Necroscope IV: Deadspeak
- Text Font:
- Text Size:
- Line Height:
- Line Break Height:
That same night:
The Lazarus lay moored to a wharf in the main harbour, entirely still and darkly mirrored in water smooth as glass; three of the four crewmen had gone ashore, leaving only a watchkeeper; the boat's owner sat at a window-seat upstairs in the most disreputable taverna of the Old Town, looking out and down across the waterfront. Downstairs a handful of tourists drank cheap brandy or ouzo and ate the execrable food, while the local layabouts, bums and rejects in general laughed and joked with them in English and German, made coarse jokes about them in Greek, and scrounged drinks.
There were three or four blowsy-looking English girls down there, some with Greek boyfriends, all the worse for wear and all looking for the main chance. They danced or staggered to sporadic bursts of recorded bouzouki music, and later would dance more frantically, gaspingly, horizontally, to the accompaniment of slapping, sweating, ouzo-smelling flesh.
Upstairs was out of bounds to such as these, where the owner of the taverna carried out the occasional shady deal, or perhaps drank, talked or played cards with some of his many shady friends. None of these were around tonight, however, just the landlord himself, and a young Greek whore sitting alone in the alcove leading to her business premises - a small room with a bed and washbasin - and the man who now called himself Jianni Lazarides, occupying his window-seat.
The fat, stubble-chinned proprietor, called Nichos Dakaris, was here to serve a bottle of good red wine to Lazarides, and the girl was here because she had a black eye and couldn't ply for trade along the waterfront. Or rather, she wouldn't. It was her way of paying Dakaris back for the beatings he gave her whenever he was obliged to cough up hush-money to the local constabulary for the privilege of letting a prostitute use his place. If not for the fact that he felt the urge himself now and then, he probably wouldn't let her stay here at all; but she paid for her room 'in kind' once or twice a week as the mood took Dakaris, on top of which he got forty per cent of her take. Or would get it if she only used her room and wouldn't insist on freelancing in Rhodian back-alleys! Which was his other reason for beating her.
As for Jianni Lazarides: he also had his reasons for being here. This was the venue for his meeting with the Greek 'captain' of the Samothraki and a couple of his cohorts, when he would look for an explanation as to how and why someone had been selling tickets for their assumed 'covert' drug-running operation. Actually he already knew why, for he'd had it from the mind of Trevor Jordan; but now he wanted to hear it from Pavlos Themelis himself, the Samothraki's master, before deciding how best to detach himself from the affair.
For Lazarides had put good money into this allegedly safe business (which now appeared to be anything but safe), and he wanted his money back or ... payment in kind? For money and power were gods here in this era no less than in all the foregone centuries of human avarice, of which Lazarides had more than an obscure knowledge. And indeed there were easier, safer, more guaranteed ways to make and use money in this vastly complex world; ways which would not attract the attention of its law-keepers, or at any rate not too much of it.
Money was very important to Lazarides, and not just because he was greedy. This world he'd emerged into was overcrowded and threatening to become even more so, and a vampire has his needs. In the old times a Boyar would be given lands by some puppet prince or other, to build a castle there and live in seclusion and, preferably and eventually, something of anonymity. Anonymity and longevity had walked hand in hand in the Old Days; you could not have one without the other; a famous man must not be seen to live beyond his or any other ordinary creature's span of years. But in those days news travelled slowly; a man could have sons; when he 'died' there would always be one of those ready and waiting to step into his shoes.
Likewise in the here and now, except that news and indeed men no longer travelled slowly, because of which the world was that much smaller. So ... how then to build an aerie, and all unnoticed, in these last dozen years of this 20th Century? Impossible! But still a very rich man could purchase obscurity, and with it anonymity, and so go about his business as of old. Which begged a second question: how to become very rich?
Well, Janos Ferenczy thought he had answered that one more than four hundred years ago, but now in the guise of Lazarides he wasn't so sure. In those days a gem-encrusted weapon or large nugget of gold had been instant wealth. Now, too, except that now men would want to know the source of such an item. In those days a Boyar's lands and possessions - or loot - had been his own, no questions asked. And only let him who dared try to take them away! But today such baubles as a jewelled hilt or a solid gold Scythian crown were 'historic treasures', and a man might not trade with them without first satisfying a good many - far too many - queries as to their origin.
Oh, Janos knew the source of his wealth well enow; indeed, here it sat in this window-seat, overlooking a harbour in the once powerful land of Rhodos! For the very man who 'discovered' and unearthed these treasures in the here and now was the selfsame one who had buried them deep in the earth more than four hundred years ago! How better to prepare for a second coming into the world, when one has foreseen a long, long period of uttermost dark?
And having retrieved these several caches, these items of provenance put down so long ago, surely it would be the very simplest thing to transfer them into land, properties of his own, the territories and possessions of a Wamphyri Lord? Oh, true, an aerie were out of the question, even a castle... but an island? An island, say, in the Greek Sea, which had so many?
Ah, if only it could have been that easy!
But places change, Nature takes her toll, earthquakes rumble and the land is split asunder, and treasures are buried deeper still where old markers fall or are simply torn down. The mapmakers then were not nearly so accurate, and even a keen memory - the very keenest vampire memory - will fade a little in the face of centuries...
Janos sighed and glanced out of the window at the harbour lights, and at those measuring the leagues of ocean, lighting their ships like luminous inchworms far out on the sea. The odious proprietor had gone now, back downstairs to serve ouzo and watered-down brandy and count his takings. But the bouzouki music still played amidst bursts of coarse laughter, the would-be lovers still danced and groped, and the young whore remained seated in her alcove as before.
The hour must be ten, and Janos had said he would contact his American thrall about then. Well, and he would ... in a while, in a while.
He poured a little wine for himself, good and deep and red, and watched the way his glass turned to blood. Aye, the blood was the life - but not in a place like this! He would sup when he would sup, and meanwhile the wine could ease his parch. What was it after all but the plaguy unending thirst of the vampire, which one must either tame or die for? Or at least, tame within certain limits... And Janos wasn't shrivelled yet.
The whore had heard the chink of his glass against the bottle. Now she looked across, her surly mouth pouting; she, too, had a glass, which was empty.
Janos felt her eyes on him and turned his head. Across the room she took note of his straight-backed height, dark good looks and expensive clothing, and wondered at the dark-tinted spectacles which shielded his eyes. But at this distance she could not see how coarse and large-pored was his skin, how wide and fleshy his mouth, or the disproportionate length of his skull, ears and three-fingered hands. She only knew that he looked powerful, detached, deep. And certainly he was not a poor man.
She smiled, however unprettily, stood up and stretched - which had the desired effect of lifting her pointed breasts - and crossed to Janos's window-seat. He watched her swaying towards him and thought: Of your own free will.
'Will you drink it all?' she asked him, cocking a knowing eyebrow. 'All to yourself ... all by yourself?'
'No,' he said at once, his expression remaining entirely ambivalent, 'I require very little... of this.'
Perhaps his voice surprised her: it was a growl, a rumble, so deep it made her bones shiver. And yet she didn't find it displeasing. Still, its force was sufficient that she took a pace to the rear. But as she drew back so he smiled, however coldly, and indicated the bottle. 'Are you thirsty, then?'
Was he a Greek, this man? He knew the tongue, but spoke it like they did in some of the old mountain villages, which modern times and ways would never reach. Or perhaps he wasn't Greek after all; or maybe he was but many times removed, by travel and learning and the exotic dilution of far, foreign parts.
The girl didn't normally ask, but now she said: 'May I?'
'By all means. As I have said, my real requirements lie in another direction.'
Was that a hint? He must know what she was, surely? Should she invite him through the alcove and into her curtained room? Then, as she filled her glass ... it was as if he had read her mind! - though of course that wouldn't be too difficult. 'No,' he said, with a slight but definite shake of his great head. 'Now you must leave me alone. There are matters to occupy my mind, and friends will soon be joining me here.'
She threw back her wine, and smiling, he refilled her glass before repeating, 'Now go.'
And that was that; the command was irresistible; she returned to her bench under the alcove. But now she couldn't keep her eyes off him. He was aware of it but it didn't seem to bother him. If he had not commanded her attention, then he might feel concerned.
Anyway, it was now time for Janos to discover what Armstrong was doing. He put the girl out of his mind, reached out with his vampire senses along the waterfront to the mole, and into the shadows there where massive walls reached up out of the still waters. No bright lights there, just heaps of mended nets, lobster pots, and the floats and amphorae-like vases with which the fishermen caught the octopus. And the ever faithful Armstrong, of course, waiting for his master's commands.
Do you hear me, Seth?
Tm here, where I should be,' Armstrong whispered into the shadows of the mole, as if he talked to himself. He made no mention of the hunger, which Janos could feel in his mind like an ache. That was good, for a master's needs must always come first; but at the same time a man should not forget to reward a faithful dog. Armstrong would receive his reward later.
I now seek out the mentalist, the Englishman, Janos briefly explained, and him I shall send to you. The other English will doubtless accompany him. That one is not required, for he can only hinder my works. One of them can tell us as much as two. Do you understand?
Armstrong understood well enough - and again Janos felt the hunger in him. So much hunger that this time he commanded: You will neither mark him nor take anything from him - nor yet give him anything of yourself! Do you hear me, Seth?
Good! I suggest that he receive a stunning blow - say, to the back of the neck? - and that he then falls in the water where it is deep. Look to it, then, for if all is well I shall send them to you soon.
Without more ado he then sent his vampire senses creeping amidst the bright lights of the New Town, searching among the hotels and tavernas, in and around the bars, fast-food stalls and nightclubs. It was not difficult; the minds he sought were different, possessed some small powers of their own. And one of them at least had already been penetrated, damaged, almost destroyed. Indeed it was going to be destroyed, but not just yet. Time enough for that when Janos knew all that it knew. And from the single glimpse he had stolen before crushing down on that mind and driving it to seek sanctuary in oblivion, he was certain that it knew a great deal.
The mind of a mentalist, aye: a 'telepath', as they called them now. But if Janos had caught the thought-thief spying on him (or if not on him directly, at least spying on the drug-running operation of which he was a part), how much then had he discovered before he was caught? Enough to make him dangerous, be sure! For in the moment of shutting him down Janos had sensed that the mindspy knew what he was, and that must never be. What? To be discovered as a vampire here in this modern world? Oh, some might scoff at such a suggestion - but others would not. This mentalist was just such a one, and there'd been echoes in his mind which hinted he knew of others. An entire nest of them.
Janos detected and seized upon a wave of frightened thoughts. He knew the scent of them. It was a mind he had encountered before, recently, which like a familiar face he now recognized. Terrified, cringing thoughts they were, bruised and battered to mental submission - but rising now once more to consciousness. He tracked them like a bloodhound, and entering that shuddering mind knew at once that this was the one and he'd made no mistake...
Ken Layard attended Trevor Jordan in the latter's hotel room. Their single rooms were side by side, with access from a corridor. For twelve hours solid the telepath had lain here now: six of them as still as a corpse, under the influence of a powerful sedative administered by a Greek doctor, four more in what had seemed a fairly normal sleeping mode, and the rest tossing and turning, sweating and moaning in the grip of whatever dream it was that bothered him. Layard had tried to wake him once or twice, but his friend hadn't been ready for it. The doctor had said he'd come out of it in his own good time.
As for what the trouble was: it could have been anything, according to the doctor. Too much sun, excitement, drink - a bug which had got into his system, perhaps? Or a bad migraine - but nothing to worry about just yet. The tourists were always going down with something or other.
Layard turned away from Jordan's bed, and in the next moment heard his friend say: 'What? Yes - yes - I will.' He spun on his heel, saw Jordan's eyes spring open, watched him push himself upright into a seated position.
There was a jar of water on Jordan's bedside table; Layard poured him a glass and offered it to him. Jordan seemed not to see it. His eyes were almost glazed. He swung his legs out of the bed, reached for his clothes where they were draped over a chair. The locator wondered: is he sleepwalking?
'Trevor,' he quietly said, taking his arm, 'are you - ?'
'What?' Jordan faced him, blinked rapidly, suddenly looked him full in the face. His eyes focussed and Layard guessed that he was now fully conscious, and apparently capable. 'Yes, I'm OK. But...'
'But?' Layard prompted him, while Jordan continued to dress himself. There was something almost robotic about him.
The telephone rang. As Jordan went on dressing, Layard answered it. It was Manolis Papastamos, wanting to know how Jordan was doing. The Greek lawman had come on the scene only seconds after Jordan's collapse; he'd helped Layard get him back here and called in the doctor.
Trevor's fine,' Layard answered his anxious query. 'I think. He's getting dressed, anyway. What's happening your end?'
Papastamos spoke English the same way he spoke Greek: rapid-fire. 'We're watching the boats - both of them - but nothing,' he said. 'If anything has come ashore from the Samothraki it couldn't have been very much, and certainly not the hard stuff, which is about what we expected. I've checked out the Lazarus, too; unlikely that there's any connection; its owner is one Jianni Lazarides, archaeologist and treasure-seeker, with good credentials. Or ... let's just say he has no record, anyway. As for the crew of the Samothraki: the captain and his first mate are ashore; they may have brought a very little of the soft stuff with them; they're watching a cabaret at the moment, and drinking coffee and brandy. But more coffee than brandy. Obviously they plan on staying sober.'
Jordan had meanwhile finished with dressing and was heading for the door. He moved like a zombie, and his clothes were the same ones he had worn this morning. But the nights were still chilly; plainly he hadn't so much chosen these light, casual clothes as taken them because they'd been handy. Layard called after him: 'Trevor? Where do you think you're going?'
Jordan looked back. "The harbour,' he answered automatically. 'St Paul's Gate, then along the mole to the windmills.'
'Hello? Hello?' Papastamos was still on the phone. 'What now?'
'He says he's going to the windmills on the mole,' Layard told him. 'And I'm going with him. There's something not right here. I've known it all day. Sorry, Manolis, but I have to hang up on you.'
'I'll see you down there!' Papastamos quickly answered, but Layard only caught half of it as he was putting the phone down. And then he was struggling into his jacket and following Jordan where he made his way doggedly downstairs into the lobby, then out of the door and into the Mediterranean night.
'Aren't you going to wait for me?' he called out after him, but Jordan made no answer. He did glance back, once, and Layard saw his eyes staring out of his sick-looking face like holes punched in pasteboard. Plainly he wasn't going to wait for him, or for anyone else for that matter.
Layard almost caught up with his robotic partner as Jordan crossed a road heading for the waterfront, but then the lights changed, engines revved, and mopeds and cars started rolling in the scrambling, death-wish, devil-take-the-hindmost fashion of Greek traffic. In that same moment he found himself separated from Jordan by bumper-to-bumper metal; and by the time the exhaust fumes had cleared and the lights changed again, the telepath had disappeared into milling groups of people where they thronged the streets. Hurrying after him, Layard knew he'd lost him.
But at least he knew where he was going...
Jordan felt that he was fighting it for all he was worth, every step of the way, even knowing it was useless. It was like being drunk in a strange place and among strangers, when you lie on your back and the room spins. It actually seems to spin, the corners of the ceiling chasing each other like the spokes of a wheel. And there's nothing you can do to stop it because you know it isn't really spinning - it's your mind that's spinning inside the head on top of your body. Your bloody head and body but they won't obey you... you can't make them do what you want no matter how hard you try!
And all the time you can hear yourself trapped in your own skull like a fly in a bottle, buzzing furiously and banging repeatedly against the glass, and saying over and over again, 'Oh, God, let it stop! Oh, God, let it stop! Oh, God ... let... it... stop!'
It's the alcohol - the alien in your system, which has taken control - and fighting it only makes you feel that much worse. Try lifting your head and shoulders up off the bed and everything spins even faster, so fast you can feel the centrifugal force dragging you down again. Force yourself to your feet and you stagger, you turn, begin to spin with the room, with the entire bloody universe!
But only lie still, stop fighting it, close your eyes tight and cling to yourself... eventually it will go away. The spinning will go away. The sickness. The buzzing of the fly in the bottle - which is your own battered, astonished, gibbering psyche - will go away. And you'll sleep. And it's possible the strangers will roll you and rob you blind.
Roll you? They could steal your underpants - even rape you, if they felt inclined - and you couldn't stop them, wouldn't feel it, wouldn't even suspect.
It was a replay of Jordan's first violent experience with alcohol. That had been when he'd started university and got homesick - of all bloody things! A couple of fellow students, college comedians thinking to have a little fun at his expense, had spiked his drinks. Then they'd played a few tricks on him in his room. Nothing vicious: they'd rouged his cheeks, given him a cupid's bow mouth, fitted him up with a garter-belt and stockings and stuck a Mickey Mouse johnnie on his dick.
He woke up cold, naked, ill, not knowing what had happened, wanting to die. But a day or two later when he was sober, he'd tracked them down one at a time and beaten the living shit out of them. Since when he'd only ever got physical when there was no other way around it.
But by God, he wished he could get physical now! With himself, with this mind and body which wouldn't obey him, with whoever it was that was doing this to him. For that was the terrible thing: he knew it was someone else doing it to him, jerking him about like a puppet on a set of strings, and there was still nothing he could do about it!
'Stop!' he kept telling himself. 'Get a grip of yourself. Sit down... throw up ... hold your head in your hands... wait for Ken. Do anything - but of your own free will!' But before his runaway body could even begin to obey such instructions:
AH... BUT IT IS NOT FREE! YOU CAME SPYING, INVADED MY MIND - AN ANT IN A WASP'S NEST! SO NOW PAY THE PRICE. GO ON: PROCEED JUST AS YOU ARE. GO TO THE WINDMILLS.
That terrible, gonging, magnetic voice in his head -that will which superimposed itself over his will - that telepathic, hypnotic command of some One or Thing as powerful, more powerful, than anything he'd ever imagined before, which made a mockery of resistance more surely than any Mickey Finn.
Jordan's legs felt like rubber - almost vibrating, twanging at the knees - as he strained to hold them back. As well hold back opposite magnetic poles, or a moth from a candle. And still he followed the waterfront to the mole, and along its rocky neck, until the ancient windmills stood visible there against a horizon of dark ocean.
Dressed all in black, Seth Armstrong was waiting, crouching in the shadows where the sea wall was shaped like a castle's battlements, after the style of the old Crusaders whose works were still visible all around. He let Jordan go stumbling by, looked back into the darkness of the mole, under the winking lights of Rhodes Old Town where it sprawled on the hill. He heard footsteps, running, and a voice, panting:
'Trevor? For Christ's sake, slow down, will you? Where the hell do you th - ?' And Armstrong struck.
Layard saw something big, black, gangling, step out of the shadows. One eye glared at him from a slit in a black balaclava. Gasping, he skidded to a halt, spun on his heel to flee - and Armstrong rabbit-punched him down to the night-shining cobbles of the path. Out like a light, Layard lay crumpled at the foot of the sea wall. And Jordan, feeling the strictures on his will slacken a little, turned back.
He saw the large, dark, mantis-like figure of Armstrong bent over Layard's unconscious form, saw his friend hoisted aloft on powerful shoulders - and ejected through one of the wall's embrasures, out into thin air! A moment more and there came a splash - then the chop, chop, chop of disturbed water gradually settling - and finally, as the figure in black now turned towards him...
... More running footsteps!
The beam of a torch cut the night, slashing it to left and right like a white knife through black card. And Manolis Papastamos's voice, just as sharp, slicing the silence:
'Trevor, Ken, where are you?'
Be careful! the alien voice in Jordan's mind commanded, but the order was the merest whisper and no longer directed at him. It no longer dominated but merely advised. And he knew that his telepathic mind had simply 'overheard' instructions meant for some other, meant in fact for the man in black. Do not allow yourself to be caught or recognized!
Splashing sounds from below the wall, and a gurgling cry. Ken Layard was alive! But Jordan knew for a fact that the locator couldn't swim. He forced his legs to carry him to the wall, where he could look out through an embrasure. And all the while he was aware of his controlling alien, confused and furious, mewling like a scalded cat in the back of his mind. But no longer fully in control.
Papastamos came running, a small, slim, streamlined shape in the night, and Jordan saw the long-limbed, gangling figure in black back off into the shadows. 'Man -Manolis!' he forced his parched throat to croak. 'Look out!'
The Greek lawman came to a halt, breathlessly called out: Trevor?' and flashed his torch beam full in Jordan's face.
The shadows erupted and Armstrong smashed a blow to Papastamos's face. The Greek rode with it, went sprawling. His torch fell with him, clattering, its beam slithering everywhere. The man in black was running back along the mole towards the town. Papastamos cursed in Greek, snatched at the torch where it rolled past him, aimed it after the fleeing figure. Its beam trapped an elongated human shadow, jerking on the sea wall like a giant crab escaping to the sea. But Papastamos was armed with more than just a torch.
His Beretta Model 92S barked five times in rapid succession, slinging a five-spoked fan of lead after the scuttling shadow. A wailing cry of pain and a gasped, 'Uh - uh - uh!' came back, but the footsteps didn't stop running.
'M-M-Manolis!' Jordan hadn't let up on his battle with the clamp on his will. 'K-K-Ken ... is ... in ... the... sea!'
The Greek got up, ran to the sea wall. From below came a gurgling and gasping, the slosh of water wind-milled by flailing arms. And without a thought for his own safety, Papastamos climbed up into the embrasure and launched himself feet-first into the harbour...
In his window-seat upstairs in the Taverna Dakaris, Janos Ferenczy's three-fingered right hand closed on his wineglass and applied pressure until the glass shattered. Wine and fragments of glass, and a little blood, too, were squeezed out from between his tightly clenched fingers. If he felt any pain it didn't show in his gaunt-grey face, except perhaps in the tic jerking the flesh at one corner of his mouth.
'Janos... master!' Armstrong spoke to him from a little over three hundred yards away. 'I'm shot!'
'In the shoulder. I'll be useless to you until I heal. A day or two.'
Sometimes I think you have always been useless to me. Go back to the boat. Try not to be seen.
'I... I haven't got the telepath.'
I know, fool! I shall see to it myself.
'Then be careful. The man who shot me was a policeman!'
Oh? And how do you know that?
'Because he shot me. His gun. Ordinary people don't carry them. But even without it, I guessed what he was as soon as I saw him. He was expecting trouble. Policemen look the same in whatever country.'
You are a veritable mine of information, Seth! the vampire's thoughts were scathingly sarcastic. But I take your point. And since it now seems I may not take this thought-thief for my own, I shall find some other way to... examine him. His own telepathy shall be his undoing. His mind is receptive to the thoughts of others, which until now has made him a big fish in a little pond. Ah, but now he has a shark to contend with! For I was a mindspy five centuries before he was born!
'I'm going back to the boat,' Armstrong confirmed.
Good! And if any of my crew are ashore, be sure to call them back. And Janos thrust the other out of his mind.
He returned to Jordan where he had staggered to a seat underneath one of the antique windmills and sat there in moon- and starlight. Jordan was exhausted, totally drained by the mental battle he'd fought with his unknown adversary, but not so far gone that he couldn't appreciate what he'd come up against.
The last time Jordan had experienced anything like this had been the autumn of 1977, at Harkley House in Devon. Yulian Bodescu. And it had taken Harry Keogh to clear up that mess! And was this like that? he wondered. Had he and Ken Layard sensed the presence of ... of this Thing, even before it had become entirely apparent to them? Or apparent to him, anyway? All the pieces were starting to fit together now, and the picture they were forming was - terrible! Cannabis resin, cocaine? They were commonplace, even harmless, compared to this.
E-Branch must be put in the picture at once. The thought was like an invocation:
E-BRANCH? That deep, seething voice was there inside Jordan's head again, and mental jaws were tightening on his mind. WHAT IS THIS E-BRANCH? And pinned there by the sheer weight of the vampire's telepathic power, Jordan could only squirm as the monster commenced a minute, painful examination of all his most private thoughts...
Janos might have examined Jordan all night, except he was interrupted. Looking down out of his window, he saw the bearded, big-bellied Pavlos Themelis, master of the Samothraki, making his way across the street towards the Taverna Dakaris. He was a little late, coming to meet with the man he called Jianni Lazarides; but coming anyway, and Janos couldn't continue to dig away at Jordan's mind and hold a conversation with Themelis at the same time.
This morning he had found himself under the scrutiny of a thought-thief, reached out and delivered a blow to the other's mind. It had been an instinctive reaction which nevertheless served to give the vampire time to think. Jordan was strong, however, and had recovered. Well, and now Janos must strike again at that mind - a different sort of blow - and one from which the English mindspy would not recover. Not without a deal of help, anyway.
Driving his vampire senses deep into Jordan's psyche, Janos found the Door of Sanity locked, bolted and barred against all Mankind's worst fears. And chuckling he turned the key, took down the bars, threw back the bolts - and opened the door!
That was enough, and now he would know just exactly where to find Jordan whenever he desired to continue his examination. It was done with only moments to spare, for already the Samothraki's master was coming up the stairs.
As Pavlos Themelis and his First Mate entered the room, they saw the Greek prostitute cleaning away Janos's broken glass and offering him her own. Unmoved, he accepted it, said: 'Go now.' As she made to get by the huge drug-runner, Themelis grabbed her arm in a fist like a ham, caught her round the waist and swung her off her feet. He turned her over and her skirts fell down over her furious face. Themelis sniffed between her legs and roared, 'Clean drawers! Open-crotch, too! Good! I may see you later, Ellie!'
'Not if I see you first!' she spat at him as he set her on her feet. Then she was down the stairs, through the taverna and out onto the street. From down below Nichos Dakaris's hoarse voice bellowed after her as she went into the night:
'Bring 'em back alive, my girl! Bring 'em right back here where I can see the colour of their money!' This was followed by gales of coarse laughter, then more bouzouki music as before.
Pavlos Themelis took a seat across the table from the man he knew as Jianni Lazarides. The chair groaned as he sat down on it and parked his elbows on the table. He wore his peaked captain's hat tilted on one side, which he imagined gave him an irresistible piratical look. It wasn't a bad ploy: no one would normally suspect anyone who looked so roguish of being a rogue! 'Only one glass, Jianni?' he growled. 'Prefer to drink alone, do you?'
'You are late!' Janos had no time for banter.
Themelis's First Mate, a short, squat, torpedo of a man, had remained at the head of the stairs, from where he carefully scanned the room. Now he called down to Dakaris: 'Glasses, Nichos, and a bottle of brandy. Good stuff, too, parakalo!' And finally he picked up a chair and carried it to the table by the window-seat. Seating himself, he asked Themelis, 'Well, and has he explained himself?'
Behind his dark glasses, Janos narrowed his eyes. 'Oh? And is there something I should explain?'
'Come, come, Jianni!' Themelis chided. 'You were supposed to come aboard us this morning in the harbour, not go sliding off in your pretty white ship as if you'd been stung in the arse or something! We'd pull alongside, you'd come over and see the stuff - of which there's a kilo for you, if you've the use for it - and then we'd collect your valuable contribution on behalf of our mutual sponsor. A show of good faith on both sides, as it were. That was the plan, to which you were party. Except ... it didn't happen!' His easy-going look suddenly turned sour and his tone hardened. 'And later, when I've parked up the old Samothraki and I'm wondering what the bloody fuck, I get this message saying we'll meet here instead, tonight! So now tell me, are you sure there's nothing you'd like to explain?'
'The explanation is simple,' Janos barked. 'It could not happen the way it was planned because we were being watched. By men on the harbour wall, with binoculars. By policemen!'
Themelis and his second in command glanced at each other a moment, then turned again to Janos. 'Policemen, Jianni?' Themelis raised a bushy eyebrow. 'You know this for a fact?'
'Yes,' said Janos, for in truth he did now know it for a fact; he'd had it direct from the English thought-thief. 'Yes, I am certain. I cannot be mistaken. And I would remind you that right from the start of this venture I have insisted upon complete anonymity and total isolation from its mechanics. I must not be left vulnerable to any sort of investigation or prosecution! I thought that was understood.'
Themelis narrowed his eyes, slanted his mouth in a sneer... then turned his bearded face away as Nichos Dakaris came labouring up the stairs. 'Huh!' Themelis's torpedo-like comrade grunted as Dakaris slammed down glasses and a bottle of brandy on the table. 'What happened, Nick? Did you have to send out for it?'
'Very funny!' said Dakaris over his shoulder as he left. 'But not nearly so amusing when you consider that some of my customers actually pay me! Friends I can always use, but non-paying customers who also insult me...?' Then he'd gone back downstairs.
Themelis had taken the opportunity to compose himself. Now he said: 'It's nothing new to be watched by the police. Everyone is watched by the police. You have to keep your nerve, that's all, and not panic.'
'I know how to keep my nerve well enough,' said Janos. 'But unless I'm mistaken there is aboard the Samothraki an amount of cocaine worth ten million British pounds or two billions of drachmae. Which is to say two hundred billions of leptae! I had no idea such monies existed. Why, five hundred years ago a man could buy an entire kingdom with such a sum, and still have enough left over to hire an army to guard it! And you tell me to keep my nerve and not panic? Now let me tell you something, my fat friend: the difference between bravery and cowardice is discretion, between a rich man and a cutpurse it's not being caught, and between freedom and the dungeon it's the ability to walk away from ill-laid plans!'
As he spoke the frowns on the faces of the others grew deeper, confused and far more concerned. To be frank, the master of the Samothraki (whose criminal nature had ever held sway over caution, resulting in a string of convictions) wondered what on earth he was prattling on about. In his younger days Themelis had collected coins. But the lepta? To his knowledge the last of those had been minted in 1976 - in twenties and fifties denominations only, because of their minuscule value. To calculate modern sums of money in leptae had to be a sure sign of madness! Why, it would take five hundred to buy one cigarette! And as for Lazarides's use of the term 'dungeon' in place of 'jail'... what was one supposed to make of the man? How could anyone look so young and think so archaic?
Themelis's sidekick was thinking much the same things; but over and above everything else Lazarides had said, his final statement - of intention? - stood out in starkest definition. Something about walking away? Was he looking for an out?
'No threats, Jianni, or whatever your name is,' this one now growled. 'We're not the type to threaten easily, Pavlos and me. We don't want to hear any more talk about anyone walking away from anything. No one walks away from us. It's hard to walk with broken legs, and even harder if it's your spine!'
Janos had been stroking his glass with the long fingers of his left hand, watching Themelis's face rather than that of his loudmouth companion. But now his three-fingered hand stopped its stroking and his head slowly turned until he gazed directly into that one's eyes. He seemed to crouch down a little into himself on the low window-seat - from fear, or was it something else? - and his left hand slid snakelike from the long, narrow table to hang by his side. The thug could almost feel the intensity of Janos's gaze coming right through those enigmatic dark lenses at him. And:
'You accuse me of making threats?' Janos finally answered, his voice so quiet and deep that it might simply be a series of bass grunts rather than speech proper. 'You have the audacity to believe that I might find it necessary to threaten such as you? And then - as if that weren't more than enough - you in your turn threaten me? You dare to threaten... me?'
'Have a care for your bones!' the other hissed, his lips drawing back from yellow teeth as he perched himself on the very rim of his chair, tilting it forward to shove his bullet-head a little closer. 'You smart-talking, oh-so-clean, high-and-mighty bastard!'
Janos's left arm and hand hung out of sight below the rim of the table. But instead of drawing back more yet, he too had leaned his face forward. And now -
- In a movement so swift and flowing it was quicksilver, the vampire shot out his large, long-fingered hand a distance of fifteen inches under the table and bunched up the other's scrotum so deep in his groin that his testicles flopped into his palm. Twisting and squeezing at the same time, Janos needed only nip with his chisel-tipped nails and tear with his great strength to castrate the other right through his threadbare lightweight trousers! Yes, and the fool knew it.
His bottom jaw fell open and he snapped upright in his chair, crowding the table. He squirmed, gagging as his eyes flew wide open in his face. He was the merest moment away from becoming a eunuch, and he could do... nothing! Only let him begin to react violently and Janos could finish the job in a split second.
The vampire increased the pressure, drew his arm in under the table - and his victim inched himself forward and off his chair, reached across the bolted-down table and grasped its rim in both hands to maintain his balance and take the strain off his balls. And still Janos held him there; and still he fixed him with his eyes, which were only inches away now. But where a moment ago the vampire's face had been slate-grey with rage, now he merely smiled, however sardonically.
Gurgling, with tears streaming from eyes which were standing out like marbles in his purpling face, the agonized thug knew how utterly helpless he was. And suddenly it dawned on him that not only was it possible for Janos to do the unthinkable, but it was also probable!
'N - no C no!' he managed to gasp.
That was what Janos had been waiting for; he read it in the other's mind as well as in his wet, rubbery face; he recognized and accepted his submission. And in one viciously co-ordinated movement he gave a final twist and a squeeze, then released and thrust the man away.
Sending his chair flying, the thug crashed over on his back. Gasping and sobbing, he rolled himself into an almost foetal position, with his hands down between his thighs. And there he remained, rocking and moaning in his agony.
All of which had gone unheard by the people in the taverna down below, where Zorba's Dance and its attendant clapping and stamping had drowned everything out. But in any case, there hadn't been a lot to hear.
Pavlos Themelis was pale now, his face twitching behind his great beard. At first he hadn't known what was going on, and by the time he had known it was over. And meanwhile Lazarides had scarcely turned a hair. But now, seeming to flow to his feet as sinuous as a snake, he stood up and towered over the table.
'You are a fool, Themelis,' he grunted, 'and that one is a bigger fool. But... a deal is a deal, and I have already invested too much in this business to abandon it now. And so it seems I must see it through. Very well, but at least let me give you some good advice: in future, be more careful.'
He made as if to leave, and Themelis got quickly out of his way, gasping: 'But we still need your money, or some gold at least, to see the job done!'
Crossing the floor, Janos paused. He appeared to give it a moment's thought, then said: 'At three in the morning, when all the coastguards and petty law officers are asleep in their beds, weigh anchor and meet me three sea-miles due east of Mandraki. We will conclude our business there, far out of sight and sound of land. Is it agreed?'
Themelis nodded, his Adam's apple bobbing. 'Count on it,' he said. 'The old Samothraki will be there.'
And on the floor his partner continued to writhe and groan and sweat out his gradually easing pain; and Janos, going downstairs, didn't even look at him...
It was after eleven and the streets of the Old Town near the waterfront were much quieter. Janos walked in the shadows wherever possible, his long stride more a lope as he quickly put distance between himself and the Taverna Dakaris. But he was not unobserved. Greek policemen in civilian clothes, hiding in even deeper shadows, saw him go and ignored him. They didn't know him; he wasn't the reason they were here; why would they be interested in him? No, their quarry was one Pavlos Themelis, who was still inside the taverna.
Their brief had been to follow him, check out his contacts, see if he was passing any stuff around - but not to pull him in or hinder him in any way. There was bigger stuff going down, and when the axe fell someone up top wanted to make sure it came down not only on the master and crew of the Samothraki but the entire organization, and came down hard. It was perfectly obvious that Nichos Dakaris was part of it too, and his rancid taverna a likely distribution point.
In short, Janos Ferenczy's luck was holding.
But the lackadaisical Greek policemen were not the only ones to see him leave the Dakaris; Ellie Touloupa was watching, too, looking down from a vantage point one level up and a block away, where an old stone arch supported a narrow, walled alley. She saw him take his departure and noted his route: towards a small jetty in the main harbour, where people came ashore in their tenders from the yachts and pleasure-craft. Ellie wasn't stupid: she had done a little quiet checking-up on this Lazarides and knew that the sleek white Lazarus was his. So where else would he be going?
Perhaps he had a woman aboard - but if so what was keeping him ashore, drinking on his own in a fleapit like Nichos Dakaris's place? Maybe he had problems. Well, and Ellie had a way with problems. Anyway, she found him exciting, and who could say but that there might be some money in it, too? Why, she might even end up aboard his boat for the night.
So her thoughts ran as she put out her cigarette, descended to the lower level and hurried through a maze of cobbled alleys to a spot where she might intercept him. And intercept him she did, at a junction of dark, high-walled streets not fifty feet from the jetty.
Janos, arriving at the junction, was aware of her at once. Her breathing was still laboured, from hurrying, and her high heels skittered a little on the cobbles as she came to a halt in the shadows. She felt that he could even see her (though how he saw at all in those dark glasses she couldn't say) as he slowed his pace and turned his head to look straight in her direction.
Then ... it was a strange feeling: to want him to know that she was there, but at the same time almost fearing him knowing it. Should she stand still, hold her breath, hope that he would carry on by? Or -
But too late.
'You,' he said, taking a step towards the shadows where she stood. 'But this is a lonely place, Ellie, and by now there should be customers for you, back at Nick's.'
As he stepped in, so she stepped a little out of the shadows. They stood close, half-silhouettes in the darkness of old stone walls. And there and then she knew she would have him, the way she always knew it. 'I thought I might come aboard your boat,' she said, breathlessly.
Another pace and he drove her back into the darkness, until she leaned against the wall. 'But you may not,' he answered, with a slow shake of his head.
'Then C ah!' she drew breath sharply as his hand grasped her narrow waist just above the hip. 'Then ... I think perhaps I would like you to fuck me here - right now - against this wall!'
He chuckled, but without humour. 'And should I pay for something you so obviously desire?'
'You've already paid,' she answered, beginning to pant as his free hand opened her blouse. 'Your wine...'
'You sell yourself cheaply, Ellie.' He lifted her skirts, moved even closer.
'Cheaply?' she breathed against his neck. 'For you it's free!'
Again his chuckle. 'Free? You give yourself freely? Ah, but this world is filled with surprises! A whore, and yet so innocent.'
She parted her legs and sucked at him, and expanded as he slid into her. He was massive. He surged within her, filling her and yet still surging! The sensation was one such as she'd never known or even imagined before. Was he some sort of god, some fantastic Priapus? 'Who... are... you?' she gasped the words out, knowing full well who he was. And before he could answer: 'What... are... you?'
Janos was aroused now - his hunger, if nothing else. One hand tugged at her breasts while the other reached behind and under her. He continued to surge; not thrusting but simply elongating into her. And now his fingers had found her anus, and they too seemed to be surging.
'Ah! Ah! Ah!' she gasped, her eyes wide and shining in the darkness and her mouth lolling open.
And finally, grunting, he answered her question with one of his own: 'Do you know the legend of the Vrykoulakas?' His hand left her breasts and took away the dark glasses from his eyes - which burned crimson as coals in his face!
She inhaled air massively, but before she could scream his chasm of a mouth had clamped itself over the entire lower half of her face. And his tongue also surged, into and down her convulsing throat. While in her mind:
Ah, I see you do know the legend! Well, and now you know the reality. So be it! Inside her body his vampire protoflesh spread into every cavity, putting out filament rootlets which burrowed in her veins and arteries like worms in soil, without damaging the structure. And even before she had lost full consciousness, Janos was feeding.
Tomorrow they would find her here and say she had died of massive pernicious anaemia, and not even the most minute autopsy would discover anything to the contrary. Nor would there be any-progeny - of this most delicious fusion. No, for Janos would see to it that nothing of him remained in her to surface later and cause him problems.
As for the life he was taking: what of it? It was only one of many hundreds. And anyway, what had she been but a whore? The answer was simple: she had been nothing...
Three and a half hours later and three miles due east of Rhodes Town, the Samothraki lay as if becalmed on a sea like a millpond. Quite extraordinarily, in the last ten or fifteen minutes a writhing fret had developed, quickly thickening to a mist and then to a fog. Now damp white billows were drifting across the old ship's decks, and visibility was down to zero.
The First Mate, still tender from his brush with Janos Ferenczy, had just brought Pavlos Themelis up onto the deck to see for himself. And Themelis was rightly astonished. 'What?' he said. 'But this is crazy! What do you make of it?'
The other shook his head. 'I don't know,' he answered. 'Crazy, like you said. You might expect it in October, but that's six months away.' They moved to the wheelhouse where a crewman was trying to get the foghorn working.
'Forget it,' Themelis told him. 'It doesn't work. God, this is the Aegean! Foghorn? - I never once used it. The pipes will be full of rust. Anyway, she works off steam and we've precious little up. So make yourself useful, go take a turn stoking. We have to move out of this.'
'Move?' said the First Mate. 'Where to?'
"The hell out of this!' Themelis barked. 'Where do you think? Into clear water, somewhere where the Lazarus isn't likely to come barging up out of nowhere and cut us in half!'
'Speak of the devil,' the other growled low in his throat, his little pig-eyes full of hate where they stared through the condensation on the cabin window at the sleek white shape which even now came ghosting alongside, her reversed screws bringing her to a dead halt in the gently 1 lapping water.
The grey, mist-wreathed crew of the Lazarus tossed hawsers; the ships were hauled together, port to portside; ancient tyres festooning the Samothraki's strakes acted as buffers, keeping the hulls apart. All was achieved by the light of the deck lamps, in an eerie silence where even the squealing of the tyres as they were compressed and rubbed between the hulls seemed muted by the fog.
For all that the Lazarus was a modern steel-hull, as broad as the Samothraki but three metres longer, still she sat low in the water when her screws were dead or idling. The decks of the two ships were more or less level, and with little or no swell to mention transfer would be as simple as stepping from one ship to the next. And yet the crew of the white ship, all eight of them, simply lined the rail; while her master and his American companion stayed back a little, gaunt figures under the awnings of the foredeck. The cabin lights, blazing white through the fog, gave their obscure shapes silvery silhouettes.
At the port rail of the Samothraki, Themelis and his men grew uneasy. There was something very odd here, something other than this weird, unnatural fog. 'This Lazarides bastard,' Themelis's sidekick grunted under his breath, 'bothers me.'
Themelis offered a low snort of derision. 'Something of an understatement, that, Christos,' he said. 'But keep your balls out of his way and you should be OK!'
The other ignored the jibe. 'The mist clings to him,' he continued, shivering. 'It almost seems to issue from him!'
Lazarides and Armstrong had moved to the gate in the rail. They stood there, leaning forward, seeming to examine the Samothraki minutely. There was nothing to choose between them in height, Themelis thought, but plenty in bearing and style. The American shambled a little, like an ape, and wore a black eyepatch over his right eye; in his right hand he carried a smart black briefcase, hopefully full of money. And Lazarides beside him, straight as a ramrod in the night and the fog, affecting those dark glasses of his even now.
But silent? Why were they so silent? And what were they waiting for? 'So here we are then, Jianni!' Themelis shook off the black mood of depression which had so suddenly threatened to envelop him, opened his arms expansively, glanced around and nodded his satisfaction. 'Privacy at last, eh? In the heart of a bank of fog, of all bloody things! So ... welcome aboard the old Samothraki.'
And at last Lazarides smiled. 'You are inviting me aboard?'
'Eh?' said Themelis, taken aback. 'But certainly! How else may we get our business done?'
'How indeed?' said the other, with a grim nod. And as he crossed between ships, so he took off his dark glasses. Armstrong came with him, and the rest of his men, too, clambering over the rails. And the crew of the Samothraki backed stumblingly away from them, knowing now for a fact that something - almost everything - was most definitely wrong here. For the crew of the Lazarus were like flame-eyed zombies to a man, and their master... he was like no man they'd ever seen before!
Pavlos Themelis, seeing the transformation in the face of the man called Lazarides as he stepped aboard the Samothraki, thought his eyes must be playing him tricks. His First Mate saw it, too, and frantically yanked his gun from its under-arm holster.
Too late, for Armstrong towered over him. The American used his briefcase to bat the gun aside even as it was brought into view, then grabbed the man's gun-hand and wrestled the weapon round to point at its owner's head.
Bullet-head didn't stand a chance. Armstrong pointed the gun into his ear and said, 'Hahr And his victim, seeing the American's one eye burning like sulphur - and his forked, crimson tongue, flickering in the gape of his mouth - simply gave up the ghost.
'That one,' said Janos to Themelis, almost casually, 'was a fool!' Which was Armstrong's signal to pull the trigger.
As his head flew apart in crimson ruin, Christos was tossed like a rag doll over the rail. Sliding down between the hulls, his body was crushed and ground a little before being dumped into the mist lying soft on the sea. The hole he made in it quickly sealed itself; the echo of the shot which had killed him, caught by the fog and tossed back, was still ringing.
'Holy Mother of - I' Themelis breathed, helpless as his men were rounded up. But as Janos advanced on him he backed away and again, disbelievingly, observed the length of his head and jaws, the teeth in his monstrous mouth, the weird scarlet blaze of his terrible eyes. 'J-J-Jianni?' the Greek finally got his brain working. 'Jianni, I -'
'Show me this cocaine,' Janos took hold of his shoulder with a steel hand, his fingers biting deep. 'This oh so valuable white powder.'
'It - it's below...' Themelis's answer was a mere breath; he could not, daren't, take his eyes from the other's face.
'Then take me below,' said Janos. But first, to his men: 'You did well. Now do as you will. I know how hungry you are.'
Even below decks Themelis could hear the screams of his crew; and he thought: What, Christos Nixos a fool? Maybe, but at least he didn't know what hit him! And he wondered how long before his screams would be joining the rest...
Forty minutes later the Lazarus's diesels coughed into life and she drew slowly away from the now silent, wallowing Samothraki. The fog was lifting, stars beginning to show through, and soon the horizon would light with the first crack of a new day.
When the Lazarus was a quarter-mile away, the doomed Samothraki blew apart in a massive explosion and gouting fire. Bits of her spiralled or fluttered back to the foaming sea and were put out, leaving only their drifting smoke. She was no more. In a few days pieces of her planking might wash ashore, maybe a body or two, possibly even the bloated, fish-eaten corpse of Pavlos Themelis himself...