%ter another( and the study was en"eloped in a ha<e o% s'o$e# , sat by hi' and watched the snow whirl against the glass and pile up on the windowsills# At twenty past two( the phone rang again# /Here we go() &at said( and pic$ed up# /Hi there#) /Ed &ewton( reporting in#) His e=uable "oice %illed the roo'# /E"erything still o$ay at your end1) There was a so%t hiss and crac$le o% static on the line# /3ee's to be#) /Good( good# &ow loo$( the bloody weather)s ta$en a turn %or the worseD so'e Arctic %ront or other 'o"ing in 8ust in ti'e %or Christ'as# ,% there)s a bit o% a delay getting to you in the 'orning( don)t %ret# ,)ll hotwire a snowplough i% , ha"e to( but we)ll get there#) /&o proble'# 0e)ll 8ust $eep e"eryone in their roo's until you arri"e#) , thought , heard Ed sti%le a laugh# /E7cellent# Must ha"e been so'e nightcap eh1) /Must ha"e been() &at agreed# /Aight then( on to the i'portant stu%%# ,)' delighted to in%or' you that Marguerite Masterson)s currently ha"ing a cuppa with two young PCs %ro'

the Gra'pian %orce( and ,)"e 8ust had a call %ro' 'y contact in the Garda to say that they)re ta$ing 3inGad and &ia'h 3trachan straight to a sa%e house as we spea$# Apparently as soon as , 'entioned the na'e /*)Halloran) they decided not to ta$e any chances#) /3o they)re sa%e1) , as$ed# /5es( -ili( lo"e# They)re sa%e() ca'e the reply# +inn All bets were o%%# 3o'ewhere in the distance( Henry started sni"elling( and , turned to -ilith# /Could you gi"e 'e a hand to get to the window( please1 Thin$ , need so'e air#) /3ure#) , 'ade 'y way to the +rench windows and pushed the' open# 3now %lurried around our %aces( and at last , could breathe# /,t 8ust doesn)t see' real( -ili# , trust the %ella( don)t get 'e wrong( but , don)t thin$ it will( not until , hear their "oices( see the'# ,% they want to see 'eC) , was caught o%%2 guard by the sudden catch in 'y "oice# /They will() -ilith said( with such certainty that , nearly let 'ysel% belie"e her# ;ust enough to stop 'e beco'ing as big an ee8it as Henry# -ilith placed her hand o"er 'ine on the balcony rail( and we watched the snow%la$es settle and thaw on her golden s$in# The silence was bro$en by Henry blowing his nose again# /Aight( enough o% 'y nonsense# Co%%ee# That)s what we all need# ,)' sure you)"e still got wor$ to do( young 'an# , 'ay not be able to assist with the technology( but , can certainly pro"ide you with su%%icient %uel %or your labours#) /,)d appreciate that() &at said# /, could do with ca%%eine hit be%ore we go into round two#) /And then , should really go and relie"e Gabriel# The poor boy 'ust be

worn out#) /That)s a bit %ull2on %or your %irst date( isn)t it1) , said# +or a second( Henry)s botto' lip wobbled( then he ga"e a snot2ridden giggle# /+inn 3trachan( don)t be dread%ul6) he chided( and tears sprang to his eyes again# /*h goodness( +inn( it)s true( isn)t it1 They)re sa%e1) /5eah( little 'an( it)s true#) Then the waterwor$s started again( and be%ore , could stop hi'( he caught 'e up in a bear hug# /*h( %or crying out loud#) , loo$ed down at Henry)s tear2stained %ace( and tentati"ely returned the e'brace# /&ow pull yoursel% together( you da%t wee pu%%#) BBBBB Henry deli"ered enough co%%ee to start his own outlet then disappeared again to clean so'ething or other( or 'aybe e"en to play hide2and2see$ with Gabriel# As 'uch as , was delighted %or 'y %ellow capti"e( , was glad he was staying out o% 'y way %or the ne7t stage# , wasn)t e"en sure , wanted to be there 'ysel%# &at was still ha''ering away at the $eyboard# /+inn( i% you)re up to it( , could do with a hand sorting out so'e o% these na'es and %aces1) /,t)s 'ore a =uestion o% you being up to it() , said( wondering what the hell our %resh2%aced young sa"iour would 'a$e o% .laine)s gallery o% depra"ity# Mainly starring 'e# 0e both started at the sudden clatter as -ilith %u'bled her co%%ee 'ug and bounced it across the %loorboards# /*h bugger() she 'u'bled( and , realised she)d 8ust %allen asleep sitting up# .ecause , hadn)t slept properly %or the best part o% a decade( it was easy to %orget that other people needed to( and about two hours too late( , realised -ilith 'ight drop at any 'o'ent# /Ah hell( sweetheart( you 'ust be $nac$ered#) /,)ll 'anage# 4on)t want to lea"e you with all this#) 3he sounded drun$ with

%atigue# /, rec$on ,)ll be all right with &at %or a little while( and you)ll be close by# , can do this( -ili# Pro'ise# , need to do this#) , $issed her again( breathing in her war'th to help carry 'e through# /And let)s %ace it( it)s the "ery %uc$in) least , can do#) /As long as you)re sure# .ut wa$e 'e in an hour( o$ay1 &ot a 'inute longer#) /*% course#) , hauled 'ysel% up and grabbed the %leece blan$et %ro' the table# A %resh strip o% te'a<epa' lay under it( and , pal'ed itD as e"er( -ilith had thought o% e"erything# 3he piled all the cushions together and lay down( her eyes closing as soon as her head touched the 'a$eshi%t pillow# , draped the blan$et o"er her( then too$ 'y place in the seat ne7t to &at# /Aeady#) /Aight then( ,)' going to ha"e a good loo$ around( see what else is on here# Then with your help ,)' going to parcel it up( and anything that loo$s re'otely illegal gets sent to Ed)s ,T bod# Anything else that 8ust loo$s dodgy as %uc$( , %ollow -ilith)s order and use it to cause as 'uch da'age to the e7istence o% those in"ol"ed as , possibly can( in the ti'e , ha"e a"ailable# And don)t worry ? , can pi7elate your %ace out o% anything that)s on there be%ore we send it to anyone# -et)s $eep e7posure %or the guilty( shall we1) , hadn)t e"en thought about who 'ight get to loo$ at .laine)s collection a%ter the night was through# /That)d be good o% you#) , too$ a =uic$ loo$ around the roo'# /.e%ore we start( would you do 'e a %a"our1) /3ure#) /0ould you chec$ out what)s in those decanters on the cabinet there1 Thin$ , 'ight need one o% the'#) As , popped si7 te'a<epa' into 'y pal'( &at got up to inspect the bottles# He too$ the lid %ro' each one( and ga"e it a good sni%%# /4ry sherry( and a %airly decent 3cotch( ,)d guess#) /The 3cotch sounds the best bet# 4on)t thin$ ,)' 'uch o% a sherry 'an#)

&at passed 'e the decanter# , threw the tablets into 'y 'outh and washed the' down with a couple o% gulps o% so'ething that tasted li$e TCP( but worse# /+uc$( that)s ran$ ? gi"e 'e ,rish any day# *$ay( let)s do this#) BBBBB ,t was ne"er going to be pretty# 3o'eti'es it was 8ust words ? letters to .laine( detailing yet another dissolute re=uestD letters %ro' .laine( detailing her price once that re=uest was granted# And then there were the photographs# Picture a%ter picture o% e"ery tawdry encounter she had arranged# , had no 'e'ory o% so'e o% the' ? nights when ,)d got su%%iciently blasted to sail through without e"er re'e'bering ? and others that , recalled all too well# &at 8ust needed "eri%icationE was the na'e correct1 0ere there any details 'issing1 4id , want to add anything1 All as$ed without a trace o% disgust or( e"en worse( pity# ;ust dispassionate( cal' =uestions to %ill in the gaps# &ot %or a second did , regret putting 'y trust in this 'an( but , was glad ,)d $ept hold o% the whis$y( %oul ditch water that it was# Three hours in( with -ilith still crashed out on the di"an( we got to the shots ,)d been dreadingE 'y encounter with the %uc$ers currently loc$ed in the dungeon# , 'anaged to handle 'ysel% better this ti'e( but they were no easier on the eye# ,t was the %irst ti'e that &at reacted to anything that he)d seen# He sat bac$ and pinched the bridge o% his nose( and e7haled slowly# /0ell( she)s certainly thorough() he said# He)d 8ust spent the best part o% a night loo$ing at 'e laid bare in e"ery sense o% the word and still he 'anaged to loo$ 'e in the eye# , was i'pressed# /3orry %or doubting you# .e%ore# All o% this 2) , gestured at the co'puter and the selection o% gadgets across the des$# /,)' not e7actly an e7pert( as you can guess# ;ust didn)t see' possible( that)s allC) /&ot a proble'# &early there nowE 8ust $eep telling yoursel%( this ti'e to'orrow you)ll be in 3anta Marita#) /5eah# 5eah( , guess , will# 3hit#) ,)d barely dared thin$ o% the a%ter'ath( ne"er 'ind discuss it#

/,t)s a good place to heal() &at said# /Trust 'e#) /,t)ll need to be#) /,t wor$ed %or 'e# Ae'e'ber , told you about doing this as 'y Masters)1) , nodded# /0ell towards the end( it really started to get to 'e# And , 'ean really# , $now it)s nothing li$e being on the recei"ing end( but , stopped eating( sleeping( all that stu%% ? turned out 'y co'puter was a hell o% a lot easier to switch o%% than 'y head# Had a co'plete brea$down by the ti'e , was twenty two() he said( 'atter2o%2%actly# /&o shit#) /*h yeah( %ull2on 'eltdown# My 'u' and dad were all %or getting 'e sectioned( so , did a geographical ? that)s how , ended up in 3anta Marita# &ow li%e)s all sun( sea and an award2winning dope %ar'#) /&ice# That where you 'et -ili1) /3)right#) All the ti'e we were tal$ing( &at was typing away# /4oes she $now1 About the( erC) /Crac$2up1) &at s'iled# /Can you i'agine being with -ilith %or 'ore than a 'inute and her not $now e"erything about you( 8ust by loo$ing at the way you hold your $ni%e and %or$1) /&ot now you co'e to 'ention it( no# 3ee's a bit harsh( 'ind ? dragging you bac$ into all this shite i% it)s already sent you up the wall the once#) /That)s how , $new it was i'portant#) , s'iled# /3he)s a %uc$in) %orce o% nature once she gets going( 'ind you#) &at glanced o"er to where -ilith slept# /3he)s a'a<ing() he said( and 8ust %or a 'o'ent he loo$ed li$e he)d been $ic$ed in the balls#

, didn)t $now what the hell to say# /@'( sorry1) , "olunteered# &at shrugged( and ga"e 'e a rue%ul grin# /Ah( %uc$ it( , can wallow around in a 'ire o% sel%2pity as 'uch as , li$e( but at the end o% the day she chose you( 'ate# ,)ll li"e# E"entually#) He crac$ed his $nuc$les and straightened the $eyboard# /3o# 3hall we continue catching bastards1) /Good plan#) , had another 'outh%ul o% the bilge2whis$yD to 'y surprise( there was only an inch le%t in the decanter# /Aight( let)s get rid o% that cha'ber o% horrors#) &at opened another %ile( and a new picture ca'e up on screen# +or once( it didn)t in"ol"e 'eD it was a shot o% a client that .laine had dealt with personally# The %ace was "aguely %a'iliar( but , couldn)t =uite place hi'D to 'y surprise( &at cloc$ed hi' straight away# /, don)t thin$ we let -ilith see this one() he said# -ilith /-et -ilith see what1) , as$ed# /*oh( %uc$#) +inn actually laughed( which was the last thing , e7pected to hear right now# &at 8ust sat there and loo$ed sheepish# /This() he %inally said( and angled the screen towards 'e# ,t was a picture o% 'y %ather( lying on a bed# He was wearing a giant nappy and precious little else( an o"ersi<ed du''y hung around his nec$( and he was cuddling an Alber'arle teddy bear# /*h( the ridiculous old 'an#) , pushed bac$ the blan$et and went to ta$e a closer loo$# /0ant so'e1) +inn o%%ered 'e a decanter with a couple o% 'outh%uls o% li=uid le%t in itD , guessed it had been %ull not too long be%ore# , wordlessly too$ it and %inished o%% what had been a %airly decent -aphroaig# /-oo$( -ilith( we don)t ha"e to do anything with this one() &at said# /, can 8ust delete it#) /.ury hi'# 4o anything you can to destroy whate"er re'ains o% that

pathetic( parasitic inbred)s e7istence#) , 8abbed a %inger at the screen# /, want that sending to the editor o% the Herald( the secretary o% his gentle'en)s club and the Archbishop o% bloody Canterbury i% you can %ind his e'ail address#) /4on)t hold bac$ now() +inn said# /*$ie2do$e#) &at began to type# /The tabloids are going to ha"e a %ield day with this one ? you $now that( don)t you1) /0ell ,)ll 8ust ha"e to weather the stor'( won)t ,1 ,% it %inishes that spineless little shit( it)s worth it() , said# /And anyway( , shouldn)t get too 'uch hassle %ro' the' once we)re ho'e( than$s to .enedicta#) /The landlady o% our %a"ourite bar# 3he)s $ind o% protecti"e o% -ilith() &at e7plained# /3he pulled her dad)s old ci"il war Mauser on the last pap who ca'e sni%%ing around# ,t was a pretty e%%ecti"e deterrent#) /, can well i'agine it was() +inn said# ;ust then( a decidedly cru'pled Gabriel returned to the study( clearly ready to crash# He stared at the screen and shuddered# /Holy %uc$( who the hell)s that per"1) /4addy() , said# Gabriel slapped a hand to his 'outh# /*h# God( sorry#) /4on)t worry about it ? ,)d say /Per") is spot on# 3o( did you 'et any restless spirits1) /&o( but ,)"e been $eeping 'y eyes tightly shut( 8ust in case() he yawned( all trace o% his Moc$ney accent long gone# /Henry said he)d do an hour or so by hi'sel% i% , wanted a brea$( then ,)ll ta$e o"er when he does the bacon sandwiches#) He collapsed onto the di"an# /3eriously( -ilith( , didn)t $now what the %uc$ to thin$ when we got here( other than you were in so'e $ind o% trouble( but , tell you what( this place ? it)s really %rea$ing 'e now# Me and a couple o% the guys %ro' the band( we)"e had a %ew nights atC) he cast a =uic$ glance at +inn# /0ell( you can probably guess# And it was o$ay at the ti'e( you $now1 0e had a bit o% a laugh( the girls were pretty

a'a<ing( but this1) He pulled his hands through his hair# /,t)s 8ust wrong( isn)t it1 E"il#) He ga"e a shudder# /, can pro'ise you( %ro' this day %orth ,)' a changed hedonist#) /*h yeah1 And what do you thin$ now( then1) +inn as$ed# /3eriously1) /3eriously#) /0ell %or a start( you( 'y delight%ul ,rish %riend( terri%y 'e() Gabriel said( and pulled the blan$et o"er his head li$e a shawl# /5ou loo$ li$e you)"e 8ust stepped o%% the catwal$( you)"e got the stare o% a serial $iller( and you)re clearly one o% the hardest bastards ,)"e e"er 'et# .asically( ,)' terribly $een to ensure that ,)' ne"er on your wrong side %or the re'ainder o% 'y e7istence ? will that do you %or now( you %uc$ing sociopath1) There was silence as +inn considered Gabriel)s state'ent( then he ga"e a tired grin# /Aye( you posh twat# That)ll do#) He turned to 'e# /-ili( would you do us a %a"our( and pass -ittle -ord +auntleroy here the sherry( would you1 He loo$s li$e he needs it#) BBBBB At ten to si7 in the 'orning( Gabriel was sound asleep on the hearthrug and +inn and , were do<ing against each other on the di"an when &at stood up and stretched( e7posing a couple o% inches o% tanned belly as his sweatshirt slid up his lan$y %ra'e# /0ell( that)s 'y bit done( people# As o% now( there)s a whole bunch o% dudes whose li"es ha"e 8ust been %lushed down the pan o% creation#) /E7cellent news# 3o( what now( genius1) , as$ed# /0e wait# Ed)s holed up with his techie guy in a . and . 8ust down the road( and , i'agine he)ll stay put until he)s had a chance to chec$ through the %iles ,)"e 8ust sent hi' be%ore he heads o"er here#) He loo$ed at his watch# /0e)"e got about %orty 'inutes( , guess#) As i% on cue( the phone rang( and &at pic$ed it up# /Hi( Ed#) He paused and nodded# /3ure# Cheers %or that# 5up( will do# 3ee you soon#) He put the

handset bac$ on the cradle and turned to us# /Ma$e that an hour ? apparently the snow)s 'ade the roads absolute hell# And he says to ha"e the $ettle on#) He nudged Gabriel gently with the tip o% his toe# /Co'e on( 'egastar( rise and shineD we)d better be $eeping an ear open %or guests beginning to wa$e up# And what was that you were saying about a bacon sandwich1) /@h'( $itchen( Henry() Gabriel 'u'bled( still hal%2asleep( and slowly got to his %eet# /5ou two co'ing1) /Tell Henry ,)ll be along soon() , said# /, need to call in at 'y studio %irst# There)s one last 8ob , need to do#) /5ou want co'pany1) +inn as$ed# , thought about it( then nodded# /5eah( co'pany would be good#) BBBBB +inn stood at 'y side in the gloo' as , hauled away the sheet that co"ered .laine)s portrait# 3he stared down at us( na$ed and regal and surrounded by greenery( and , resisted the urge to throw the sheet straight bac$ o"er her s'ug %ace# /, %orget( so'eti'es() +inn said# /+orget what1) He slid his hand into 'ine# /That this is what you do# ,t)s breathta$ing( -ili#) /,t)s not 'y best#) /Aeally1 ;esus( it loo$s pretty good to 'y ad'ittedly uncultured eye#) , ran 'y %ingers o"er the can"as( %eeling that wonder%ul te7ture o% oil o"er linen %or the %inal ti'e# /*h( don)t get 'e wrong ? it)s good( but it)s nowhere near great# , ha"e this prodigious talent %or painting the person behind the %aPade( but with .laine the %aPade is all there is le%t ? 8ust arti%ice( guile( and an e7pensi"e pair o% silicone tits#)

/3o what)s goin) to happen to .laine the 3econd here( now1) /That)s why , needed co'pany() , said# /,t needs a %inishing touch#) Chapter Thirty Two +inn .y the ti'e we got to the $itchen( &at and Gabriel were de'olishing hal% a pig between the'# Henry was in his ele'ent( ser"ing %ood to two highly appreciati"e( pretty young 'en( and there was a de%inite spring in his step as he 'o"ed ni'bly between the sto"e and the table# /+inn6 .rea$%ast1) he chirped# , li'ped to the nearest chair and pulled another to 'e %or 'y busted leg# /&ah( ,)' good( than$s# ,)ll stic$ with the tea and a s'o$e#) /-ilith1) /Muesli and soy( and a cha'o'ile tea than$s#) Henry rolled his eyes# /Philistines( the pair o% you#) -ilith planted a dainty $iss on his chee$# /All pac$ed1) /4arling girl( there)s not a single thing %ro' this god%orsa$en pit that , would drea' o% ta$ing with 'e# &ew day( new start( and all that $ind o% thing#) Mu%%led thu'ping %ro' the roo' beyond interrupted the con"ersation( and Henry tutted# /That rac$et)s been going on %or the last hal%2hour# Honestly( the wood on the pantry door is at least %our inches thic$( so , don)t $now what good they thin$ it)ll do# They)"e got water( and a buc$et to pee in( and that)ll ha"e to do the' until so'eone with a stronger sto'ach than 'e lets the' out#) /Get you() , laughed# /,s that the soldier in you co'in) out1) Henry ga"e 'e a s'ile# /*h( it)s a'a<ing the di%%erence a little %reedo' can 'a$e#) -ilith stood on tiptoe to loo$ out o% the $itchen window( her %ace lit by an

eerie blue glow %ro' the last o% the 'oonlight on the ban$s o% snow outside the hall# /,)d top the $ettle up i% , were you( Henry# 0e appear to ha"e a s'all ar'ada landing#) /Ed1) &at as$ed# /0ell i% it)s 3anta on an early shi%t ( , hope he)s brought plenty o% coal() -ilith replied# /A si'ple /yes) or /no) would ha"e su%%iced#) &at snatched the last o% the sandwiches %ro' Gabriel)s hand# /,)ll go and let the' in then( shall ,1) /Aeady %or this( 3trachan1) -ilith as$ed 'e# , let %ledgling anticipation rise in 'y chest# ,t appeared that %or once in 'y li%e( , 'ight be on the winning side# /*h yeah#) BBBBB 3ergeant Ed strode into the $itchen in a blast o% Arctic air and brushed the snow %ro' his hat and considerable shoulders# He was %ollowed by three twel"e2year olds dressed as police o%%icers who stopped in the doorway and gaped at Gabriel# Henry was clearly about to ha"e a positi"e orgy o% tea2'a$ing# Ed went straight to -ilith and %lung his ar's around her# /, a' so bloody sorry( pet# , tried to trac$ you down( but it was li$e the pair o% you had disappeared %ro' the %ace o% the earth( then the boss stepped in and told 'e he)d /got things sorted) and that was it#) He a deep chuc$le# /Mind you( ha"ing had a =uic$ pee$ at so'e o% those holiday snaps that &at sent o"er( , thin$ he)ll be luc$y i% he)s allowed to sort his own soc$ drawer %ro' now on( the 'uc$y old bugger# And can , 8ust say( it couldn)t ha"e happened to a nicer blo$e#) He %inally put -ilith down to ta$e a 'ug %ro' Henry# /And it)s %antastic to see you( lad() Ed said to 'e# /There)s not a day gone by that , ha"en)t wondered how you were getting on#) , had only the "aguest 'e'ory o% his "oice( and nothing 'ore# .ut -ilith trusted hi'( and %or now that would ha"e to do# +or one dread%ul 'o'ent , thought he was going to hug 'e as well( but to 'y relie% he settled %or a

brie% pat on the shoulder then sat down at the table and conte'plated his tea# The ine%%ecti"e thu'ping %ro' the pantry started up again# /Ah( that)s 8ust our houseguests( wa$ing up() Henry e7plained# /, gather you)"e been in%or'ed that -ady Alber'arle and her circle are rather 'ore than recreational users# 0ell( , belie"e her supplier 'ay ha"e pro"ided her with what , belie"e is called a /snidey batch) %or last night)s %esti"ities#) , 8ust about 'anaged to turn 'y laughter into a coughing %it( and Henry continued# /They were getting a little unpredictable( so we %elt it was sa%er to put the' out o% har')s way# ) Ed raised an eyebrow# /Must ha"e been particularly snide to $noc$ /e' all out li$e that#) /That)s the proble' with illegal drugs though( ain)t it 3ergeant1) Gabriel 'used( bac$ in EastEnder 'ode now there was an audience# /&o =uality assurance# 5ou don)t $now what you)re ta$in)# .est to a"oid /e' altogether#) /That)s a "ery co''endable attitude( Mr ;a'es() Ed said( without the eyebrow being lowered# My cough returned with a "engeance# +ro' deep within the cellar there was a series o% %ar harder thuds ? loud enough to 'a$e it to the $itchen ? that suggested so'eone 'eant business# /That)s Coyle *)Halloran( descending into a /roid rage that 'ight actually be ter'inal i% we all wish hard enough() , said# / He)s the only one you)ll really ha"e to watch# ,t)s goin) to be li$e po$ing a really pissed2o%% bear out o% his cage( 'o"ing hi'# 5ou sure you can do that with the'1) , nodded at the Gabriel ;a'es +anclub outside the $itchen# /0e)ll 'anage# ,)"e had to organise this on the =uiet ? that)s why ,)' here with the $indergarten crew# ,% , went too high there was a ris$ that hi' at the top would %ind out( and , couldn)t do that to the pair o% you# ,t)ll be %ine ? we)ll 8ust $eep things nice and =uiet( ta$e the' o% the' o%% the island one by one# 0ell( =uiet as we can( anyway# .y the ti'e we)d slithered to a halt on the 8etty it loo$ed li$e there were a couple o% %ellas with ca'eras there already#) /That)d be right() -ilith said# /Those bastards should dri"e a'bulances ?

they)d be there be%ore the bloody accident had happened#) /*h ? &at1 .e%ore , %orget# +orensics are going to want to ta$e a good loo$ at Her -adyship)s co'puter ? they)"e as$ed i% you)ll stic$ around( show the' what)s what and 'a$e sure they)"e got all the bits and bobs when they pac$ it up# That o$ay1) /3ure#) /Good lad# Might be a while be%ore they get here( 'ind you ? it)s pretty hea"y2going on the roads right now# 0e can get the rest o% you o%% %irstC) /,)ll stay() , said# /, wouldn)t lea"e the poor %uc$er rattling around here by hi'sel%#) /Me too() -ilith said( and lin$ed her %ingers in 'ine# Gabriel sighed# /, suppose the place is growing on 'e ? another couple o% hours won)t do any har'# Henry1) /,)' sure there are people who)ll need %eeding# ,)' sure , can last a little longer#) /&utters( the lot o% you#) Ed s'iled at us( then drained his 'ug in one go# /Aight then( 'e and the school trip had better get busy# , suggest you lot 8ust stay in here and $eep war'# 5ou won)t ha"e to see any o% /e'() he said to 'e# /Could ,( though1 ,% , wanted to1) /5ou)re not planning anything da%t( are you1) /&ah# And it)s 8ust the one#) , ground out 'y cigarette into the tabletop# /.laine# , want to see .laine be%ore she goes#) /Me too() -ilith said# /;ust to say goodbye#) Ed thought it o"er# /,)d ha"e to be with her as well( and you)d get two 'inutes on the way out o% the door# That do you1)

-ilith nodded# /More than enough#) BBBBB 0e ? &at( Gabriel( Henry( -ilith and 'e ? sat and dran$ 'ore bloody tea and then the last o% the coo$ing brandy and whate"er else we could %ind without ha"ing to "enture into the wine cellar( and watched the snow %all whilst Ed and his little tea' began to dis'antle .laine Alber'arle)s e7istence# Than$s to &at( each o% her special %riends would ha"e their own handcra%ted night'are waiting %or the' on their doorstepD e"ery dirty little secret laid bare to the world( %ro' assaults and endless galleries o% child porn to ta7 %raud and insider trading# And then there was .laine hersel%( who would possibly need an entirely separate( alphabetised and inde7ed charge sheet by the ti'e the courts had %inished with her# , $new that so'eti'e in 'y unde%ined %uture( there would be state'ents and trials that would co'e %ro' this and , would ha"e to unpac$ all the shit again( but -ilith would be with 'e# , would get through# All would be well# ;ust be%ore , disappeared up 'y own arse( Gabriel produced the largest spli%% ,)d e"er seen and lit it %ro' the sto"e top# /, was sa"ing it %or a special occasion# +irst go( old chap1) he as$ed 'e( and 'o"ed up another step in 'y esti'ation# , too$ the deepest draw , could 'anage( and %elt the pain in 'y $nee recede li$e the tide# /That all right1) , nodded and held 'y breath %or as long as , could 'anage( then e7haled slowly so that the s'o$e %or'ed pale blue rings that dri%ted so%tly to the ceiling# /,'pressi"e#) Gabriel too$ the blunt %ro' 'e( 8ust as Ed returned to the $itchen# /.loody hell( .enson and Hedges are 'a$ing /e' bigger these days() Ed said as Gabriel atte'pted to hide the e"idence under the table# He turned to -ilith and 'e# /Aight then# Her -adyship)s on her way to the %ront door# 5ou sure you still want to do this1)

-ilith was already on her %eet# /5es() she said( be%ore , had chance to thin$ better o% it# My 'outh went dry( and , wondered i% ,)d 'anage to spea$ at all# , wished ,)d $ept hold o% the spli%%# BBBBB A young %e'ale o%%icer brought .laine up %ro' the wine cellar( and to 'y utter 8oy the bitch was plasticu%%ed and loo$ed as rough as shiteD , rec$oned a night spent with a %ew hundred dusty bottles and at least a do<en big bastard spiders would do that to a wo'an# Her beauti%ully coi%%ed hair had collapsed and hung in rats) tails around her %ace( and her 'a$e2up had run and collected in the lines around her 'outh and eyes# +or the %irst ti'e since ,)d 'et her( she truly loo$ed her age# /*nce ,)"e spo$en to 'y lawyer( ,)ll consider spea$ing to you# *r at least one o% your senior o%%icers() .laine said to Ed( and went to wal$ straight past us without a glance# My worry about being able to spea$ "anished as , realised , had to wipe that bloody i'perious( shit2eating loo$ o%% her %ace# /Ah( that)ll be &icholas >an der -ande H#C( will it1 Me'ber o% the ,nner Te'ple( char'ing wi%e( unbearably cute $ids( and a li$ing %or snorting a %ew lines o%% an underage -ithuanian)s arse( with the photos to pro"e it1 That lawyer1) That stopped her pretty %uc$ing sharpish# , too$ a =uic$ drag o% 'y cigarette so , had su%%icient ash to tap onto the rug# /, thin$ you)ll %ind he)s a wee bit busy this %ine 'orning# Ha"e you considered legal aid1) And with that( , $new , was done with her# E"erything else ,)d e"er wanted to say no longer 'attered( because %ro' the loo$ in her eyes she $new# Knew where that in%or'ation was hidden( and $new what else was hidden with it# , could pass out now( or e"en 8ust pu$e on her shoes( and it wouldn)t 'atter# Maybe e"en try both at the sa'e ti'e# ,)d done it# , watched her struggle to %ind her co'posure( or e"en 8ust enough breath to spea$# /*h( this is possibly the 'ost %oolish 'ista$e you)"e e"er 'ade( -ilith#) .laine said( without e"en glancing sideways at 'e# ,n response to this barely2"eiled threat( -ilith ga"e .laine an apologetic shrug and s'iled# /0hat can , say1 My co'puter gee$ is better than your co'puter gee$#)

/All o% this e%%ort( 8ust %or hi'1 4o you ha"e any idea 8ust how bro$en he actually is1 5ou disgust 'e( -ilith# 5ou)re ta$ing in a stray dog that)ll bite you as soon as loo$ at you() .laine spat# /3o( is your little 'o'ent o% 'isplaced triu'ph o"er now1 .ecause ,)' =uite bored with it already#) /&ot =uite#) -ilith strolled o"er to where the portrait now stood( still co"ered in its sheet and propped up against the dining table# /,)d hate you to 'iss the un"eiling# Happy birthday#) 3he pulled the sheet away( and we waited %or her patron)s response# .laine screa'ed# The wo'an who could cal'ly in%lict pain li$e a leading light in the 3panish ,n=uisition ga"e a screech o% such despair that anyone listening 'ight ha"e thought -ilith had 8ust s'ac$ed her one# 0hich in a way( she had# The thic$ layer o% cheap white gloss that co"ered the entire can"as hadn)t had ti'e to dry( and the sheet had stuc$ to hal% o% it( but it still did the 8ob# &ot a trace o% .laine re'ainedD 8ust dripping( stin$ing paint that was starting to drip and puddle onto the %loor# /All those 'onths( all that wor$C My /.resson)C 0hat ha"e you done1) .laine whispered( and actually had to wipe tears %ro' her eyes# -ilith stood ne7t to .laine and ad'ired our handiwor$# /+inished it() she s'iled# /&ow %uc$ o%%#) Chapter Thirty Three -ilith /0ell1 How did it go1) Henry as$ed# He)d been washing up to pass the ti'e( and the $itchen was i''aculate once 'ore# +inn grinned# /-ilith told .laine to %uc$ o%%#) /5ou $now( , had so'ething so lyrical all wor$ed out in 'y head() , said# /The per%ect co'bination o% elegiac and pithy( and then she started crying o"er a sodding second2rate painting and , really don)t thin$ , could be bothered any'ore#) /Ach( she was a'a<ing really() +inn said#

Henry dried his hands# /3o the %lying 'on$eys are %inally without a 'istress1) /0hat1) Gabriel %rowned# There was no trace o% the spli%%( and he and &at had a particularly 'ellow air about the'# /0i<ard o% *<() +inn e7plained# /Henry)s %a"ourite 'o"ie# ;esus( little 'an( you are actually the gayest gay 'an in the uni"erse( you $now that1) /0ell you)re the one that got the re%erence( dearheart() Henry said# /And now the cellar)s "acated( , can brea$ out the cha'pagne( i% anyone)s interested1) BBBBB 0e were handed a bottle each( and grabbed whate"er we could to drin$ %ro'( and %or the ne7t hal%2hour we toasted e"erybody and e"erything we could thin$ o%# /, need codeine( and , need to pee() , announced( a%ter we)d raised our glasses( 'ugs and teacups to .ran( &oblest Hound 0ho E"er -i"ed# /,)ll 8ust be a 'inute# 5ou want a couple bringing bac$1) , as$ed +inn# /0ouldn)t say no i% you)re headed that way() he replied( which 'eant he was in agony# /5ou want 'e to co'e with you1) /0hat1 To pee1) /God( no( not that bit ? , 'ean( Coyle( i% he)s still hereC) /,t)s o$ay() Gabriel said# /, heard Ed tal$ing# They)re bringing o"er a couple o% rein%orce'ents be%ore they thin$ about 'o"ing hi' anywhere#) , dran$ the last 'outh%ul in 'y teacup and pic$ed up the re'ainder o% the bottle as re%resh'ent %or the long 8ourney to 'y roo' and bac$# /3ee1 , thin$ we both $now how secure that roo' is# 3o stay there( rest your $nee( and ,)ll be bac$ be%ore you $now it# ,)ll be %ine#) Cha'pagne( %atigue and %reedo' had 'ade 'e giddy( and , didn)t care# E"ery step , too$ now was one step closer ho'e#

+inn /Too long() , said# &at chec$ed his watch# /Mate( it)s been three 'inutes#) /3till too long# And , get it( o$ay1 3he)s %ine and ,)' paranoid and she)ll be bac$ here any second( but ,)"e li"ed in this shit2tip %or too long( and , need to chec$#) /,)' co'ing with you( then# Here( gi"e 'e your hand#) 0e were hal%way to -ilith)s roo' when one o% Ed)s 8unior tas$%orce ca'e belting along the corridor to 'eet us# /Ha"e you seen hi'1) he gasped# /0ho1) &at as$ed( but , already $new because nothing was e"er going to co'e to any good in this place# /.ig guy( blac$ hair#) 3arge and the others are on the way bac$ %or hi'# , was chec$ing on hi' and he said he was ha"ing a heart attac$( and it sounded real# , $now , wasn)t 'eant to( butC) /3hit no no no no noC) /CAs soon as , opened the door he 8ust barged pastC) /5ou stupid %uc$ing twat6) +ro' deep within the hall( -ilith screa'ed because Coyle had her now( and , $new where he had ta$en her# , thought the o%%icer was about to shit hi'sel% on the spot# /0hat do , do1###) /Go and get Ed# Get whoe"er you can down to the cellars# 0hat the %uc$ are you waiting %or1 Go6) , began to run %or the stairs# My $nee didn)t 'atter now# , %elt nothing e7cept %ear( because Coyle had -ilith and he was going to $ill her# &at began to

run beside 'e( but , stopped and sho"ed hi' bac$# /5ou won)t 'a$e any di%%erence by yoursel%# Get the others#) He hesitated( and , pushed hi' again# /@nless you)re prepared to $ill the bastard( go and get help6) BBBBB , could s'ell Coyle be%ore , saw hi'# ,n the shadows o% the cellars( his ran$( roid2soa$ed sweat hung in the air li$e trench gas# The dungeon door was a8arD only Coyle *)Halloran was du'b enough to atte'pt an escape by bac$ing hi'sel% into a glori%ied ca"e# My %ears %or -ilith were realised when , saw her strapped to the wooden cross by her wrists( her eyes wide with terror# Her captor stood between us( %lailing an oil la'p around as though he was trying to ward o%% a pac$ o% wol"es# , too$ a step %orward# /3tay bac$( or ,)ll snap the bitch)s nec$#) The 'adness had entirely o"erta$en hi' now( and his threat was real# There was a %air chance the bastard would do it by accident( because she was standing on the "ery tips o% her toes( and already struggling %or breath# /5ou o$ay( sweetheart1) , as$ed and she 'anaged an i'pressi"ely cal' nod# /3he)ll not be o$ay in a 'inute() Coyle spat# /&ow be a good %ag( and go tell the gardai that ,)ll be needing a way o%% here( =uic$ as you li$e# +uc$in) go6) , was 8ust trying to %igure out how , could get to -ilith without getting 'y own nec$ snapped when the great du'b%uc$ threw his la'p at 'e in an atte'pt to speed 'e on 'y way( and things beca'e 8ust a little 'ore urgent# The la'p shattered on i'pact with the %loor# Glass %rag'ented into a thousand shards and the oil spattered across the %lagstones and onto the drapes that lined the cha'ber %or that authentic 'edie"al "ibe# +la'es began to lic$ at the ancient %abric and in 'o'ents the whole roo' was lit with %lic$ering( ruddy light as centuries o% dust( and dry2as2bones cloth and wood began to catch# Coyle laughed with delight as acrid s'o$e sna$ed around the bedpost# /0ould you loo$ at this1 That)s so'e pretty %uc$in) i'pressi"e shit right

here 2 whole place is about to go up( +inn2boy6) .ehind hi'( -ilith began to gasp %or breathD , needed to get her out( e"en i% it $illed 'e# /*oh( sounds li$e she)s goin) to cho$e hersel% and sa"e 'e a 8ob# &ow will you go1 /Cos you $now what1 5our sweetheart)s not going anywhere until you do# ,)d rather stay here with the wee whore and burn to ash than do another stretch %or Her -adyship#) +la'es reached the canopy o% the %our poster( and the whole thing went up in one great %lareD there was no way , was lea"ing -ilith down here now( and Coyle was beyond all reasonD , was 8ust going to ha"e to 'a$e the bastard %ight 'e# , had %aced Coyle *)Halloran %i"e ti'es in 'y li%e# The %irst ti'e( , was thirteen( whippet2thin against his already2adult bul$( and 8ust disco"ering that there was a %ine line %or so'e 'en between being repulsed and aroused by a $id being battered to a bloody pulp# ,)d lasted less than a 'inute as he launched at 'e with a %ist that hid a length o% lead pipe( but it was his last "ictory# A%terwards( ,)d had 'y %ace stitched bac$ together in a stin$ing pub toilet by the %irst o% 'any doctors who)d %orgotten the words to the Hippocratic *ath( and realised that i% , was going to beat Coyle( , would ha"e to get hi' too 'ad to thin$ straight( and 'o"e %aster than his %ists# ,n 'y present condition( , really didn)t %ancy 'y chances( but he stood between 'e and -ilith and ,)d run out o% options# , stood 'y ground# /5ou sure about that( big %ella1 , rec$on a bit o% 8ail would be right up your alley( i% you get 'e# 5)$now( a chance o% a bit o% decent coc$ %or once in your li%e( instead o% 8ust getting) blown by your 'a %or your birthday#) Coyle twitched and shuddered li$e a thing possessed# /3hut your %ilthy %uc$in) hole() he hissed# , was nearly there# /Ah( co'e on( you)re a 'an in denial# ,)' guessin) you)d be the cleanest %ella in the prison %ro' all the showers you)d ta$e#) /+uc$ you#) /Ah( there we go# ,)"e been watching you all these years( darlin)( so don)t try and hide it now# All this ti'e( and all you)"e e"er really wanted is to stu%% your dic$ up 'y arse( you great poncin) =ueen#) ;ust in case the 'an was

struggling with the 'essage( , blew hi' the tenderest $iss , could 'anage( and 'outhed the 'agic word# /+ag#) And Coyle *)Halloran bellowed and charged# , waited until he was barely an inch away %ro' 'e( and wea"ed away %ro' the i'pact# Coyle still landed 'e a glancing blow on 'y shoulder that ser"ed as a pain%ul re'inder o% the da'age the 'an could do# , staggered bac$wards but re'ained upright as he ca'e bac$ %or a second atte'pt to ta$e 'e down# This ti'e , was ready %or hi'( and landed a decent right into the centre o% his bloated %ace# , %elt the cartilage in his nose crac$ under the i'pact o% 'y %ist( but he hardly noticed# /That the best you can do1) , gasped# /,)' busted( $nac$ered and rattling to all hell# .est chance you)re gonna get( and all you can 'anage is this1 PatheticC) Coyle responded with a le%t hoo$ to 'y 8aw that nearly $noc$ed 'e into the ne7t li%e# /Gonna %uc$in) $ill you now# Then ,)' $illing her() he panted( and di"ed on 'e( sending us both crashing to the %loor# , 'anaged to roll on top o% hi'( and pu''elled hi' with e"erything , had le%t( until his whole %ace was painted scarlet# All the while he was raining blows on 'y head and chest( roaring curses that beca'e less and less intelligible with each breath( and doing his best to %inish 'e# Coyle %u'bled a'ongst the %rag'ents o% shattered glass and grabbed the re'ains o% the oil la'p( now nothing 'ore than a brass base with a %ew 8agged shards still attached# He wrapped his bloodied %ist around it and brought it up to s'ac$ 'e hard across the te'ple( and , $new that , wouldn)t last 'uch longer now he)d %ound his weapon o% choice# , slu'ped bac$wards( stunned( and he used the opportunity to throw 'e onto 'y bac$# /5ou e"er heard o% %oreplay1) , spat a %ine spray o% blood o"er hi' as , spo$e( and realised he)d 'anaged to $noc$ one o% 'y bac$ teeth out# /4irty bastard6 +uc$in) A,43 all o"er 'y %ace6) Coyle raised his hand( and this ti'e he held the bro$en la'p li$e a dagger( with the sli"ers o% glass pointing at 'y throat# , twisted 'y head to the side as he brought his i'pro"ised $ni%e down and sliced 'y chee$ open# He li%ted his hand again(

and this ti'e , $new he would cut 'y throat( and , didn)t ha"e the strength le%t to stop hi'# All , could thin$ was that , had been so close# ,)d been an hour away %ro' lea"ing this shithole( and now the great( hul$ing( stin$ing son o% a bitch was about to ta$e e"erything away# , wanted to be with -ilith( and %eel the war'th o% 3pain begin to thaw 'y aching bones( and , wanted a li%e where , could wander down a street hand2in2hand and buy a beer with her whilst we watched the sun set( and e"ery other du'b( trite clichG that ca'e with being happy# /&ot# +uc$ing# +air6) 0ith 'y last iota o% strength , grabbed Coyle)s wrist as he 'ade his 'o"e( and $ic$ed out so that we %ell against each other# &ow , was abo"e hi' again# , twisted the la'p in his hands e"en as he roared with incoherent rage( and %ell on top o% hi'( spent( as the longest %rag'ent o% glass plunged deep into his right eye# , le%t hi' screa'ing li$e a snared rabbit and scrabbling on the %lagstones( and dragged 'ysel% o"er to -ilith# The whole cha'ber was %illed with cho$ing blac$ s'o$e now( and the wooden ti'bers in the roo% were beginning to s'oulder as the %la'es leapt %ro' the re'ains o% the bed# My chest burned with each breath( and , wasn)t sure how 'uch longer , could $eep going( let alone -ilith# , loosened the straps at her wrists and we tu'bled to the %loor# , had to hold 'y %ingers to her lips to see i% she was still breathingD , couldn)t see straight %ro' the s'o$e and the battering ,)d 8ust ta$en %ro' Coyle( and the desperate little gasps she was 'a$ing didn)t %ill 'e with any hope# , pulled her near2li%eless %or' towards 'e as though , could $eep the s'o$e and %la'es %ro' touching her 8ust by holding her close( and shut 'y eyes# &u'berless stars spar$ed behind 'y eyelids as -ilith slid her hand into 'ine and ga"e it the gentlest s=uee<e# BBBBB My %irst thought was sna$es( which didn)t 'a$e any sense at all( but the incessant( dea%ening hissing could only be sna$es# Then , was co"ered in %ree<ing 'ist( and so'eone threw a sheet o"er 'e and , was coughing hard enough to bust a lung and Henry bloody Masterson was screa'ing in 'y ear as he ran past 'e with a %ire e7tinguisher to $eep the %la'es at bay %or a %ew 'ore precious seconds#

/*h( you da%t( rec$less young bugger#) 3ergeant Ed bent down# /Co'e on( lad ? ti'e to get out o% here be%ore the whole place goes up( eh1 Henry rec$ons this blan$et)s %ireproo%( but ,)d rather not put it to the test#) He li%ted 'e up and , tried to %ight hi' o%%( but , was too busy coughing up 'y ring# /-ilithC) , gasped# /Henry and &at ha"e got her# ,t)s %ine# ,t)s all going to be %ine# The air a'bulance has been scra'bled %or the pair o% you ? didn)t thin$ either o% you would co'e out o% this one particularly well# &ow do 'e a %a"our and $eep still( will you1 Those steps are going to bloody ruin 'y $nees#) /, can 'a$e 'y own %uc$in) wayC) , began( and then the dar$ness closed in( so%t as "el"et# , was "aguely aware o% Ed catching 'e as , %ell( and nothing 'ore# BBBBB , ca'e to on the snow2co"ered lawn( %lailing and gasping %or breath li$e a landed %ish# An o7ygen 'as$ co"ered 'y 'outh and nose( and the s'o$e2 laden air was %illed with noise# 0ailing sirens on the %ar shore co'peted with the hea"y thru' o% helicopter blades( a'bulance crew and police ran and yelled( and abo"e it all , could still hear Coyle)s high s=uealD so'e ee8it had ob"iously decided to drag his sorry arse out o% the %la'es( but there was nothing , could do about hi' now# &at $nelt at 'y side as a ner"ous young para'edic began to e7a'ine the gash to 'y chee$# .y his e7pression( , guessed , loo$ed li$e ,)d been e7hu'ed( and , could %eel his hands tre'bling through his late7 glo"es# Apparently it was wor$ e7perience wee$ in the e'ergency ser"ices# /@'() he %altered( /, can tape this %or now( but it)ll need stitching once we get to 2) , swiped the 'as$ away# /&o# &ot /til ,)"e seen -ili# 0here the hell is she1) /;ust across the way there( see1) &at said# /3he)s in good hands# There)s a doctor wor$ing on her now# Ed and Gabe are o"er there as well( so they)ll $eep an eye on things ? you seriously need to get patched up a little be%ore you %ly#)

, had 8ust grudgingly consented to getting 'y %ace stuc$ bac$ together when Gabriel ca'e sprinting o"er to us# He loo$ed terri%ied# , sho"ed the para'edic away( and he toppled bac$wards# /0hat the %uc$)s happening1) /4on)t $now#) Gabriel loo$ed terri%ied# /They)re saying she)s struggling# The s'o$e( her asth'aC) /Got to see her#) , atte'pted to get to 'y %eet and the para'edic put a hand on 'y shoulder to $eep 'e still# , would ha"e dec$ed hi' i% it wasn)t %or &at catching 'y %ist be%ore it 'ade contact with the young guy)s chin# ,n 'y de%ence( , was blindly lashing out in all directions by the ti'e Ed ca'e o"erD it was 8ust un%ortunate that he was the %irst person , 'anaged to hit# He landed %lat on his bac$ in a snowdri%t and , realised , was about to get arrested %or la'ping the only decent police o%%icer ,)d e"er 'et# +ro' behind 'e( , heard &at gi"e a whispered( /*h %uc$#) Ed stood up and cal'ly swept the snow %ro' his trousers and 8ac$et( then si'ply wrapped his 'assi"e ar's around 'e# , had one last go at landing hi' one be%ore , ca'e to 'y senses and all the %ight went %ro' 'eD %or an old %ella he still had so'e strength( and , wondered i% he was going to cart 'e o%% or 8ust crush 'e to death# /Aight( son# This has to stop now() Ed said# /, $now you)re scared( and God $nows you)"e got e"ery right to be a bit pissed o%%( but they)re tal$ing about sedating you be%ore you rip so'eone)s head clean o%%# That 'eans they)ll whac$ a needle into anywhere they can %ind and that)ll be you cabbaged until an wee$ ne7t Tuesday( and that)s not going to help -ilith( is it1 3he needs you now( +inn# 3he needs you to be there %or her#) /0hat i%C ;esus( Ed( , 'ean what i%C) , couldn)t e"en say the words# /3he)s going to be o$ay#) Adrenaline began to drain away( and , hurt e"erywhere# /4)you pro'ise1) Ed loo$ed down at 'e# /, pro'ise#)

Chapter Thirty +our -ilith ,t was ti'e to wa$e up# ,)d begun the long( slow cli'b out o% obli"ion hours be%ore( but that certainly didn)t count as wa$e%ulness( 8ust a collection o% sounds and sensations that reassured 'e , was still in e7istence# The hours were 'easured by the blood2pressure cu%% on 'y right ar' auto'atically in%lating and de%latingD by the pouch o% saline e'ptying itsel% into the bac$ o% 'y hand( drop by steady dropD by so'e gentle( sweet2 "oiced nurse chec$ing the display that would tell her 'y heart was continuing to beat# , had a concrete slab on 'y chest that , had to li%t with 'y ribs whene"er , wanted to ta$e a breath( and , couldn)t e"en 'anage that si'ple 8ob without the o7ygen %lowing into 'y lungs %ro' a nasal cannula( but , was 'ost de%initely ali"e( which 'eant that .laine and Coyle had lost( and +inn and , had won# 3o now it was ti'e to open 'y eyes# +inn sat by 'y bed# His %ace loo$ed as though it had been dragged along a cheese grater( and , guessed he hadn)t slept since he)d got to the hospital( but ,)d ne"er seen hi' so happy( or so relie"ed# *r so beauti%ul# /Hi there() he s'iled# /Hi# 5ou loo$ li$e shit#) My "oice was nothing 'ore than a croa$D , supposed ,)d still been intubated not so long be%ore# /5eah1 0ell you loo$ %antastic# That whole( /Tubes stuc$ up your nose) "ibe really wor$s %or you#) /Than$s# How long was , out1) /Two days# The doctor( she said it could be a wee$( 'aybe 'ore( but you were 8ust( li$e( /+uc$ this( ,)' -ilith %uc$in) .resson)( so they stopped the sedation and too$ the tube out o% your throat this 'orning /cos you were doing so well# 5ou)re bloody a'a<ing( you $now that1) /,)d heard ru'ours# How are you1) /Ach( you $now# .it o% concussion( this scratch on 'y %ace ? oh( and you were right about 'y $neeD it is that liga'ent thing# Co'pletely %uc$ed#) He grinned#

/Medical ter'# They ad'itted 'e as well( so at least , get 'orphine#) He held up a spectacularly bruised hand to show 'e his wristband# /,)"e got the roo' ne7t door( but , ha"en)t actually been in it yet# The sta%% ha"e been brilliantD they)"e 8ust let 'e stay here with you#) /And ,)' so glad you did# 0here are the other guys1) /All sa%e# *$ay( let)s see ? Gabe and &at ha"e stuc$ around# They)"e bloc$aded the relati"es) roo' down the corridor( so they can hide out %ro' Gabe)s 'ental %ans( and Henry)s goin) to be so gutted that he)s 'issed you wa$ing up# He)s 8ust gone to the sta%% canteen with an o%%2duty 'idwi%e called >ictor ? %ro' &igeria( apparently ? see's li$e a decent %ellaD their eyes 'et o"er the co%%ee 'achine yesterday e"ening( and they)"e been inseparable e"er since#) /Henry)s pulled1 The %reedo' 'ust ha"e gone to his head#) /5eah( would you credit it( the wee tart1 , thin$ Ed)s the only one 'issingD he had to go into wor$( but he said he)d be bac$ later with so'e $ind o% o%%icial update# Told 'e , had to ring hi' the second you wo$e up( but , don)t thin$ he)ll 'ind waiting another %i"e 'inutes#) , wrin$led 'y nose# /5ou s'ell o% s'o$e#) /5eah( , %ound that i% , stand on the toilet seat and stic$ 'y head out o% the window , can grab a cigarette without setting o%% the s'o$e alar'#) /&o( , 'ean s'o$e s'o$e# +ro' burning things#) /That would be Alber'arle Hall# 0ell( the big pile o% charcoal that used to be Alber'arle Hall( anyway#) /0hat( all o% it1) /Pretty 'uch# Turns out that centuries o% built2up e"il is an e"en better %uel than para%%in( and you)re a bit stu%%ed %or getting a %ire engine across a la$e#) , paused( re'e'bering# /,s that why Coyle was screa'ing1) /&ah# He was screa'ing because , po$ed his eye out with a piece o%

bro$en glass#) /Ah# 0ell done#) , swallowed( and it %elt li$e gulping down gra"el# /*uch#) /5ou want so'e water1) +inn pic$ed up the crutches that were propped against the chair and 'ade his way to the cabinet by the window to pour out a plastic cup o% water# He pushed the blinds aside and e"en through the double gla<ing , could hear the yells o% the photographers ca'ped outside as they caught a gli'pse o% their target# /+uc$ 'e( it)s cra<y out there ? , thin$ we)re on the %ront page o% e"ery newspaper in the country( than$s to &at)s 'ail out# Gabe)s put his two pet gorillas at the %ront doors %or now( but , can)t i'agine what it)s going to be li$e when we lea"e here#) /*h God( it)ll be ridiculous %or a while# Totally insane# .ut it)ll pass# ,t always passes# &ew stories( new scandals# And soon we)ll be thousands o% 'iles away( and it won)t 'atter# Trust 'e#) +inn set the water by 'y bed# He %rowned and %ell silent( and , was suddenly a%raid that this would all be too 'uch( too soon( and that all he)d want to do was run a 'illion 'iles away %ro' this lunacy ,)d created# /@'( can , as$ you so'ething1) /3ure() , said( and began to prepare %or the worst# /4)you thin$ , could 'aybe hug you right now1 5)$now( i% ,)' really care%ul( and pro'ise not to brea$ anything( or detach anything1 .ecause that)s all , really want to do# ;ust %uc$in) lie there ne7t to you and hold you( so , $now this shit)s %or real# 0ould that be o$ay1) /That would beC well( that would be absolutely wonder%ul() , said( and pushed 'ysel% to the edge o% the bed to gi"e hi' so'e roo'# ,t see'ed to ta$e an age to 'o"e cables and ,> lines and %ind a position where we could be co'%ortable( but we were both up %or the challenge( and e"entually +inn had beaten enough pillows into sub'ission to create a pretty i'pressi"e nest# /There# 0ill this do1) He as$ed( as he pulled a blan$et o"er the pair o% us# /5eah#) , $issed hi' as best , could( around the bloody plastic tubes co"ering 'y %ace# /This)ll do#)

BBBBB , don)t $now how long we)d been lying there when 'y nurse chec$ed in on 'e and %ound us curled into each other( %ingers entwined and %oreheads touching# , waited %or her to repri'and us( or tell +inn to 'o"e( but she si'ply s'iled# /,)ll co'e bac$ later() she whispered( and closed the door so%tly behind her# , eased 'y hand under +inn)s t2shirt and rested it on his chest# -ulled by his steady heartbeat beneath 'y %ingertips( , closed 'y eyes and slept#