Project Paranormal Season 3
Angel stretched out his long legs, easing the kinks a little, as he waited. It was early September, but the ground was still warm and dry. He was glad of that, especially since he didn’t have a change of clothes with him. His departure had been too hasty to snatch up so much as a toothbrush. He shifted again, trying to get away from the stones that were hard lumps on certain sensitive parts of his anatomy, and hoped he wouldn’t have much longer to wait.
A leaf fell from the sycamore that sheltered him, tickling his neck as it ghosted down, not yet a harbinger of the greater denudation to come, but a symptom of the sapsuckers and tar spot that had made this such a miserable specimen. Unfortunately, it had been the only real cover that allowed him to watch the new grave in this back garden. As a much tinier sensation touched his cheek, he wondered whether the honeydew from the myriad of sapsuckers above him would ever wash out of his clothes and hair. He scrubbed at the spot with a damp finger, and then licked at what he’d rubbed off. He knew that it should be sweet, the processed remains of the tree’s sap, but he could taste nothing. There was just his finger. He didn’t know why he’d ever thought it might be different, although he remembered a time when it had been.
A pair of sycamore keys helicoptered down, their two wings spinning, but there was no breeze to give them lift, and they dropped with an audible – to him – click, onto the book that lay beside him, splitting apart as they did so. He stared at the scission, and felt a shiver run through him. Roughly, he swept the keys away, and stared at the book instead. It was a privately published, abridged edition of The Vampire – His Kith and Kin, by Montague Summers. It had been given to him, and he had no idea who by. Or why. Those were problems that he’d been wrestling with while he waited.
He’d be glad to get away from here. Fortunately for him, although the front garden was small, leaving the house uncomfortably close to the road, the back garden was long, giving him privacy for what he needed to do. The garden – and the tree – belonged to a house in Bolton. It was an old house, although perhaps not old by his standards, a terraced house built when Victoria had ruled an empire, and Bolton, like some of its neighbours, had ruled cotton. He’d passed the remains of mills on his way here. All things changed. Well, most things, anyway.
He picked the book up. Montague Summers. He’d come across references to him in Giles’ library, and although he hadn’t asked, he was sure that Giles would have known all about the man. Angel hadn’t. He’d been thousands of miles away, trying to make a new life for himself, when Summers had been investigating the occult and the supernatural, and writing about it. He didn’t think that Buffy had noticed the books and references, either. She would have been bound to make a joke about it.
He turned the slim volume over and over. Montague Summers. He’d generally been held to be kind, courteous, generous and outrageously witty, but with an underlying mystery, and Angel smiled at the thought of how that perfectly described another Summers. Montague had been ordained a Catholic priest, and then elevated as a Bishop, but above all, he had hunted vampires. Not physically, at least not that Angel could find, but in stories and anecdotes. Whenever he met someone, his greeting was, ‘Tell me strange things’. And then Angel had discovered that Summers came from Clifton, near Bristol, only a hop and a step from Westbury. He’d been elevated by the Archbishop of Glastonbury, only an hour’s drive away. Odd, really
And so, he’d started to do some research into Montague Summers. He’d discovered the man’s grave in Richmond Cemetery, with a small plain headstone recording that the man’s long-time friend had been buried there, too. From all Angel had discovered, the man had left no children when he died in 1948 – even Catholic priests did that, sometimes – but he’d wondered if there could be some family connection.
He hadn’t mentioned what he was doing to either Giles or Buffy. He’d wanted to surprise Buffy with some findings of his own, if there were anything to find. And he wanted to keep it to himself if there were nothing. And then, last night, he’d been handed the book, and he’d started to worry about who could possibly have known what he was up to.
It might, of course, all be one of those wonderful coincidences that illuminate life on Earth, but Angel had come to distrust coincidence. When you got right down to it, you could always see the hand of the Powers That Be. It was often a cold, dead, or taloned hand, of course, and in his experience, the best thing was usually to hack it off. He slipped the book into his pocket. Of itself, it was blameless, and there was no sense getting it covered in greenfly poop. Or worse.
Things had been going smoothly. Perhaps too smoothly. Oh, there had been the odd apocalypse or two, and he’d barely escaped possession by the Devil himself only a few weeks ago. What an apocalypse that would have made – the mind that had housed Angelus, given over to the Devil in truth. He shuddered again, despite the lingering warmth in the air. But, all in all, there had been an air of normality for some time now. Normality, that is, between and about himself and Buffy. That had lulled him into a false sense of security, and he really should have known better. But, he’d got above himself, and here had been the reminder, the flick of the whip.
It had started normally, and happily. He’d taken Buffy to the Boar’s Head for dinner…
The Boar’s Head was on the edge of the village closest to Trowbridge, and it was a pub with pretensions, but not enough cash to realise those pretensions. Or, at least, not all at once. It was a long, low building, rendered in pale salmon pink and with a rag-stone roof that, in deference to age, bowed a little at the hips. It sat in a pretty garden, with tables and benches on the lawn. Roses, sweet peas and clematis clambered over arches and trelliswork, and the borders glowed with the autumnal colours of the late-flowering daisies.
As the Porsche pulled to a halt in the car park, the drinkers at the tables on the lawn spared it barely a glance. Most of them were locals, and they’d seen this car around the village. If they had looked, they would have seen that the way the man climbed out of the driver’s seat was far too graceful to be human. Angel walked around the car and opened the passenger door for Buffy, offering his hand to her to help her from the low-slung car. She smiled impishly, and took the proffered hand. He could tell from her grip that she was contemplating whether to pull him over for his cheek. She changed her mind, though, and allowed him to escort her into the inn.
She looked particularly beautiful tonight, although her dress was casual – a moss green halter-top and tight white jeans – and heads turned as they walked into the lounge bar. He liked that feeling. Buffy felt a slight pressure on her arm, and allowed her path to veer to the right, towards the end of the long mahogany counter, with its array of pumps, and its glittering, lying mirror behind. Smiling his thanks – you just couldn’t be too careful – Angel settled her onto a bar stool and stood next to her, just out of reflection-range.
The dark-haired man behind the bar finished serving his customer and then turned to the new arrivals.
“What will it be, Angel?”
They settled on a white wine spritzer for Buffy and a pint of Black Sheep ale for Angel. And a menu.
“Where would you like to sit?”
“Is the Conservatory full?”
“No, there are a couple of free tables. I’ll get Grace to clean one up for you and come and take your order.”
Angel nodded his thanks, and led Buffy through to the Conservatory. This was where pretensions and money parted company. The Conservatory was a pretty annexe, but it wasn’t the restaurant that Angel knew Tony would like. So would his colleague, the chef, Andy. But, he’d done what he could with the money he had. The rest would come later.
Buffy hadn’t been here before, although she’d passed the outside many times, and she looked around with interest at the pale but solid bamboo conservatory furniture, and the bright chintz upholstery and curtains, so different to the dark wood and dark red leather of the main bars. There were perhaps eight round, glass-topped tables, most of which were occupied by people enjoying a night out with a drink. Only one other table had customers here for a meal. She had things to quiz Angel about, but before she could start her interrogation, Grace arrived, and busied herself clearing a table close to the window, and then wiping it clean of spilled and sticky beer. They sat, drinking their drinks and talking of the day’s events, until she reappeared to take their order. Buffy hadn’t even looked at the menu yet. When she did, she saw that there wasn’t much of it, but what there was made her stomach growl.
While she was scanning the piece of stiff card, Angel had a quiet word with Grace, who nodded brightly and said “Sure, Angel. I’ll go and see if Andy can do that.”
Buffy gave him an old-fashioned look, but held her peace, and Angel merely smiled enigmatically.
Grace returned triumphant, and then Buffy gave her order for a warm salad of breast of pigeon with bacon and wild mushrooms, and a side order of chips. She’d at last got used to the idea that French fries were chips, here. She’d toyed with the idea of a starter, but Angel wouldn’t have joined her, so she decided to keep herself for dessert, afterwards. Angel ordered a good Australian Shiraz-Cabernet, and then Grace left for the kitchen.
Angel carefully pasted a puzzled look onto his face, but he knew what she meant. He was teasing.
“You will be, honey.”
She had pitched her voice low, below the background hum, knowing that he would hear her. She reached forward to a small jar on the table and lifted out a wooden toothpick, which she carefully placed across the back of her right hand, over the forefinger and ring finger. Then she brought her middle finger down onto it, and snapped the sliver of wood into two tiny stakes.
He was saved from answering immediately when Grace brought the wine, and poured a little for him to taste. The barmaid-cum-waitress saw the teasing look in his eye.
“Just practicing, Angel. You never know when I might get my break in the big city…”
He took a mouthful of the red wine. Strange that his vampire taste buds could still appreciate this, when they appreciated so little else. Well, in the food line, any way.
“It’s fine. Thank you, Grace.”
She poured two full glasses and then left him alone with a Slayer who was arranging her tiny stakes, rolling them around on the glass of the table. She spoke without looking at him, her attention and her fingers never wavering from the pieces of toothpick.
“So, there was something you were almost going to say?”
The movement was no more than a blur to her, and then he was sitting back in his chair, the two slivers of toothpick in his palm.
“Who did you say would be sorry?”
“I bet you used to play cards with unsuspecting humans. For money!”
She gave him a mock glare, and was satisfied when guilt flared briefly in his eyes. He decided to stop teasing her before she won too many rounds.
“Okay, I’ve been here before. I come in, sometimes, for a drink, before they close.”
She was surprised, but said nothing, simply waiting for him to continue. He felt her silence draw him in, as everything about her had drawn him in since that day he’d first seen her, on the steps of Hemery High. Sometimes, during the loneliest of the Los Angeles years, he’d been back to the school to remember that day. To remember how she had made him feel. To remember wanting to be someone for her. The silence tugged at him, urging him inwards, and it was a struggle to break free.
He shrugged, and Buffy thought the shrug particularly attractive. He was wearing an open-necked shirt, in a heavyweight black silk with a fine purple stripe, and she thought that the shirt had shrugged nicely, too. Now it was his turn to play with the remnants of the toothpick.
“Westbury doesn’t especially attract transient demons, and the only resident vampire is me, so patrolling doesn’t produce much. You know that. But, I was passing here one night and the landlord was having trouble with a bunch of drunken louts. I helped him. That’s all. After that, I stopped by sometimes for a drink and a chat.”
He shrugged again, and Buffy approved the way his muscles bunched and rolled beneath that rather fine shirt. A thought struck her, pulling her from her admiration.
“You aren’t going back to being Liam, are you? You told me about him…”
He smiled at her, and at that moment, she’d have accepted that he was Liam and worried about the consequences later. Then he reached over the table and took her hand, and she thought, consequences be damned…
“No. He’s long gone. Besides, only one thing could get me as drunk as he used to… But it’s a good way to get to know a few people.”
She understood that need, but she’d already gathered from her time here that going down the pub to get to know a few people was pretty much a male preserve. People went as couples, or in groups, or men went. It generally didn’t work that way for single women. Or at least, if it worked, the results tended to be different and much less desirable. She definitely had no need to look for one night stands. Fleetingly, she wondered whether Angel had been looking for one night stands, but pushed down that unwarranted fear into the oblivion that it deserved.
“So, did you get to know a few people?”
“Yeah. A few here, a few in some of the other places. A bit.”
“Pub crawls? You’ve been going on pub crawls?”
She’d never been on one, but she’d heard about them from Lisa, who’d reminisced about her younger days when bands of students would lurch from pub to pub, to test out how many they could sample in an evening before falling over.
The indignation on his face matched that in his voice. Her voice became a bit smaller as the thought that she’d pushed down tried to resurface. She’d remembered how the waitress seemed to know him.
“You’ve been looking for… dates?”
He squeezed her hand.
“I’ve got this whole forbidden love of all time going for me. There’s no room for distractions.”
Her smile was his reward, but he had a more delicate path to tread yet.
She frowned a little.
“He’s… he’s good. It’s almost time for him to go. His grandmother’s able to mind the studio and shop again, especially now the tourist season is winding down.” She hesitated before adding, “I’ll miss him.”
“He’ll be back.”
Angel reflected that it would probably be better for the state of Kevin Langford’s heart if he stayed away from Westbury, but he didn’t say this to Buffy. He didn’t care the snap of his fingers for Kevin Langford’s emotions. He cared about Buffy being happy. She took a sip of wine before answering him.
“You really don’t mind?”
He wondered whether he should tell her that he was insanely jealous.
“I’m insanely jealous,” he replied, without any apparent hesitation. “But Buffy, the thing is, I’m not jealous of Kevin…”
“Because of the whole sniffing thing, because that’s pretty gross, you know…”
“NO! It’s nothing to do with the sniffing thing…”
Sometimes Buffy wondered how many other couples had their own private lie detector, but it didn’t worry her. She never lied to Angel, and she was pretty sure he never lied to her. She let him carry on.
“I’m not jealous of the fact that he’s a man (liar!) , a…a male, or that he’s your friend, or that you spend time with him – that you spend time with other people who you know. I’m jealous of what they can do with you. Hell, I’m jealous of Giles, if it comes to that. Picnics, sunny days at the beach, window-shopping while the shops are still open… Eating out before ten at night in the summer. Watching Giles play cricket. Going to summer fetes. Riding over the downs. Watching midsummer sunrise at Stonehenge…”
“But I didn’t go to watch midsummer sunrise at Stonehenge! You said that there’d be a load of lunatics there in funny dresses, although they’d be mostly harmless. And you were right. We saw them on the TV.
“Angel, it isn’t the things I can’t do with you that count. It’s the things I can. Oh, I might have thought differently once, but that was a long time ago, and I’m not that girl anymore. You know I must have fantasized about you turning human only about 10 zillion times…”
Underneath the table, his fist clenched spasmodically at words so like those that he remembered too well, but the fingers holding hers were as steady as a rock, and his face didn’t betray him.
“…but I understand better now. I’m grateful that I’ve got you to watch my back. I’m grateful that I don’t have to worry about you when we fight – well, not too much, anyway – and basically, I’m just happy that we’re still alive at the end of every day, and that we get to sleep in the same bed and do other coupley things. I want you to be human because you want it but, barring that, I’m as happy as it’s possible to be. So, you really don’t mind about Kevin?”
He squeezed her hand again. He knew that what she’d just said wasn’t entirely true, but she was being positive for him, and it was near enough the truth. He loved her all the more for it.
“No. You need friends. Everyone needs friends. I’ll just do my daytime living vicariously, through you. Just tell me about your days, when you’ve been somewhere with them.”
“That applies to you, too, buster. I want to hear about the people you’ve met on your pub crawls.”
His protests died away as Grace brought their plates. For Buffy, there was a colourful bed of baby leaves in red and bronze and gold and maroon, and several shades of green, on which lay generous slices of warm breast of pigeon, crisply fried pieces of streaky bacon and a variety of wild mushrooms, shiny from the bacon fat in which they’d been cooked. A bowl contained her chips, heaped thick and golden against the white of the porcelain.
She stared in confusion at his plate. That hadn’t been on the menu. At least, she hoped it hadn’t, or she might have ordered it by mistake. There was a mound of chopped raw meat, glistening darkly red. A depression in the top held a golden-yellow egg yolk, also raw. Some baby leaves and slices of melba toast completed Angel’s meal.
“Steak tartare,” he whispered, seeing her uncertainty.
“Raw meat?” she shot back.
The shirt shrugged again.
They ate their meal and talked of small things. When they’d finished, Buffy found room for a slice of home-made summer pudding, the white of the bread stained purple and scarlet with the juices of the filling, strawberries, raspberries and blackberries. The whipped cream that came with it was scattered with tayberries, glowing in the soft light like garnets.
As she ate, he sat quietly and watched her, making whatever response was necessary to the things she said. He wondered whether she remembered that almost a year ago to the day, she and Giles had come to Ireland, to fetch him back after his breakdown and madness following his massacre of the slayers. He’d killed them to save the world, but knowing that didn’t help him to deal with it, especially with the poisons that Giles had fed to them, and that had sent him into hallucinations and delirium.
But Giles and Buffy had come to fetch him back, and he loved them for it. And Ella, before her death, had given him a small and secret place within himself where comfort could always be found when things were at their bleakest. It hardly seemed possible that a year had passed since that dreadful time, but he’d been thinking about it a lot. He’d done then what he’d been resurrected to do after the debacle in Los Angeles, and the Coven had given him a reward. No. Not a reward at all. They’d given him mercy. They’d done that when they brought him back from death, by binding his soul, and thus they had given him Buffy. The converse was also true. They had given him to Buffy, with all that that entailed, for better or worse.
Even though the people of the village didn’t see him during the day, and even though they spent half their time in the greater anonymity of Bath, it was becoming clear to their neighbours that the two visitors from America were a couple. Other things were becoming clear to their neighbours, too, and he’d heard the gossip. Cohabitation was still frowned on here, and was definitely unusual. And so he’d wondered about buying her a ring.
Oh, not a claddagh. There were far too many memories attached to that one that shouldn’t be revisited. A different sort of ring. Modern, like Buffy. He planned to ask her tonight if she would like that. He really wanted to do more, but that was out of the question. But, a ring to show that she was taken, and to provide her with some protection from the old tabbies… And it might protect the likes of Kevin Langford. Perhaps she would let him do that much. He’d begun to hope that she would welcome it…
And then she’d finished her pudding, and was looking at him expectantly, as if she had asked a question and was waiting for the answer.
“Well! I did ask how you always know the right things to say to a girl, but I might change my mind now!”
He smiled wryly.
“Buffy, mostly I live in hope. As long as I don’t get staked, I figure I’m winning in the conversation stakes. There was a time when I thought that perhaps you should come with an instruction manual, and then there was a time when I decided that an encyclopaedia would be better. I’m a male. No matter what species I am, I’m still a male. The females of the species have us entirely at their mercy…”
She laughed prettily, but her riposte was forestalled by the appearance of the landlord, Tony.
“Everything okay, Angel?”
“Yeah. That was great, Tony. Thank Andy for us, will you? And this is Buffy, my… Um, Buffy… Tony.”
Buffy and Tony shook hands.
“Nice to meet you, Buffy. I don’t know why Angel’s been hiding you. Come and see us more often. Angel, I, erm… I wondered if I could ask you something?”
They could both see that Tony was nervous. Privately, Buffy thought that if Tony were in a bandit-infested Mexican village, he’d have a large sombrero turning round and round in his fingers.
“Sure. Ask away.”
“Well, I saw the drawing that you did of the church. You know, it raised a lot of money, did that. I wondered whether you would do one of the Boar? I’d pay you, of course…”
Smiling, Angel cut him off.
“It would be my pleasure. There’s no need for payment – I’ll swap it for this meal.”
Tony’s face lit up.
“That’s brilliant! Thank you. Next one’s on the house, too. Provided you bring your young lady with you…”
He tossed another smile at them, and hurried back to the bar.
As they stood to leave, one of a group of elderly men who were clustered around a table, where they’d been nursing half-full glasses for an hour, raised a hand and almost imperceptibly twitched his grey cap.
“’Night,” he murmured, expressionlessly. The rest of the group remained silent, not looking at the pair.
Angel returned the greeting, and Buffy gave the group a dazzling smile. When they were out of earshot, she said, “What a strange old guy…”
“He’s a villager, Buffy. They take a long time to get to know people, or to even acknowledge them. Remember what Lisa said? She’s been here over a decade, and they still think she’s a newcomer.”
“So, you’re doing better than she did?”
He grinned impishly.
“Ah, but I had a bit of luck. I got his granddaughter’s kitten out of a tree a couple of nights ago.”
“You never told me…”
She saw Angel’s guilt reflex flash a fin again, and relented.
“Sorry. Oh, wait for me; I’ll just…”
She pointed towards the sign that read Ladies, and was off. Angel walked over to the bar, to prop it up until she returned. Tony saw him, and reached under the counter, pulling out a slim packet wrapped in brown paper.
“A man just gave me this for you. He said to give it to you when the young lady wasn’t around – he knew her name, though. He’s just there…”
He peered around the end of the bar into the other room.
“Oh, he’s gone. I’ve no idea who he was, never seen him before…”
Angel examined the wrapping. There was nothing on it. There was nothing distinctive in the way of scent, either, just the sharp fugginess of hops from the beer. He slipped the packet into his pocket.
And then Buffy was back, and the blood stirred within him.
Outside, the night was still balmy, and scented with rose and honeysuckle. They walked to the car park, Buffy a little ahead of Angel on the narrow path through the garden. The halter-top that she wore was short, and rode up a little as she moved, giving him glimpses of pale flesh. Her tan wasn’t as deep as it had been in California. He reached out and placed his hands around her waist, skin to skin, bringing her to a halt. He remembered, back in the day, when the most desirable ladies’ waists were those small enough to be completely spanned by a man’s hands.
The tips of his thumbs met, close against her spine, and he stretched his fingers around to her abdomen. As his hands tightened against her flesh, he heard her involuntary intake of breath, and her waist drew in, just a little. He brought the tips of his middle fingers together, and was grateful for large hands, but she was still incredibly slim. As those long fingers met, he pressed them into her navel. Her body reacted instinctively and, obedient to the command, she pressed backwards until she was rubbing against him, tantalizing him almost unbearably. Man and demon lusted together, for her body and for her blood, and he bent over her as she rested her hands on his. He started breathing, savouring the perfume of her even as he fought for control, his cool breath spidering over her neck. A shiver ran through her as his hands squeezed.
“Going for public now, are we?”
Her voice was low and breathy. His lips pulled at the soft skin of her throat, and she sensed the merest hint of teeth. She thought he must still be human, because she felt no scratch, but she wasn’t certain.
“Let’s go home.”
She pressed harder against him and then nodded, and he let her go with an effort. Cool as his hands were, the night air ran cooler around her naked waist when they were gone.
As he walked her to the car, he decided that tonight, when their hungers had been satisfied, he would definitely talk to her about a ring.
As he approached the turning from the road into the drive for Summerdown House, she was sitting with her back pressed against the car door, watching him, perhaps remembering the feel of his body against hers. He loved that. He spent a lot of time watching her, whether she knew it or not, but he loved to feel the weight of her gaze on him: her approbation, her desire, her intense analysis as she tried to fathom his thoughts. But most of all, he loved that she found him worthy of looking at, that she wasn’t repelled by what he was, even when he was in demon face, that he was in some way attractive in her eyes. He was still basking in that glow as they reached the gateway, and then because of her position, he saw what she didn’t see. There was a car, with a trailer and a heavily-laden roof-rack, blocking the entrance to the driveway and Giles was walking down from the bright silhouette of the house, accompanied by a strange man. There were more people in the car.
He couldn’t pass the car in the gateway, and so he pulled into the edge of the road, the passenger side tight against the hawthorn hedge so that he wasn’t blocking the way to other cars, rare as they were. He got out, but Buffy was trapped, unable to open her door. Rather than scramble over, she opted to remain where she was, immersed in her Angelic heat. The people in the car looked to be no threat. Apart from the man, there was a woman, and two young boys, and something dark that she couldn’t quite make out. Another child, perhaps.
As Angel walked to the car, he heard Giles giving directions. These were tourists, lost. Giles turned at Angel’s approach and smiled wearily as he nodded a greeting.
“The Tadcasters here are lost and late. A breakdown on the M6…”
He turned back to Mr Tadcaster.
“So, back to the main road, turn right, and the White Horse camping ground is on the next lane right, just before you get to Bratton Camp…”
The man looked confused, and Giles felt a momentary surge of irritation for people who hadn’t bothered to check the map properly.
“Bratton Camp is an Iron Age hill fort. The tourist camping ground is a little way before that, closer to the main road. You can’t miss it.”
Giles was wishing that these people would go. He’d already had ten minutes of the prissy little man in his Fair Isle V-necked sweater and corduroy trousers, who’d walked up the drive and hammered on his door at eleven o’clock at night, explaining how they came to be so late and asking to be guided to the camp site so he could pitch his tents. Giles had been curled up with a good book – a very good book, Pissander’s Garden of Unnatural Delights, which contained things that had shocked even him – a book that Angel had unearthed from somewhere and had given to the ex-Watcher, and that had explained many things about demons that Giles had never known. There were illustrations, too. He’d been rudely pulled from his study by this tiresome man, who should know better than to go traipsing around the countryside at night, with his wife and two young children.
He’d been pleased to see the Porsche draw up as he’d walked Tadcaster back down the drive. He’d particularly wanted to ask Angel whether he knew more about the habits of the Sapproth. That chapter in the book had remained unclear on some aspects… Pulling his thoughts away from Pissander, he heard Tadcaster thank him, and was about to put out his hand in farewell when he felt a pressure against his shins. He looked down and saw Zillah, who must have followed him from the house. He thought he’d closed the door, but apparently not. The black cat brought a smile to his face, as she did every time he saw her. Ella’s cat, all that he would ever have now of the woman he’d so recently loved, and yet he felt no sadness when he looked at the svelte little queen. He wondered briefly whether Ella had bespelled the cat to bring that feeling of peace to him. It would be just like her…
Zillah circled around his feet one more time, leaning against him and marking him as her own in the face of these intruders. Then, she trotted past the strange car to investigate some rustling noises in the base of the hedgerow, her slender tail erect, its very tip crooked over her back, her satin coat shining darkly in the light spilling from the cars as she disappeared into the busy night of the country lane. Angel could hear the same rustling sounds, and knew that there would be gifts of mice in the morning. Although, last week, she’d brought back a half-grown rabbit, and had watched smugly as Giles and Buffy enjoyed the fruits of her labours. When drained, it had given up a small amount of blood for Angel, and he had tipped his glass to her as he drank. He’d thought she had winked at him, but he might have been wrong.
There was movement in the visitors’ car as she passed it, and then a fair-haired child of about seven opened the door and scrambled out.
“Daddy, daddy, Martin says that he’s going to…”
The breathless delivery halted, and whatever Martin had threatened was lost, as the third occupant of the back seat leaped from the car. It was a large, well-muscled Rottweiler. There was no sound at all from the dog except the click of its paws on the metalled surface of the road as it pulled itself out. Giles found time to disbelieve that this fussy little man would consider a large black and tan guard dog to be a suitable pet, and then the dog had turned around the front of the Tadcaster’s car and had Zillah in its sights.
It happened very, very quickly, far more quickly than a human, even a Watcher, could react to, although he had time to turn and see. More quickly than a Slayer could react to, despite flinging herself from the car, bruising her hip on the gear lever although she wouldn’t notice that until the morning. And more quickly than even a vampire could react to, though he threw all caution to the winds and simply leapt over the car in a desperate effort to stop what had already happened.
The dog opened its jaws and snatched Zillah up. It had her by the hind leg, and those with ears to hear were appalled by the snapping sounds as the bone was crushed. Her scream was human in its agony and fear, and her body writhed as she twisted and reached for the dog’s face, her claws fully splayed. The dog took no notice of the sharp, stinging pain as she raked its muzzle and nose, but she couldn’t reach its more vulnerable eyes. It simply shook her, as though it were a terrier, and she a rat. If it had had her by the neck, she would have died instantly.
Angel, trying to use the best of his powers to stop the unstoppable, reached down in mid flight, but again he was too late. Instead, there was a blur of dark orange as Aristotle flung himself from the hedgerow and onto the dog. No one could say just what happened next, or how it came about. Giles’ cat, the aloof, mature and disdainful Ari, who had been besotted with Zillah at first sight, and who was now a ball of spitting, growling fury, was latched onto the dog’s throat. Whether he found a particularly thin piece of skin, or was simply desperate enough to do what seemed to be beyond his natural weapons, and whether it was by fang or claw, was afterwards impossible to say. One moment the dog had Zillah, and Ari had the dog, and the next moment arterial blood sprayed three feet into the air, a new spurt with every beat of the dog’s heart.
Angel stood over the dog’s back as it clawed at the avenging cat, and he pulled Ari away, feeling more flesh rip in its throat as the cat’s teeth and claws were dragged downwards. As Ari fell away, the spray of blood grew stronger, thicker, and Angel felt the bones in his face trying to shift. He bent low over the dog, but not only to hide what he might look like. Zillah’s screams now mixed with the screams of the children, and, from the corner of his eye, he saw Buffy place herself in front of the two boys, even as she placed one restraining hand on Giles’ arm and the other against Tadcaster’s chest. She knew what would happen.
Surrounded by a miasma of blood droplets, bright against the blackness of the night, and the intoxicating sound of the dog’s heart, pumping slower and slower, and the thrilling scents of terror and pain, he fought back the demon and started to prise the jaws apart. It was only the memory of the children that stopped him from tearing the dog’s jaw off completely and perhaps preventing the next of that night’s disasters. Blood beat against him in weakening pulses, soaking his clothes and spraying into his face. The muzzle was slick with it, and so was Zillah. But, as the dog’s heart failed, its jaws locked tighter around the cat’s hind leg. He increased the pressure on the lower jaw, to snap it, and that was when the animal let go of its first prize, and found another. That was when it bit him, sinking its teeth deep into the meat of his hand. Blood welled from his hand, mixing with the bloody froth and spittle. The Rottweiler, feeble now, licked at it, swallowed, and then slumped into death, the weight of it suddenly heavy in his hands. Zillah lay limp and unmoving on the road.
It was Buffy, taking in the shocked faces of her men and the wound on Angel’s hand, who now took charge. She bundled the children back into the car, dismissing the white-faced woman in the front passenger seat as having no part in what must happen now. She saw Angel strip off his bloodied shirt and wrap it gently around Zillah, lifting her up as carefully as he could. Giles, in the act of running towards him, slowed, and his face showed clearly the mute enquiry.
“She’s still breathing, Giles, but she needs help fast. I doubt she’ll have as long as half an hour, otherwise.”
There was no need to ask how he knew. Buffy gave Giles the words he needed.
“Giles, get her to the vet. I’ll call ahead, and tell Mr Blackwether that you’re on the way. Angel and I will help the Tadcasters. Now go!”
Angel dug into his pocket and flung a small bunch of keys at Giles.
“Take the Porsche…” He bent down and scooped up Aristotle. “And get Blackwether to look at him afterwards. He’s got a broken rib, at least.” He strode over to his car and thrust the burnt-marmalade tom in, as Giles climbed into the driver’s seat and keyed the engine. Angel just had time to seize up Buffy’s bag, and then Giles was gone in a squeal of tyres and a roar of German engineering at its best. Buffy snatched the bag out of the air as it arced towards her and pulled her phone from it to rouse up the vet. She turned away, intent on her call, leaving the stunned Tadcasters to a half-naked and decidedly bloody vampire. She wouldn’t have cared too much if he’d been in game face.
Angel got himself under control with difficulty, and it had nothing whatsoever to do with the demon. He knew how much Zillah meant to Giles. Tadcaster was standing stock-still, as if rooted to the spot where he’d almost shaken hands with the man he’d been talking to before this nightmare started, and he flinched at the approach of the blood-spattered figure.
“We’ll take care of the dog for you, Mr Tadcaster. I suggest you get along to your camp site, and try to take the children’s minds off what has happened. We’ll get him cremated and give him back to you if you want to scatter his ashes.”
Well, they’d get some form of ash back, Angel was sure of that. It was too late for the dog. The deed was done, albeit accidentally.
Tadcaster shook his head though, and the stubbornness for which he was noted back home, and for which he was often despised, fought its way to the forefront of his shocked emotions. He clung to its familiarity, as a drowning man to a spar.
“No. Absolutely not. Hermann must come home with us. You can’t think that we would stay here, with him dead? How could the children possibly enjoy that?”
Angel reflected that children of the age of these two could get over things rather quickly provided their attention was focused on more attractive pursuits than grief, but he said nothing. Tadcaster started to puff out his chest in righteous indignation.
“My dog. You killed my dog…”
Angel cut him off.
“What about your wife and children? Shouldn’t we see whether they need anything?”
Tadcaster subsided a little. Angel walked to the car, aware of how frightening he might look in his current state, but someone needed to do this. He opened the door and crouched down.
“I’m sorry. It’s a bit shocking for us all. Is everyone okay here?”
The mousy woman in the front, mousy-haired, mousy by nature, nodded, and Angel knew that he saw some relief in her eyes. He had no doubt that she’d hated the dog. The two children nodded solemnly, in turn. He saw that the second child, Martin, was younger, perhaps five years old. Suddenly, Martin’s face crumpled.
“Mummy! Toilet! Now…!”
And so Buffy, having pulled Blackwether away from his dinner party, shepherded the small party up the drive while Angel lifted the corpse of the dog from the road, and laid it on the verge, close by the Tadcaster’s Volvo.
In the house, the Tadcasters took turns in the downstairs bathroom. Buffy sat them in the kitchen and plied the children with the milk and cookies that Martha always had on hand, even if here they were called biscuits. She made tea for the two adults, ignoring the man’s attempt at bluster – Little Man Syndrome, she thought uncharitably but accurately – and tried to coax the colourless wife into saying something. The woman looked at her husband, and her lips tightened into a thin and silent line.
Angel went straight to the flat to clean up and change. He was quick about it, but by the time he got to the house, Tadcaster was insisting that they were all ready to leave. They would take the dog with them, and he would brook no argument on that. Over their heads Angel nodded to Buffy, almost imperceptibly, and she pulled two large black plastic tie-top sacks from the roll.
Back at their car, it was a matter of moments for Angel to slide the corpse into a bag, and then that bag into the other, surreptitiously wiping his hands over the outer bag before cleaning them on the grass afterwards. Mrs Tadcaster and the children settled into the back seat and, in response to the man’s imperious summons, Angel lifted the dog into the front passenger well, curling it around to fit the space before rigor mortis stiffened its limbs. Temporarily, anyway.
And then the family were gone into the night, their trailer bouncing behind them in the narrow country lane. Buffy knew what Angel would do now.
“I’ll come with you…”
He heard the hesitancy in her voice, and knew that she was torn between the two of them.
“No. Giles will need you. I can handle this.”
“I’m the Slayer, and this is a simple slaying job. You can stay for Giles.”
He shook his head.
“He’ll need you more than he’ll need me. And I’ll find them more easily than you will. Did they say where they lived?”
She squeezed his hand and then he turned and left, the keys to Giles’ car in his fist. She heard the Discovery roar to life in the garage, and then she was alone.
Angel thought about Buffy, and about Giles and the cats, as he sat waiting underneath the canopy of the sycamore. He’d had little trouble following the Tadcasters. The scent of the fresh blood that he’d smeared onto the outside of the bag had been easy to track until they’d reached a better-travelled road, where he’d been able to keep them in sight without giving himself away.
He’d thought they would pull up and stay at some motel or another, but they didn’t. Tadcaster drove on, obeying every speed limit and every stop sign, until Angel feared that he would have to find somewhere safe for the day, and spend time the next night trying to pick up their trail. He’d been spared that, though. They’d pulled up at this stone-built terraced house, and Angel had just had time to seek shelter for the day.
The best he’d managed before sunrise was a boarded-up public toilet. He’d pried the sheet of graffiti-covered blockboard partially open, and slid through, allowing it to snap shut behind him, just as ruby light from a blood-red sun had shafted through the thick bricks of glass that filled the tiny windows. He’d been penned up for the day, then, in this deserted place, filled with the ancient fetor of male urine – and other things. He’d paced the length of the building, no more than three or four paces in any direction, until he’d unintentionally walked through a shaft of light and added the savour of burning flesh to the mixed stench, and then he’d sat in one of the cubicles, despising himself.
He found that he’d slipped the brown packet into his jacket pocket, and he ripped off the paper, hoping that he’d find a clue to the mysterious man. There was only the book, and no indication of who had given it to him. No indication of who knew him, knew Buffy, and knew what he’d been looking into. He sat and read it.
Eventually, the sun had gone, and he’d driven hurriedly back to the Tadcasters’, hoping that he wouldn’t be too late. A small alley led along the back of the gardens, separating them from the gardens of the houses in the next street and, from there, he’d managed to get into the Tadcasters’ garden, unseen. He’d not known whether they intended to have the dog cremated, which would give him a whole different set of problems if it wasn’t done quickly enough, but he found a fresh grave, and so he settled himself to wait for the resurrection of his latest dreadful offspring.
After an hour or so, he wondered whether he’d been mistaken, and the dog had taken nothing from him. It was close to midnight before he heard the scratching of paws on earth. He picked up the stake that lay by his side, and stood, ready for what would emerge.
Suddenly, the dog erupted from the ground, looking far less disoriented than he had been in its place. Its face was thickened and ridged, its fangs like razors. It whimpered a little when it saw him, but didn’t attack. It knew its master. Its sire. Only when he raised the stake did it start to growl and, as he struck, it flew for him, making him miss his aim. With the stake dangling from its flank, it tried to rip out his throat, but instead, he ripped the head from its shoulders.
As ash floated down around him, he stood head bowed, breathing harshly. He was poison. He tainted everything that he touched, infecting it with his corruption. He was good only for raising things from an unholy death, a dreadful resurrection man. He’d thought that he might find some acceptance in Westbury, might find a place in the life of the village, but he never could. He wasn’t safe for anyone. He should never get above himself. He knew better. The fringes and shadows of society, that was the best he should hope for. He pulled the disturbed soil back into a heap over the empty grave, and then made his way to the car. As he drove back to Westbury, all thoughts of a ring for Buffy were pushed down into the pit where his deepest hopes and dreams had been buried.
Martha hung the damp tea towel to dry. She’d come up to Summerdown House late today. Normally, she only made an evening meal for the household once or twice a week, but today was different. Angel was off, heaven knew where, and probably in something of a state, from what she could gather. Earlier, she’d found Giles and Buffy anxiously awaiting news of Zillah, and such a shame that a bonny little cat like that had been attacked by some strange and terrible dog. Well, that beast deserved everything that was coming to it. She’d taken one look at the pair of them and knew, deep in her matronly bones, that food would be the last thing on their minds come mealtimes. It wasn’t as if Buffy could spare it, such a slip of a thing as she was. So, Martha had called John, and said she’d stay here until after dinner.
She put her head round the dining room door and asked whether they wanted coffee. Two wan faces looked up at her, but at least they were well-fed wan faces now. She wasn’t sure how much they’d tasted of the meal she’d taken such pains over, but they’d eaten it, and that was all that mattered.
“Coffee would be lovely, Martha. Thank you. We’ll come into the kitchen…”
Giles looked across at Buffy, who nodded and then pushed her chair back. When they joined her in the kitchen, Martha was just pouring the coffee. Giles gestured to the cups.
“Come sit with us, Martha.”
This wasn’t a household that ever stood on formality, and she often sat with them for coffee. She didn’t need an invitation. She realised that he’d asked because they needed company. Company other than themselves. So, she poured another cup and sat down.
She wondered when Angel would be back. She’d got some very nice blood put aside for him. Old George Laverton had eventually been prevailed on to send his champion Hereford bullock for slaughter that morning. Much longer and it would have been too old under the new laws that hamstrung farmers at every turn. John had seen him just after dawn, walking CiderBoy to Staggett’s abattoir. He’d washed and brushed it as if he were taking it to the West of England show again, and then he’d walked it down the road on a rope halter, its blood-red curls shining in the new sunlight, and the white powderpuff on the end of its tail swinging gently against the flies. John had told her, and she’d waited a decent interval, and then John had driven her to Staggett’s, and she’d stood and watched while the son had drained the blood from the carcass, to make sure he didn’t take the easy way of dipping her some from yesterday’s blood pool. So, she’d bought a full two gallons of what should be the best blood around. Most of it was in the freezer, but a couple of pints waited for Angel in the fridge. She wasn’t sure whether pedigree affected taste, but it couldn’t hurt, could it? And speaking of hurt, she’d seen George this afternoon as she walked over here, and he’d been frosty faced and silent. She’d never have thought he’d have got so attached to a meat animal, but then there’d been all the time he’d spent with it when it was a baby and had that dislocated hip, and after that it had followed him around everywhere it could, dribbling down his neck… She hadn’t told him that the blood had gone to a good cause, though. He might not understand. For herself, she wasn’t shocked by Angel’s diet, nor by the sights and sounds of the slaughterhouse. For a cook, and a farm girl, born and bred, these things held no horrors.
“Do you know when Angel will be back?”
Buffy shook her head.
“He didn’t take his phone with him. He went in such a rush. I don’t like not hearing from him, not knowing where he is…”
Martha laid her broad hand over the Slayer’s small and slim one.
“He’s looked after himself for many a year now. He knows what to do. And the Good Lord will take care of him.”
Giles smiled, wryly. Martha and John had both been firm churchgoers in their youth, but the things that they had seen since then had given them a broader appreciation of the cosmos. Still, when she was much moved, Martha fell back on the power of the Lord. And, strangely, she saw no incongruity in assigning the Lord’s protection to a demon who was burned by the symbols of Christianity. Silently, he blessed her uncomplicated nature.
Buffy nodded, but said nothing. Martha hurried on to fill up the silence.
“Are you absolutely sure that this dog is going to be a devil dog? I mean, Angel didn’t bite it, or anything… Did he?”
For one moment she was suddenly unsure whether the story that Aristotle had slit the dog’s artery had been made up to cover something Angel had done. It was Giles who answered her.
“We can’t be sure until the dog rises, Martha, but no, Angel didn’t bite it.”
“Then how… how can it become… you know…?”
“If a body is drained of blood, and at the point of death, then all a dog – or a human or whatever – needs to do to become a vampire is to drink some blood from one. It’s normally the vamp that does the draining, but it doesn’t have to be. But you need to be drained, first.”
Buffy, having roused herself to answer Martha’s question, subsided into silence again. She remembered drinking from Dracula after he had given her that very reassurance, and she almost shuddered. She wished she’d gone with Angel. She’d been no use at all to Giles, she was sure. She’d spent all day being Miss Cheerful, but the whole thing had caught up with her now. It had happened over the apple Charlotte, like a bucket of cold water, and now she just wanted them all safe and sound and back together. Angel, Aristotle and Zillah. She wanted them back. The house was empty without them. She knew Giles felt the same.
Martha broached the subject that she hadn’t dared mention yet.
“Have you heard from Colin yet?”
Blackwether, the local vet, had gone to the same school as Martha and John, and he would always be just Colin to them. He’d gone to veterinary school, and he’d tried the faster pace of London, and then he’d come back here, and stayed.
Giles automatically looked at his watch.
“No, not this evening. He said that Aristotle was comfortable – he has two broken ribs and a lot of bruising. Zillah is still sedated and on a drip. He doesn’t feel that he can operate on her leg until he has her better stabilised. He says it’s very bad. Clarice is staying there overnight, to keep an eye on her, and he’ll drop into the surgery later on. He’ll give us a call then. Or he’ll call earlier if there’s bad news.”
Clarice Norton was the veterinary nurse, a young but dependable girl who had a way with animals.
“Couldn’t Aristotle come home?”
Martha thought that to have one of the cats, at least, would cheer these two up, but Giles shook his head.
“Apparently his presence soothes Zillah. They tried taking him out of the next door cage but, even unconscious, she got agitated, so they put him back.”
It was Martha’s turn to nod. Devotion was a strange and wonderful thing, and there was a lot of it in this house. Not that she’d expected it to turn out this way when Giles had brought Buffy home that first time, and brought it along with her. It. That’s how she’d thought of Angel then, and now she felt a pang of shame about that. But, she and John had come across the likes of it before, and it was only because of Giles that they both still lived, and so she tried not to be too hard on herself.
John had been here unblocking a sink when they arrived, and he’d told her about it. They’d brought a vampire home, and when they asked him to help them get the thing out of the car, he saw that it was mindless and… what was the word John had used… catatonic, yes, that was it. John might be slow and sparing of speech, but he’d never been slow of wit. So, it was helpless, and he’d asked whether they were going to stake it, and tears had fallen down Miss Buffy’s cheeks – for that was how she’d thought of her at first, Miss Buffy – and she’d shoved John out of the way, shoved him hard for the size of her, and she’d pulled the thing from the car by herself.
Martha wasn’t quite sure when she’d stopped thinking of the vampire as ‘it’ and when he’d become Angel, but she knew it hadn’t taken very long. She’d watched – and so had John – because they knew how dangerous these monsters were, and they were both afraid that these two were somehow in its thrall. But she’d seen how it despised itself, how it shrank away in shame as it was fed; and she’d seen the grief in its eyes. One day, when they were cleaning it up, and trying to change the bed linen to make it comfortable, they’d managed somehow to hurt it, and she’d seen its other face as it snarled at them. It was come and gone in a second, but she’d seen the horror of the demon. Then she’d seen the horror of the man. He knew what he’d done, and he’d curled into a ball and refused to feed. He’d still been incapable of speech – of speech other than the word ‘Buffy’, anyway – but he’d lain there silent and suffering until Buffy had climbed onto the bed behind him and curled herself around his back. She’d talked to him. She’d talked to him of old times, and of the good things they’d done together, and of how she loved him. Martha had heard, and she’d seen, and soon, she’d stopped thinking of Angel as ‘it’.
Then, when he was more himself, she’d seen how careful he was not to put himself forward in any way. He deferred to everyone, even Martha. Even the cats. He was soft spoken and gentle, and he was deliberate in everything he did, trying never to throw his weight around, never to be cock of the walk in this household. Not that he couldn’t, she was sure. He had an air about him, that he tried to hide, but she recognised it. He was trying not to be top dog, not because he couldn’t rule the roost, but because he could. She’d seen a flash of it once, not long ago. The other two had decided on a course of action, and he’d said, in his quiet way, ‘No, that won’t work,’ and the other two hadn’t argued, they’d simply looked for another way.
She knew that she’d been right that he was dangerous, but she just hadn’t realised then quite how dangerous he was, and who to. She pitied anyone who really upset him. He was a bit like Laverton’s bullock, she realised. CiderBoy was a gentle giant, bigger than most other bullocks, and more accustomed to human company. He’d hang his head over the fence of the field, looking to talk to anyone who passed. One day, a few weeks ago, Jason Keevil, a wicked bully of a boy if she’d ever seen one, had offered what CiderBoy thought was a treat, and instead he’d had nettles stuffed up his nose. A couple of days later, the boy and his friends had been crossing the field, and CiderBoy had cut Keevil out and cornered him against the hawthorn, and then he’d stood on his foot. The bullock must weigh over a ton – must have weighed, she corrected herself – and Keevil had been screaming before he’d moved. Keevil had been lucky to get away with a broken foot. CiderBoy could have trampled him, and that was the message that the bullock had given him. Don’t mess with me. She’d seen old George give the animal a handful of carrots that night.
Not that Angel seemed to care too much about himself in that sense. Just those he was out to protect. Martha looked across the table at Buffy, her slim hands wrapped around the coffee mug. She didn’t look strong enough to protect anyone, and yet…
No, the pair of them seemed determined to protect the world, with help from Giles, even if they were trying to do some of it as a business. She wished, for their sakes, that they’d think a bit more about themselves, Angel especially. She thought he’d been doing that lately, been more comfortable with who he was, but Giles had let something slip earlier tonight, about how he might go into a funk, and all because a wretched dog had bitten him. All she knew was that the village was all the better for having them there. And anyway, Miss Ella had loved them. Not as she’d loved Giles, but she’d loved them like family. Anyone that Miss Ella had vouched for was fine by Martha. Now, what to talk about, if she was going to have to carry the whole of this conversation?
“John was wondering whether you’d like some late sown annuals to fill up the gaps in the garden? He was thinking about trying a few biennials, too. If he plants them now, there might just be time. You know, foxgloves and Canterbury Bells, and things like that?”
Giles nodded absently.
“I always like the purple foxgloves, but John says he’s got some seed from Mrs Fowler, from those big primrose coloured ones she had last year, and Edna Motcombe gave him a big parcel of seedlings that she’d weeded up – they should be the white ones that looked so well beside that red climbing rose of hers…”
And so Martha chattered on, keeping the silences at bay, and never requiring an answer.
It was almost eleven o’clock when Colin Blackwether rang. Zillah was more stable, but he needed to deal with the leg tomorrow. He’d x-rayed it. Where the dog had had hold of her the bone was shattered, and there was barely a single bit that was more than half an inch long. There was nothing he could do, nothing left to piece together. The leg would have to come off.
In the kitchen, there was shocked acceptance. Blackwether was a good vet. Giles had seen three-legged cats, and they managed well, but ‘managed’ was never a word he’d thought of applying to Zillah. Surely there was something, with all their knowledge, that they could do? He wasn’t powerful enough to work a spell of healing, not for something this big. For a moment the thought of asking Angel to turn her crossed his mind, and he was shocked that it should have. Nevertheless, desperate times… And then another thought crossed his mind, another memory, and he reached for the phone. It was Nick that he chose to dial. Nick Hunt, the orthopaedic surgeon, who’d seen more than he bargained for at Abbotsbury Holt, and who knew a lot about bones.
“Nick! It’s Rupert. I’m sorry to get at you so late, but…”
“Me? Oh, I’m fine, fine… Yes, Angel and Buffy, too. They’re still here in Westbury. Buffy’s with me right now.”
“What? No, you can’t have Martha! Or John. Or… Just no!”
“Yes, I know we’ve got a meeting of the Sophists next weekend, but I’ve got a bit of an emergency, and I need some advice. I… um… my… our cat, Zillah…”
“Yes, the little black one. Well, a dog has badly damaged her leg. The vet can’t find enough bone to pin together. I remembered you saying about a new technique of using coral…”
This time, the silence stretched on as Giles listened.
“Yes, yes old man, that was terrible. I believe the husband killed himself afterwards. But, I was wondering whether the coral, you know, using it as a scaffolding to allow new bone to grow, would work on a cat…”
“I don’t care about the money. She was Ella’s cat.”
“You can? By tomorrow? Really? You’ll come down? What about your patients…?”
“Pardon? You’re on what?”
“Right, tell me when you see me. Until tomorrow, then…”
Buffy looked up from what she was doing. She’d taken to trying to mend Angel’s clothes. Giles wished that she would leave it to Martha. Angel’s clothes often needed a lot of mending, and never more so than when Buffy had been trying to repair them. Hopefully, it was a phase, and wouldn’t last.
“Nick says he’s coming down first thing. He’ll be here before Blackwether starts operating – it’s scheduled for eleven o’clock. He thinks the coral might work. He’s getting on to his contact now.”
She smiled warmly.
“That’s good. Is he okay? You sounded a bit surprised at the end.”
“He’s on gardening leave!”
“What? They give top surgeons time off to do their gardens?”
Giles kept forgetting about the language barrier.
“No, it’s nothing to do with that. He’s suspended from his job. I don’t know the details. He said he’d tell me tomorrow.”
Buffy gaped in confusion, and then she shook her head in simple disbelief, and went back to her darning. Sometimes she thought she’d never understand the Brits. She concentrated on the shirt. It was the one he’d worn to the Boar’s Head, washed clean of blood, and she loved it. There was a small tear on the sleeve. From somewhere, the thought flashed across her mind that if she could mend this shirt, make it well again, then its wearer would be well, too. She shook the childish thought away. This was what women did. They looked after their man, and that’s all she was doing. Looking after Angel. Admittedly, looking after him usually meant blocking a whistling war axe, or staking something before it could snap his head off, but it was the same thing. Sometimes, she thought, it was just as dangerous, too, as the needle plunged into the pad of her finger. Definitely just as dangerous, as she sucked the drop of blood away.
It was almost dawn when he got back, and he took care to make as little noise as possible. He left the Discovery in the drive rather than crunch across the gravelled courtyard to the garage. She was asleep when he let himself into the flat, and he longed to wrap himself around her, to plunge into her and lose himself, to shed his doubts and his self-loathing as a serpent sheds its skin, to have her peel away his heinousness until nothing remained but his naked soul. Instead, he quietly showered away the remnants of his lastborn until at least his outer self was clean.
She stirred when he climbed into bed, but he turned away from her, staying on the very edge of the mattress. Even there, she pursued him, though, snuggling up to his back, and holding him tight. He heard her heart come out of its rhythm of sleep, and speed up a little. She was half awake, no more. Even so, he heard her beloved voice, throaty from sleep, telling him that she loved him; he felt her hands caressing him, moulding him into her own sort of clay; and then she turned him and smiled for him, and kissed him. He held her close for a few moments, and then turned away again, as if to sleep.
Nick arrived early the following morning. Giles took him to meet Colin Blackwether. The vet had just finished his morning clinic, and was preparing for his surgical cases. He had two castrations and Zillah.
He shook hands warmly with Nick.
“I’ve heard of you, Mr Hunt. Even in the animal business, we keep abreast of some of the developments in human medicine. I read your paper on the possible use of induced microfacture callus response to maintain trabecular continuity…”
“Just call me Nick. I hope you don’t mind me turning up like this?”
“N..no. Not at all… Was there something…?”
Nick beamed, his golden hair and tanned features making him look like an avuncular sun god.
“Jolly good! Rupert was telling me about his cat. Can’t have poor Tiddles losing a leg for want of a visit to the seaside, now can we?”
He held up the small box that he was carrying. It had the stamp of a well-known supplier of seriously unusual items for discerning surgeons. Blackwether might live the bucolic life, but he caught on quickly.
“Coral? You brought a coral prosthesis… How…?”
Blackwether was breathless with curiosity.
“Made to scaffold a long phalanx, but surplus to requirements at the end of the day. I reckon it should just about do the trick, with a bit of jiggery pokery and a sharp scalpel. The joints are reparable, yes?”
“Yes, I think everything can be sorted except the fragmentation of the bone.”
Blackwether’s eyes were shining with excitement. Buffy would have groaned and muttered something about boys’ toys.
“Well, it will be a real pleasure to watch you operate… Nick.”
“Oh, I’m not licensed to practice on animals. I’m just the bike messenger with the parcel.”
Blackwether’s grin was engaging.
“You don’t need to be licensed if you’re assisting me…”
“Rupert. Go home. Wait by the telephone. You’re holding us up. Now, Colin… it is Colin, yes? Do you want to show me where we can get kitted up?
They left Giles, forgotten, in the waiting room, and he didn’t mind at all.
It was late in the afternoon before Blackwether dropped Nick back at Summerdown House. Nick had waited to see what would happen to his patient, and then he’d got caught up in an emergency when two tourists had brought in their dog. It had been hit by a car, but that didn’t stop it from biting both Blackwether and Clarice. Nick described the afternoon as ‘exhilarating’. He described Zillah’s progress as ‘good’ and meant it. But it was early days yet.
Martha came back to prepare a meal for them, and three of them sat down to roast rack of lamb, a glorious dish that prompted Nick to once more try to tempt away its creator. Martha replied with a swirl of skirts and a huff, but she patted her hair as she went out.
Angel was the absentee. If Nick thought it strange, he had the good manners not to ask. He looked up every time the door opened, though, and seemed disappointed when only Martha came in. Giles remembered that Nick had been attracted, but had accepted the obvious pairing with good grace. Buffy took advantage of a moment alone with Giles.
“He said he was going out, and I don’t know where to. I haven’t seen him like this for quite a while now, Giles. He’s really brooding. He couldn’t help it that the stupid dog bit him!”
“I think that’s rather the point, Buffy. He had no control over it. It’s a little as if you tried to help someone and forgot your strength, and killed them instead.”
“He doesn’t care that he killed the dog!”
“No, of course not. It isn’t that. It’s just…he must feel that his demonic side has had the better of him, and he couldn’t stop it. He’ll be afraid that it could happen again. And it could, although the circumstances would have to be rather unique. I don’t suppose he looks at it that way, though. You know Angel...”
Buffy nodded. She knew, really. She just wanted someone to find a different explanation, because she didn’t like the one that she’d got.
Nick stayed overnight. All evening he’d been jovial company, but Giles had seen beneath that exterior. He didn’t need his partners’ supersenses to know that Nick was hurt and upset. When Buffy finally went to look for Angel, Giles brought a couple of glasses and a bottle of Scotch into the family room, and the two men sat down to some serious drinking.
It took more whisky than Giles had expected before Nick opened up. It seemed that he’d operated on a patient with an abnormality of the hip, and the patient had ended in a wheelchair, paralysed from the waist down. Nick was confused and frustrated about that, because there was no reason for that outcome, no reason at all. The patient had decided to sue, and Nick’s employers had taken the usual step of suspending the surgeon heading the team, while enquiries were made into possible malpractice.
Giles knew that every operation had risks, but he knew that Nick was careful, and that he was very, very good. And now he was hurt and alone.
There was nothing at home spoiling, so Giles invited him to stay. There was little else he could do to help, but at least he could be a friend. It was a decision of the heart, and he would later be profoundly grateful for it.
The next morning, Angel appeared for breakfast, although he only had coffee. While Nick was tucking into a full English breakfast, Buffy nodded meaningfully to Giles. She’d made sure her lover had his own breakfast before he came over. Where Angel was concerned, Buffy was ranged alongside Martha. Lack of appetite was the signal for emergency action. Then she scowled at Giles as he pushed away his half-eaten meal.
Nick was his usual talkative self, and Buffy womanfully supported him in that. Angel really tried, but he would slip away into abstraction, returning only with a visible effort. Giles fretted about Zillah, and didn’t hear half the comments thrown at him.
The post brought something interesting, and Giles thanked his lucky stars. There was nothing like a little challenge to stop people brooding, and this challenge seemed perfect for stopping everyone from brooding. If he had known what would happen, he would have burned the envelope unopened.
It was a query from a prospective client. Did they deal with cases of possession? Specifically, did they deal with possessed body parts? There was a postal address in the East End of London, and an e-mail address. No telephone number though. Giles excused himself and went into the study to send a reply. Yes, they might be able to look into the case, if the client would provide more information. Would Mrs Monaghan contact them again? Details of their current rates were attached.
The next two things happened simultaneously. As Giles got up to rejoin the others, the computer signalled a new e-mail, and the doorbell signalled a visitor. Giles chose to deal with the visitor first. It was Lisa, accompanied by Sally and Ruth, whom Giles recognised as two of the girls who stabled their horses at Lisa’s. Girls. They were probably not much younger than he was. There was something about the horse that sank its hooves into the genetic material of small English girls and never let go. Maybe it formed some sort of mystic hybrid. Oh, that was disgusting, he decided, as a mental image of Pasiphaë coupling with the bull came to mind. And then he remembered that he’d never asked Angel about the Sapproth that he’d read about in the Pissander book. And then he wondered what the hell he was thinking about, with Nick unknowingly keeping the Slayer and a vampire company in the kitchen, three women standing unexpectedly on his doorstep, and Zillah still sedated at Blackwether’s.
Lisa was looking at him measuringly.
“You’ve forgotten, haven’t you? I’m sorry about Zillah, by the way. I saw Clarice this morning. She told me. Colin will call you later, she said.”
Such were the ways of villages and villagers, Giles thought. There were absolutely no secrets… well, maybe there was the odd one that they hadn’t tumbled to yet, at least he hoped so, but then the other part of Lisa’s speech pricked at him.
Oh, indeed, and in all the happenings, he had definitely forgotten.
“The garden party…”
He’d already had his quotient of charitable garden parties this summer – even in a season-long campaign to raise money for the children’s hospice, one garden party had seemed quite enough – but some unidentified vandal had got into the Templemans’ garden at the Vicarage last week, and had treated the flowers and vegetables, and the lawn, to a hefty dose of weedkiller, followed by a liberal coating of red paint. What on earth the mild-mannered Reverend had done to deserve that was entirely unclear, but what was obvious was that the Vicarage could not host the last garden party of the year. Giles had stepped in and made the offer.
And here were the girls, with a horsebox full of trestle-tables and chairs.
“Are you still okay about this? Because it’s a bit late to sort something else out now.”
Ruth was quite unlike her name. She was ruthless in her dealings with others, and, having said her piece, she was glowering at him in a very Ruth-like way.
“No… no, it’s…erm…it’s fine. Absolutely fine. I’d just got my mind on other things, you know.”
The glower lifted a little, and he could have sworn that Lisa almost giggled at his discomfiture. She came to his rescue.
“The forecast is for dry, so we thought we’d get the tables and chairs sorted today, and then tomorrow we can have more time to get things set up. A lot of tickets have been sold.”
Giles almost groaned. Because this was the last one of the year, and because it had been arranged for the large and interesting Vicarage garden, it had been decided to sell tickets to tourists as well as locals, in an effort to raise a little more cash. He’d counselled against it – after all, you never knew who might decide to come and case the joint, so to speak, as a preliminary to a spot of burglary, but more innocent views had prevailed. Half the women around here would be baking, or making things to sell. Half the men would be wearing every last stitch of clothing that they valued, padded out like Michelin men, while their wives remorselessly hunted out the final items for the Good As New table.
“Please, go ahead. Anywhere you like. We’ll come and help.”
As the girls turned back to the horsebox, Giles bolted into the kitchen. It was too early for strong liquor. Tea would have to do. Three quizzical eyebrows were raised at him.
“It’s that dratted garden party. I said we’d go help them unload the van.”
Buffy slumped onto the table in mock dismay. Nick demanded more information. Angel was tight-lipped and silent.
“There’s some new mail on the computer, Angel. Would you mind having a look at that for me.”
As the three went out, Giles and Buffy vying to give Nick the explanation, Angel watched them through the window, feeling useless and worthless.
It took the best part of two hours to unload the trestle-tables and the chairs, and to find suitable places for them, and when they got back to the house, Angel had put some lunch together – a bowl of tossed salad in a yoghurt and mint dressing, hot crusty French bread, and omelettes that he was in the act of cooking. He must have seen Lisa and the other girls leave. If Nick thought it strange that Angel hadn’t come out to help, he kept it to himself.
As they sat down to lunch, Buffy’s heart sank. Where, before, Angel had been quiet and withdrawn, he was now overtly, determinedly and fragilely cheerful. This was so different from his normal demeanour when brooding that she could only imagine the worst. Giles shared her misgivings, but could say nothing. And if Nick noticed any differences between the Angel that he’d met months ago, before Abbotsbury Holt, and the Angel of today, he made no comment.
It wasn’t until after lunch that the cause of the change became clear. Angel had been researching. In the study, one book lay open – a medical encyclopaedia – but a sheaf of notes in Angel’s bold script lay beside the computer.
“I checked out that e-mail that came this morning. It was the further information from Mrs Monaghan.”
She of the possessed body parts. Giles raised an eyebrow.
“What did she have to say?”
“She’s asking us to investigate on behalf of her son. He had a heart transplant about a year ago, and he thinks he’s been possessed by the heart’s donor. He’s had a serious personality change. Now, he thinks he’s psychic. And he seems to have predicted some things correctly.”
“By Jove! That sounds interesting. You know, I’ve read something about these cases. With the increase in organ donation, it’s becoming more common. Do you really think there might be something in it?”
Giles, Buffy and Angel all turned to look at Nick, who failed to be in the least intimidated.
“Do you want to say what you’ve found already? I know some good places to look, if you haven’t already seen them.”
No one noticed Angel’s fists clench, his knuckles showing white, as the research party added an orthopaedic surgeon to their number. He went through a summary of his notes, making no comment on any interpretation he might have put on the information.
“There have been reports for some time of organ recipients who have had strange personality changes. I’ve got a note of all the ones I could find – Monaghan isn’t among them, but it includes things like a sudden development of artistic talent, or ability to write, or to compose poetry, where no such talent existed before; new and very unexpected passions like mountain climbing or becoming a strident football fan, or significant changes in food likes and dislikes. The thing that links all these changes together, and makes them particularly odd is that, when the organ recipient manages to find out who the donor is, the change has always been something the donor loved to do. Something they were passionate about. A heart and soul thing.”
He fell silent. It was Nick who followed that up. He sat down at the computer, appropriating Giles’ leather chair. As the machine whirred into renewed life, he started searching for sites. He talked, as his fingers pecked out the addresses.
“Only about five percent of recipients report this, and so people are arguing that it’s a statistical anomaly. Other people are becoming interested, though. Angel said the words. Heart and soul. There’s some speculation among people with that bent of mind that the ancients might be right. That the heart really is the seat of the emotions. And of the soul.”
“Yes,” Giles replied, momentarily oblivious to the look of dismay on Buffy’s face, “it was a commonly held view. In Egypt, for example, there were five elements constituting the human being and the ba, which approximated to the soul, was present at the weighing of its owner’s heart after death – that was weighed against Maat’s feather of truth, you know. The ba was represented as a human-headed bird flying between the two worlds of life and the afterlife. They thought that the brain was just so much rubbish.
“In Chinese medicine, the heart is seen as housing a chen, a spirit, and their words for ‘thought’, ‘love’ and ‘virtue’ all contain the ideogram for heart. Almost all cultures that I’ve studied have seen the emotions, courage, love as centred in the heart. In Islam, to this day, in their teachings of the Koran, they speak of three sorts of people, the mu’minun, whose hearts are alive, the munafiqun, who have a disease, or sickness of their hearts in the emotional sense, and the kafirun, whose hearts are dead. In the Book of Jeremiah, it is written that the ‘heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.’ But those were desperate times.
“I seem to recall that Galen implicated the liver in something, which I suppose might be why we say people are liverish, but it’s the heart that gets the emotions, and the passions. The soul.”
Angel felt Buffy’s hand steal into his. He didn’t look down at her, but he squeezed her fingers gently. After reading the articles speculating that the ancients had been right about the seat of the soul, he’d already spent part of the morning brooding on the nature of that soul. He knew that there were distinctions between ‘spirit’ and ‘soul’, and you needed to be careful about that – most of the early words from other languages translated more properly as ‘breath of life’, or similar. So, the spirit was generally something that gave life, and might have no separate existence from the body, but the soul, the thing that set him apart from other vampires – he hoped – well, that was almost always seen in religion and philosophy as being eternal, carrying sentience and intelligence and surviving beyond the grave. He fervently wished that was so, because if all he was and had been was truly him, no more than a few neurons that also made his heart beat, and if the demon simply animated his body, in place of a different spirit, then he was beyond all prayer. It was how he usually felt, that the mind behind his depredations had always been his own, but the promised shanshu had somehow made a tiny, tiny part of him feel that perhaps that wasn’t true, that perhaps he had been a possessed innocent, and perhaps there was hope for the afterlife. Now the shanshu was gone, and the feeble hope that it had carried.
But, it was all very tangled, and no one seemed to know any more about souls and spirits and emotional hearts than three of the four people gathered in this room.
In his brown study, he’d missed some of what Nick was saying.
“… and it’s very fascinating. Some practitioners are starting to refer to ‘cellular memory’. Did you know that the cardio-vascular system of each individual is actually sixty-two thousand miles long? That’s more than twice the circumference of the Earth! If you look at what we’re discovering about the heart, there are things that could bear greater study. There’s the neural net that the heart has – it’s got something like forty thousand neurons, which is definitely small beer compared to the billions in the brain, but those neurons feed into the amygdala and the thalamus. The amygdala – that’s a tiny, almond-shaped piece of brain, very primitive, and it’s responsible for our most basic emotions – fear, anger, pleasure. It asks some very simple questions. Can I eat it? Will it eat me? Can I mate with it? That sort of thing. You can see the connection with the heart – the heart rate speeding up when it needs to, and slowing down when the stimulus is gone, for example. And the thalamus serves as a relay station for the sensory tracts. Again, you can see the link with the heart. Smell smoke? Fire bad. Run like heck. Pump more blood.
“But, it seems the cortex uses input from those two areas to produce the deeper emotions.
“You know, the heart has an EM signal that’s up to 50 times as strong as the one from the brain. Whatever’s there is definitely active, and can dominate other rhythms and currents. Think about it. When we’re under real stress, the choppy rhythms coming from the heart can disrupt everything else, and we actually become incoherent when we try to speak. That’s the heart, not the brain. Or so I understand.
“And, the brain in the heart and the brain in the head are linked by the vagus nerve, a kind of trunk cable made up of thousands of neural filaments flashing messages continually between the two. Who’s to say which of those messages only go one way? As I understand it, the current consensus among researchers is that the body's neural system is a distributed parallel processing operation with different levels of hierarchy and control. Little brains. There’s another in the gut…”
Giles looked at his surgeon friend with awe.
“You sound as though you believe that the heart might contain the personality; that something of another’s soul might be transferred with a heart transplant.”
Nick’s reply was cheerful in its disdain.
“Oh, I think that whole thing is raving bonkers, but I’ve been wrong before, so I keep up with these things. Out of interest, you know. Some good science will come from it.”
By this time, Nick had located a number of sites. He turned to the others.
“Anyone more adept at this stuff than me? We can probably get a lot more from these, but my googly-thingy skills are strictly limited.”
They reviewed everything they could about the case from a medical point of view, and they reviewed the notes that Mrs Monaghan sent them. In the end, they concluded that someone would have to visit the younger Monaghan, Donald, who lived close-by, at Midsomer Norton. Giles sent an email to her suggesting that a representative call there at a time to be arranged on Monday, and asked for the full address. He also remembered to ask for confirmation that their terms of business were acceptable.
“So, we need someone to go and visit Donald Monaghan, and see whether there’s anything more normally paranormal behind all this.”
Angel interrupted him.
That wasn’t a welcome offer. This business was causing Angel to do a lot of heart-searching – Giles mentally flinched at the unintended pun – and it really didn’t seem like a good idea to send him.
“I thought it might be a nice assignment for Buffy. It’s very close, so she could get there, do the business, and be back in less than a day, when…”
He trailed off, remembering Nick. But Angel didn’t argue, simply nodded, once. The trill of the phone broke the ensuing silence. It was Blackwether. Zillah was tottering around on a makeshift pot, and demanding attention. He wanted to keep her one more day, just to be sure, and then she and Ari could come home. If she was kept quiet. Nick grinned hugely when he heard the news, and Buffy hugged Angel and then Giles.
Dinner that evening was a rather more cheerful affair. More relieved, anyway. Martha wasn’t in charge of the kitchen. She was busy at home, making jams, pies, pastries, cookies and all manner of other gustatory delights for the next day’s event. Instead, the household raided the freezer for the emergency rations that she kept in there for the evenings when she wasn’t in attendance. The choices were wide-ranging and mouth-watering, but Angel ate only the ‘tomato soup’ that waited for him in the fridge. He pronounced that to be delicious. He’d heard about CiderBoy.
When the sun had set, Angel excused himself from the company, the rest of whom had relaxed for the evening in the family room, saying he needed a breath of air. Giles thought for a brief moment that Buffy would go with him, but she had understood Angel’s need for some alone time, and sank back into her chair. He still hadn’t returned when Giles remembered that he needed to shut the horses up for the night. When he got to their stable, he couldn’t help but smile. It was empty. A note was pinned to the door.
You’ve got a lot on your plate just now. I’ll take the boys for a day or two.
It was signed Lisa. Managing females…
It was a fine night, warm and clear, and he felt that a breath of air would do him good, too. He set out for Lisa’s stables, a treat in each pocket for Windsor and Celoso. When he got to the stables, just a couple of miles away, the horses weren’t alone.
A stable door at one end of the eastern range let on to a small section separate to the rest of the block. Giles’ horses were in a pair of loose boxes, facing each other. Angel was feeding them tidbits of apple.
“Better company than us, tonight?”
Giles voice was gentle, much as he would use to one of the horses if it was hurt, but Angel still flinched.
“I’m sorry. I… It’s just… I’m sorry.”
Angel might normally be a man who wasn’t inclined to say much, but it wasn’t like the vampire to lose himself in a tangle of words like that. Giles leaned on the wall of the loosebox.
“What is it Angel? The dog?”
“Angel, you couldn’t help it. It was a one in a million chance, no more. Tell me truthfully, has anything like that happened before?”
“You mean have I turned an animal? Well, yes…”
“Really? Which… No… I mean have you turned someone or something accidentally like that. Because that’s what’s eating you up.”
In truth, Giles knew that there was something else, too, but one thing at a time.
“No. As far as I know that’s the only time.”
“Well, then. Why on earth are you refining on it so much?”
“Giles, you’ve seen what can happen. What if it happens again? I’m just not safe…”
Giles cut him off.
“You’re no more unsafe than any of us. I could run someone down in the High Street tomorrow, although, God willing, I hope not to. Your reflexes make that much more unlikely for you, so you’re safer than me. I saw some figures on meteorites yesterday. Eight meteorites of up to twenty-five pounds enter the atmosphere every year, with a killing area the size of the average back garden. Every eighty years or so, a meteorite weighing up to a ton hits us, with a killing area of one hundred and thirty three acres. Every hundred million years, a meteorite the size of a modest mountain hits Earth with a killing area the size of England. But so far as recorded history goes, the only person, as opposed to possible dinosaur, who’s been hurt by a meteorite was a woman in Alabama, in 1954. It hurt her shoulder after crashing through the roof of her house. And tomorrow, I might trip in the kitchen while holding a wooden spoon, and stake you to ashes. I promise to try and not let that happen, but I’m not going to fret about the possibility.”
He ended with a harrumph that almost rivalled the horses’, and Angel, switching his attention from the furry ear that he was scratching, looked at Giles in amazement.
“You can remember all that?”
“And more if I have to. Now, what else do I have to say about chance?”
Angel shook his head, but said nothing, simply pressed his forehead to Windsor’s.
“If that were me, he’d toss his head and give me a bloody nose,” Giles grumbled. “It isn’t just the dog, though, is it?”
For a few minutes, there was only the sound of horses munching, the rustle of hooves stirring the straw, and the occasional whiffle and snort. Giles refused to break into the crowded silence, and it was Angel who yielded.
“What if it’s true?”
“What if what’s true?”
“What we were reading today, Rupert. That the soul might just be a construct of a few neurons in the heart.”
Angel never called him Rupert. Never. Only Angelus did that, and since there was no Angelus factor here, then there was something else. And then Giles had it. Angel needed to talk to someone about this, but he needed a particular sort of relationship in order to unburden himself. A relationship of equals. Just now, Angel was living in Giles’ house, earning money from Giles’ company, albeit as a nominally equal partner, and stroking Giles’ horse. He needed to talk to someone different. And yet the same.
In response, Giles did something he never did, either. He put his hand on Angel’s arm, his fingers around the biceps. They never touched. Oh, in battle they pushed each other out of harm’s way, but they never touched like this, like two men having a heart-to-heart discussion.
He was surprised at the cool feel of the flesh beneath the cloth, although he shouldn’t have been. The temperature tonight, a fine September night, was probably around eleven or twelve degrees, and that would be Angel’s temperature. It occurred to Giles that this was why he usually had a glass of hot blood before going to bed. To warm him up for Buffy. It was harder for the vampire here than in the California climate.
He was also surprised at the tautness of the muscle. Oh, he knew that Angel was in good shape, but this spoke of something else. In a horse, the animal would be preparing to bolt, its muscles bunched for flight. He guessed the physiological responses were the same. He kept his voice soft and gentle.
“You’ve seen your soul, Angel. You know what it looks like. It’s more than a few nerve cells. Other people have seen it. Willow saw it in the Orb of Thesulah.”
“Not necessarily. What has been seen might just have been a side effect of the spell, some construct to focus the mind. What if all that stands between me and Angelus is a few memory cells, a few nerves that link to the deepest part of what it is to be human. What if all the gypsies did was to resurrect a cluster of neurons in a rotten, shrivelled dead heart? That surely would be more… more possible than dragging souls from the aether? If I had a soul, and it was separate from me for a hundred and fifty years, why don’t I remember anything of what happened to it? Of where it was for all that time? What if that’s all I am, some cells that remember what it’s like to be human?
“What does that make me? Just a corpse with a disease. Nothing human.”
Giles turned to face him, and took hold of his other arm, as if to make sure that they stayed face-to-face.
“If that’s what you are, and all that you are, then it’s all any of us is. Think about it! Buffy, me, Nick, any of the people you see around you. We’re just corpses in waiting, with the same cluster of cells. But, good god, what a powerful cluster yours must be, to control what you control.
“As for humanity, look around you! There’s Walter Buckland, with a mental age of six, and who can barely tie his shoelaces, but who can tell you what day any date in history fell on, and can name or number every single locomotive that has ever run on Britain’s railways. Does he not count as human? Or Minnie Tytherington, who was born with half a body, and has managed for the last forty-odd years? Or Adam Prestleigh, who has a pig’s valve in his heart instead of his own faulty one? Does that give him a pig’s soul?
“Angel, you are what you are, no matter what mechanism makes you that. And while you may be different from other humans in some ways, and while all of us should thank god daily that we won’t see part of you ever again, you are, fundamentally, a man. And a good man who we can all call friend.”
He looked at the doubt writ large over Angel’s face, and wondered how he could ever have considered Angel’s face to be inexpressive. Impassive. What he saw gave that the lie. You needed to know how to read him.
“You’re thinking that humanity can never apply to someone who has blood as his only source of nourishment. Well, what about the Maasai, who live primarily on milk and cow’s blood? I’m damned sure they aren’t all vampires, considering how sunny it gets there. There are special diets for people with severe allergies that seem to consist of nothing but lamb and pears and potatoes. And I bet there are any number of people in China who get very little except rice and the odd pig’s whisker. You may be unusual, Angel, but it doesn’t lessen the humanity in you, and you aren’t alone.”
When he looked up into Angel’s face, he thought, in the dim light, that he saw tears standing in his eyes, but then the vampire pulled away from his grip, turning back into the shadow of the horse. The moment of intimacy was over. Giles hoped he’d done some good.
“Come on, let’s start back, before Buffy comes looking for you.”
He took Angel’s arm and steered him out of the stables. As he locked up, he chattered. Anything to break the silence.
“Have you ever seen a vampire’s heart? There’s no reason why it should be some little shrivelled thing – how could staking work, if there weren’t a proper organ there?”
His mind winced as his researcher’s tongue prattled on. This topic would never do. But, even as he searched for another – and naturally nothing came to mind except hearts and souls – Angel replied.
“No, I’ve not seen an actual vampire’s heart. I always preferred to look at beating, blood-drenched hearts. But I’ve seen a vampire without a heart.”
Fascinated, Giles stopped what he was doing and turned to face Angel, who took up the chores where Giles had left off.
“There’s a snod demon somewhere with James’ heart, but James lasted six hours without it. He was invincible. Staking didn’t get him, and neither did sunlight… But I didn’t get to see the heart.”
Together, they set off for home. There was no more conversation, but the silence was, at least, companionable.
Everyone else was in bed, and a long day was promised tomorrow, with the garden party. Giles was still in his study, watching the hands of the clock creep round towards midnight. He couldn’t get his mind away from the conversation with Angel, earlier. What did the heart of a vampire look like? Was it different to how it had looked before death? How could he show Angel that his soul was more than a cluster of memories in some nerve cells? That the gypsies had truly given him back the ethereal but essential him, and the Coven had bound it in place?
Suddenly decisive, he picked up the phone and dialled a number, apologising for the late call, but staying on the line until he had what he wanted. That led to another call, and then another. And then the one that he’d wanted in the first place, but didn’t have the number for.
“Hello, Keith. It’s Ripper.”
Sometimes, names are important.
“Yes, I’m well aware of the time. Do you still have a… a pet?”
“Keith, I don’t care about your habits and predilections, but I’m sure there are people who do. If you’ve got one, I want to know. Tell me the truth, and I’ll give you five thousand pounds for it, provided I get to see it tonight. Lie to me, and I can bring your dirty little preferences to the attentions of some very interested parties.”
“Yes. I’ll be there in under two hours. The address?”
In the event, he got there in considerably less than two hours. Keith had given him an address on the edge of Tiger Bay, the old Cardiff Docklands. Now they were redeveloped and rebuilt, new inner city apartments replacing inner city slums, the Ship and Pilot now a brasserie called the Orange Tree, and the old community dead, if not yet quite buried. But there’s always an edge to new development. Always somewhere that the tentacles of the modern don’t quite reach. A small area of wasteland or alleys or broken-down warehouses or dank and dreary terraces of houses occupied only by squatters or by the hopeless. That’s where Giles was now. A man got out of a black car, a new and shiny Ford looking as out of place here as Giles felt.
“Giles. What in hell is so urgent at this time of night? And why do you want to see Pauline?”
“It’s nothing personal, Keith. It’s work, that’s all.”
It seemed safer to say that than to admit that he wanted to save a friend from heartache and worry. He winced again at that thought.
“Have you brought the money?”
He handed over a brown envelope.
“There’s three thousand in cash – that’s all I had in the safe – and a cheque for the rest. You know it’s good.”
Keith nodded. He’d known the man for decades, and his word, be it threat or promise, was always good.
“I’ll take you to her.”
Giles nodded, and followed Keith into the nearest dingy house. The red brickwork was blackened by a century of coal-fired pollution, the woodwork rotting. There was very little paint left to peel. The inside wasn’t much better.
“You keep her here?”
Ahead of him, in the gloom cast by a low-wattage, bare light bulb, Keith shrugged.
“She doesn’t seem to mind.”
Giles’ grip tightened on the things he was carrying.
“She’ll be no good to you when I’m done.”
“I figured that much when you said you’d pay. Doesn’t matter. I’ll get another one.”
She was in one of the two upstairs rooms. She was chained to the bed, the only solid thing in this rotting house, and she was almost incapable of movement because she was stoned. She lay in a seemingly boneless heap, giggling and pointing at the cracks in the tired grey plaster of the ceiling. Giles thought that she was beyond the point of feeling anything, but he shot her with a tranquilliser dart anyway.
Keith pointed to the wardrobe. When Giles opened it, there were, indeed, more manacles. There were a lot of other things, too, neatly arrayed on shelves that had been fitted inside. Keith was not nice to his pets. Giles felt a surge of disgust, as he imagined Angel in the place of the female vampire on the bed.
“What do you give her?”
“It’s my own development of Orpheus. Doesn’t need a human for the biting part. A dog or a cat will do. She’s had a dose big enough to keep her docile for twenty-four hours.”
The taste of his disgust was strong enough to chew. Still, he wasn’t going to be in the Boy Scout League here, either.
“How old is she?”
Keith chewed his lip in thought.
“I’ve had her for four years. I think she was about three when I got her.”
More than half her life had been spent here.
“Help me with this.”
Between them, they got Pauline shackled securely to the iron bedposts.
“Best if you go, I think.”
“Oh, no. I want to watch. What are you going to do, Ripper?”
In answer, Giles tore the material of the vampire’s dress from neckline to hem. She wore nothing underneath. He opened his bag and took out a wicked-looking knife. It had a mark that indicated that it was used for killing Kek demons, or would be, if they weren’t already extinct, and it had belonged to Wesley. It was one of the things that had come from Los Angeles… Shaking away that thought, and the question of whether Wesley would ever have had the sheer nastiness to do what he was about to do now, Giles brought out a pair of strong bolt cutters.
The half-healed marks from Keith’s last visit to her were still evident, but they would be of no account when he was finished. He needed to see her heart. He couldn’t do that if he killed her first. And then he needed to find a better way than this to see Angel’s. He needed to be able to reassure his friend that souls did not reside in hearts. This was the first step.
The tranquilliser wore off after a very few minutes, and even the upgraded Orpheus that she’d been given didn’t stop her pain enough to prevent her from screaming. Keith tore strips from her dress and stuffed one into her mouth and down her throat. He used the other to tie the gag in place.
Giles resumed his work.
As he drove back, speeding under the jowls of Wales, crossing the Severn into England, and making for home, he thought that he might start to shake. That there might be some reaction to what he’d done, even though he’d done it with no feeling whatsoever. But he didn’t. He was perfectly calm and steady.
Angel had been almost right about the invincibility of a vampire without a heart. Almost, but not entirely.
Vampires might not have a heartbeat, but their blood still circulated, albeit slowly. He’d seen Angel bleed more often than he could count. As he’d slid the knife through her flesh, and then cut into her ribcage, her blood had slicked his fingers and run over his wrists. When he’d cut the heart out, to examine it, little spurts of blood had come from the severed arteries. He’d been tired and in a hurry, and her circulatory system had not been his prime concern, otherwise he would have taken more notice and made notes. Instead, he’d concentrated on the heart itself. When he’d seen what he needed to see, he’d placed the heart back in her heaving chest cavity.
They’d tried to stake her, but, as with James, that hadn’t worked. It had been another three hours or so until sunrise, so they couldn’t try that. She hadn’t been immune to beheading, though. That had worked just fine, and left the vampire and her damned heart as merely a pile of dust on the bed. It had taken several swings of the axe, though, just as with Mary Queen of Scots. Or had that been a sword? He was much too tired to remember. And even if he wasn’t too tired, his memory had no room for anything other than that heart. He thought that the sight of that seven year old, wizened, leathery organ, blighted and brown, wrinkled and shrunken to the size of the final forgotten apple of last year’s harvest, would live eternally in his memory.
But his hand was steady on the wheel, his own heartbeat was calm, and when he showered the blood off and climbed into his own haunted bed, he fell asleep instantly. That was when the nightmares came.
It was a fine evening for a garden party, and Ivy Grittleton surveyed the assemblage as she sat on her chair by the front porch, her handbag clutched firmly on her knee. Ivy was a doyenne of Westbury’s senior citizenry, and she rated pride of place among those content to people-watch. She watched the impromptu band from the Blue Bull set up so that the young people could have… what did they call it now? A hop? And she watched as the Cidermen rolled up a couple of barrels from last year’s pressing. No doubt they were making room for this year’s.
Rupert Giles’ garden was looking very well. It had a lot of growing still to do, but she’d watched it take more definite shape this summer. Such a pity that Walter and Esther had been forced to grub up all the old garden, and lay it to grass. Still, Rupert was remaking it for himself, and that was good. She’d seen John Fletcher and that new helper he’d had for a few weeks… What was his name? Stewart? Stephen? Something like that… Well, she might not be able to remember his name, but she remembered how lovingly he’d made that garden. The permanent plantings were small and new, but they’d filled it up with summer bedding, and everything glowed in the moonlight, as if it knew it was loved. She wondered where he was now.
She shook herself for a foolish old woman, but she had these feelings, sometimes…
The man who was currently dancing attendance on her, another Walter, Walter Satterthwaite, dodged his way through the crowd to bring her a cup of tea and a plate of something that was likely to keep her up all night with indigestion. Walter was a Yorkshireman, and he’d moved down here five years ago, when he’d retired. He said he wanted to be nearer his family, but they all worked in London, so she didn’t yet know why he’d chosen Wessex. Still, he was a widower, and his late wife, despite being a Yorkshirewoman, had clearly done a good job of training him. He was much like her own dear, departed Charlie had been – quiet and respectful, and attentive to her needs. She supposed that she was probably walking out with Walter, but she hadn’t yet let him know that that was the state of their relationship.
When he arrived with a plate of comestibles, and that welcome cup of tea, and in a real cup for Ivy, not a dreadful polystyrene thing, she had to choose between the plate and her handbag. Reluctantly, she put her handbag down between her feet. Not that she had any fear of it being taken, not here, and probably not anywhere else. Too many of the wild young boys – and the not-so-young ones – had felt the sting of her cane across their shins.
Firmly ensconced again, she looked questioningly at Walter, who nodded to the companions who had come to join her while he had been gone searching for provender, and one of who had, incidentally, also appropriated his chair. In receipt of their preferences, he once more set off into the fray.
There were a lot of people here, and not all of them were known to her. She didn’t like that. She’d been here since Charlie had courted her from her own village a few miles away, and she prided herself that she knew everyone. She generally knew their business, too, not because she was nosy, oh no indeed, but because she simply kept her eyes and ears open.
She’d come in her gloves, in lavender kid to match the crepe of her dress, because this was an evening affair, and the autumn night would be chilly for old bones, and they’d sat unnoticed on her lap. As she juggled with her plate and her cup, they slid to the ground, and she stared at a young man who was passing until the weight of that stare made him pause and look at her uncertainly.
“Could you pick my gloves up for me, young man?”
He bent down and retrieved them. She was relieved to see they’d taken no harm. She’d made those gloves herself, back in the days when Westbury had been famous for glovers. That had been her trade, when she hadn’t been rearing a family, and she had few enough pairs left.
“There you are, Mrs Grittleton.” He saw that her arthritic hands were full. “Would you like me to lay them over your handbag?”
She beamed at him, please by his pretty manners. Sarah Buttsworth had nothing to be ashamed of in her grandson.
“Thank you, Kevin.”
“Can I get you ladies anything?” He looked from Ivy to the other two, but they all shook their heads.
“No, thank you. Mr Satterthwaite is attending to us.”
Kevin ducked his head and hurried away. Ivy wondered if he was still chasing after the pretty blonde girl. She thought there might be trouble if he was. The girl was very much attached elsewhere. At least, she’d better be, the way she was carrying on.
“I don’t know why they had to make this so late. It’s almost eight o’clock now, and we’ve lost all the sun.”
Ivy turned to the woman on her left. To her right was Minnie Heywood, a boon companion, but to her left was Madge Oldford, her implacable enemy. She let her gaze sweep across the fairy lights and the candle lanterns hanging from poles, and the newfangled solar powered lights. They were in a rainbow of colours, sparkling in the gathering darkness, and she thought they all looked rather pretty. They’d probably come from Hugh Jones, he of the marquee and bouncy castles for hire.
“I think it’s rather nice, Madge. Something different for the last gathering of the year. And it’s a lovely night, unseasonably mild. I approve.”
Madge looked around for a different missile.
“That Kevin Langford will get himself into trouble if he isn’t careful, making eyes at the American girl like that. The man isn’t going to like that, the one that’s, you know, living with her.”
She had added the last three words in a stage hiss. She paused for effect, before continuing her train of thought, and Ivy allowed her to.
“Very strange people, that young Rupert Giles has living with him. Very strange indeed. Mind you, it’s no more than you can expect from the Gileses. Always have been a rum bunch. Mixing with all sorts, that family. Bringing who knows what to the village. Such people – not part of the village at all. Rupert really should know better.”
“Quite, my dear. Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more.”
Ivy gave the speaker, Minnie, a withering look. That was just what you would expect from someone who’d never been further than five miles away from Westbury. Not like Ivy. She’d travelled. She’d been to Bristol. Several times. And then there was just the once she’d been to London… Mr Satterthwaite kept saying that he should take her to see his native Yorkshire, but she hadn’t encouraged him in that thought. Not yet.
Minnie became aware that she might have said the wrong thing. Truthfully, she hadn’t heard a word the dreadful Oldford woman had said. She’d been looking at all the nice young men. A treat for old eyes, they were. She hadn’t seen that nice young American, yet. Her father had raised her to be a Methodist, not one of those wishy-washy Church of England types, and so she’d seen that handsome young man give his talk on Biblical monsters to the Methodist Ladies’ Circle. She knew he was here somewhere, because she’d heard that pretty little girlfriend of his call his name, and then she’d heard his voice – and that was something that was once heard never forgotten – but somehow, he always seemed to be out of the range of the lights. And her eyes definitely weren’t as good as they used to be.
“I’m sorry, did I miss something?”
Ivy huffed, and turned back to Madge. Minnie felt a shudder coming on. Those two would sharpen their sentences and cross swords at every opportunity. They did it every day, and with every sign that it was a pleasure not to be missed. Secretly, she thought that she was the expendable buffer state, and that Ivy and Madge would be lost without each other.
“Madge was saying what queer folk the Gileses and their friends are. And not part of the village. What do you think, Minnie?”
Minnie was not deceived. What was expected here was silence, so that Ivy could launch her counter-attack. She decided to live dangerously.
“Well, I don’t know that I would say ‘queer’, exactly…”
Ivy cut ruthlessly across her, although she gave the impression that she wasn’t sure of what she wanted to say.
“Hmm. Yes. I suppose you could call them strange. The boy was strange enough to be able to get young Ellie Croscombe’s kitten out of that tree last week – and in the dead of night, when they’d almost given up on finding it. And remember when we had all that snow last winter? The girl went out and delivered coal to all the old ladies that Arthur Holden’s lorry couldn’t get to, and she such a slip of a thing. He, Angel, visited every one each night to make sure they were in want of nothing. I suppose that the Smiths and the Fitzpatricks thought the pair of them were strange when they rescued Rosemary and Pauline from that fire. They wouldn’t have been grateful at all, do you think? And then there’s young Rupert, of course…
Minnie interrupted her flow.
“Oh, and Buffy – that’s the girl’s name, you know – last week she was taking out the meals on wheels, while April was down with that virus she had. She only got lost twice, but that was for Mrs Coleford and old Mr Cheyney, they live so out of the way, don’t they? And they’ve both got microwave ovens, so that didn’t matter.”
Ivy glowered at Minnie. She hadn’t known about the meals on wheels.
“Yes, well, young Rupert…” She recalled what a tearaway he’d been as a boy. More than once he’d had to be carried home on a hurdle, including that time after falling from the top of the High Oak and knocking himself unconscious. He’d always been respectful, though, and never scrumped more than a modest share of anyone’s apples.
“Young Rupert,” she started again, “is just like his parents. If something needs doing, he does it, without no fanfare, neither. Like when old Lottie Rudloe gave every last penny she had to those cowboy builders who wrecked her house, and she with no family in the world to turn to. It was the Gileses that spoke to Bill Wingham, and got him to sort the place out for her, and it was the Gileses that paid for it, too, although Lottie never knew. O’course, she was a bit loopy by the end of it. Still, who wouldn’t have been?
“Come to think of it, Madge, didn’t your Stephen get into some sort of trouble a couple of years back, and didn’t dare come to you or his mum for the fine. Didn’t Rupert help him out there, after he’d given his oath he wouldn’t do it again? Did Stephen ever finish paying that money back, by the way?”
It was Madge’s turn to huff. She supposed Ivy knew well enough that Stephen hadn’t held a proper job since, and still owed Rupert Giles, although how she knew, Madge could never understand, because she was as sure as sure that Rupert Giles wouldn’t have said anything. Minnie added her mite.
“And there are all those times that Angel has helped Andy Filshaw and Tony Barnes at the Boar’s Head, and John Cummings at the White Hart, and all those others, when they’ve had a spot of bother around closing time. Oh, and that lovely drawing he did of the church for Reverend Templeman’s fund for the steeple.”
“Angel! What sort of name is Angel for a grown man? Or Buffy, for her, come to that?”
Ivy’s voice was gentle in victory.
“You know, we can’t do anything about the names that parents choose for us, unfortunate though they may be – can we, Madge?”
Madge, her mouth pursed into an ugly, sour little moue, got to her feet.
“I can see Stephen over there, and I need to speak to him. But mark my words. Kevin Langford had better watch himself, or someone is going to get hurt.”
With that, she walked off into the greater crowd on the lawn, leaving both Ivy and Minnie to reflect that Madge had probably never spoken a truer word.
“O sing unto the Lord a new song: for he hath done marvellous things. With his own right hand, and with his holy arm: hath he gotten himself the victory.”
Ivy turned round to find Mr Satterthwaite and the vicar, Reverend Templeman, standing behind them.
“Psalm 98, Vicar.”
“Very good, Mrs Grittleton. I happened on Walter here, trying to manage your delicacies, and all the trays gone, so I offered to carry some of these things for him. Do you think that Mrs Oldford will be back for hers? No? Well, then Walter, you have done your chivalry for the day, and I suggest you take the Siege Perilous, and Mrs Oldford’s cup and plate. Here you are, ladies.”
He handed over the things that he had been carrying.
“I, meanwhile, must see whether we have new parishioners, who can be inveigled into coming to church.” He lowered his voice. “And well done on routing the dragon. I do believe that our American friends are excellent additions to the parish.”
He sauntered off, leaving Ivy in possession of the field.
“Thank you, Mr Satterthwaite. Now, if you would be so kind as to refill my tea cup before you quite get settled?”
“Do you think he was named for the old Angel Mill, Ivy?”
“Minnie, he’s American. He’s never been near the Angel Mill until last year.”
Harmony restored, Ivy and Minnie went back to people-watching. When the tea was finished, there would always be the cider…
Even though it had been a last-minute change of venue, the garden party had been a great success, and would swell the hospice’s coffers by a not-inconsiderable amount. Giles had been far too tired after his trip to Cardiff, and had simply let things sweep over him, but Nick had enjoyed it hugely, and so had Buffy. Between them, they had managed to drag Angel out of the shadows, and Giles hoped that the vampire had regained enough perspective to see that he was becoming liked and valued.
Now, they were sitting together for a nightcap. Or almost all together. Buffy had gone to the study to see whether there was any news from the Monaghans. She came back with a mug of hot chocolate and a piece of paper.
“Mrs Monaghan says that her son is with her in the East End of London. She suggests eleven o’clock tomorrow morning if that’s okay with us. I could get a train, couldn’t I? Do we have the London A-Z, Giles? And a Tube map? I don’t think I want to try and drive through there. It’s so… manic. Oh, and there’s a message for you, Angel. I didn’t open it.”
She’d thought about it, but just this once, conscience had got the better of her.
“Where is the address, Buffy?” She was surprised that the question should come from Nick.
“I’ve got an appointment with my lawyer in the City at ten-thirty. If you like, I can take you to a Tube station, and then pick you up again when you’ve finished.”
Nick had been looking serious since coming back into the house, and now they understood why. He’d had a few days’ grace from his own pressing affairs, and now he had to deal with them.
“Preparation for a hearing?” Giles asked.
“Yes. Two hours, max, I should think. If you’re done before then, I’ll buy lunch for you.”
Buffy nodded enthusiastically, and so it was agreed.
Angel went to check his mail, and came back looking as serious as Nick. Someone whose identity he didn’t recognise had sent him a note to say that Montague Summers’ grave had been desecrated. The informant believed that his bones would be used for some dark magic. Angel didn’t know whether to believe it or not. So, he used the internet. A small item of news, lately posted, confirmed the email, although it gave no indication of the identity of the despoiled grave. It simply cited Richmond. That was good enough for him. He needed to look at this.
Back in the family room, he gave a terse summary of the news.
“Montague Summers? What on earth are people doing digging up his bones?” Giles scrubbed at his glasses in perplexity.
“I think I need to go and look.”
“Yes… yes, I think that would be best.” Giles knew that Angel was definitely the best person for this job, and it might give him a whole new set of problems to think about. Take his mind off other things.
“Come in with Buffy and me, if you like. We’ll have a day out!”
Angel smiled at Nick, and the surgeon had to remind himself that this man was taken.
“Thanks, Nick, but I think I’d better get going now. Get there while the trail’s hot, if you know what I mean.”
“I can’t think of anything more spooky than a cemetery at night, but I suppose you know your business best. You don’t feel too unnerved?”
Angel just shook his head.
So, Angel took the Carrera and set off for Surrey. He’d been gone half an hour before Buffy found his cell phone sitting on the hall table, where he’d put it the day before. Casting her eyes to heaven, she went to the flat to get ready for an early start.
Over breakfast the next morning, Nick was surprised to find that Angel hadn’t returned. Neither Buffy nor Giles shared that surprise, although they didn’t tell him why. They’d fully expected that sunrise at six am, or thereabouts, would mean that he would have to take shelter for the day. So, they planned their outing. Nick needed to be at St Paul’s. He would drop Buffy off there, and she could take the Tube just three stations to Bethnal Green. It was a fine day, and he would wait for her around St Paul’s Cathedral. If they had time, he would show her the sights there as well as buy lunch, or possibly afternoon tea. They both had their cell phones. They wouldn’t miss each other. Nick booked his entry into the Congestion Zone and paid his fee, and they were off. Buffy reflected that Angel had gone to an opposite corner of the Underground network, in Richmond. She wondered how he had fared.
Giles almost considered going with them, but there were things that needed doing, and he stayed.
Angel found Richmond and East Sheen Cemetery easily enough. He wanted the Grove Road entrance, for the Richmond Cemetery part, and, for a wonder, it was exactly where the A-Z said it should be. Section 11, grave number 10818. He’d found that on the internet, quite possibly just as someone had before him. He walked up the path from Grove Road. Just before the Garden of Rest on the right and the Star and Garter section on the left, he found section 11. From there, it wasn’t hard to locate Montague Summers’ grave. Even in a cemetery, even though there was only a small and simple headstone, all he had to do was follow his nose.
The disturbed soil was obvious, and so were the few bones scattered around. If the body had been unearthed, most of it was missing. The whole thing was so obvious that it must have been done during the hours of darkness. Surely there would have been innocent visitors to this significant corner of the cemetery on a Sunday afternoon? The perpetrators might not be long gone.
He was uneasy about the anonymity of the source, and about the very convenient news item that wasn’t backed up by action from the authorities, but what choice was there? Something was happening here. They hadn’t faced any body snatchers, any resurrection men, since the almost-Apocalypse of June. But there, Francis had been stealing fresh bodies to reanimate with powerful demons as their new tenants. Now, Francis was dead, or gone to Hell, stewing there with his Lord and master, Old Nick himself. That was over and done with.
There were many, many rites and rituals that required grave mould, or bits of bone, or cerecloth, or other relics of the dead, and he had no idea yet what might be afoot. Or else, if this grave had deliberately been targeted and ransacked, it might be that someone, demon or human, wanted to take this particular skeleton, a famous demonologist, simply for the kudos that it would bring. And possibly for the cash it could also bring. But, if that were the case, why leave some of the bones behind? Then Angel remembered that Summers’ long-time companion had also been buried in this grave.
He set about trying to differentiate between who had been there, the dead and the quick, between demon and human, using every sense available to him. That was when he felt a prick on his neck, first one and then, as he whirled round, a second dart that took him full in the throat. He felt himself vamp, and he tried to roar, but his throat wouldn’t obey, and neither would his vocal cords, and then he was falling into oblivion. He hung on long enough to hear someone whispering, softly, in his ear. The voice had the tonal quality of gravel rolled over sheet steel.
“You’re just the first, vampire. Those you know and love will follow.”
And then he remembered no more.
A lone figure stood at the edge of a small copse on a rise of ground to the north of Westbury, overlooking the Hawkeridge Road. Even from here, Kevin could see the mineholes below The Ham, the artificial lakes that filled the old opencast mine workings shining silver in the moonlight, more beautiful than one would imagine from their beginnings. He found it impossible to sleep nowadays, haunted by dreams as he was, and so he’d taken to roaming around Westbury to try and tire himself out. He mainly roamed at night, when his grandmother was asleep.
He would be leaving Westbury in a week or so, and he knew that he was besotted with Buffy. He was also as sure as he could be that, although she wore no ring, he had no chance with her. He hadn’t seen her with Angel often, but when they were together, they seemed very… attached. And then he’d been at the garden party tonight.
As everyone got slightly tipsy on cider that could crinkle paint, he’d seen them slip into a secluded part of the garden, and he’d followed. He would never know what made him do that. It was so…so uncharacteristic, but he’d done it nonetheless. Sex hadn’t been involved, technically, but it was only a whisper away. As Buffy threw back her head, her neck long and pale in the light of the full moon, Angel had kissed her throat, and Kevin had almost come on the spot, at the utter lasciviousness of what he’d seen, even through the veiling of some evergreen shrub or another. The scene was so completely erotic, involving only his mouth and her throat, that it was almost as if Angel were some sort of… some species of vampire, ready to drink down her lifeblood in a beautiful but deadly embrace and, just as Kevin had castigated himself for having far too fanciful an imagination, the man had looked up, his mouth still working on Buffy’s throat. Kevin could have sworn that Angel had looked straight at him, had held his gaze for a few long seconds, and then had turned his attentions back to Buffy. For those few seconds, the moonlight had seemed to glimmer golden in his eyes. He couldn’t possibly have seen Kevin, could never have known, of course, that someone else was there. It was far too dark, and Kevin too well hidden, but Kevin couldn’t help but think… He thought that Angel looked as if he was enjoying the knowledge that Kevin was there, that Kevin had seen something that he shouldn’t.
Kevin had left as silently as he could, slipping unnoticed away from the party, then, running blindly along road and pavement and path, until he had found himself here. And here he had stayed, to brood. He’d been in this place for hours. It wouldn’t be all that long until dawn, and he didn’t want his grandmother to wake up and find him not there. But, for some reason, he couldn’t bring himself to move from this spot. Not until he’d somehow resolved what he was going to do. Should he speak to Buffy, see whether he had any sort of chance at all? Or would she laugh at him? If he didn’t speak, did he have the resolution to simply leave her behind?
As he pondered that question for perhaps the thousandth time that night, he saw two cars pull up in a small lay-by on the Hawkeridge Road, close to where it joined The Ham, and close to the railway line. Even from here, he recognised the black Porsche, but not the other, much bigger car. The second car had an indistinctive shape – it could be one of several models.
The doors of the Porsche opened, and two men got out, big and burly. Intrigued, Kevin started to move downhill, to see more closely what was happening. The two men opened the doors of the other car, and four more large and bulky men climbed out. No. Five. Except, the one who had been in the middle of the back seat seemed dazed, or drunk. As soon as the others pulled him out, he staggered, even though two of them held him. He seemed to break away from their hold, and he lurched forward a few steps and then he fell heavily, catching his temple against the corner of the open driver’s door of the Porsche. He collapsed to his knees. He would have dropped all the way to the ground, except that three of the men caught at his arms and then they all gathered around him and pulled him upright. One seemed to press a hand against his throat, perhaps feeling for a pulse, but he subsided after that. Then they half carried, half dragged him away from the cars.
Kevin was close enough now to see better, but his attention was riveted by one face, and he noticed nothing of the others. When he tried to look at them, they had already turned their backs to him. The almost-unconscious man was Angel. He wondered what Angel was doing with these strange men at this time of night, and he wondered why he was drunk. And then some mean little portion of his soul wondered whether… if Angel lost some of that handsome gloss, some of the heroic demeanour… whether Buffy might start to feel differently about someone like Kevin.
So, Kevin watched as the men dragged Angel to a small, tumbledown building by the side of the road, and then he slipped away into the night, heading for his grandmother’s.
Nick arrived at St Paul’s Cathedral just before one o’clock. He’d left his Bentley in the barrister’s private car park – well, he reckoned he’d paid them a heck of a lot of money, so they could house his car for a few hours. They didn’t seem to be good for much else. He stood in a couple of obvious places, but there was no sign of Buffy, nor had he really expected there to be. Her business would probably take longer than his had, and he hoped it would have more success.
The discussions hadn’t gone well. The evidence against him was starting to mount up, and he still couldn’t understand where any of it had come from. He knew that he was a popular and respected practitioner, but that for everyone who respected him, there would be someone else who was happy to see him fall. Evidence and opinions were accumulating, and they all seemed to go against him. He could be in serious trouble. He’d get by financially – he wasn’t entirely dependent on his fees and earnings, but he lived for his work. He didn’t think he could get by without that.
In a way, he was glad that Buffy hadn’t shown yet. It gave him a chance to recover some of his sang-froid, and some of his genial bonhomie. He’d loved the time that he’d spent at Rupert’s these last few days, but today, some alone time wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
He’d forgotten how full of pigeons London could be, and so he took refuge in strolling round the Cathedral – it had been years since he’d done that. He was struck anew by the sheer grandeur of it. Then he went back into the late summer sunshine and found a small café where he had coffee and a salad, to fend off the hunger pangs. There was no call from Buffy.
Giles hung up the phone. Blackwether had said that Zillah was doing very well indeed, as was Ari, and that Giles could collect the two of them anytime today. He felt his heart lift. Before setting off, he checked the mail, both physical and electronic. Physically, there was only junk mail and bills. Electronically, there was still junk mail, but there was also a message from a firm of solicitors in Frome. They were handling the estate of a deceased client. The estate agents had reported strange happenings in the property. Surveyors had found nothing wrong, and there was no evidence of vandals. Would Project Paranormal care to inspect? The key was available from either of two neighbouring houses. The fee offered was rather in excess of the one that Giles would normally charge.
He shot off a brief reply – that he would make an initial inspection today – and gathered together a few necessities. The house was on Hawkeridge Road, just above The Ham. It wasn’t well populated just there, so perhaps it was no more than a wandering demon. He added an axe to his bag. He’d have a look, see if there was anything obvious, and then pick up the cats on the way back. Two cat carriers went into the back of the car, along with his bag.
He drove slowly up the road, looking for the address. When he came to a lay-by, his first thought was to pull in and look for the house on foot. His second thought was that there was already a car in the lay-by, and then he registered what the car was. It was Angel’s.
He pulled up behind it and got out. He couldn’t imagine why Angel would park his car here, and why he’d need to come here for the day anyway, and mystery turned to concern when he walked up to the driver’s side door. The window was smeared with blood. His heart racing with a sudden onset of fear, he opened the door. There was no evidence of ash. He didn’t realise he’d been holding his breath until he heard his sigh of relief. Just to be sure, he crouched down and looked at the road surface around the Porsche. No ash there, either. No evidence that Angel had come to harm except for the blood. And then, he found something that he recognised. It was a small metal dart used to deliver a tranquilliser, much like the one he’d used in Cardiff.
He was about to lever himself up when a blow struck him on the back of the head. He neither saw nor heard his attacker as he fell face down onto the road. He tried to struggle back to his feet, but hands and knees seemed to be the best he could do. A rough, gravelly voice breathed in his ear.
“Lie down, old man.”
He struggled to get up, to face the threat.
“I said, lie down. You aren’t up to this any more, old man.”
Then there was another blow, and darkness. He didn’t feel the hands that carried him into a small tumbledown building a little way further on.
Buffy found the address she was looking for easily enough. Her brief was clear. Try to establish whether this was a normal paranormal manifestation, strange as that might sound. Some sort of parasitic demon, perhaps. If it was, deal with it if she could, or send for reinforcements. If it truly seemed to be something that had come to Monaghan as part of the new heart package, then get as much information as she could, and take it back to Westbury for further research. Simple.
She’d almost got on the wrong train – there were only two directions to choose from, and trains had been waiting at both platforms, to calls of ‘Mind the doors’, not even a please and thank you anymore, as she’d pelted down the stairs. Not being familiar with the station names, it was plain luck that she’d chosen correctly as she hurled herself through the narrowing gap of the sliding doors. It was nothing to do with her non-existent sense of direction, or completely latent map-reading abilities. She scanned the coloured diagrams over the windows anxiously, but the next stop had been Bank, and she knew that luck had favoured her.
The train stopped at Liverpool Street, where there was a mass exodus, and a mass inodus, or whatever the word was, as people changed tube lines or headed for the mainline station. Then it was her stop, Bethnal Green.
She got out of the station, onto a broad thoroughfare, lined largely by three-storey, very much undetached, yellow brick buildings. She knew enough about Britain now to understand that these were Victorian buildings, darkened by years of smoke pollution.
She squinted at the rows of shops again. Or maybe earlier than Victoria. She’d sounded off once to Giles about how Angel was older than the United States. Since being here, she’d realised that half of everything in Britain seemed to be older than the United States, and that probably included most of the buildings she could see here, although their occupants must have changed several times in the last couple of centuries. She hoped.
The shops were an eclectic mix of pizzerias, kebab houses, pubs, mini-cab firms and electrical goods retailers. There were even some that would have been useful for everyday shopping. The people were as eclectic as the shops. She spotted every shade of skin colour and heard what she assumed to be an East End accent coming from people who would have looked more at home on desert sands or in darkest Africa. She smiled broadly. She loved it already. The area was seedy and down at heel, but it was definitely homely. She swung her backpack over her shoulder and set off into the unknown.
She walked down Cambridge Heath Road, crossing the junction of Roman Road from the Tube station to the Museum of Childhood. Someone had tried to make that more attractive by putting tables and chairs outside, and by planting up a small garden. She wondered whether she’d have time to call in and see what was inside. The next junction was Old Ford Road, and on the other side was York Hall, somewhere that definitely looked as though it needed a facelift. She could almost imagine Spike and Drusilla going to what she’d heard referred to as ‘music hall’ there. She tried not to think of Angel – Angelus – and Darla going there, too.
She passed Patriot Square, at the back of York Hall, and then she was there. Millennium Place. As she turned into the little backstreet, she realised that it was entirely different in character to the area she’d just walked through. It was quiet, for one thing, not the hurly-burly of multi-ethnic passers-by, or even the roaring racket of multi-ethnic vehicles on the main road. It was a new development, hence its name, she supposed, of three-storey apartment blocks in sand-coloured brick, trimmed with steel-blue. The doors and windows were all tasteful white, and the architecture, she thought, was borrowed from the Georgian. She preened a little at having absorbed so much from her menfolk.
It was a private, gated development, and she had to give her name before she was buzzed in. Then she located the door she wanted, and knocked on it.
The woman who answered looked as out of place in Bethnal Green as the apartments did. She was blonde with darker lowlights – from a bottle, Buffy was sure, but not brassy or home bleached. Her coiffure was exactly that, elegant and expensive. Her jewellery was not excessive, but was striking and also expensive. Her clothes – well, Cordelia would probably have killed her for that chic tailored cream suit. Buffy might even consider doing that herself.
Her perfectly-lipsticked smile was cold, but her voice was warm and honeyed as she invited Buffy in. If the name had given an expectation of an Irish accent, that was to be disappointed. Mrs Monaghan spoke perfect Queen’s English. The Slayer, as she crossed the threshold, felt grateful for the rasp of the stake in the back of her waistband.
The apartment was minimally furnished – fashionably minimal, that is – and matched its owner perfectly in shades of cream and autumn gold, with dark lowlights by way of touches of black ash in the woodwork. Tea was waiting, in elegant ivory porcelain, on a sparely-designed birch and smoked glass coffee table. The whole thing was so unlike Buffy that it jarred on her, but the thing that rasped on her nerves more than anything else was a picture on the wall. It was in grisaille shades, almost like an old and grainy black and white photograph, and again she thought that Angel would be pleased with her for remembering the word. It was of a beach. On the beach were crabs. At least, she hoped they were crabs, although they looked like none that she’d ever seen. They had the right claws for it, though. She was pleased when Mrs Monaghan spoke, so that she could look away from the picture.
“Please. Sit down. My son will join us in a few moments.”
Mrs Monaghan poured tea, but Buffy waited to drink until her hostess had drunk from hers. She didn’t realise that was what she’d done until she’d done it, though. Instinct, she thought, and tried to bring more logical thinking into play. Living in London was horridly expensive. You probably bought – or rented – where you could afford. Even clothes and hair and jewellery like that perhaps didn’t mean that you could afford to live somewhere else. She almost expected to see Mrs Monaghan fix a cigarette into a long black cigarette holder, but there was no evidence here that the woman even smoked.
Donald Monaghan, when he joined them, proved to match the décor as well as his mother. He, too, was blond, dressed in a charcoal sweater that would have looked much better on Angel, and cream slacks. He looked tired, though, and grey around the eyes. Haunted. Buffy’s slayer sense was on high alert, and she began to have hopes that this was going to be a case of the sort of possession that she could deal with.
The facts, when they went through them, were pretty much as she already knew. Monaghan had started seeing things, knowing things, foretelling the future. It was the sort of behaviour that he had despised and derided, before. Buffy took down all the details of his surgery. If they needed to follow that up, maybe Nick could lend a hand. Then she remembered. Well, maybe he could lend a hand after he’d been cleared. She felt certain that would be the case. She just knew it in her bones.
Frowning, she looked up at Donald Monaghan. Was that how he felt? So very certain of something? Her slayer senses were now well beyond red alert. She didn’t think that either of the other people in the room were demons, although the woman was really giving her the creeps.
At one o’clock, more tea was produced, with sandwiches. Buffy would rather have had lunch with Nick. The little white triangles sat pristine on the bed of red and green lettuce, defying anyone to break up the perfect little arrangement. Buffy took one without hesitation. As she reached for it, though, her predatory senses detected a tiny movement behind her. She swung round, and something skittered, but she only saw it from the corner of her eye. What she saw, in full view, was the painting. The beach was empty.
And then, from the very edge of her peripheral vision, something launched at her. She swung her fist at it, but all that was in her hand was the soft triangle of bread and smoked salmon. Neverthless, the crab-thing was flung back to the wall, its carapace cracking with a sharp splintered sound. Her backpack was too far away to reach, but she had the stake in her waistband, and she pulled that out, and went to work.
Nick waited for three hours, and then he called Buffy. Her phone rang, but she didn’t answer. He wasn’t sure how she would be tackling her business, and he didn’t want to disturb her if she was in the middle of delicate discussions, and so he clicked the phone off after a few rings. Then he went to rescue his car and parked it in a pricey National Car Park. At five o’clock, he called her again, but there was still no reply. This time, he let the phone ring for much longer, but it did no good. He wondered whether her business had concluded early, and she’d gone back home. Then he tried to call Rupert. There was no reply there either.
He didn’t have the address that she’d gone to – he’d never even heard it discussed – and he didn’t feel that knocking on every door he could find would be at all productive. Angel was in Richmond, but without a cell phone – or, he might be back at Westbury. Giles was apparently out somewhere. Nick felt that he was uselessly kicking his heels, being of no help to anyone at all. He tried her number once again. No reply.
He did the only thing he could think of, short of calling the police. He retrieved his car, and set off back to Westbury, his phone on the seat beside him, ready to turn back at a moment’s notice.
Somehow, in the mêlée, she had managed to get the Monaghans out of the room, and to reach her backpack. The stake from her waistband was now embedded in the wall. It was embedded in a crab-creature first, though. The beasts that she had despatched were the smaller ones, the ones with less armament, but the psychic screams of their deaths still rang in her head. Those screams were drowned out, though, by the others.
Her mind was flooded with images, pictures of terror and pain, and of things she hoped she would never have to see. She was almost blinded by them, her ears deafened by the din of events that either hadn’t happened yet, or had happened elsewhere. She neither knew nor cared which was correct. She was fighting blind and deaf, on slayer instinct alone. So far it had served her well.
Then, as she lunged for one of the larger crab-creatures, she felt a touch on her back, and something nip the nape of her neck. Blood ran down, warm and wet, as she reached around to yank the thing off. But there was nothing there. She whipped round, searching for it, but saw only a flash of movement from the corner of her eye. And then she knew that the creature’s bite had been poisoned, as a terrible lassitude swept through her body, and her leaden limbs refused to respond. As she crumpled to the floor, the last thing that she heard was Mrs Monaghan’s voice, each word precisely clipped.
“There, Donald. That wasn’t so hard, was it? The master will let you have some treats, now, I’m sure. Maybe…”
Buffy slipped into unconsciousness before Mrs Monaghan enumerated the promised treats.
When Angel awoke, he was immobile and helpless. He was in the dark. And he was terrified. Nightmare. It had to be a nightmare, a reliving of his time beneath the ocean, yet there was no water here, and he could see nothing. Besides, except when he remembered his time in Hell, or beneath the sea, his nightmares were strange amalgams of horrors and wishful thinking. This was neither. This was nothingness. He had no idea how long he stayed in the nothingness. It might have been hours, or it might have been millennia.
And then there was light, and, weak as it undoubtedly was, he was dazzled by it. He wanted to screw his eyes up against it, but even that small movement was beyond him.
He saw the light as if through a small window, and then there was a dark, hooded figure, casting a shadow on that tiny window to the world.
“Awake, Angel? You’ll soon wish you weren’t.”
The tone of voice was genial, chatty, and he thought that he remembered it, although he’d need more to bring that memory back to mind. The figure moved away. There was a scrape of wood on stone, and the figure reappeared, lower. Angel thought that whoever it was had sat down on a stool or a chair.
“Remember the Shorshack box, Angel? You didn’t manage to get the Ethros demon into that, did you? Well, you’re in a Vampire box now. It’s good for a thousand years, they tell me. I guess I did better than you.”
He seemed to pause for an answer, but Angel couldn’t have answered if he’d tried.
“You know, I thought of just shackles and chains, first, because they’re much easier to get hold of, but I’m not at all sure you couldn’t get out of those, no matter how unbreakable they were. You’re a lot stronger than you used to be, back in the day, aren’t you? You won’t get out of this, though; not until I choose.”
He paused again. It might have been for a reply, or it might have been for effect, but Angel could gratify neither. He felt sure the man knew that, too.
But how the devil did anyone still alive manage to know about his strength? That he was stronger than he’d used to be? The voice was still dreadfully familiar, and if he could remember who it was, perhaps he could find a way to get out of this. Otherwise… A thousand years? He tried to struggle, to make his limbs move, but nothing happened.
“Let me tell you what’s going to happen, Angelus. Oh, yes, I know you now, although I didn’t then, when it mattered. You spoiled my big day, you and your friends. All of you are going to pay for that, but you especially. The others will be here, soon. What, you still don’t remember?”
The figure pushed back the hood that had darkened and obscured its features. Angel would have gasped if he could. It was Francis.
But, it was a horribly changed Francis. The left half of his face had been burned into something resembling seared pork, and Angel could see, in his mind’s eye, the cauldron of flame that had been every part of the Hellfire Caves except the protected circle that had housed himself, Philip, and the boy, Joshua. Francis raised his left hand, and it was nothing more than a blackened bony talon. In it, he held an oval of what looked like wickerwork.
“You see what you did to me? And, angry as he was, my master took me bodily down into hell. You know what that’s like, don’t you, Angel? I’ve been there a long time now, but you know about that, too. I’m really very, very cross with you, but I hate to tell you that my master is even crosser. You will suffer for that, and we’ll both make sure of it. You see, the thing is, if everything goes well here, I’ll be restored. He’s made me that promise. I’ll be restored in body, back to what I was before, and I’ll be restored back to life on Earth. You could say that I’m motivated.”
Then he lifted the oval of wicker into the tiny window of light, and Angel was back in darkness, and complete sensory deprivation.
Martha was waiting for John to get ready to drive up to Summerdown House. They generally did the same hours so that they could travel there together, although sometimes Martha enjoyed the long walk through the village and over the start of the downs. John was in the garage, fiddling with the car. It had been reluctant to start, and he was poking and wiping and cleaning, and Martha hoped he knew what he was doing. John was good with all manner of things, but woodwork was his real craft, not petrol-driven machinery.
He’d been out there for twenty minutes now, and here she was, twiddling her thumbs and huffing quite a lot. There was so much that she had to do. The last of the brambles needed making into jelly before they mouldered, some apple cheese from the windfalls from the old, gnarled trees behind Giles’ house, and the cinnamon and apple cookies that Buffy loved were almost gone. And, her search continued for something that would tempt Angel other than blood. She was sure there must be something… There was too much time being wasted here. My goodness, it was twenty-past eight already.
She picked up her bags and marched through the utility room and out of the side door into the gloominess of the garage. John was sitting in the car, apparently waiting for her. She huffed in exasperation. Why hadn’t he tootled the horn to show that he was ready? When she got close to the driver’s door, her heart skipped a beat. And then another. John’s head leaned against the glass, and his eyes were closed. Full-blown panic made her heart thunder as she reached for the door, and then an arm reached around her, and a pad was placed over her mouth and nose, and she didn’t recognize the sickly-sweet smell as chloroform, although it was, and then she knew no more.
The little window of light appeared again, but it took Angel long seconds to be able to see Francis through the blinding dazzle.
“Found a way out of there, Angel? No? That’s because there isn’t one, you know. Specially constructed by a famous sorcerer, that box was. Of course, you and your friends have pretty well done away with the most powerful magic users in this dimension, so I had to go somewhere else to get it. They knew about vampires, though, especially after I gave them one to practice on.”
He raised the taloned claw again, and this time he held a mirror.
“I thought I’d let you see the workmanship. Well, workdemonship, but it’s all the same thing.”
He held the mirror up and positioned himself so that Angel could see a reflection of the box that entombed him. It was anthropomorphous. It had contours that slightly resembled the human body and more clearly resembled something else. It looked like one of the old Egyptian mummy cases. And then again, it didn’t. Overlaid on top of the almost-humanoid shape, and somehow a part of it, were the desiccated corpses of things that were somehow octopus-like, and somehow crab-like. They twined around the sarcophagus, and bulged obscenely, their matter somehow incorporated into the tightly-woven wood.
There was a picture painted onto the front, and the outlines of the box followed that picture, away from the human and into the demonic. The portrait, while stylised, looked shockingly like him. Shockingly, that is, because it depicted the demon that he’d been in Pylea. There was just a single oval opening in the face, where he ought to see his eyes, wide and fearful. Drawn around the painted figure were rank after rank of tiny letters, from inhuman alphabets. They were the words, Angel thought, of whichever spell made the whole thing work, although he was too stunned to think much at all.
He was standing upright, which came as a surprise to him, since he had no sensation, no spatial awareness, no feeling of up or down. He wanted to weep. This was so much worse than when he’d been immobilised in the Hellfire Caves. He wondered whether Philip was here to help, as he had helped before. Or whether Philip was another victim. Perhaps Francis saw something in his eyes.
“You’re wondering about Philip? He’s not coming to rescue you. Oh, yes, I know that he gave you immunity from his gris-gris. Unfortunately, he and his family have disappeared. When I’m returned to Earth, though, he’ll be my first concern. You, of course, will be elsewhere, then.”
The mirror disappeared, and so did the figure of Francis. There was the scrape of wood on stone, again, as Francis pulled up something to sit on. Angel, trying to regain control of his fear, wondered whether Francis’s left leg was as burned as his arm. Perhaps he couldn’t stand for long. He urgently needed to understand all of his enemy’s weaknesses. He thanked the Powers that Francis, like most evil beings, was inclined to brag and boast. The urge to torment was overwhelming in him. He remembered the feeling well. There was information in that, though, information that could be used, if only he had the ability to needle more from the… man. Then it seemed as though he didn’t need to needle.
“There’s a plan for you and your friends. Want to know what it is? I’m sure you do. You think that the small window I’ve given you is a weakness, and you’ll be able to use it. You think that, when you get out of the box, you’ll be able to foil the dastardly villain, hm? ‘Fraid not. The box has a field around it, and around you. You could be all the way out, but if you have only one fingernail left in the box, you are still its prisoner. Come on Angel! Why so glum? You were prepared to do this to a fellow demon.
“Of course, you’ve spent a bit of time in a box yourself. Gave you a taste of what’s to come, you think? Not a chance. You and your friends are going somewhere where you’ll pray for the time you spend in that box. You’ll beg to be allowed to crawl back in. I know a whole host of beings who’ll get a great deal of sport from you.”
He fell silent for a moment, and then it became clear that he had been listening to something that Angel couldn’t hear.
“Here they come. The first of the catch, after you. With luck, all my traps and ambushes will work first time, but if not, it doesn’t matter. I have…” He looked at a watch on his good wrist, “about thirty-six hours to get everyone, and then whoever is in here will be taken… elsewhere. Instant transport, although not a transport of delight for you, sad to say. I made sure you were first, of course. You’re the most important. The others are just gravy…
“Did you enjoy the book, by the way? I thought that another Summers would attract your attention. You made it so easy.”
Francis walked over and grasped the coffin, for such it seemed to be, to Angel. Surprisingly, even with Angel in it, it seemed to be light enough for him to lift, and he adjusted its position until Angel could see virtually the whole of the room. It looked like some sort of chopped-off tunnel, arched overhead, and covered in whitewash. The only illumination came from a couple of bare light bulbs. An empty set of shackles and chains hung from the opposite wall. Angel wondered whether those were intended for Buffy, and prayed not. Yet there was some hope if they were. He was positive that she could free herself from those. If she were loose, he didn’t give a lot for Francis’s chances.
There was nothing else in the room except a door to his left, huge and heavy and iron-bound. It looked as though it had been purloined from elsewhere – a castle, he thought morosely, from the size of it. The wall on the right was completely blank. Then the single door burst open and three men, in the loosest sense of the word, hurried in. They carried two bound and unconscious bodies. Martha and John. Angel realised, with a sinking feeling in his heart, just how comprehensive Francis’s idea of revenge might be.
Then the oval was replaced and he was nowhere again. Nowhere and nothing.
By the time Nick got back to Westbury, there had been no phone call from Buffy, but he’d talked himself into believing that she’d simply concluded whatever needed doing in Bethnal Green, and come home early. When he pulled into the courtyard, Buffy’s Mini sat in the garage, where they’d left it, but the Porsche and the Discovery were absent. The door into the house was locked. So were all the other doors, and the windows, although Nick had serious doubts about his ability to climb through them, even if one had been open.
He had no idea where spare keys might be kept, but he hunted around all the obvious places, the places where Rupert would never, ever keep a key because those were the places that burglars would look. Of course, they were also the places that abandoned houseguests would look… He started hunting in some of the less obvious places, and then gave up. He sat on the low wall that completed the courtyard, and started to rack his brain for the location of people who might know what was going on, people like Martha and John. Unfortunately, he didn’t know Martha and John’s surname, so looking them up in the phone directory was pretty much a bust. He continued to turn his powerful intellect onto the problem.
When Buffy woke up, she was lying on a cold stone floor, but she wasn’t just uncomfortable, she was in positive pain. And she couldn’t move very much at all. At first, everything was just a grey haze, but then, as vision returned, she saw just how much trouble they were all in.
She was in a room bare of all furnishings except a small wooden chair pushed into the corner next to some weird mummy case. And ‘she’ wasn’t just ‘she’. ‘She’ was ‘they’. Martha and John lay trussed up at the end of the room opposite the door. Martha was crying, and John was trying, unsuccessfully, to comfort her. Giles was chained to the wall, the manacles around his wrists fixed tightly against the stone. He could sit, but he couldn’t move much more than that. He was conscious, and watching her. Not that she would be able to do anyone any good.
She was bound in iron. Two iron bands pressed tightly around her upper body, imprisoning her arms. Another was fastened around her waist, keeping fast her lower arms. There were two more around her thighs, two around her calves and one around her ankles. They were all so tight that they were impeding her circulation. Iron bars joined each band to the one below, making something like a sadist’s corset, so that there was no possibility of shuffling the bands downwards, and so wriggling out. She was going to have such a bad case of pins and needles after this… And her hands were wrapped in layer after layer of torn cloth strips until they just looked like balls. She couldn’t free her fingers.
She flexed her muscles, but was only rewarded with more pain.
“Giles! How are these things fastened? If I can manage to get upright and hop over there, can you unfasten them at the back?”
“Not a chance, Buffy. They’ve got big padlocks on.”
“John! Can you pick a lock?”
Even as she was talking, Buffy was shuffling to the wall next to Giles, and trying to stand. So far, she’d only succeeded in sitting slightly upright.
“No. And even if I could, I reckon I’d need something to pick it with.”
John was right, of course.
“We’ve got to rely on Angel, then. He’ll miss us before long. Anyone know whenabouts it is?”
She’d lost all sense of time, and she’d feel better if it were night time, and she could know that Angel would be on the hunt. But she was the Slayer. She wasn’t just going to wait here like a lamb for the slaughter.
John was the first to reply.
“We were taken just after eight in the morning, at our house. We were out cold when they brought us here, but we were alone when we woke up. Apart from yonder casket, that is.”
He nodded towards the mummy case, or whatever it was.
“Giles was next.”
Giles nodded and took up his part of the timeline.
“It was almost lunchtime when I was taken. I’d had a message to look at a property, and decided to do it on the way to pick up the cats. I saw…”
He trailed off as he remembered what he had seen. He hadn’t been conscious for many more minutes than Buffy, and remembering anything was an extremely painful process. He knew he had a lump on his head the size of a hen’s egg.
“Oh, gods. I stopped because I saw Angel’s car in a lay-by. There was blood on it.”
Buffy felt all the hope leave her in one despairing breath. Her head hung low as she realised that they were in all likelihood on their own, and that something must have happened to her lover. Not only would there be no rescue there, but he himself might be dead.
“Buffy, I looked. There was no ash. Not anywhere in the car or around it.”
That was one thing, at least.
“Blood doesn’t mean anything with Angel. And it might be someone else’s blood.”
It was Martha who had spoken, in a halting, tear-filled voice. Also in that voice, though, was a hint of defiance. Buffy searched inside herself for her own defiance.
“You’re right. So, the first thing, then, is to try and get free. I’ve always found that lying around helplessly tied up is never a good plan. What I think…”
But they didn’t hear what she thought. The heavy door opened and a figure, cloaked and hooded, limped through, followed by a group of demons. They were almost like humans, but not quite. Not close enough.
“Well, well, everyone awake then? I hope you aren’t too uncomfortable, because you’ll be here for a little while yet. Of course, once we leave here, you’ll be very much more uncomfortable, but mustn’t grumble, eh?”
He looked over the group, and Buffy could feel the smirk under the hood.
“What a motley crew we have. An aging and failed Watcher, a surplus to requirements Slayer who, let’s face it, is also past the first flush of youthful slayerhood, and a pair of helpless servants. And let’s not forget the vampire. Now, I wonder where on earth he is? Perhaps he doesn’t care enough to come and get you, do you think? Hm?”
He turned to one of the man-demons.
“Thank you, Mr Tarita. I think I can take it from here. No need to detain you any longer. They seem secure enough. If I require anything else, I have your number. You’ll keep an eye on things until it’s time?”
The man-demons bowed to him, each in turn, and then they walked to the door, and were gone. Giles eyed the figure up.
“That the best you can do? Anonymous insults? My goodness, but evil just can’t get the staff nowadays.”
The man, if such he was, pulled the chair away from the wall and sat down, straightening one leg out in front of him. It seemed painfully thin.
“Well, now, what shall we talk about? Your escape? I don’t think so. Mr Tarita and his family seem to have done an excellent job.”
He lapsed into silence. Buffy tried to work out from what had been said before he came in how long they had been here, and when they might be missed. What she didn’t miss was the fact that he kept glancing at the strange casket. There was something significant in there, and she was determined to find out what it was. Keys, or weapons, perhaps. Meanwhile, she tried surreptitiously to wriggle her way out of the ironwork, and to hope for some form of rescue.
It was almost sunset, perhaps seven thirty, before Nick accepted that his hosts might not be coming back tonight, and, incidentally, that he might not get fed. He was worried, and he was hungry. He always thought better on a full stomach, and he hadn’t had more than a bite of rabbit food for lunch. He knew none of Rupert’s friends and acquaintances here in Westbury. He’d thought several times of calling the bobbies, but he was well aware that some of the things that Rupert was involved with were, in the nicest possible way, better off not scrutinised by the forces of law and order, and so he reserved that as his Plan B. His Plan A was to find someone who might know more than he did.
He climbed into his car, and drove to the nearest pub. It was the Boar’s Head, with its fetching sign of the head of a wild boar on a plate, a coronet tastefully placed between the severed neck and the platter, and a rosy red apple in its mouth. Even this early in the evening, the car park was full. Inside, the place was packed. What he wasn’t to know was that this Monday night, the village would be given a full accounting of how the summer’s fundraising had fared, and would determine who should benefit from money that wasn’t already allocated. Then, next year’s fundraising committee would be elected. The Boar’s Head was offering free sandwiches as its contribution to the evening.
Nick stood in the doorway bemused by the diverse throng. There were grannies and families, and folding chairs had been brought from somewhere so that everyone could sit down. He shook his head a little and decided that Westbury was the most unique village he’d ever come across. He liked it. He recognised many faces from the garden party, but he’d no idea who might be able to answer his questions, and so he adopted the simple expedient of bellowing to the crowd in general.
“I say, do any of you chaps have any idea where Rupert Giles is? Or the Americans? They seem to be missing just now.”
Nick sat next to Lisa Bradley, she of the livery stable, tucking in to a large plate of sandwiches. Lisa wore a little frown of concern.
“You say you should have met Buffy at St Paul’s? Well, why did you leave her?”
He tried to answer around a mouthful of ciabatta and brie and smoked bacon, having eschewed the free cold ham or cheese sandwiches, and the reply was somewhat muffled.
“Because she clearly wasn’t coming there, and she wasn’t answering her phone! I’d no idea what else to do!”
Lisa lapsed into silence. A couple of the older teenagers had been despatched on bicycles to go to Martha and John Fletcher, and see what Giles’ plans had been, but she was worried. Colin Blackwether had stood up in the middle of the confused silence that had followed Nick’s original question, and said he’d expected Giles to come and collect his cats that afternoon, but he hadn’t arrived.
It wasn’t long before the boys arrived back. There was no sign of the Fletchers. Their car was in the garage, but there were no lights on in the house, and no answer at the door. Tony, the owner of the Boar’s Head, was just giving his opinion that perhaps the police should be contacted when the police arrived, in the shape of DCI Ian Collins. He was clearly off duty. Lisa waved enthusiastically to him.
“Here, Ian. We need your advice.”
When the problem was explained to him, he frowned, just as Lisa had done before him. He remembered some of the things he’d seen, things that he had recounted to no one, and he rather thought that whatever Giles and his people were involved in would fare much better without the involvement of the plods. Still, what if there had been a normal, everyday problem? Something his boys could and should handle? He knew that, with missing people, time was critical. But was this a normal missing persons case, or were they all on a strange job? The involvement of the Fletchers would argue against that. Probably. A voice cut through his ruminations.
“I think that we should get up some search parties.”
That was John Cummings from the White Hart, sitting with his wife, Laura. What he’d said made sense. These were all locals. They could probably search as well as the police. But, it was dark now, and this was a thing best done in the light.
He identified himself for those who didn’t know him.
“We’ve no evidence that any of them have come to harm, but if they haven’t turned up in twenty four hours, the police must be properly involved. Meanwhile, I’ll help. It’s unsafe to have people traipsing around at night, and in any event, you won’t be able to see well enough and might miss something. We’ll start tomorrow morning. We’re looking for any of the three, but we’re especially looking for signs of Rupert Giles, or anyone who saw him after his phone call with Colin Blackwether. Now, who’s prepared to co-ordinate, and who’s prepared to search?”
Everyone there wanted to be involved. Many of them felt that they owed it to one or another of the missing for help offered in the past. A map of Westbury was produced, and divided up into sections.
Tony Barnes and his team would take the sector around the Boar’s Head, John Cummings, that around the White Hart, and Alan Groom from the Blue Bull would take the area around there. George Laverton offered to head up a team of farmers searching the outlying farms and barns and sheds. The Bucklands and the Prestleighs shared responsibility for the areas around the railway station. Mrs Grittleton and Mr Satterthwaite would lead a team of pensioners who would question shopkeepers, market stall holders, librarians and so forth in the centre of the village. The vicar would hold prayers at eight in the morning, and then would lead a team in the area of the church. Gangs of teenagers were identified by their parents, and volunteered for cycle patrol. Lisa and the other horsewomen would cover the outlying districts. They could cover more ground, and see further from the height of a horse. And the names kept coming forward. Neither Nick nor Ian had realised quite how much Giles and Buffy and Angel were part of the fabric of this village.
Lists of cell phone numbers were compiled, and Mrs Brewster, the local postmistress took it to make copies for distribution to every team. Everyone had a job to do, and would start after the first gathering at St Cyprian’s church. A room was found for Nick at The White Hart. No one noticed the quiet young man sitting in the corner, drinking his pint of best bitter.
Kevin thought back to the previous night, and wondered if what he had seen had anything to do with what was happening now. That small and jealous part of his soul kept him silent, though. He hadn’t said anything before, and people would wonder why. Buffy would be found safely, he was sure of that. Almost sure. She had to be. And if Angel wasn’t… What would that mean for him? His guilt-ridden mind didn’t probe too closely at the logic of those assumptions. He slipped into the Gents, and then he quietly left the Boar’s Head, and walked up to the Hawkeridge Road. The Porsche was gone. Reassured that what he had seen was nothing to do with anyone going missing, he went back home, uncertain of whether he would be joining in tomorrow’s search.
Kevin slept badly that night.
Collins sat in the Boar’s Head the next day with Nick Hunt, taking reports from each of the teams. That wasn’t always the easiest thing to do, with excited amateurs garbling their information. Still, so far, they’d managed to make sense of it, and they were steadily hatching over the various parts of the Westbury map.
True, Buffy had last been seen in London, and Angel had set off for there, but Giles had last been heard of in Westbury, and Collins was as sure as he could be that whatever had happened, they were all in it together. Find Giles, and he expected to find the others, or clues to where they were. His next plan, after today, would be to gain entry to Summerdown House, and see what turned up there. Last night, he’d gained illegal entry to both Summerdown House and the Fletchers’ house, but there was no sign of anything amiss at all. He’d moved that down the list of priorities. What he really wanted to find just now, apart from three missing people, was two missing cars. Find the cars, and you’d got a good clue where the people were.
He’d worried when most of the village appeared to turn up at St Cyprian’s the next morning – most of the old village, anyway. He wasn’t sure whether they counted any of the newer parts of Westbury as being part of the village at all. He worried because they’d come prepared. That is, they’d come in hiking boots, and carrying sandwiches and packs with torches for shining in dingy corners. He’d almost expected that. They also come with a variety of other things. The walking sticks and walking poles he’d also expected, but the stout cudgels and pitchforks he definitely hadn’t. What he’d let loose resembled a peasant army more than anything else. Still, many of them would be prodding haystacks and poking under hedgerows, and who knew what they might disturb? Searching the countryside was nothing like searching in a town, and so he hadn’t protested. He’d made Arthur Holden leave his shotgun at the Boar’s Head, though. It was probably a good thing that only later would he learn of people like Agnes Wellow, an elderly, white-haired pensioner with bones as small and fine as a bird’s, and tiny gold-rimmed glasses, and who could impale a grey squirrel at twenty paces with a pitchfork.
He’d got on well with Nick Hunt, and they’d talked more about what had been happening in the days leading up to the disappearances, tentatively at first, and then with a little more candour. Neither voiced their deepest worries and suspicions, though.
Weird as business was at Summerdown House, only Buffy’s disappearance seemed moderately suspicious. Collins had had Gavin Lincoln check for Monaghans in and around Bethnal Green, but there had been none. He put that back into the to-do pile, still convinced that find one, and he’d find them all.
The teams started drifting back to the Boar’s Head at about six o’clock. They were all tired, and had found nothing worthwhile. Almost the last people in, an hour after sunset, were a group of teenagers, led by a twenty-something. Stephen Oldford, with Ellie Croscombe, Rosemary Fitzpatrick, Pauline Smith and Darren Wingham, had been cycling around the car parks in Westbury, looking for the two missing cars. Now, they were breathless with excitement.
“We found the cars! Both of them… In that little parking area on Sand Holes Lane, in Westbury Leigh.”
Tony Barnes produced cans of Coke for the five breathless cyclists, while Collins questioned them more closely. The parking area was used by walkers, and by those wanting to use the neighbouring football field. They hadn’t examined the cars, they’d just seen enough to know there was no one in them. They’d tried to call, but their group’s cell phone battery was too low. Darren scowled at Rosemary as he said that.
Collins stood up.
“Okay, I’ll take it from here. I’d appreciate it if everyone would stay away from that area just now. We don’t know what we might find just there. Thank you.”
Another figure stood up, a tall, dark-haired young man who Collins vaguely recognised, but couldn’t put a name to.
“I… I think you’d be searching in the wrong place.”
The boy looked as if he hadn’t slept for a week. He also looked thoroughly miserable. Collins had it, then. This was the one who had been dancing attendance on Buffy for the summer. Kevin, that was his name.
“Why do you think that, Kevin?”
Haltingly, the story came out. What Kevin had seen the previous night – or thought that he’d seen. And where. Kevin sat down, looking more miserable than ever. Collins turned to the assembled throng.
“This building – anyone know what it is?”
His answer came from old George Croscombe.
“I reckon that must be the old railway shack from where there was that old tramway under Station Road and Hawkeridge Road. From when they were mining and smelting iron up there. There’s still tunnels. I thought the shack had been knocked down, but you can get access into the tram tunnels around there.”
Collins turned to Kevin to ask whether he’d actually seen the man he thought was Angel being taken into the old shack, but Kevin was gone.
The hooded man had sat in the chair for hours. Or possibly days. Buffy had lost all sense of time. He hadn’t removed his cloak, nor his hood, and Buffy had no idea who he was, but she was sure he wasn’t precisely human. Her slayer sense was on overtime. Sometimes, he looked at her, and the darkness beneath the hood seemed to smile. It wasn’t a friendly smile, it was one that completely creeped her out. It was a knowing smile that spoke of horrors yet to come.
And then he’d walked out. She had no idea why. He’d said nothing, he’d simply walked out, apparently satisfied that they would be there when he came back. She intended to disappoint him. In any event, she’d had a good long time to worry about what had happened to Angel, and the results of that weren’t pretty.
The thing was, would the man be back, or did they have time?
Francis walked up the little hill to the small copse of trees on top. Had he known it, this was the vantage point from which Kevin had seen his demons take Angel into the tunnels. He knew that he’d given way to a foolish whim in leaving Angelus and the Slayer and her Watcher unguarded, but he wouldn’t be gone long.
Besides, they were secure. The vampire had been his biggest threat, but he’d had the demon craftsmen build in the odd refinement to the standard Vampire box. This one was leaching Angelus’ strength away, minute by minute, hour by hour, and using that strength against him, to reinforce its own. As osteoporosis thinned a skeleton until it was no stronger than a paper doiley, so the magic of the box was thinning his demonic strength to its own benefit. He giggled. Superman and Kryptonite. Modern culture had so many good ideas. He’d given Angelus the demonic equivalent of the widow’s hump. He giggled again, a chilling little sound that seemed to still the tiny, rustling night dwellers around him. Oh, not permanently. The devil wouldn’t have liked that. But he’d be easy to handle for a while, whenever he was released from the box. Whenever. That sounded good. There was a lot of when to go round.
As for the others, well, the servants were of no account, of course. The other two were secure enough. And he had the Door, to keep intruders out and captives in. It could cut through anything magic. Demonic and slayer strength, it was all magic. The Door was impervious to all that, making magic flesh into normal flesh, and shrugging off magic spells. The Watcher didn’t have that much power and even if she were loose, the Slayer could kick at it all she wanted. Nothing that they had, between the three of them, could harm the Door. No, everything was safe and secure.
The thing was, the gateway would open in about an hour, and he’d wanted to savour the Earth one more time. To smell the late summer evening. To hear the rustle of trees. To feel the cool breeze in his face. To see the colours of the land, even under the light of the moon. These were things that you didn’t get, where he’d been. Oh, he was sure that Old Nick would keep his word – well, as sure as he could be – but you just never knew. Devils were tricky, and this dimension’s devil was trickier than most. Still, Francis could do so much more if he were loosed from hell, and his master knew that. It was in both their interests. And there would be the vampire, now, for the devil to vent his rage on. And the vampire’s lover and his friends. Maybe he would let Francis watch occasionally.
He tried not to think of what would have happened if he’d failed. The vampire had denied the devil embodied access to the Earth; it would be a long time before there could be another chance to bring that about, and someone had to pay for that. Francis preferred that it not be him, anymore. He’d paid enough.
His tools had done their jobs very well indeed, and he was glad that he’d got everyone on the first trawl. Time had been pressing. Everything needed to be exactly right, to open a gateway direct to where they were going, and all the elements needed to be in place to make it happen. Otherwise they could finish up in all sorts of limbo. While that was definitely going to be part of Angelus’ future, and by far the kindest part, Francis definitely didn’t want it to be part of his. The gateway would only be open for a short time. He’d need to make the most of it.
He turned his burned and hideous face up to the moon. He couldn’t wait to come back, whole.
Too soon, it was time to go back to the tunnels.
Kevin raced to the place where he’d seen Angel taken. He couldn’t understand why he had acted as he did, hiding what he should have known was nothing good. He’d been jealous and besotted, certainly, but that didn’t excuse him. It was as if he’d been possessed or enchanted. It was up to him now to make good what he’d done.
When he was close enough to the old building to make out its shape, he saw that he wasn’t alone. He slipped through a small gap in the hedgerow, into the field, and crept closer. A stranger, wearing a hooded cloak, was outside the building talking to what looked like five of the burly men who had been in the car with Angel. As he watched, three more came running up the road. There were urgent words, which he couldn’t hear, and then they all ran into the darkness of the building. At least, the burly men ran, and the cloaked man hobbled.
Kevin made himself wait for thirty seconds, and then followed, cautiously. The building held very little except for a door leading to a stone stairway that plunged downwards. At the bottom of the stairway was a short and straight length of tunnel, which ended in a wall that appeared to have been hewn from the solid rock. There was nowhere else to go. He felt around for hidden doors, and found none, and then he went back up the stairs to examine the single room in the building. There were no other doors or traps or entries to anywhere else.
There was no other place that all those men could have gone, but gone they had. He puzzled over that, and then he became aware of a commotion outside.
The mass of people in the Boar’s Head seemed to think that this operation was being run as some sort of democracy. They were making preparations to go to the railway shack. At least, the adults were. The youngsters were rounded up and told to sit in the Boar’s Head with Andy, who would lock the doors on them if necessary, and who promised to feed them and give them soft drinks. Or shandy for those over eighteen.
Collins tried to stop everyone – it was a policeman’s duty to go up there, not the mob’s, but Ivy Grittleton rattled his shins with her walking stick and told him to stop behaving like a spoilsport. Everyone had been involved so far, and would see this through to the end. It was like Canute trying to hold back the tide. He felt someone take his arm. When he looked around, it was Lisa.
“Come on. If we’re quick, we can get there before they get sorted out. You don’t want to be tailend Charlie here, you know. Getting there first is the only way you’ll stay in charge.”
He bowed to her commonsense, and they ran out to his Volvo. Nick, not to be left out, was hot on their heels, and hopped into the back of Collins’ car.
They were only just in time. As they pulled up just out of sight of the railway shack, they were followed by a retinue of cars and other vehicles. Perhaps a dozen of the younger men had crammed onto the back of Arthur Holden’s lorry. Collins tried to make Lisa stay in the car, but he failed there, too. So did Nick. She’d brought a hockey stick with her, and she walked up the road behind them, clutching that tightly. Some yards behind her was a decent-sized mob. There were several pitchforks that Collins could see, and he prayed that no one from the force was watching. All he needed now was flaming torches…
Buffy counted to five hundred, and the others seemed to hold their breaths as she did so, but the man didn’t return, and the door was firmly closed. Then she hissed at the Fletchers.
“Can either of you undo your ropes?”
If one of those could run for help…
They both shook their heads.
“Martha, can you undo John’s, if you lie back to back?”
The Fletchers, obedient to Giles’ suggestion, shuffled over the ground until they were back to back. After a very few minutes, Martha shook her head despairingly.
“The ropes are so tight, I can hardly feel my fingers. I just can’t do it.”
John’s deep burr gave a new hope.
“I think I can.”
It took long, long minutes, but eventually Martha’s hands were free. She made quick work of untying her legs, and then freeing John. The first thing that John did, like Martha, was to try and rub some feeling back into his limbs. Then he tried the door. It was locked.
“I think that there might be something to help us in that demonic Egyptian mummy,” Buffy declared. “That guy kept looking at it as if it amused him. There might even be a key to these padlocks.”
John moved over to the casket.
“Be careful, John. We’ve no idea what’s in there.”
John nodded to Giles, and stood to one side of the decorated box. He felt the line of the crack that ran all the way around it, certain that this was how it opened. On one side, he found two slight bumps, which he thought must be hinges. He started to prise open the casket. The lid was stubborn, resisting him until he applied his full strength, and then it opened suddenly. Angel stood in the casket, immobile.
The long, silent seconds ticked by as the captives stared at Angel. He stood, wedged into the casket, his arms crossed over his chest in an attitude of death, his eyes wide and unseeing. The same thought ran through all their minds. At least he isn’t ash.
It was John who broke the silence of horror. He pulled at Angel’s shoulders, and then caught him as he fell. With his limbs still weak from their long confinement, John couldn’t hold Angel’s weight, though, and he had to let him slide to the floor. He lay like a corpse, his eyes still wide open, and Buffy was terrified for him.
John bent down to him, then looked at Buffy and Giles, and shrugged in perplexity.
“B’ain’t no use me feeling for a pulse, nor for breathing. What should I do?”
All eyes turned to Giles, but he felt useless. He had no idea. He looked at Angel, half curled on his side, his feet still inside the casket, his vacant, dead expression. What was there to do? Vampires were either alive or they were ashes. They generally weren’t catatonic. That spoke of some intervention, magical or otherwise.
“Search him. See if there’s anything that seems strange. Empty his pockets. See if there’s anything around his neck. Look for something that’s bespelling him.”
John patted over the body, then turned and shrugged again.
Martha, who had been examining Giles’ shackles to see if they could be opened, sighed in vexation.
“John Fletcher, you need to look everywhere…”
She marched over and pulled at Angel’s feet. John hadn’t looked at the shoes. She’d seen at the cinema what could be done with shoes…
As his feet left their contact with the casket that had kept him enthralled, Angel gave a gasp, and started to shake. Then he coughed, a deep, hacking cough as if he had been drowning, and rolled over onto hands and knees, his head hanging down. He drew in air in great, shuddering lungfuls, as if he needed it, as if it could bring him back to life.
John and Martha knelt down to him. John threw an arm over his shoulders while Martha put a hand under his chin and lifted his head. His expression was that of a hunted animal. They both tried to calm him and reassure him, with small touches and soft words.
Buffy, longing to go to him, tried to force her way out of the iron bands, but only succeeded in leaving long, deep bruises, even in Slayer flesh. Gradually, though, she could see that his breathing was easing. She hoped he’d hurry up and come back to them. They might not have much more time.
Frances cursed the vampire, the Slayer, the Gileses, and anyone else who lived in this damned village. He did the cursing as he ran – or ran as best he could, anyway – following the family of Mr Tarita. They’d been stationed around, watching for trouble, and trouble they had found. A mob. With pitchforks. He knew all about mobs and pitchforks. He’d been in Paris when the Bourbons were overthrown, and what a shockwave that had sent through the courts of Europe. He’d barely escaped with his skin intact there. Or with his head still on his shoulders, rather than in Mme Guillotine’s basket.
He got down the stairs as quickly as he could, and into the tunnels. As he and Mr Tarita’s family ran through the door into the holding room, he left a trompe l’oeil vision of a rock face behind him. It was a figment of his imagination, but unless they happened upon the door handle, they would never know.
Angel was unsteady as he clambered to his feet. His strength was returning, though, and not a moment too soon. He’d no idea just when it was, but if Francis had everyone here, then he was sure that the endgame wasn’t far away. He had to get everyone out, and fast.
Extricating himself from the attentions of John and Martha, he went first to Giles. That looked easiest. He tried not to obsess on what had been done to Buffy. He took hold of one of the manacles fixing Giles’ wrist to the wall, and pulled. Nothing happened. He took a deep breath, and tried to centre himself. He didn’t know why the breathing was helping him, but it was, so let that be enough. Then he pulled again. The shackle fell from the wall, with a clatter of brick debris. Within seconds, he had the other one out, and had snapped the chains attached to Giles’ ankles and neck.
Then, leaving Giles to try and rub some life back into his arms, he went to Buffy. He let his finger caress her cheek as he turned her over to inspect the locks. She pressed back against the finger. They didn’t need words. Not just yet. Breaking the locks was the work of seconds, and then Buffy was free.
As they approached the railway shack, a dark figure ran down the road towards them. It was Kevin.
“I saw the men who took Angel into there. There were a lot of them, and they went down into the tunnels, and now they’ve just disappeared.”
“Don’t worry, Kevin, I’ll send for some dogs to track them, if I have to. We’ll get them.”
“No! You don’t understand. They haven’t run into the tunnels. There’s nowhere to go. They’ve literally disappeared. Into thin air.”
Collins closed his eyes briefly. He should have known. After what he’d seen at the Hellfire Caves, he should have known. Were all underground tunnels like this, he wondered. It was going to be one of those nights. He didn’t disbelieve Kevin. Nevertheless, he set off to examine the building and its tunnels himself, followed by his mob. It didn’t take long to understand what Kevin had meant. He’d seen the men come into this building. There was one door in, and then there was the door that led to the tunnels. There was a dozen feet of sheer-walled tunnel, and then there was a rock-cut wall, blocking the way. There was simply nowhere else for the men to have gone.
Collins, stumped, was aware of some whispering behind him, and a couple of the men hurried back out into the night. When they returned a minute or two later, there was some more whispering. Then, Walter Satterthwaite and Ivy Grittleton came forward.
“Mr Satterthwaite says that the rock of that end wall isn’t proper rock. It don’t belong here.”
Collins looked confused.
“Now, now, Mrs Grittleton, let me explain to the policeman. Mr Collins, the thing is that I know rock. I was a blaster and quarryman for nigh on fifty year in Yorkshire. Westbury stands on greensand, a poor and rotten rock that is, too, and on chalk. Yon rock face is granite.”
“Granite be come from volcanoes. Weren’t that many volcanoes just hereabouts. The rock’s wrong. It’s been put there. May be a secret door or some such mechanism, but that rock don’t belong. We’re going to get rid of it, see what’s behind.”
“What do you mean?”
The hair on the back of Collins’ neck was starting to rise, and his copper’s instinct was screaming at him.
That elderly pensioner, Walter Satterthwaite, held up a stick of dynamite.
“We’re going to get rid of it,” he repeated.
They were loose! How in hell had that happened? Francis gaped in astonishment when he saw his five captives unfettered and mobile. Even the vampire! Still, they couldn’t possibly be at full strength yet, after their physical confinement. And so long as they didn’t get out of this room, then all would still be well. A few minutes only, and the gate would open. Everyone in this room would be sucked straight through. No problem. Just keep them here.
He shouted that instruction to Tarita’s people, and then tucked himself into a corner, out of harm’s way, as fists started to fly. He wasn’t a brawler. Let Tarita do what they’d been well paid to do.
Collins stared in astonishment.
“Where the hell did you get that?”
Walter Satterthwaite shrugged.
“Arthur’s been doing some hauling for the quarry. That’s in the load to deliver tomorrow. It’s safe.”
“I’ll arrest anyone who tries to detonate anything in this tunnel! Is that understood?”
His time in the Vampire box seemed to have deadened all his senses and drained half his strength. It was taking too long for him to come back to normal. Buffy was taking the fight to the demons, but she, too, was still weak. Giles was making best use of the chains that had lately ensnared him. John had his arm around the throat of a demon, and was clinging to its back for all he was worth.
A fist sent Angel flying to the floor. He had to do much better than this. As he got up, he saw Martha edging down the wall, in the direction of the corner where Francis was huddled, next to the damned Vampire box. His fist connected with the throat of a demon, leaving it on its knees, coughing up blood, and he wondered what would happen if Martha managed to shove Francis into the box. He thought that was her intent.
Then, as he yanked another demon from Buffy’s back, his hearing began to sharpen. He heard people outside the door.
He flung the demon hard into the one that John was clinging to, kicked the knee out from under the one that Giles was belabouring with his chains, and ran to the door. It was locked. He heard a voice that he recognised, though.
“I’ll arrest anyone who tries to detonate anything in this tunnel! Is that understood?”
Collins. What the…?
He started yanking on the door, but it was far too solid. Probably magically solid. He heard what sounded like a crowd muttering, and then ‘Fire in the hole!’, and Nick bellowing, his voice drowning out even Collins’, telling everyone to ‘Run! Sorry, walk, but just look sprightly now. ’
There was a pause. Angel wasn’t misled. There was an orderly withdrawal taking place outside the door. Someone knew what they were doing.
Then he heard a sound from inside the room, one that he heard in many nightmares, usually after he’d dreamed of gratifying his most demonic wishful thinking. It was the grating noise of a portal opening, just as Acathla had opened. He looked around in terror, and saw a point of light on the far wall, a point that spun and expanded, growing from the size of a dinner plate to cover half the wall in the time it took him to process that fact. This wasn’t the blue of the portals that he’d seen so far – although he hadn’t seen the Acathla portal, so perhaps that had been different – it was raging red, a billowing inferno. He could feel the pull of it.
And then he heard something outside, something that he’d expected. A sort of click, but a click that presaged something much worse. They were caught between the devil and the detonation. They had no defence.
Pushing vampire speed to the limits, he picked Francis up bodily, and hurled him at the flaming, billowing gyre. From the corner of his eye, he saw the demons disengage, hold hands, take a step and disappear, although not into the portal, and then he’d flung himself at his lover and their new family, sweeping them into his arms and against the side wall. Braced as best he could, he gave them the only defence available, the shelter of his own body. And it wouldn’t be enough. He’d piled them on top of one another, but he couldn’t cover everything. He had nothing to hang on to as the gateway to Hell sucked at him, stronger and stronger, and then the world exploded in more fire and heat and sharp, sharp pain.
And then it all stopped.
The first of the crowd stepped into the tunnel to find a scene of carnage. There was a huddle of bodies against the left wall. Angel lay on top, covered in blood. Slowly, Angel turned his head to see the shattered doorway in which stood Collins and Nick, and Lisa wielding a hockey stick, Mrs Brewster’s great-niece, Angela, holding a cudgel, and several pitchforks in the rear. Pitchforks. He thought that they must all have been sucked down into a rather stereotyped hell. Then, painfully, he turned to look the other way. The massive door stood flat against the wall exactly where the portal had been. It was scarred and shattered around the edges, and the central part looked dreadfully thinned, but it had saved them. It had clung on to this reality, shutting out the other. The gateway had closed behind it, and he hoped that it had closed on Francis, and then the pain became too great, and he gave in to it.
Nick shouldered his way past everyone and knelt down by his friends. Then he turned and said into the pin-drop silence, “Get an ambulance. Quickly. And someone come to help me here.”
There was an abundance of willing volunteers, but knowing where to begin was a problem. He needed to get Angel off the others, but he was so badly hurt… Nick could see what had happened. He’d protected the others with his own body, and he’d caught the full brunt of the blast. Long wooden shards from the shattered door surround stood out from his back. The door itself, in its passage across the room, had sheared across his legs, both of which were shattered and torn, and had caught the back of his head, which was bloody, and felt spongy to the touch. Gently, Nick pressed his fingers into Angel’s throat, searching for a pulse. There was none.
Heedless of the wooden shafts in the man’s back, or of the massive injuries to his legs and head, Nick turned him over, pulling him from the pile of bodies, and tried to resuscitate him. As his lips touched Angel’s, he only had time to think that he’d imagined this in better circumstances, and then he was the absolute professional, giving mouth to mouth and pressing rhythmically down on the heart. Again, and again, and again. He searched once more for a pulse. There was nothing. There was no longer any need to be careful. The man had given his life…
Nick threw savage words over his shoulder.
“Look what you’ve done with your damned dynamite now! This man’s dead!”
There was movement from the sprawl of limbs that had lain beneath Angel, as the others tried to gently separate the casualties, and Nick heard Rupert’s voice.
“No! No, the explosion saved us. It saved us. Give me a hand to get up…”
Giles had seen the gateway to hellfire, and guessed what it was.
People ran forward, lifting as gently as they could, and Giles wriggled free of the others. Groans promised that some still lived.
“Believe me, we would be gone beyond all hope, if you hadn’t blown down the door.” Giles knuckled at his ears, trying to stop the ringing.
Nick and his helpers had the others separated now. Martha clutched at a broken arm and John sat holding his ribs. Buffy lay ominously still. Nick directed a bystander to find a tie or a belt and strap Martha’s arm into her body, and then he turned to look after the young blonde girl he’d grown so fond of. He feared that she might be dead, like her lover.
She was just concussed. There was a bloody patch, where something had struck her head, but it had been a glancing blow. It was possible there was a fracture of the skull, but he didn’t think so.
Then he heard the sirens of the ambulance. He felt Rupert touch his arm as he cradled Buffy, automatically checking her vital signs. They were strong and steady.
“Angel’s dead, Rupert. I’m sorry. Buffy will be fine, though.”
“Angel isn’t dead.”
Nick looked up at Rupert in sorrow. His friend was always so full of realism, but it seemed to have deserted him now. Nick shook his head.
“He’s dead, Rupert. Dead and gone.”
“Nick, you have to trust me. Please. You really do. Angel isn’t dead. But we need to save him. Get him into the ambulance. Please.”
It was a little more than Nick could process, so he just nodded. Who could it hurt? Certainly not a dead man. Nick heard Collins directing the crowd, and then the paramedics arrived, and things were out of his hands. He watched the wounded being helped or carried out. And the dead.
He felt a tug on his arm again, and Rupert was pulling him up into the night.
“We’re ambulance chasing.”
Rupert waved a bunch of car keys at him.
“These are Ian Collins’ car keys. Where is his car? Can you remember?”
Giles turned around at the new voice. It was Lisa.
“Well, you don’t think you’re going without me, do you? And you’ve got the car keys on sufferance from Ian, provided you call him and tell him where to come to. He’ll be following as soon as he can.”
There was no more time for talk, just then, as the ambulance rumbled into life, and the blue light flashed its emergency signal as the vehicle pulled away. The three of them ran to the car, and set off in hot pursuit.
Police vehicles arrived shortly after the departure of the ambulance. One of them contained Gavin Lincoln, looking for his boss. He stared at the wreckage in consternation.
“What happened, sir?”
After only the briefest hesitation, Collins replied, loudly enough to be heard by his mob, “Seems some unknown idiot in years gone by left some ancient explosive lying around. The casualties are on their way to hospital now.” If Giles said the explosion had saved them, Collins couldn’t dismiss that, even though he didn’t understand it. He damned well would understand it, though, and somebody was going to explain it all to him extremely clearly. Only then would he decide who should be arrested. He’d heard what Nick had said about Angel. Someone was going to pay for that. It probably should be him. He should have been the leader here, and he’d failed abysmally.
Others heard what Collins had said, and the whispers were passed around. The cover story would stand.
As Lincoln tried to think of something useful to say, Angela Brewster walked up, holding a long, sharp aluminium javelin. Lincoln tried to get his head around why so many people were carrying what could be interpreted as weapons.
“The paramedics said that there were some sort of power cuts at the A&E in Bath. They’re off to Bristol. The BRI.”
“Thanks, Angela. I’ll follow on in a minute or two.”
Angela went back to the small knots of villagers. Many of them were suffering from shock at the temerity of what they’d done, and at the injuries they’d seen. At the lifeless body of Angel, and the sight of the blonde girl, limp and bloody. The Blue Bull was the nearest place with space, and better to go there than to the Boar, and worry the teenagers she hoped were being entertained. She had a word with the Bull’s landlord, Alan Groom, and soon everyone was being ferried there for tea and sympathy. She guessed they’d mainly stay there until there was word from the hospital. On that thought, she turned back to Collins. Lifting Lincoln’s notebook and pencil from his fingers, she wrote down her cell phone number.
“We’re going to the Bull. Call me when there’s any news. People will want to know.”
As she turned away, Gavin made to tear the page out, but Collins stopped him.
“Find me a reliable sergeant, and then we’re off to Bristol. Witnesses to interrogate, and such.”
There was little enough to do here, now, Collins thought. He took a last walk around the blasted room, savagely kicking aside some pieces of wooden wreckage as he did so. It was painted wood, certainly not from the door, but it was in so many pieces now, he couldn’t identify what it had once been.
Gavin came up with Sergeant Allinson in tow. A good man, not too imaginative, but compassionate and thorough. He gave the sergeant some final instructions, then waved Gavin out of the room. They, too, followed the ambulance to Bristol.
Angela Brewster watched them go. She’d heard Rupert Giles aver that Angel wasn’t dead, and truly hoped that was so. She’d known the Fletchers all her life, and she hoped that they and the American, Buffy, would be fine. She particularly hoped that Rupert Giles would be okay. At the age of 31, Angela had started to think of herself as on the shelf. She didn’t mind that – she knew she was pretty enough, but she was so demanding when it came to boyfriends. She wanted brains as well as pretty, and that was hard to find in Westbury. This summer, though, she’d come to know Rupert a little, and she’d liked what she’d seen. She’d thought that Lisa also liked what she saw, but Lisa seemed to have made herself comfortable with DCI Collins. Maybe the field was clear…
Giles, Nick and Lisa still had the ambulance in sight when it pulled up at A&E. There’d been a slight spat over the keys, but it was Lisa who’d driven. They had expected it to go to Bath, but as it continued, it became clear that Bristol was the intended destination. Giles, in the back seat, and grateful that he still had some of his hearing left, felt an idea burgeoning. He wasn’t as worried about Angel and Buffy as the others, and John and Martha seemed to have got off lightly if painfully. And now, this little idea wouldn’t be denied.
“Nick, where’s the nearest MRI unit?”
“Bristol Royal Infirmary, why?”
As they pulled into the Infirmary grounds, Giles simply nodded. There was a lot to do before then. Angel’s legs had looked badly damaged, and he’d no idea what his friend’s healing powers were for injuries like that. A little intervention might be timely. After all, Nick had intervened with Zillah… He felt a pang of conscience. He hadn’t been able to pick Zillah and Ari up. They’d take a long time to forgive him.
A&E was busy for a midweek night, but triage sent John and Martha immediately to the next vacant cubicles. Buffy was still unconscious and was wheeled off to X-Ray. Privately, Giles thought that they’d probably had to knock her out on the way, to make her stay down. Her colour was good, and he had no real fears. Lisa gripped his hand.
“I’ll stay with Buffy. You two do what you have to do.”
She looked meaningfully at the two men, and then slipped away. Giles ignored Nick’s confusion and dragged him back outside, towards the ambulance.
“Are you known, here, Nick?”
“Some people will know me, yes. Not many.”
“Do you know your way around?”
“Y…yes, I think so.”
“Good. I’ll push, you lead the way.”
As he spoke, Giles took the end of the trolley holding Angel, taking advantage of the fact that, for the moment, everyone else’s back was turned.
“Just go! Before anyone sees us!”
“Somewhere you can attend to Angel!”
Nick stopped arguing. He understood what grief could do to the human mind. Perhaps it was best to let it run for a little while, to humour Rupert, or at least to talk seriously to him somewhere more private. He recalled something from his last visit here, and set off down the maze of corridors.
It’s a strange thing that, no matter how bizarre the thing you are doing, if you look as if you have every right to be doing it, and look as if you know where you are going, no one will stop you. This seems to especially apply when you are in a hospital and are pushing a trolley with a corpse on it. At least, so Nick and Giles found out that night.
Nick found a small day-care operating theatre, and they pushed the trolley to a stop beneath the theatre lights. Giles took the initiative.
“Nick, I know you think I’m demented, but try to leave that aside for a moment, will you?”
He waited for an answer, and Nick nodded, cautiously.
“Then tell me, do you trust me?”
“Absolutely, old boy. No question of it.”
“Nick, I’m going to remind you of some strange things that happened at Abbotsbury Holt. People being turned into statues? Angel felling a tree with just his fist? I know it was a small tree, but…”
“I remember.” Nick’s reply was solemn. He’d asked Rupert a number of times to explain what had happened there, and Rupert had fobbed him off. Then he’d stopped asking, and finally decided that it was probably better if he forgot the whole thing. Now, it was painted in glorious Technicolor on his retina once more.
“Trust me when I say that Angel isn’t dead. The proof of that is that he’s lying on this trolley. If he were dead, he’d be gone.”
Nick eyed up the body. “You aren’t trying to tell me he’s actually an… an…”
He couldn’t bring himself to say the word ‘angel’. He wondered for a moment whether Rupert was quite safe to be with, and then chastised himself for the thought.
“No! Although sometimes I wonder… But no, he’s very far from that. But he’s my friend, and I’m going to do the best I can for him. I don’t know how well or how quickly his legs will heal if we don’t do something. I want you to just put him back together. Can you do that here?”
Nick’s temper broke.
“Rupert! I may be good, but I can’t resurrect people from the dead. And if I’m not careful, I’m going to be struck off after tonight’s little episode, even if the hearing finds me not guilty!”
He bent over the corpse and carried out a quick examination.
“He’s cold! He has no heart beat. He has no pulse. He isn’t breathing. He’s dead, Rupert.”
Giles put his hand on Nick’s arm, remembering when he had so recently done that to Angel.
“Yes. He is. Just, you know, not permanently.”
As if on cue, Angel’s hand came up to touch the back of his head. Nick stood wide-eyed while Giles bent over the ex-corpse.
“Giles… I seem to have a hell of a headache.”
His voice was weak and thready.
“Your skull got bashed in by that door, you idiot. If you aren’t careful, you’ll get my reputation for being concussed.”
Angel smiled feebly.
“That’s not all that got bashed in, is it?”
“No. It did a good job on your legs, too.”
He lifted the green sheet that covered his friend. Angel tried to inspect the damage, but didn’t have the strength. Giles wrapped an arm around his back and pulled him into a sitting position.
“Will they heal, if we leave them?”
His expression said that eventually might be a long time, and a lot of pain, away.
“Want Nick to fix them?”
Angel looked up at Nick.
“Would you mind? It will speed things up a lot.”
Nick nodded. He felt as though the rational part of his mind had shut down, in the presence of far too much conflicting information. If his mind were a computer screen, it would be displaying a blue screen of death. But surgery was instinctive for him. He didn’t need his rational mind.
“Yes, please, Nick. If you wouldn’t mind. And Giles, these stakes are a bit uncomfortably close, you know…?”
“Sure, Angel. Nick, help me get him over, and then maybe you could find the stuff you need?”
Looked at in the cold light of the theatre, it was amazing that Angel wasn’t dust. There were perhaps a dozen impromptu stakes in his back, and half of them seemed to be round about the heart area. Giles started to pull them out, while Angel gritted his teeth and tried not to scream. The pain from his back and the pain from his legs had completely drowned out the fractured skull.
By the time Giles had finished, Nick was ready, and had a bottle of anaesthetic in his hand.
“What do you weigh, Angel?”
“Just do it.”
Giles took the bottle and the syringe from Nick’s hand.
“Let’s play safe.”
He simply filled the syringe and pumped it into Angel’s arm.
“That… that’s enough to kill an elephant!”
“Should be just about right, then.”
And so Nick got to work rearranging Angel’s legs to make them look something like they had a few hours previously. There was a running commentary from Giles.
“No need to put pins in, Nick. Just lay the bits of bone where they should be. They’ll do the rest.”
“Yes, Nick, stitches will be good. Nothing fancy, just enough to keep things in place until he starts to heal.”
“Nick, do you think that knee should be a bit further up? Still I suppose he’ll sort it out.”
“Rupert… this being dead thing – has he tried acupuncture for it?”
When Collins arrived, he left Lincoln kicking his heels outside. He didn’t know what he was going to find. He found Lisa sitting with Buffy. A nurse was just bustling out.
“They want to keep her in overnight for observation.”
“Well, they won’t. I hate hospitals.”
“Where’s Giles and Nick?”
Lisa looked appraisingly at Collins, and then at Buffy.
“I suspect they went looking for a theatre. Angel needed some attention.”
“He… He’s still…?”
Buffy couldn’t say the words. She hadn’t been able to ask Lisa yet, and she felt sure that Angel would be here, if he weren’t dust.
“He’s still himself, yes. He needed a bit of attention, though.”
Having said that, Lisa left with an offer to find coffee. Collins sat down and looked at Buffy’s woebegone face. He took her hand.
“Buffy, a man who can stick a sword through his head and live to tell the tale isn’t going to take any permanent damage from being hit by a door, do you think?”
“You saw? And you haven’t said anything?”
Collins just smiled.
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio… Angel is a good guy. I’m trying not to worry about the rest. I’ll take it as it comes. I think Nick will do the same. I’m betting Lisa knows more than me, too.”
Buffy said nothing. Lisa had seen Angel in demon face, but she’d never asked, and no more had ever been said.
Then Lisa was back, with tea. It was weak, but it was warm and it was wet, and the three of them sat a little, celebrating life with that bastion of the English spirit.
“Well, I’ve never done a more Heath Robinson job in my life, not even as a student.”
Giles surveyed Nick’s work. Despite being done at some speed, it was practically perfect.
“Nick, while we’re here, do you think there’s any chance of slipping him under the MRI machine?”
Nick goggled at him.
“You want to get me jailed as well as fired?”
“I’d be grateful.”
“I suppose we could try. It’s twenty-four hour access, although only staffed when needed outside normal hours. If it’s free, I know enough to do it, I think. Has he got anything metal on him or in him?”
Giles considered that question. He knew that Angel had been shot more than once.
“What will happen if he has anything inside?”
“I’m not precisely sure. If it’s steel or iron, I think it will come ripping right out.”
“That’s alright then. So long as it doesn’t mess up the machine.”
Nick tried to ignore that.
“What am I going to look at?”
Buffy insisted on discharging herself. The three of them went to find the Fletchers. John was being given advice on dealing with a broken rib, and Martha was off somewhere having a plaster cast put on her arm. John shook his head wonderingly.
“That’s the first broken bone she’s ever had. She’ll be a right tartar to live with, you mark my words, until she can do things for herself again!”
Buffy nodded. She was sure of it.
“Where are the others?”
Nobody knew the answer to that.
Angel still lay unconscious. Giles looked at the results of the MRI scan. Nick traced around one of the organs shown there.
“That’s the heart. It’s entirely normal, except that it isn’t beating. It looks like an athlete’s heart. Very healthy. Now, are you going to explain any of this to me?”
“No, Nick. Not now. Better not. Another time, maybe.”
Giles hardly registered what he was saying. His attention was fixated on the heart, so unlike the heart of the vampire in Cardiff. Perhaps Angel was right. Perhaps the gypsies, whether they knew it or not, had simply restored his heart to pristine, if unbeating, condition, together with the small neural net that was part of it. And which might contain the soul. Or perhaps the Coven had done that, when they resurrected him from the dead. Or perhaps all vampires’ hearts were like that in the early years after their birth, and the organs only deteriorated later. After all, by some measures, Angel was a young vampire now. Or perhaps the vampire in Cardiff had been unusual. Or perhaps…
He stopped himself. There was nothing he could talk to Angel about, and now that he came to think about it, it had been a stupid idea anyway. But he’d so wanted to relieve some of Angel’s angst, to demonstrate to him that the soul was something more than nerve cells in the heart.
He slid the pictures into the knotted sheet that was now sitting on Angel’s stomach so that they wouldn’t forget it. It contained everything that had Angel’s blood on it. Giles remembered the dog.
“Come on. Let’s find the others and see if we can go home.”
From somewhere, they found a wheelchair and managed to lift Angel into it. The debris of their night’s work went into his lap, then he was wrapped around in a hospital sheet to hide his bare legs, and they made a bid for freedom.
On the way home, someone remembered to pass the good news on to those left back at the village.
A few days later, Angel sat in the family room, his legs up on a green leather pouffe, dozing. The two cats were dozing with him, huddled in a boneless heap across his lap. Zillah’s hind leg stuck out straight, at a comic angle, swathed in its stiff navy blue bandage. In view of his wounds, Angel and Buffy were sleeping in the house, rather than in the flat, and he’d been inveigled into coming downstairs for a nice glass of CiderBoy. If Nick wondered why no one else in the house was offered a drink of CiderBoy, he was much too polite to ask. He had this morning taken the last of the stitches from Angel’s legs, and it was clear even to a sceptical surgeon that healing was well on the way to completion. When he gently felt the bones, there was no give in them.
Just now, though, Nick was up at Lisa’s, bouncing around on a horse, and thoroughly enjoying himself. This was one of the sports that he’d never previously tried. Lisa told him that she thought he would be good at it, once he learned to relax.
Relaxation was hard coming, though. He’d told Giles only that morning that he really would have to end his holiday in the next day or two. His disciplinary hearing was due in a couple of weeks, and he needed to go and concentrate on that.
Buffy and Giles were out in the garden, weeding, deadheading, and enjoying the late summer sunshine, and wondering whether it was time for morning coffee yet. Then Buffy called out to Giles as two figures walked slowly up the drive.
It was Ivy Grittleton and Walter Satterthwaite.
Buffy and Giles extricated themselves from the petunias and dahlias, although not without Giles catching himself on one of the newly planted rose bushes and having to unhook the leg of his jeans. Ivy and Walter sat down on the new cast iron bench that had been placed by the porch. Giles kept out of reach of her walking stick. He’d heard Collins on the subject.
“Mr Satterthwaite’s come to see how you are. He didn’t mean for anyone to get hurt with that dynamite.”
Buffy held out her hand to the weathered, wrinkled little man on the bench. He stood up to take it, and she could see how his eyes twinkled.
“I can’t explain how, but you saved our lives. There’s no apology needed.”
Besides, she was pretty sure that the likes of Ivy Grittleton didn’t give actual apologies. This was as close as anyone was going to get.
“Are you truly alright now, lass? You gave me a real turn when I saw you back in that hole in the ground.”
She smiled back at him.
“Right as rain!”
Then, in mock despair, she looked up at the azure sky.
“No! I didn’t mean rain…”
Ivy’s smile was a small thing, but it was there, and it was warm enough.
“Got your cats back yet, Mr Giles?”
“Yes, Mrs Grittleton. They’re around somewhere…”
Giles hadn’t seen either of them for a while, but he was sure they wouldn’t be far away. They had both been very clingy when they came home, rather than turning the usual cold shoulder on their humans, in punishment for leaving them.
“You think the little one will mend?”
“I think there’s every chance. She had two good surgeons…”
Giles felt Buffy’s arm slip into his, in comfort and reassurance.
“Hmph. Well, surgeons be as surgeons does. But think on this if you need to. You know Clarice, from the vet’s, and how good with animals she be? She got that from her grandmother. You remember Agatha Sheen?”
Ivy paused, to see memory rushing back into Giles’ face.
“I see you do. She came to see you when you fell out of the High Oak, I recall. Esther insisted that your father send for her. She might only be a hedge-healer, but she be good at that. If your little one isn’t sound, send for Aggie Sheen. Call it physiotherapy if you want.” She pronounced it pheye-sio-therapy.
“I will. I promise. And thank you.”
“There’s someone else here we should see.”
She reached up to take Walter’s arm.
“In the house, is he? I hope you’ve been looking after him, you and that doctor friend of your’n?”
“I’ll go and check whether he’s asleep,” Buffy responded immediately.
Ivy levered herself up from the bench with the aid of her cane and Walter’s hand.
“No need for that, girlie. Mr Satterthwaite and I…”
“Well, I’ll go in first and make everyone a cup of coffee. You two just wait here for a minute, enjoy the sunshine,” Buffy interjected, casting a despairing glance at Giles.
“No need for standing on ceremony. We know how Martha Fletcher organises a kitchen, don’t we, Mr Satterthwaite? We called on her first thing. No, Mr Satterthwaite will make sure that your young man and I have a comfortable cup of tea and a chat. I’m glad to see you both looking so well. Happy that there was no lasting damage.”
This last was tossed over Ivy Grittleton’s shoulder as Walter Satterthwaite helped her into the house. Buffy made to follow, but Giles took her arm and held her back.
“Through the kitchen on the right and left into the family room,” he called out. He waited to say anything more until the two were gone into the blackness of the house.
“Buffy, you need to understand that, in a village like this, a very few people can sway opinion on who is a villager and who is an outsider, and not to be trusted. Ivy is one of those.”
Buffy looked at the rings on her fingers, but none of them on the finger that mattered. She, too, had heard the gossip.
“So, you’re in and we’re out?”
“That’s not it at all. She’s making her mind up. And Ivy is cantankerous enough to make her mind up in defiance of the rest of the village if necessary, but usually they follow her lead. Walter should have at least another five years of Purgatory before being given a slight incline of the head by those born here, but her patronage of him rather speeded that up.”
“Everyone waits to be told what to do?”
“Not at all. But villages generally distrust outsiders. There’s a lot of history in it. The Ivies of this world are just such busybodies that they find out everything there is to know. If they’re happy with someone, then other people feel that they can relax. They’ll still make their own minds up, though.”
Buffy sat down on the bench with a decided snap. She wondered whether she’d ever understand England. Or the English.
They could see that Angel was asleep when they came into the room. He stirred slightly with their entry, though, and they heard him mumble, “Yorkshiremen – tough as leather.”
“That we are, lad, that we are.”
Angel sat bolt upright. Sometimes predators become predatees, and that possibility had brought him to instant wakefulness. The two cats raised their heads and stared at the intruders, green eyes and gold eyes unblinking. Then they settled back down again to do what cats do best.
“You wouldn’t be a Yorkshireman yourself, by any chance?”
Angel peered at the owner of the voice, his eyes still not adjusted to the transition from sleep to a light-filled room, but it was his nose that told him who his visitors were.
“I’m afraid not, although I’ve… er… I’ve known quite a few… Mr Satterthwaite. Mrs Grittleton… Sit down, won’t you? Can I get you anything?”
He made to get up but Mr Satterthwaite held up his hand.
“No cause to fret, lad. Don’t want you wobbling around on those pins just yet. We’ve seen the kitchen. I’ll make tea. Mrs Grittleton wants a word. Oh, and sorry that you got cut up.”
“That’s alright. I don’t know what we’d have done if you hadn’t been nifty with that stick of dynamite.”
“Me, lad? What makes you think it were me?”
Walter grinned, a gap-toothed grin but a warm one, and then he went back to the kitchen. Ivy came over towards Angel and took a chair next to his. A small table stood between them, and there was a sketch pad on it. Her definition of ‘not standing on ceremony’ clearly included poking around at will. She picked up the pad without so much as a by-your-leave, and started flicking through it. Angel watched her, amused.
She stopped at a series of small, rough sketches on one page. On the page, she could follow the progression of a rambling building constructed around all four sides of an inner courtyard. It was a coaching inn called the Rose and Crown, according to the sign hanging outside. Then, three of the sides disappeared, leaving a single range, now called the Boar’s Head. In the corner of the page, a few bold strokes delineated what could only be the buildings of Lisa’s livery stable. A neat legend underneath read ‘Heywood Lodge’. In another corner, the early, courtyarded inn was in the process of being dismantled, and there was something round on top of a long pole by the front door.
“The local history group would be interested in this. You’re doing a drawing for Tony Barnes, at the Boar?”
Angel just nodded.
“I see you know what happened to it?”
Angel looked at her warily before replying.
“I heard, I mean, I read about it. During the Civil War, wasn’t it?”
Ivy pointed to the round thing on a pole.
“Is that what I think it is?”
“What do you think it is?”
Ivy’s smile was positively girlish.
“I think that’s Robert Keevil’s head on a pole. The Boar.”
She was right. He had never seen it, of course. The Civil War was a century before his time. But he’d heard about it, when he’d been here. Robert Keevil owned the Rose and Crown, and was a Royalist. That wasn’t why he was hated, though. He was hated because he was a mean and vicious bully of a man, and his nickname had been the Boar. Parliamentarians had taken their revenge. When they’d torn down the bulk of his inn, and sold the stone off to build Heywood Lodge – what was now the livery stables – they’d done it under the blind gaze of the Boar’s rotting head, stuck on a pike outside his own front door. Not all pub names were exactly what they seemed.
“How do you know that?”
“We have long memories here. At least, a few of us do. An ancestor of my husband, may he rest in peace, took the head down in the end. I’ve still got the pike in my loft. At least, that’s what Charlie said. O’course, Tony and Andy don’t know any of that. Do you think they’d lie easier if they did?”
She looked at him with sharp old eyes.
“Folks have always said that I know things. Sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t. But you, you know the past, and the past knows you. Isn’t that right?”
Angel wasn’t exactly sure what she meant, and so he kept silent. She didn’t seem to need an answer.
“And I’m not easily taken in, not even by names that sound as if they know better. You mark my words, young man, if you don’t deal with the past, then the past will deal with you. You hear me?”
She thumped the end of her walking stick down, just once, and it gave a dull thud on the carpeted floor. As if on cue, Walter came in with a tea tray. He spoke as he poured.
“You know, when Mrs Grittleton and me were coming up the lane here, we saw a young man. Looked to us like he didn’t rightly know whether to come or not. Might have been worried about his reception.”
Angel’s voice was flat when he said the name. He knew now what had happened. That was what you got for taunting a callow would-be rival. He remembered Kevin watching him with Buffy, through the branches of a shrub, on the night of the garden party. Watching him feeling her pulse with his mouth, lusting for…
“Aye, Kevin. But you know, if he hadn’t spoken up at last, none of us would have known where to look for you at all. According to you, things would have gone badly, then.”
Angel let out air – he could hardly call it a breath – that he hadn’t known he was holding.
“Yes. I know. Do you think he’s still in the lane?”
“Dunno. Is there owt we should tell him if we see him?”
“Yes. Tell him that we’d like to see him. All of us.”
Ivy nodded, and then they drank their tea and talked of small things. When they got up to go, Ivy said, “I’d expect Martha to be back tomorrow, if I were you. I’ll tell Rupert Giles on the way out. And you might want to think about making an honest woman of that pretty girlfriend of your’n. Save a lot of trouble in the long run.”
Then she stumped out.
Walter lagged behind a little, and then he turned back to Angel.
“What Ivy means is that you’re a rum sort – a decidedly rum sort – but you’re our rum sort. You and Buffy and Rupert Giles.”
He gave Angel a broad wink, and then he followed Ivy out into the sunlight.
Kevin came up later that day. Buffy saw him walking up the drive and she went to meet him. They stood talking for a long time, and then he turned to go. She called him back, held out her hand, and took him up to the house to join the others.
Collins sat undisturbed in his office, staring at a folder on his desk without actually seeing it. For perhaps the first time in his life, he was truly undecided about the course of justice. Eventually, he put the folder into his bottom desk drawer. And then he sat, still undecided about what he should push to know, and what he was better staying in ignorance about. He was incredibly relieved when Gavin knocked on the door and told him they had an armed post office robbery to deal with.
Giles sat in his study, staring blindly at the book in front of him. He’d just talked to Angel and Buffy about the fact that at least three people knew more about Angel than they might all be comfortable with. Lisa. Collins. Nick. They’d agreed that it was up to Angel to decide what should be disclosed, and what should not. Angel had said that he would see what time brought, but he had seemed sanguine about it all.
As Giles worried at the situation, the telephone rang. It was Angela Brewster. She had two tickets for Les Miserables in Bristol. Would Giles like to go with her? He found that he was faintly disappointed that the call hadn’t come from someone else, but then he brightened up. Angela was a very nice girl, intelligent and pretty. He said yes. It needn’t mean more than a trip to the theatre in good company, need it?
He picked up the large brown envelope in front of him. It held Angel’s MRI scans. He sealed it, addressed it to himself, and then locked it in the safe. Angel and Buffy both had the combination, but they wouldn’t open an envelope addressed to him. Then he reached for the A-Z and checked the car parks in Bristol.
Despite protestations that Giles and the others could manage, Martha and John both came back to Summerdown House the next day and, after greetings and hugs, everyone stayed out of Martha’s path as she learned to cope with the clumsy pot on her arm.
John took things easily outside, but wished that he still had his summer helper. Still, Stephen had his own life to get on with. John shook his head at the passing strangeness of some demons, and at the need to take people as you found them. That had always been his philosophy, anyway.
Nick went back home to prepare for the upcoming hearing. If he were found to be negligent, his career might be at an end. He went over everything, from the thread to the needle. He could find nowhere any misstep that could have resulted in paralysis of his patient. He began to doubt himself, and became more and more morose. The time he’d spent in Westbury began to look like golden days. Giles phoned him regularly, but neither of them went to the next meeting of the Sophists.
The days ticked by, and Angel’s legs recovered, but Buffy teased him that he had lost another bunch of brain cells.
One night, he asked to use the computer in the study, so while Giles and Buffy played an extremely unfair game of Trivial Pursuit, he put into use a few search tricks that he’d picked up along the way. In the end, it wasn’t hard to find what he wanted.
After that, he spent the next few nights out, coming back exhausted just before dawn. Then, one morning, he came back with a smile on his face. That morning, he made love to Buffy until they were both utterly spent. Neither of them got up until teatime.
On the day before Nick Hunt’s hearing, the chairman of the disciplinary committee and Nick’s lawyer both got a set of photographs. The chairman also got a memory stick with the original images on. They were imprinted with the date and time of the exposure. They were from three days ago.
The pictures showed Nick’s complaining patient, at home. He was partying. He wasn’t in a wheelchair, or bedridden; he was striding around, king of the festivities, with a drunken grin on his face. The pictures were taken from outside his windows, which seemed strange, since he lived on the twelfth floor of an isolated council tower block, but the pictures were irrefutable. The man was lying.
After the case against him was dismissed, Nick came down to Westbury, and carried Giles and Buffy and Angel off to the Boar’s Head for a drink and dinner to celebrate. Hanging in pride of place was a beautiful framed drawing of the pub in pastels, taken at the height of a summer evening, all long shadows and brightness, a riot of flowering climbers gracing its walls and an English cottage garden around it.
Angel thought of the last time that he and Buffy had been there, and wondered once more whether he should buy her a ring. Or, at least, talk to her about buying a ring. The answer, when he thought about it, was self-evident.
Nick basked in the pleasure of being with these friends once more, as they made jokes about the terrible things that had happened. Most of the jokes were about Rupert and concussion.
He was sure these three had had something to do with the fact that his reputation was now untarnished, although he hadn’t worked out yet how they’d done it. Covertly, he watched the man sitting opposite him. He’d wondered how it would feel, seeing Angel once more, knowing that here was another thing he couldn’t yet comprehend. Angel was, in some way, dead. And yet not. He itched to understand that, professionally and personally.
On an even more personal note, Nick had come here wondering whether the attraction he’d felt would have turned to something different, considering the attraction was apparently for a dead man. He watched the person in question brooding over something, thinking that Angel definitely made a lively corpse, and then Rupert said something about feeling far too old for this sort of thing. Buffy made some reference to Rupert having one concussion too many at his age, and dropping that last catch in the cricket match, and Angel gave that killer smile that all too rarely graced his face. Rupert said something else that Nick failed to catch, and Angel threw back his head and laughed, a full-throated laugh of absolute delight. Oh, well, thought Nick, his heart beating a little faster, I suppose nobody’s perfect.
Summary: Angel’s looking to move forward, but events and an old enemy conspire to get under his feet. Our team are in trouble. Are there any friends to save the day?
1. Resurrection Man
‘Resurrection men’ were persons employed by students of anatomy to steal dead bodies from church-yards. I think that the equal opportunity name was ‘resurrectionists’, because it wasn’t an all-male preserve.
The two most well-known resurrection men were, of course, Burke and Hare in Edinburgh, where there was a renowned medical school, although these two were particularly notorious because they turned serial killer as well as grave robber. Here’s something about them and the trade.
This is in the interests of absolute clarity, and because something recently got right up my nose. A book I started to read, by an American author, talked of sycamores in Europe with their peeling bark falling off into a river. Bah!
American sycamores aren’t sycamores, they’re species of plane tree, in the genus Platanus, and have pendant, round fruiting bodies, and attractive peeling bark. European sycamores are different. They’re in the maple genus, Acer. They have winged keys as seeds and their bark definitely does not peel, unless a vandal’s been at it. In Europe, we do have plane trees (e.g. the hybrid London Plane, although none native to the UK), but they’re called plane trees. Accuracy is important for Jo’s blood pressure.
European sycamores are weed trees, and could be exterminated for all I care, but that’s a different matter.
Okay, lecture over. I feel much better now.
Bolton (now part of Greater Manchester) was built on cotton, and was a very wealthy town. Like most of the industrial north, things are different now. Here’s a website – and some pictures.
4. Montague Summers
Montague Summers really lived, and nothing will make me believe that Joss didn’t know all about him. Here’s something about his work:
And here’s something about him.
Not all, but a lot of the surnames here are taken from place names, partly because I go blank when trying to make up names, and partly because that’s one of the main ways surnames develop. See how many you can spot?
Yes, I’ve occasionally had a note from people across the Pond suggesting the use of the word ‘pants’ instead of trousers, which they find strange. The thing is that here in the UK, pants are items of underwear, knickers to be specific. Uncomfortable as it may make someone to read ‘trousers’, I am sure you’ll understand how very much weirder it would be for me to write about Angel pulling on ladies’ underwear.
7. Bratton Camp
So far as I know, there is no camp site there, if you’re thinking of taking a tent.
This isn’t something covered with white tents, but an ancient hill fort, the probable site of King Alfred’s victory over the Danes at Ethandun.
There’s a nice picture here.
I’ve included the nearby Adam’s Grave because the pictures give some idea of the surrounding countryside.
We have to remember that our Westbury, although very like the real one, is entirely fictional, and situated in Wessex, not Wiltshire. However, to give you an idea, this is the sort of real countryside and history that we are dabbling in.
8. Hermann the Rottweiler
In view of the near-Apocalyptic story for 06.06.06, for which this is the sequel, how could the dog be anything other than a Rott? Remember The Omen?
9. Zillah and Aristotle
Let me absolutely emphasise – no permanent harm comes to Zillah or Ari in the course of this story. Perfectly mended. Honestly. But, you know, it’s a dangerous job, looking after these humans.
These aren’t the soft, bready things that people have for breakfast in the US. In Britain, biscuits are any of a range of small, flat, crisply baked item, always unleavened, and often sweet – from garibaldi biscuits (or dried fly, as we used to call them), which are filled with currants, to crumbly digestives, but also including unsweetened ones such as table water biscuits to eat with cheese. There are hundreds of sorts. The soft, squidgy, artery-clogging ones with chocolate chips and stuff like that? They’re usually cookies. They aren’t our fault.
11. The West of England Show
Actually, the Royal Bath and West Agricultural Show. Here’s the site for 2007.
12. ‘induced microfacture callus response to maintain trabecular continuity’
This does actually mean something. To someone. You can find the information here.
13. Coral and bone
You can use coral to provide a scaffold for new bone growth. Isn’t nature wonderful?
Here, ‘whisky’ is Scotch whisky, and ‘whiskey’ is Irish whiskey. It’s very delicate territory, and whisk(e)y drinkers – or the Scots or the Irish – can get really miffed if you use the wrong one.
Pasiphaë, wife of King Minos of Crete, was the mother of famous figures such as Ariadne. Unfortunately, she was cursed by Poseidon to lust after a white bull, and thus also became the mother of the Minotaur. You can start here, but there’s a lot more.
16. Michelin men
Yes, you know the one – a tubby pile of tyres. Like this
17. Heart transplants and possession
There’s a lot about this. Try these, as starters:
18. The heart and the soul
I got some info from here, too:
19. Egyptian belief and the ba
That actually came from a book. A real book, sitting in the bookcase behind me: Ancient Egypt Myth and History by Geddes and Grosset. You can google for more information as well as I can…
20 ‘the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked’
Jeremiah 17.9, King James Version
21. Meteors. All this is true. It was in The Daily Telegraph a few days ago, in an article that included this statistical information held at the National Archives in Kew. The unfortunate lady from Alabama lived in Sylacauga. Might be best avoided.
Milk and blood are really a staple of their diet.
23. Tiger Bay
Tiger Bay was the name of the cultural melting pot that was the docklands of Cardiff. It’s different now.
24. Jowls of Wales
When I was very young, a teacher at school helped us to remember the shape of Britain by describing it as an old lady, wearing a bonnet, and riding a pig. Ever since, that’s the only way I can think of it. Wales, of course, is the pig’s head. Cornwall and Devon are the front trotter and Kent is the back trotter. Scotland is the head and bonnet. Some poor, unfortunate counties have to be the pig’s bum. Westbury is in the throat, so ‘jowls’ tells you all you need to know about position. :~)
25 Mary Queen of Scots
It took two strokes of the axe to behead Mary.
26. Siege Perilous
In Arthurian legend, the Siege Perilous was a seat at the Round Table, kept vacant by Merlin for the purest knight, who would return with the Holy Grail – Sir Galahad. The Siege Perilous was fatal to anyone else who sat in it.
27. Angel Mill
Again, our Westbury is not the real one (no suing, please). But, some of the history of the place is so interesting, I couldn’t ignore it. There really is an old woollen mill called Angel Mill, which was in production until 1969, and quite a lot more besides, including the old tram tunnels that we’ll read about later.
28. Congestion Zone
If you want to drive into central London, you have to pay. It’s £8 a time, if you pay on the day, or £10 if you pay the next day. If you don’t pay, it’s £100. You have been warned.
29. Richmond Cemetery
Here’s a wonderful government internet address. If you want to follow the action, there’s a map of Richmond Cemetery.
And here’s the location of Montague Summers’ grave
The bit about the desecration of the grave? Entirely my imagination.
30. St Paul’s Cathedral
The one where Charles and Di got married. Built by Christopher Wren.
31. Bethnal Green and York Hall and the Museum of Childhood.
I’ve taken this opportunity to put these places in the spotlight, because York Hall, Bethnal Green was the venue for the David Boreanaz/James Marsters Halloween Event in 2004. LisaP and I went. We saw all this. Unfortunately, I can’t remember it as well as I should (other memories take precedence in my brain, obviously), but these are the impressions I have left of the place itself. We visited the Museum, and it was a little gem. Their sandwiches were nice for lunch, as well.
32. Millennium Place
There is a Millenium Place, and it is a gated community of apartments. I’ve made the rest up.
A term for painting that is executed entirely in shades of grey.
Just in case there are different names for it, this is half beer, half lemonade.
Canute, or Cnut, has had an undeservedly bad press. In having his throne carried onto the beach, he was trying to teach his courtiers that there are some things you just can’t change, even if you’re king.
36. Paris and the Bourbons and Mme Guillotine
Yep, the French Revolution, and it certainly did send a shockwave through Europe.
37 Bristol Royal Infirmary
There is a Bristol Royal Infirmary, and I’m absolutely sure that they wouldn’t let any of this happen!
38 There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
Hamlet act 1, sc. 5, l. 166
39. MRI and heart
An MRI apparently gives a very good set of images of the heart. Would Nick be able to work the machine and read the images? Well, they do it every week in ‘House’!
40 I suppose nobody’s perfect
I pinched the last line from that classic film ‘Some Like It Hot’, where it is also the last line. It seemed appropriate.
Feedback: Pretty please. Send it to Jo
Rating: PG Summary: Angel’s looking to move forward, but events and an old enemy conspire to get under his feet. Our team are in trouble. Are there any friends to save the day?
1. Resurrection Man ‘Resurrection men’ were persons employed by students of anatomy to steal dead bodies from church-yards. I think that the equal opportunity name was ‘resurrectionists’, because it wasn’t an all-male preserve.
The two most well-known resurrection men were, of course, Burke and Hare in Edinburgh, where there was a renowned medical school, although these two were particularly notorious because they turned serial killer as well as grave robber. Here’s something about them and the trade. http://www.scotshistoryonline.co.uk/burke.html
2. Sycamore This is in the interests of absolute clarity, and because something recently got right up my nose. A book I started to read, by an American author, talked of sycamores in Europe with their peeling bark falling off into a river. Bah! American sycamores aren’t sycamores, they’re species of plane tree, in the genus Platanus, and have pendant, round fruiting bodies, and attractive peeling bark. European sycamores are different. They’re in the maple genus, Acer. They have winged keys as seeds and their bark definitely does not peel, unless a vandal’s been at it. In Europe, we do have plane trees (e.g. the hybrid London Plane, although none native to the UK), but they’re called plane trees. Accuracy is important for Jo’s blood pressure. European sycamores are weed trees, and could be exterminated for all I care, but that’s a different matter. Okay, lecture over. I feel much better now.
3. Bolton Bolton (now part of Greater Manchester) was built on cotton, and was a very wealthy town. Like most of the industrial north, things are different now. Here’s a website – and some pictures.
4. Montague Summers Montague Summers really lived, and nothing will make me believe that Joss didn’t know all about him. Here’s something about his work:
And here’s something about him.
5. Tadcaster Not all, but a lot of the surnames here are taken from place names, partly because I go blank when trying to make up names, and partly because that’s one of the main ways surnames develop. See how many you can spot?
6. Trousers Yes, I’ve occasionally had a note from people across the Pond suggesting the use of the word ‘pants’ instead of trousers, which they find strange. The thing is that here in the UK, pants are items of underwear, knickers to be specific. Uncomfortable as it may make someone to read ‘trousers’, I am sure you’ll understand how very much weirder it would be for me to write about Angel pulling on ladies’ underwear.
7. Bratton Camp So far as I know, there is no camp site there, if you’re thinking of taking a tent. This isn’t something covered with white tents, but an ancient hill fort, the probable site of King Alfred’s victory over the Danes at Ethandun. There’s a nice picture here.
I’ve included the nearby Adam’s Grave because the pictures give some idea of the surrounding countryside.
We have to remember that our Westbury, although very like the real one, is entirely fictional, and situated in Wessex, not Wiltshire. However, to give you an idea, this is the sort of real countryside and history that we are dabbling in.
8. Hermann the Rottweiler In view of the near-Apocalyptic story for 06.06.06, for which this is the sequel, how could the dog be anything other than a Rott? Remember The Omen?
9. Zillah and Aristotle Let me absolutely emphasise – no permanent harm comes to Zillah or Ari in the course of this story. Perfectly mended. Honestly. But, you know, it’s a dangerous job, looking after these humans.
10. Biscuits These aren’t the soft, bready things that people have for breakfast in the US. In Britain, biscuits are any of a range of small, flat, crisply baked item, always unleavened, and often sweet – from garibaldi biscuits (or dried fly, as we used to call them), which are filled with currants, to crumbly digestives, but also including unsweetened ones such as table water biscuits to eat with cheese. There are hundreds of sorts. The soft, squidgy, artery-clogging ones with chocolate chips and stuff like that? They’re usually cookies. They aren’t our fault.
11. The West of England Show Actually, the Royal Bath and West Agricultural Show. Here’s the site for 2007.
12. ‘induced microfacture callus response to maintain trabecular continuity’ This does actually mean something. To someone. You can find the information here.
13. Coral and bone You can use coral to provide a scaffold for new bone growth. Isn’t nature wonderful?
14. Whisky Here, ‘whisky’ is Scotch whisky, and ‘whiskey’ is Irish whiskey. It’s very delicate territory, and whisk(e)y drinkers – or the Scots or the Irish – can get really miffed if you use the wrong one.
15. Pasiphaë Pasiphaë, wife of King Minos of Crete, was the mother of famous figures such as Ariadne. Unfortunately, she was cursed by Poseidon to lust after a white bull, and thus also became the mother of the Minotaur. You can start here, but there’s a lot more.
16. Michelin men Yes, you know the one – a tubby pile of tyres. Like this
17. Heart transplants and possession There’s a lot about this. Try these, as starters: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/health/healthmain.html?in_article_id=381589&in_page_id=1774 http://www.learning-org.com/99.09/0047.html
18. The heart and the soul I got some info from here, too: http://muslim-canada.org/alchofheart.html http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14153a.htm
19. Egyptian belief and the ba That actually came from a book. A real book, sitting in the bookcase behind me: Ancient Egypt Myth and History by Geddes and Grosset. You can google for more information as well as I can…
20 ‘the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked’ Jeremiah 17.9, King James Version
21. Meteors. All this is true. It was in The Daily Telegraph a few days ago, in an article that included this statistical information held at the National Archives in Kew. The unfortunate lady from Alabama lived in Sylacauga. Might be best avoided.
Milk and blood are really a staple of their diet. http://www.africaguide.com/country/kenya/culture.htm http://www.peacecorps.gov/wws/water/africa/countries/kenya/waterculture.html
23. Tiger Bay Tiger Bay was the name of the cultural melting pot that was the docklands of Cardiff. It’s different now. http://www.cardiffharbour.com/home/history.htm http://icwales.icnetwork.co.uk/0750expats/nostalgia/tm_objectid=15692543&method=full&siteid=50082&headline=death-of-tiger-bay-community-kills-us-all-name_page.html
24. Jowls of Wales When I was very young, a teacher at school helped us to remember the shape of Britain by describing it as an old lady, wearing a bonnet, and riding a pig. Ever since, that’s the only way I can think of it. Wales, of course, is the pig’s head. Cornwall and Devon are the front trotter and Kent is the back trotter. Scotland is the head and bonnet. Some poor, unfortunate counties have to be the pig’s bum. Westbury is in the throat, so ‘jowls’ tells you all you need to know about position. :~)
25 Mary Queen of Scots
It took two strokes of the axe to behead Mary.
26. Siege Perilous
In Arthurian legend, the Siege Perilous was a seat at the Round Table, kept vacant by Merlin for the purest knight, who would return with the Holy Grail – Sir Galahad. The Siege Perilous was fatal to anyone else who sat in it. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_Perilous
27. Angel Mill Again, our Westbury is not the real one (no suing, please). But, some of the history of the place is so interesting, I couldn’t ignore it. There really is an old woollen mill called Angel Mill, which was in production until 1969, and quite a lot more besides, including the old tram tunnels that we’ll read about later. http://www.wiltshire.gov.uk/community/getcom.php?id=240
28. Congestion Zone If you want to drive into central London, you have to pay. It’s £8 a time, if you pay on the day, or £10 if you pay the next day. If you don’t pay, it’s £100. You have been warned.
29. Richmond Cemetery Here’s a wonderful government internet address. If you want to follow the action, there’s a map of Richmond Cemetery.
And here’s the location of Montague Summers’ grave The bit about the desecration of the grave? Entirely my imagination.
30. St Paul’s Cathedral The one where Charles and Di got married. Built by Christopher Wren.
31. Bethnal Green and York Hall and the Museum of Childhood. I’ve taken this opportunity to put these places in the spotlight, because York Hall, Bethnal Green was the venue for the David Boreanaz/James Marsters Halloween Event in 2004. LisaP and I went. We saw all this. Unfortunately, I can’t remember it as well as I should (other memories take precedence in my brain, obviously), but these are the impressions I have left of the place itself. We visited the Museum, and it was a little gem. Their sandwiches were nice for lunch, as well.
32. Millennium Place There is a Millenium Place, and it is a gated community of apartments. I’ve made the rest up.
33. Grisaille A term for painting that is executed entirely in shades of grey.
34. Shandy Just in case there are different names for it, this is half beer, half lemonade.
35. Canute Canute, or Cnut, has had an undeservedly bad press. In having his throne carried onto the beach, he was trying to teach his courtiers that there are some things you just can’t change, even if you’re king.
36. Paris and the Bourbons and Mme Guillotine Yep, the French Revolution, and it certainly did send a shockwave through Europe.
37 Bristol Royal Infirmary
There is a Bristol Royal Infirmary, and I’m absolutely sure that they wouldn’t let any of this happen!
38 There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. Hamlet act 1, sc. 5, l. 166 Wm Shakespeare
39. MRI and heart An MRI apparently gives a very good set of images of the heart. Would Nick be able to work the machine and read the images? Well, they do it every week in ‘House’! http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003795.htm#visualContent
40 I suppose nobody’s perfect I pinched the last line from that classic film ‘Some Like It Hot’, where it is also the last line. It seemed appropriate.
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