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Nemesis

 

Project Paranormal

Author: Jo

Season 3

Part 20

 

**

 

Summary:  A dying man’s last wish is for the team to find out whether his son was a murderer.  It’s a perfectly ordinary mystery.  Isn’t it?

 

**

 

Nemesis

 

 

Detective Chief Inspector Ian Collins stood in the cramped reception area, trying to ignore the scent of institutional disinfectant and despairing humanity.  All cells were the same, in his experience, even these beneath the Crown Court, although these were probably a bit cleaner than most.  In a few minutes, a security officer would bring Angel down the stairs from the courtroom to this reception area, and this difficult day would be over.  Except, of course, for the journey back to Wessex, and that was likely to be trouble enough.

 

He looked around, wondering, with his new knowledge of the world, whether these secure cells could actually hold Angel if he didn’t wish to be held, and decided that they probably couldn’t.  There was always the deadly sunlight, of course, as the very last line of detention, but this area was underground, approached directly from the car park.

 

He stuck his hands into his pockets, simply to feel the movement.  He would have paced, if he could, but there wasn’t room.  The custody officer was doing his paper work, affecting not to be interested in the presence of a senior policeman from out in the sticks, but signally failing.  He’d been on the same line of the same form for ten minutes now.

 

A man in a suit brushed past him.  It was the duty solicitor, finally finished seeing the afternoon’s clients.  He’d been here as long as Collins had.  Giles had already left, emotionally wounded after giving his evidence.  He was on the road now with Gavin Lincoln, Collins’ sergeant.  Collins wondered how he was taking it.  Buffy was still in Westbury.  They’d agreed that she shouldn’t come.  It could do no one any good.

 

The sound of feet on the concrete steps interrupted his train of thought, and then he heard the rattle of a key in a lock.  A white-shirted security officer, keys jingling on their chain, opened the scuffed door onto the stairwell that led to the secure docks.  Angel followed him out, his face pale against his customary black, deathly, even, in the harsh glare of the fluorescent lights.  The custody officer pushed his forms aside, and stood up.

 

+++++

 

Giles sat in the front of the car with Gavin Lincoln.  They were halfway down the M4.  At last, Lincoln broke the silence.

 

“That must have been difficult, sir, testifying against a friend like that.”

 

Giles just nodded, and looked straight ahead.  Difficult wasn’t the word.  That was one of the reasons he hadn’t waited, why he’d cut and run so quickly.  But only one of them.

 

He knew he’d have to talk about it soon, but he couldn’t do it yet.  Not now, not when the pain of betrayal was so raw.

 

+++++

 

Collins had been in the courtroom when Angel had undergone his examination in chief, and for most of the cross-examination.  And Collins had been there at the beginning, when a security officer escorted Angel in, and when the usher asked whether he would swear on the Bible, or whether he would affirm.  He’d seen the look that the vampire gave the holy book, and knew that there had been no choice made here.  Angel had said that he would affirm, because there was nothing else that he could do, in a public place.  Collins knew in his bones, though, that the man would have held the Bible, if he’d had any choice at all.  He was surprised to find that all the mumbo jumbo of the cheap horror films might be right.

 

What was said during all that long questioning hadn’t come as any surprise.  Angel had remained steadfast in his story, as Giles had done earlier. He was polite, but firm.

 

And then the policeman had come down here to wait.

 

Now, the door snapped shut, and the security officer locked it, as he was required to do.  The telephone rang, and the custody officer answered it, safe behind the reception desk.  He murmured a few words, and then he hung up and called to someone out of Collins’ sight.

 

“Higgs to court number two, please.”

 

There was a rustle of movement from further down the corridor, and another white-shirted security officer, handcuffed to an unshaven youth in jeans and t-shirt, pressed past those standing in the reception area and unlocked the stairwell door again.  He pushed the prisoner through first, the key rattled in the lock, and he and his charge started the long climb to the dock of court number two.

 

The custody officer turned to Collins.

 

“Is everything alright now, sir?”

 

Collins nodded.

 

“Yes, thank you.”

 

The man behind the desk turned to Angel.

 

“I’m sorry you had to go up there, sir, but it’s the only enclosed way to the courts.  I’m glad we managed to find you an empty court to go through.  At least you didn’t have to come up in the same dock as the accused.  Now that would have been interesting.”

 

Angel smiled.

 

“It was fine.  Thank you.”

 

He held his hand out to the waiting security officer.  “Thanks, Jim.  I’d have got lost without you.”

 

Collins didn’t think he would have got lost at all, but he had to admit that it was a nice touch.

 

“We can stay and have a cup of coffee, if you like,” he offered.

 

“Best get back, I think.”

 

With a last farewell, Angel and Collins headed out to the car park, squeezing past the waiting prison van as they did so.  It was not yet four o’clock and now that it was high summer, sunset was about as late as it could get.  Angel was going to have to spend a long time beneath the tarpaulin in the back of Collins’ car.

 

+++++

 

The custody officer watched the two men go.  It wasn’t often that you got policemen doing witness support, especially not a Detective Chief Inspector, but he’d heard that this was a fairly high profile case, and with the possibility of repercussions for witnesses.  The accused, a man called Raphael Carteret, had looked pretty meek and mild when he’d been brought in on the prison van this morning.  Maybe he had more dangerous friends.  Or maybe looks were deceiving.

 

The excitement over, he went back to his paperwork.

 

+++++

 

As they climbed into the car, Angel said, “You left too early, Ian.”

 

“What?”

 

Collins had stayed in the courtroom until the defence was going round in circles on the cross-examination.  When it became plain that Angel would not be shaken, as Giles hadn’t been shaken earlier, Collins had left to wait for his friend.  He’d had to wait longer than he expected, but he hadn’t minded.  Not really.

 

“He caved.”

 

“He did what?”

 

“He changed his plea to guilty.  I waited until I was sure he wouldn’t retract.  It’s all over.”

 

“Thank God for that.”  The policeman’s relief was genuine enough.  Testifying against a friend was always hard. 

 

The shutter doors opened, just then, and Collins drove out.  He’d made a small tent in the back, to allow Angel some movement, and to allow him to sit more or less upright, with a bit of slouching, instead of hunching down, or curling up on the seat.  This was the tent’s maiden trip, because they’d come down from Wessex at night.

 

As he swung the car out into the narrow, shady street, he asked Angel, “Are you going to call Giles?  Tell him the good news?”

 

“Yeah.  He’ll be relieved.  And grimly satisfied.  Stealing and counterfeiting cultural treasures has to be right up near the top of Giles’ list of deadly sins.”

 

Even through the tarpaulin, Collins heard the sounds of a number being dialled, as he turned onto a broad dual carriageway full of late afternoon traffic.  They were facing west, in the direction of home, and suddenly, as they left the shadows, the bright afternoon sunlight filled the car.  Behind him, there was a muffled oath, and the aroma of seared flesh.  A dull thud marked the falling phone.

 

“Ian!  Into the shade!  Now!”

 

Easier said than done.  Unsure of what was happening behind him, but haunted by the smell, Collins sought frantically for an exit, but there was none in sight.  In desperation, he pulled into a pub car park, and into the inadequate shelter of a couple of young sycamore trees. He scrambled out of the car, and opened the rear door, but then he stood in the doorway, uncertain of what to do for the best.

 

Angel pushed back the tarpaulin, and Collins was shocked.  His right cheek had been seared from ear to chin, the angry burn running deep into the flesh.  His right hand looked as though it had been held in the fire.

 

“There’s a split in the seam.”

 

“I… I’m sorry.  God… What can I do?”

 

“Got any tape?”

 

Angel’s very matter-of-factness cut through Collins’ shock at the sight.  He nodded sharply, and shut the door against whatever sunlight might make its way through the leaves.  Rummaging in the boot of the car, he found the roll of thick black gaffer tape that he’d used to make the tent.

 

Angel showed him the gap in one of the original seams of the tarp, where the stitching had given way.  The material was crumpled, where Angel had held it tight in his fist, but not before it had done so much damage.

 

The repair made, Ian crouched down by his passenger.

 

“What about the burns?  What will help?  I’m supposed to be protecting you, and look what I’ve done!  Buffy will kill me.”

 

Angel’s smile was small and painful, but it was a smile.

 

“Not your fault.  And I’ll mend.  Most of it will be gone when we get back.”

 

“Do you want to risk it again?  Or shall we wait it out until dark?”

 

“No need.  This will be fine, now.”

 

Angel leaned down to pick up the phone.  It had taken the brunt of the flames that had enveloped his hand as he started to make the call, holding the phone to his ear.  It was scorched and melted, an action sculpture to the transience of modern life.

 

“I’ll borrow your phone, shall I?”

 

As he pulled back onto the dual carriageway, Collins discovered that he now had a more visceral understanding of the difficulties facing Angel.  Before, when he’d been told that it was an intolerance to sunlight, he’d politely covered up his impatience, but he’d had little sympathy.  Intolerance.  What did that mean?  A few blisters?  A bit of reddening?  Some soreness?  He felt ashamed of that lack of charity, now.

 

Even when he’d learned that Angel was a vampire – and he thought that he still hadn’t fully assimilated that, still hadn’t adjusted properly to a whole new world view – he hadn’t really understood what that might mean.  If Nick and Lisa hadn’t been there, too, he might have thought he’d hallucinated the whole thing.

 

Now, he had the stink of burned flesh to reinforce the change in his understanding.  He drove on in silence.

 

+++++

 

At Summerdown House, Giles watched Detective Sergeant Gavin Lincoln drive away.  Lincoln had insisted on staying until Collins arrived with Angel.  Conversation while they waited had, of necessity, been limited.  If Lincoln had wondered why Collins had pulled his car into the dimness of the garage, he’d said nothing.

 

Collins, having seen off his sergeant, returned to the garage, to help Angel extricate himself from the tarpaulin.  Angel slid quickly into the protective shelter of the covered arbour, to join them in the house.  He wasn’t so quick that Giles didn’t notice the scarlet burn down his cheek.  Giles sucked in his breath, wondering what had happened.

 

Inside, Nick was sprawled in one of the armchairs, and Buffy was curled up on a settee.  Curled up, that is, until she saw Angel.  As he sat down, he thrust his hand between his thigh and the chair arm, but he couldn’t hide it from Buffy.  She stalked across the room and turned his head so that she could see his cheek.  Then she gently pulled his hand up.  It wasn’t nearly as healed as he had hoped it would be.  They’d made good time on the journey.

 

“What happened?”

 

“It’s nothing,” he told her.  “It’ll be gone by tomorrow.”

 

She didn’t give up.  “What happ…”

 

“It was my fault.”  Collins cut across her impatient question.  “My fault.  I didn’t realise the tarp had a tear in it.”

 

“Well, now you do!”  She wasn’t especially mollified, no matter how contrite the policeman looked.

 

Angel took her hand.  “I’m fine.  I’m going to need a new phone, though.  You could buy me that really slim thing you had your eye on.  See?  It gives you a chance to go shopping.  Not the pink one?  Please?”

 

She couldn’t help but laugh.

 

“Can the sim card be salvaged?”

 

He shrugged, and handed over the scorched wreck.

 

Collins watched the little byplay with unrelieved guilt.  Nevertheless, he was amused as he saw Angel twist Buffy around his little finger.  He’d always assumed it was the other way round, but this was masterly.  She caught him by surprise, then, when she turned on him.

 

“Weren’t you supposed to be there to protect him?”

 

“We did that for both Angel and Giles,” he replied, the epitome of a reasonable man. 

 

Giles leapt in when he saw Buffy winding herself up for a tirade.

 

“Yes, well, it’s just fortunate that we stumbled over the gossip on the de… net that we were going to be targeted.”

 

“De net?” Collins asked, teasingly malicious.  “What’s that?”

 

Giles cursed silently. 

 

“Never mind that.”

 

Demons were nowhere near as common as it sometimes seemed, especially when they were in the middle of a case.  The internet had provided a perfect way for the widely scattered groups of different demon species – at least, the intelligent ones – to keep in touch.  There had been gossip about the downfall of this massive fraud.  Pertinent gossip.  And they’d picked it up.  But they hadn’t talked to Collins about demons, and their interactions with humans.  They weren’t sure he was ready for that, although it would almost certainly have to come.

 

Buffy saw his difficulty, and added her own non sequitur.

 

“I don’t see why you wouldn’t let me come along.  I could have driven you, and protected you, and watched what happened in court as well.”

 

She flounced back to her seat.

 

“We all agreed,” Angel soothed her, from a safe distance.  “If anyone in court had recognised you, they might have called you to give evidence, and what were you going to tell them?  That you killed a well known but dishonest art dealer who turned out to be the vampire who was fencing the goods?  That would have gone down well.”

 

And that was what had happened.  They had stumbled into a massive operation of theft and counterfeit and smuggling of art treasures.  It had taken a long time for Giles to be certain that there was something to report, but what had seemed like a human problem, a problem simply for the police, had gained another dimension.  A demon dimension, although this was one of species and culture and cupidity, rather than of spatial mathematics.  Demons were using the thefts to fund their own activities. 

 

As they put together their evidence, piece by piece, observation by observation, they had come closer to identifying the prime movers.  And then Buffy had been forced to kill the middleman, who had proved to be an old and cunning vampire, with an extensive train of adherents.  She’d had a choice between that, or Giles losing his head.  Literally.  Unfortunately, his death had meant that the demons responsible for the operation were lost in anonymity.  For now.  They’d got the humans bang to rights, though.

 

What they’d found – minus the demon involvement, because he was still adjusting to a world that included a vampire and a Slayer, let alone demons – had been passed on to Collins, and what a coup that had been for him.  It didn’t mean he’d be the one to deal with it, though, which would have been preferable so far as the Project Paranormal team was concerned.  It had been a squabble between the Serious Organised Crime Agency – and how much organised crime wasn’t serious, Giles had asked himself – and the Art and Antiques Unit of the Metropolitan Police.  The Art and Antiques Unit had won the lead role, largely because of the specialised nature of the artefacts, but partly because their Director had shouted louder, and had been in better odour with the powers that be.

 

And so, Giles had had the distasteful task of ratting out a friend.  If Carteret had been a demon, Giles thought he might have simply preferred to kill him.  That wasn’t possible, of course, with a human.  Giles had followed the paper trail and Angel had followed the artwork, and Buffy had watched their backs.

 

And the vampire had died.  That hadn’t gone unnoticed in vampire circles, or in other demon circles, either.

 

No one had felt any need to worry at home, or not to worry more than they normally did, but witnesses were all provided with civilian supporters at trials, and, unorthodox as it was, Collins had volunteered himself and his sergeant, against the wishes of the Project Paranormal team.  He’d insisted, though.  Everything had passed off smoothly, for now, at least.

 

“I still can’t believe it of Carteret,” said Nick, shaking his head, pushing back the white-blond hair as it fell into his eyes.

 

“No,” replied Giles, abruptly.  Everyone else remained silent in sympathy.

 

Carteret.  One of the members of the Sophists, and a successful art historian and art dealer.  Both Nick and Giles had dined with him each month, at the Sophists’ meetings.  They’d done so for years.  They’d known him since they’d been undergraduates at Oxford together.  Now, Giles, backed up by Angel’s evidence, was responsible for sending him to jail.

 

Nick and Collins stayed to eat with them, but it was a morose company who ate Martha’s gourmet meal of Cumbrian Herdwick mutton followed by a luscious summer pudding heavy with strawberries and raspberries.  Oh, and one flagon of premium Bull’s Blood – the Charolais that had been slaughtered that morning at Staggett’s Abattoir, not the Hungarian wine.

 

After the coffee, Nick had to go. 

 

“I talked to Lisa,” he told Giles, as he took his leave.

 

“Oh.  Good.  Wasn’t she supposed to join us for dinner?”

 

“She was,” said Nick, wryly, well aware that Giles had hardly noticed their friend’s absence.  “She said something about the appallingly wet weather ruining the hay crop.  She’s gone to look at a barnful somewhere on the South Coast, to do a deal before someone else snaffles it.  She said to tell you she’ll get enough for your two boys.”

 

“She’s a good friend,” Giles told him, warmly.

 

Nick knew that Lisa would like to be more than that, but had decided she was doomed to disappointment.  Oh, well.  Misery loved company…

 

“I’ve got to go, Rupert.  I’d stay but…”

 

Nick felt Carteret’s treachery as keenly as Giles, and would have liked to stay with his friends, but his operating list meant that he had to go.  It had been difficult enough getting away for these few hours.  Collins went with him.  Giles took his coffee into the study, and stayed there for a long time.

 

+++++

 

As they climbed the stairs up the side of the garage, Buffy picked up Angel’s hand, taking careful hold of his wrist so as not to cause more pain.  The burn was fading now, but was still pink, still sore.

 

“I should have been there.”

 

“No, Buffy, you shouldn’t.  We’d never have explained the vampire.”

 

He’d been glad it was a vampire, and not one of the more humanoid species of demon that left inconvenient corpses behind.  He didn’t want to think what the police would do with Buffy, if they ever thought that she’d murdered a reputable West End gallery owner, even if he had been a murdering thief masquerading as human. 

 

They were on the landing now, outside their door.  It was the dark of the moon, and the stars, bright and clear on this velvet night, cast down their thin, cold light.  It sang in his blood, speaking to him of the thrill of the hunt, and the climactic surrender of the feed.  He swallowed against it, the coarseness of the bull’s blood still on his tongue, and he kissed her, to wipe that taste away, to replace it with something more thrilling.

 

She leapt up to him, her legs wrapping around his waist and, as his arms wrapped around her, he felt himself rise to meet her.  Lost in her embrace, he managed to turn the door handle, pushing backwards through the open doorway, and stumbling against her suitcase.  Only his demon’s reflexes allowed him to keep his feet as he staggered away from the obstacle, catching his hip against the corner of the chest of drawers as he did so.  Wood squealed against wood as the piece of furniture careened a few inches out of place.  Off balance and smarting, he almost fell onto the couch.  The bed-settee.  They’d forgotten to pull it out and make it up before dinner.

 

Sighing, he broke the clinch, and leaned over to the wall light on his side.  In its dim glow, he pulled out the bed while Buffy burrowed in the crammed wardrobe for the bedding.  The wardrobe was crammed with her stuff.  His mostly stayed in his modest overnight bag.  The suitcases were hers.  Except for the space needed for the bed, almost every available inch of floor had something on it, with just space to step through to reach the kitchen and the shower.  When the bed was down, the only way past it was to scramble over it.

 

It had been okay, at first, when this was just his room, and when Buffy had moved in, he’d been so grateful for her that the cramped space hadn’t set his teeth on edge.  Besides, Giles had then given them the keys to the flat in Bath.  They’d had to spend no more than a couple of nights a week here, just to keep him company.  Recently, though, as business had increased – although not necessarily paying business, he thought, as he tucked in the sheet – they had spent more and more time here.  Now, they were lucky if they got to Bath every other weekend.

 

This bedsit couldn’t hold them both on a long-term basis.

 

The bed made, they lay together for a few minutes, trying to capture the lost moment.

 

“The place at Nineacres is still for rent,” he whispered, as he bent to titillate her neck.

 

“We can’t afford it.”

 

She was right.  Their clients had mainly been the ordinary and the not well-off.  They made enough, between them, for day-to-day living, but only provided

day-to-day living came rent-free.

 

“I could do some more drawings of Ye Olde Towne.”

 

Sarah Buttsworth had a stand of his drawings in her art shop at the Craft Centre, and they sold well in the tourist season.  He was nibbling Buffy’s ear, now, but she managed a reply.

 

“Don’t sell many in winter.”

 

That was true, he reflected, and rent tended to be a twelve months a year affair.

 

“I’m cheap to feed,” he retorted, moving down to her throat.  She stretched languidly beneath him, rubbing gently in all the right places, before voicing the final word.

 

“If we lived five miles away at Nineacres, we might as well just stay in Bath.  It’s less than twenty miles.”

 

That was true, but he really didn’t want to talk about it any more, and so he slid his hand down her hip, and the time for intelligible speech was over.

 

+++++

 

That same night, Giles sat in his study long after his coffee grew cold, reflecting on the nature of friendship.  And of family.

 

He was lucky in his friends, he knew that, but Carteret had cut him deeply.  The two of them had been close, once upon a time.  As for family, there were none worth speaking of, other than Buffy and Angel.  Buffy, as close to him as a daughter.  Angel, almost a son-in law.  And yet...  They were also comrades-in-arms, with ties more binding than those that mere blood, or law, could ever forge.

 

He pushed his chair backwards, and turned it so that he could reach the safe.  The leather folder that he brought out wasn’t locked, only tied shut with a leather thong.  Nevertheless, he was certain that neither Buffy nor Angel would have looked in it.  They all kept things in the safe, each item in there personal.  Private.  Sitting cheek-by-jowl with everyone else’s secrets, and yet untouched by them.

 

Wheeling back to his desk, he placed the folder into the small pool of light cast by the standard lamp at the side.  The room otherwise was in darkness.  It matched his mood perfectly.  The folder contained a number of envelopes.  The first one that he took out was a stiff blue one, marked ‘Last Will and Testament’.  It was his.

 

Life was so fleeting.  He’d always understood that, but the last decade had underlined the fact.  His latest encounter with a vampire had truly rammed the message home.  He’d made a new will.  There were bequests, including a sizeable cash sum to John and Martha, but the bulk of his property, including the business and Summerdown House, went to Buffy and Angel.

 

And yet…

 

He hadn’t yet given up hope that he would one day marry and have children.  He’d been on the point of asking Ella to be his wife, when the worst had happened.  It had taken months after her death before he finally let her go, albeit reluctantly, but there’d not yet been anyone else to move him on from her.  Some fine women, yes, but so far his heart hadn’t truly been in it, so to speak. 

 

That might come, though.  If it did, then he would leave the bulk of his property to his wife, and to the heirs of his body.  There could be no doubt about that.  The flat in Bath was leasehold, and the lease had seemed long enough when he bought it, decades ago: when his parents were still alive, and he’d wanted somewhere close in case they needed him.  It certainly wasn’t long in Angel-terms though.

 

It wasn’t fair.  Buffy and Angel saved the world a lot, but that was never rewarded in any material way.  It was a hand-to-mouth existence, and they deserved better.  He wanted them to have his family house, but if he had a family in the future, what he wanted now wouldn’t matter.  Besides, they might be reluctant to sell it, if they decided to move on, and he didn’t mean to tie them down.

 

And so, he had another plan.

 

He put the will back into its envelope, and picked up another bundle of papers.  On top was an estate agent’s brochure, creased and smoothed out again.  It was for a broken-down old property about five miles away.  It was called Nineacres, and it was for let.

 

A couple of weekends ago, Angel and Buffy had been in Bath, and Giles had been researching a manifestation of ghostly lights.  He’d ruled out the physical, and narrowed it down to Raethaller’s Phenomenon.  He’d needed Encetter’s Guide to give him the correct charm and incantation to clear it.  But his copy of Encetter’s was nowhere to be found.

 

And then he remembered that, before leaving for Bath, Angel had dealt with a case of Gorslinks in the cellar of a house belonging to a friend of Ivy Grittleton.  The ancient Ivy had stumped up the drive with the faithful Walter Satterthwaite in tow, and had threatened to rattle their shins with her walking stick unless they sorted out the strange noises in Hetty Cowthorpe’s cellar.  Hetty was almost deaf, but it was driving her dog, Domino, to distraction, and he’d almost scratched through the cellar door.

 

And then Ivy had reached into her shopping bag and brought out two battered old tins, and handed them carefully to Buffy.

 

“Let me have the tins back when you’ve done with them,” she said casually.   The tins looked as though she’d been saying that about them for fifty years.  When Buffy took the lids off, the contents, in their little paper cases, had glittered like jewels. 

 

In one was glacé fruit, slices of pineapple and halves of peaches, whole apricots and quartered pears, these larger pieces interspersed with dark, round cherries and, arranged into delicate fans, glowing slices of tangerine.

 

In the second tin were tiny petits fours, miniature cakes with white and lemon and chocolate icing, fondant-covered rolls, and dainty little tartlets, each containing a piece of fruit: a wild strawberry coated in thick chocolate, or a raspberry in something that looked like jellied honey.  Giles, looking over her shoulder, thought that every one was different, and every one looked ready to eat.

 

For once in her life, Ivy looked a little abashed.

 

“I reckon Hetty’s got no spare cash, but a job done well is a job that needs rewarding, wouldn’t you say?  So I reckoned that you’d take these in exchange.  Made ‘em myself.  Hetty can’t cook.  Never could, and certainly can’t now.”

 

Giles had seen Buffy almost licking her lips, and he’d had to resist reaching out to snaffle one.  But he’d left the answer to Buffy.

 

“Of course we’ll do it, Mrs Grittleton.”

 

And so, for a fee of fruit and cakes, Angel had taken care of the Gorslinks, and only he and Buffy knew just how much enjoyment they had derived from the ways he found to feed the tiny morsels to her.  He’d insisted on trying a wild strawberry tartlet set on a ganache of dark chocolate.  Anything so red, he’d said, surrounded by so much darkness and promising so much pleasure, must belong to him.  He’d been looking at something else, though, as he ate it.

 

But Giles had known nothing of this, and would have been slightly embarrassed to find out, despite his own willingness to embrace the adventurous.  All he did know, as he tried to finish his research into Raethaller’s Phenomenon, was that he’d thoroughly enjoyed his own share of the spoils, and that Angel had not returned the copy of Encetter.

 

And so, he had gone to the flat.  Sitting in his study now, with the cold cup of coffee at his elbow, and his folder of secrets in front of him, he wondered how he could have been so oblivious, so thoughtless.  He rarely invaded this space, but he should have thought, should have understood.

 

When he opened the door, the place was as neat as it could be made, with possessions for two people who were essentially living in a bedroom the size of three car parking spaces.  He’d been shocked at how cramped they were, now that the majority of their time was spent here.

 

He’d found the Encetter on top of the chest of drawers but, before he noticed it, he’d also found the screwed up brochure on the floor by the waste paper bin.  He’d taken both away, together with a real guilt for his blindness.  Buffy would be chafing over the lack of space, but he couldn’t imagine how Angel was managing, with his need to get away from beating hearts and throbbing blood.  No wonder he went out most nights.

 

Giles stretched a little, and his arm rattled the cup of cold coffee.  With a sigh, he picked it up and took it into the kitchen, where he made himself a fresh cup.  When he’d sat down again in his leather chair, he opened the next folded piece of paper.  It was a typescript form, with ‘APPROVED’ stamped in black over it, and a name scribbled on the bottom.

 

It was planning permission for another building.  In those more innocent days, when all he’d had to worry about were a group of young girls who had had a new way of life thrust on them, and before Angel had been brought back from the dead, Giles had put this application in motion.

 

He’d had no idea, then, how many slayers there might be, and how many more might be created, but he was sure that most of them were so young that he didn’t dare send them out into the world without a trained Watcher.  And there were none of those to be had.  His ambitions then, before events and history and magic got in the way, were to house the girls suitably until Watchers could be found.

 

He’d applied to build this annex as part of the Summerdown House complex.  Much to his surprise, the application had been granted.  But then, he shouldn’t have been surprised.  Ella had been with him throughout, and he was certain now, looking back, that she’d had something to do with it.  She, and her Earth magic.

 

He looked at the date on the approved application.  Coming up for three years ago.  If you didn’t make a start on it, planning permission expired after five years.  Recently, though, he’d heard that the planning authorities had been given the power to lapse an application if work wasn’t started within three years.  He couldn’t let that happen.  Without Ella, he doubted he’d get it renewed.  That was just one of the things he missed about her.

 

He opened up the architect’s drawings.  The rooms that he had devised for the girls could easily be made into a comfortable home for a Slayer and a vampire.  Taken as a whole, the complex would provide an embarrassment of accommodation for three people.  But for two families?  Ah, that was different.

 

He smiled to himself.  If he did this, then come what may, Buffy and Angel would always have somewhere to live or somewhere to sell.  This annex would be leased to them, on a suitably long-term lease.  Long-term enough, even in Angel’s view of things.  And it would be a definite improvement on a bedsit.

 

Now would come the hard part.  Selling the idea to Buffy and Angel.  Knowing they were considering other accommodation was a help, but they were bound to raise the question of funding.  And it was true that the business couldn’t possibly hope to pay for a capital project like this.

 

He reached over the desk for another file, a file that wasn’t kept in the safe, a file that they all laboured on from time to time, but he was its main keeper.  The business accounts.  He flicked through the sheets, mostly in his own neat hand.  Since the time he’d set up Project Paranormal to keep Buffy and Angel occupied, it was showing healthy growth, at least in terms of customers.  The income stream was not much more than a dribble, though.

 

He closed up the folders in front of him and sat in thought.  Never broach your capital, that was what his father had taught him.  Keep your capital safe, and increase it if you can, but learn to live on the income.  And he had.  What they needed now was a big paying job.  Fat chance of that.

 

A glass of whisky had now joined the second cold cup of coffee, the difference being that he was drinking the whisky.

 

And so Giles sat and thought about friends and betrayal, and friends and families.  He wondered if he would ever find someone to live his life with.  Someone to love.  Someone to give him a different sort of family, an ordinary family, in addition to the extraordinary one that he had now.

 

As he sat and sipped his whisky, he felt hope grow that it would be possible.  That it wasn’t too late.  And he felt that Ella would be pleased for him if it happened.  He smiled at that thought, a smile of real pleasure.  What he didn’t see was Zillah, crouched on one of the bookcases, staring at him with Ella-green eyes.  Anyone who understood cat expressions would have said that she, too, was smiling.

 

+++++

 

The next morning, there were two immediate consequences of the trial the previous day.

 

Firstly, being a multi-million pound scam, the case was headline news across the country, including the fact that it had been Rupert Giles, a long-standing friend of the ringleader, who had raised the alarm. 

 

Secondly, a police car arrived shortly after breakfast, disgorging a local bobby and a box file of photographs.  The Art and Antiquities Unit had failed to identify these objects.  Could Giles help with any of them?  If he needed to see any of the objects themselves, said the officer, then that could be arranged.

 

And so Giles and Angel settled themselves down to pore over the photographs, leaving Buffy to her own devices.

 

The third consequence was that Buffy went shopping.  The fourth consequence took longer to become apparent.

 

+++++

 

The day after that, a smartly dressed young woman closed the door on a motor cycle courier, and then set off into the depths of her employer’s house.  She knocked on the study door and went in. 

 

The man behind the desk sat in a wheelchair.  His skin was a papery grey, his eyes hollow, and his mouth set in a thin line.  He wore pyjamas and a dressing gown, something that she knew irked him considerably.  He was too weak, now, for anything else, though.  His voice belied that weakness.

 

“Well, Miss Earnshaw?”

 

Helen Earnshaw handed him the file that the courier had brought.  He almost dropped it, and she hastened to help him.  He was worse than he’d been yesterday.  He shrugged off the help.

 

“I can manage.”

 

“Yes, Mr Gabriel.”

 

He pulled at the contents of the envelope, his hands shaking.

 

“Damn it!  Get this out for me, will you?”

 

Frowning a little, she stepped towards the querulous invalid and pulled the manila folder from the envelope, laying it open on the desk in front of him.  He peered at the three photographs clipped to the inside of the folder.  A young, blonde woman, a pale-skinned, dark-haired young man – a night shot, that one – and an older man, his face starting to line and his hair starting to grey.  Then he turned to the top sheet of the slim sheaf of papers that the file contained.

 

“The type’s too damned small.  You’ll have to read it to me.”

 

She picked up the file from her position on the other side of the desk, turning it round.

 

“Project Paranormal, based in…”

 

“No, no… Sit yourself down.  We’re going to be here for a while.  And ring for a pot of tea.”

 

Silently, she did as he instructed, pulling a green leather chair towards the desk.

 

“Here.  Come and sit by me here.”

 

She did so, and then with the file placed on the desk between them, she again began to read.

 

“Project Paranormal, based in Westbury.  Established a little over two years ago.  Three investigators…”

 

+++++

 

After half an hour, she rang for the tea trolley, again, and then resumed her reading of the file.

 

+++++

 

After an hour, just as she finished, the nurse came with medication, and Miss Earnshaw closed the file.  When the nurse was gone, Mr Gabriel opened up the cover and looked for a long time at the three photographs, as though they could speak to him.  Then he started to dictate a series of letters, his voice becoming frailer, the longer he went on.  But Mr Gabriel had found what he needed, and he was determined.   There was very little time, after all.

 

+++++

 

Giles sat with his back to the desk, his thoughts a long way from the papers strewn behind him.  Angel sat in a shady corner of the study, staring disconsolately at the new phone that Buffy had handed to him.  It was very slim.  It was also very pink.

 

She was perched on the arm of the other comfortable chair, her leg swinging in what Giles could only interpret as an ominous manner.  She was about as relaxed as a hunting shark.

 

“Angel, I need to take your car.”

 

Giles could have sworn that the vampire winced. There were very few things that he got precious about, but his car, his beloved black Porsche, was one of them.  And Buffy could not be said to be a born driver, even by one who loved her to distraction.

 

Buffy saw the wince and took it as a sign of impending surrender.

 

“You know I’m back to doing the Meals on Wheels.  That car of mine simply won’t make the round until it’s fixed.”  She seemed to mentally square her shoulders, and carried on.  “It’s definitely done its dash.  You know that.”

 

“Done its dash?”  Giles managed to pack enough astonishment for both of them into those three words, but Angel quirked an eyebrow anyway, even though he remained silent.  “You mean, there’s something wrong with the dashboard?”

 

Buffy sighed.

 

“Done its dash, run its course, reached a natural conclusion, come to the end of its useful existence.  Had it.”

 

For a moment, neither of the men said anything.  They knew that Buffy was right.  The car had been elderly when it was bought, but, at the time, no one had been sure what the future held, or where in the world it might lead to.

 

It was Angel who broke the silence.

 

“Done its dash?  That doesn’t sound like Buffyspeak.”

 

She smiled, a slow and secretive smile that made him frown a little.

 

“There’s a stand-in lifeguard at the pool over the holiday period.  Luke.  It’s one of the things he says.  I liked it.  I thought it was good.  He’s good too.  To look at, I mean.  All tanned and full of abs and pecs and things…  He says he’s…” She wrinkled her nose.  “Strine.  Wherever that is.”

 

Giles could almost see the growl rising in Angel’s throat, although it never made an appearance.  He heard himself say, “Strine.  Australian, I believe.  Yes, that sounds right,” as he watched Angel struggle with himself and he saw Buffy smirking like the cat that got the cream.  Suddenly, in a moment of rare insight, he understood what was happening.  Buffy was punishing them for not letting her go with them to Carteret’s trial.  He admired her tactics.

 

With what might have been a tiny whimper, Angel caved.  He dug into his pocket and pulled out his car keys, then tossed them to her.  She hopped off the arm of the chair and walked over to give him a peck on the cheek.  Then she took the new, pink phone from his unresisting fingers and popped it into her bag.

 

“Sorry,” she said.  ‘I got confused.  This one’s yours.”

 

She threw him an identical but undeniably black phone, and left the room with a triumphant toss of her hair.  As she shut the door, she called back to them.

 

“Darryl says that after he’s fitted a new exhaust, whatever that is, it needs a new clutch.  That’s why I keep crashing the gears.”

 

Angel winced again.  Seconds later, there was the harsh, grating squeal of a maltreated gearbox, and then the screech of tyres on gravel.  Angel’s shoulders visibly slumped, and Giles offered up a prayer for a few cases that had a nice fat fee attached to them.

 

+++++

 

Miss Earnshaw laid a thick book onto her employer’s desk.  It was a signature book, and its substantial, pink, blotting paper leaves contained all the letters that he had dictated and that she had typed.  Then, heels clicking on the parquet floor, she returned to her office.  Mr Gabriel was with the nurse just now, and he might be some little time.

 

When he hadn’t called for her by lunchtime, she went to his study, to see whether he felt up to something to eat.

 

He had fallen forward onto his desk.  His pen, a black Waterman fountain pen, had blotched a signature, but it wouldn’t matter.  It was still legible.  And he had signed everything. 

 

She put her hand on his wrist, to be sure.  She wasn’t a nurse, but she could tell from the cool flesh that he was beyond all help.  She squeezed his hand, something she would never have done when he was alive, and as she did so, she saw that the top drawer of the desk was open a little.  She pulled gently at it, and saw that lying on top of the other contents was a framed photograph of a young man, his arm around the waist of a pretty blonde.  His son, she thought, although she had never seen him, and there were no other pictures of him in the house.

 

She closed the drawer again, and picked up Anthony Gabriel’s last missives.  Now, his affairs were in the hands of Fate.  She hoped that the goddess was in a kindly mood.

 

+++++

 

Giles and Angel had run quickly through the photographs, and had managed to identify a good handful of artefacts without much difficulty.  Giles had e-mailed those results to the responsible officer, who was relieved to be able to cross something else off the list.  Now they were starting on the difficult pieces.

 

Giles held a photograph of a small terracotta figurine, a naïve rendition of a male carrying something, although that something had been detached from the hand.  It might be a god, a devotee making an offering, or a hunter carrying something home for the pot.  Giles had no idea.  There was an inscription on the base, though, and that inscription had been noted on the back of the photograph.

 

He held it out to Angel.

 

“Any ideas?  I thought Etruscan, perhaps?  Or maybe Phoenician?”

 

Angel looked at it dubiously.

 

“A bit before my time.”

 

He pulled over to him the book showing the comparative alphabets of the Etruscans and the Phoenicians.

 

“It looks similar to both, but with some differences.”

 

He turned the photograph over and squinted at the figurine.

 

“There’s something about this.  I can’t help thinking I’ve seen something like it before.  It wouldn’t be demonic, would it?”

 

“I thought you had a photographic memory?”

 

“Maybe I didn’t think it worth taking a photograph.”

 

With a shake of his head, Giles pocketed the picture.

 

“I promised I’d look in on Alice.  She knows a lot of languages, human and demonic.  I’ll see if she recognises it.  And yes, I won’t forget that web site you found.”

 

He went out through the kitchen and the utility wing, meaning to pick up the latest batch of ointment for Alice, and soon wished that he hadn’t.  Martha was in the utility room, her lips pursed, and an angry glint in her eye.

 

“Mr Giles,” she began, and he knew that he was in serious trouble.  It had been years since she’d called him Mr Giles, and almost never had she called him Mr Giles in quite that tone of voice.  Looking around, he didn’t need to ask what was wrong.

 

He’d mixed up a new batch of ointment for Alice, and he’d done it in here, in the utility room.  He’d already left green stains on the marble worktop in the kitchen, and those had taken three weeks to get out.  He hadn’t dared use the kitchen again.  Martha, as she usually did, had hung the freshly ironed clothes in here, close to the warmth from the boiler, before putting them away.  He could see at least four of his white shirts hanging from the rack, except that they weren’t quite white anymore.

 

The laundry, whatever colour each garment had started out, was now a delicate shade of tangerine.  Threads of orange vapour curled out of the bowl on the wooden shelf.

 

“Damn.  I must have forgotten the Fauchard’s blanching powder.” 

 

This ointment would never do, he thought, especially since it was still smoking.  If he gave Alice orange skin, he’d never hear the end of it.  He was suddenly aware that he hadn’t perhaps said quite the right thing.  Martha’s tightly crossed arms and the angry tapping of her foot made him sure of it.

 

“And what would you suggest that I do with the washing now?”

 

Giles cast around wildly in his mind, as men are wont to do in these situations.  In his panic, he seized on the nearest thought.

 

“Erm… You could try soaking them in Fauchard’s… See whether it will act as a bleach…”

 

Martha made one of those strange, snorting noises that men know so well.  She pointed to a scrap of fabric hanging from the rack.

 

“Do you know what that is?”

 

“Um…”

 

“That’s Miss Buffy’s sundress.”

 

Miss Buffy.  Dear Lord, he was in such trouble.  Martha hadn’t called Buffy Miss for positively years, either.  And this scrap was Buffy’s… Two angry women…  Martha hadn’t finished, though.

 

“The brand new sundress that Angel sent all the way to California for, to cheer her up.  She’s only had it on the once.”

 

His goose was well and truly cooked.  Buffy hadn’t liked any of the sundresses in the local shops, and Angel had, indeed, sent to Los Angeles for this.  Mail order was a wonderful thing.  Giles remembered that it had been a present for their anniversary.  Quite which anniversary, he wasn’t sure, because they seemed to mark so many, but he thought that perhaps it was right for them, to remember the bad as well as the good.  Even worse, though, he remembered how much Angel had liked seeing Buffy in the sundress, even if the sun had gone down before she’d worn it for him, one warm evening in the spring heatwave.

 

Two angry women and an angry vampire.  He decided to make himself scarce for a bit.  But Martha hadn’t finished.  When much moved, she sometimes reverted to the language of her early beliefs, and she did so now.

 

And I’ve had to buy a whole new set of mixing bowls.  There’s no telling what ungodly things would have happened if I’d used the ones that have had those nasty, heathenish chemicals in.  You left me a green one and one stained with that dirty blue colour, and now an orange one, not to mention that devil’s stain on the worktop.”

 

Her matronly bosom heaved.

 

“And if you think you’re using that stuff on Alice, you’ve got another think coming.  That poor soul has enough to trouble her without being a tangerine.  I don’t know what the world’s coming to, I swear.  There are these heathen E numbers in everything you eat nowadays, no matter how hard you try to avoid them, and pesticides and hormones, and the Good Lord knows whatever else.  No wonder she’s getting her scales back.  I’m surprised all of us haven’t got scales.”

 

Giles looked at her in astonishment, the tangerine shirts and sundress forgotten.

 

“Hormones… Pesticides… E numbers…  Martha!  Thank you!  I think you might be right.  It’s worth a try, anyway,” he added, as he almost ran out into the courtyard.  “Thank you!”

 

He left Martha fulminating.

 

+++++

 

When he reached Alice’s little house, he saw that John had fitted the latest piece of technology for her.  Over her door, a discreet little camera enabled her to see who her visitors were, before opening the door to them, giving her warning of when she needed to cover up.  She had no need of that with him, though, and she let him in gladly.

 

He walked into the chintzy interior and, not for the first time, wondered whether this was her preferred style of furnishing or another piece of camouflage, a natural milieu for an elderly, retired schoolteacher.

 

When they had sat down to a pot of tea – ordinary Indian tea – and exchanged pleasantries, Giles asked something that had interested him, because he’d wondered about Alice’s social life.

 

“Alice, do you have any idea how many Silarri there are?”

 

She picked up one of Martha’s ginger snaps and bit into it, crunching the mouthful into crumbs before answering.

 

“In the world?  Not many.”

 

“In this country?”

 

“I don’t know.  Perhaps a dozen.  Or less.”

 

“But you’ve talked to them?  You know them, know where they are?”

 

She looked shocked.

 

“No, oh no, never.  I… When I found the ones that talk on the Internet, I didn’t let them know I was reading what they said.”

 

Giles chewed on that as he chewed on his own biscuit.

 

“Alice, when did you last see a Silarri?”

 

He thought she wouldn’t answer, but eventually she did.

 

“Not since I was fifteen, when my mother died.  We… we were estranged from my father… Isolated in North Africa…”

 

A hundred and ninety years, give or take, without seeing anyone of her own kind.  Giles was saddened.  Then a thought struck him.

 

“You’ve looked for others?”

 

She nodded.  “Of course.  Over many years.”

 

“Would you recognise them if you saw them?”

 

Her expression was scornful, but he persisted.

 

“I mean, they’d be camouflaged to look like something else, wouldn’t they?  A human, or another demon.”  He looked around for the cats.  Did mass matter, when it came to camouflage?  “Would you really know?  Would they recognise you as one of them?  Or have you met them, and never known?”

 

“Rupert, if you met a strange man in a monkey suit, would you know whether it was a man or a monkey under the fur?”

 

Abashed, he stayed silent.

 

“Why are you asking?”

 

He fumbled through the thoughts in his head.

 

“I was… well, I was wondering whether others are having the same problem as you, and whether they’ve found a solution, for one thing.  We could ask them, instead of trying to reinvent the wheel.”

 

“I… I don’t know.  And I wouldn’t like to start asking until I’m surer that these are people I want to talk to, and not people I’d need to hide from.”

 

She would say no more on that, but he understood her reserve.  Sometimes, finding things could be dangerous.

 

“Alice, are you able to reset your disguise?”

 

“Yes, I believe so.  But it’s a difficult process and… well… I’m not entirely sure how to do it.  It’s the sort of thing we learn from our parents when we reach a certain age, but I never had the chance…”

 

He nodded, sympathetically.

 

“Perhaps that’s something we can work on.  Meanwhile, I’m wondering whether the proliferation of hormones and other chemicals in food has had a deleterious effect on your camouflage.  Remember you said that your washing powder was irritating your scales?  Why not the rest of what you use, or what you eat?  All the modern day additives, that you wouldn’t have had, decades ago?”

 

“Do you think that might be it?”  She was almost breathless with excitement.

 

“It’s worth a go, don’t you think?  There’s an organic box scheme working around here, and it isn’t just vegetables and fruit and meat.  They have all sorts of groceries.  Why don’t you give it a try?  You can sign up online, and then get a weekly delivery.  We’ll carry on picking up anything else for you, if you need us to, but shall we see if this works?”

 

And so it was agreed.  Giles stood to go, but remembered he had another errand, and pulled the photograph from his pocket.

 

“Do you recognise that alphabet?”

 

She scrutinised it for a moment or two.

 

“Yes.  It’s a demonic script.   Kilvazen.  They mainly live in the uppermost slopes of the Atlas Mountains.  Roughly translated – very roughly, you understand – it says ‘Made by the pupils of the Ganstat Primary School for the 1976 Congregation.’  It’s a good piece of work for young children, isn’t it?”

 

Giles let out a crack of laughter.

 

“I think maybe I won’t divulge that to the investigators.  I’ll put it down as a bastardised Phoenician script, artefact unknown.  If they ever find an owner for it, they can squabble about it for a few decades.”

 

At the door, he turned back to her.

 

“You know, I’m sure the Art and Antiquities Unit would pay a further consultancy fee for anything we need to refer to you.  And Angel came across a website yesterday that was advertising for online translators for Eastern European languages.  There was good money involved.  I said I’d ask you if he should send you the address…”

 

She stood on tiptoe to give him a peck on the cheek.

 

“Thank you, Rupert.  You’re very kind.  I should very much appreciate that.”

 

As he opened the door, a black and white cat, Poppy, he thought, trotted in, carrying a limp mouse as her contribution to her mistress’s larder.

 

He left in a high good humour, which wasn’t dampened to find that his orange ointment had disappeared, and so had all the orange washing.  About an hour later, Martha appeared with a bundle of half-dried laundry.  She’d taken it to the anonymity of a laundrette in Trowbridge.  All she would say was that she wasn’t risking putting it through the machine at Summerdown House.  Giles never asked whether Fauchard’s blanching powder had been involved, or whether simple soap and water had sufficed.

 

Or, indeed, whether there had been a rash of orange laundry at the Main Street Laundrette in Trowbridge.

 

+++++

 

The next morning brought them the fourth consequence of the Carteret trial, in the form of a letter.  Giles had been tiptoeing gently around his friends and colleagues, but Martha seemed to have kept the matter of the sundress to herself.  Giles made a mental note to send her some flowers.  She loved flowers.

 

He was on his second cup of coffee of the morning, and his fifth photograph for identification, when he heard the crunch of wheels on gravel and the rat-tat of the doorknocker.  The postman held out a bundle of letters, and then offered Giles his clipboard.

 

“There’s one here that needs signing for, Mr Giles.”

 

Signature complete, the postman hopped into his van, whistling, and Giles turned back into the house, chewing his lip.

 

Buffy had gone to the flat over the garage, muttering something about ‘housework’, but Angel remained in the breakfast room, poring over photographs.  Giles had shared the joke about the pseudo-Phoenician figurine.  The handful of post contained the usual assortment of advertising flyers, from supermarket coupons and leaflets for vertical blinds, to offers for weatherproofing treatments on the exterior walls to bring them to show-house standards, only twenty pounds a square metre.  All those went into the recycling bin. 

 

Then there were monthly statements from the power companies, the parish magazine – Giles was certain that Dave the postman wasn’t supposed to distribute items like this, but he always did, together with the newspaper round when any of the newspaper boys were ill and, once, the milk, when the milk float had overturned on ice – and a couple of letters from cranks wanting to know whether Project Paranormal could give them information on alien visitations and alien abductions, respectively.

 

A pink envelope with a little-girl type, star-spangled unicorn in one corner contained a request from a student to spend her summer vacation helping out, and learning about their work.  A post card from Tenerife assured that the writer was ‘having a good time and wish you were here’.  Giles blushed a little when he realised that it was addressed to Buffy, and was from Kevin, her one-time admirer.  Silently, he handed it over to Angel, and Angel, just as silently, accepted it.

 

And then there was the registered envelope, left until last.  It was a stiff, white business envelope.  Giles tore it open.  It contained a single sheet of paper.

 

“It’s from a firm of lawyers called Broadribb and Shuster.  They have a proposal for us, a case they want us to investigate on behalf of a client.  They want us to meet them in their London offices tomorrow morning.  All three of us.”

 

“Let’s get hotel rooms, and tell them to come there, then.”

 

Angel’s suggestion was a good one, and so that’s what they did.

 

+++++

 

Mr Shuster did all the talking, while Mr Broadribb leaned back in his chair, his hands folded over his ample paunch, and his eyes half closed as he listened.  They were lawyers of the old school, elderly men in black jackets and waistcoats, with grey, striped trousers.  A thick albert in richly-coloured old gold looped over Mr Broadribb’s expansive midriff, presumably attached to a watch in his waistcoat pocket.

 

They were in one of the Russell Square hotel’s private meeting rooms, a tea tray on the table in front of them.  Sheer net curtains hung at each window, sufficient protection for Angel, on this north facing side of the building.

 

“Our client,” began Mr Shuster, “instructed us to retain your services…”

 

“Might I ask who your client is?” asked Giles, politely, or as politely as an interruption could be.

 

“Not unless you accept the commission, Mr Giles.  If you do accept, then you will be given whatever information we have.”

 

Giles nodded for Mr Shuster to continue.  This wasn’t uncommon practice for a nervy client.

 

“Our client’s son, Michael, disappeared three days before his twenty first birthday.  At the same time, a young woman, Felicity Wareham, was murdered, with some violence, I’m afraid.  She had been friends with another young man, and that had caused difficulties with Michael.  The common supposition at the time was that Michael murdered her in a jealous rage, and then ran away and assumed another identity.”

 

Giles had heard enough.

 

“Mr Broadribb, Mr Shuster, I’m sure we all hope that your client can find his son and these two other young unfortunates, but this is a matter for the police, I’m afraid.  I’m sorry.  We simply don’t take cases of this nature.  I’m sure the police will do everything they can.”

 

Mr Broadribb didn’t move, but Mr Shuster held up his hand as Giles made to rise from his chair.

 

“A moment.  Please.  We understand very well what sort of cases you investigate.  Before giving us his instructions, our client’s research was thorough.  Very thorough.  The police did investigate this, and they, too, were very thorough.  All this happened ten years ago.  The police have newer cases, now, and no more interest in this one.  And our client was very impressed by your actions in the Carteret case.  He thought you were just the team to find the answers, if anyone could.”

 

“It still isn’t our sort of case.  Please present our apologies to him.  We would help if we could…”

 

This time it was Mr Shuster who interrupted Giles.

 

“Please.  Mr Giles…” He turned to look at Mr Broadribb, who gave an almost imperceptible nod of his head.  “Perhaps I should mention the matter of the fee.  Simply for accepting the commission, even if you fail to find an answer, our client has authorised a fee of fifty thousand pounds.  Plus expenses.”

 

+++++

 

They waited at the hotel until after sunset, and when they made their way home, they took a thick folder with them.  They had photographs, they had newspaper reports and, somehow, they had copies of confidential police statements and reports.  Unfortunately, they had nothing that would seem to take them any further forward than the police investigation.

 

The one thing they did have was an agreement to go down to their client’s house.  They wouldn’t be seeing Mr Gabriel, since Mr Gabriel, they were told, had been dead for three days, but something had been arranged, at his instructions, to give them a starting point.

 

If they couldn’t find the answer within a month, they could consider themselves free of further obligation.

 

The size of the fee had stunned them all.  Giles had been rendered speechless.  Angel could only gasp.  Buffy had converted the amount into dollars in her head, and then, simple as it was, in rough terms, had done the sum again to make sure she’d got it right.

 

“We’ll have to tell the Art and Antiquities Unit that they’ll have to wait for any more information on those artefacts,” said Giles as he negotiated traffic out towards the M4.  That, too, was proving to be a nice little earner, although just peanuts compared to what they had been promised.

 

“Don’t see why,” Angel replied, frowning.  “We can take everything down to Merrivale Hall.  I presume they have electricity, and possibly even a phone line.”

 

Buffy gave a tiny snort of amusement.  Neither of the men had been terribly impressed at the thought of a visit to Dartmoor.

 

She’d told Giles that it would be nice, lots of peace and quiet, and spectacular scenery with room to sunbathe.  Giles had given a wry laugh, and then said, ‘Dartmoor!  Hah!  Even the residents say that they have nine months of winter and three months of bad weather.’  She’d decided there and then to pack all the warm clothes that she possessed.

 

+++++

 

When they reached Merrivale Hall, on western Dartmoor, it was close to dawn.  Driving around the tiny, barely signposted lanes that crisscrossed the edge of the Moor was bad enough, and doing it in the dark was worse.  Doing it in a night fog was almost impossible.  They’d been lost more than they’d been found, but now they’d reached their destination.

 

As the car crunched onto the gravelled forecourt, Buffy peered out at the dark bulk of the house, its half-seen features made more secret by the swirling mists.  A few lighted windows attracted the eye, and made it even harder to discern the edges of the building.

 

They were expected.  The door was opened for them by a middle-aged woman in a black dress.  Not the black dress and white apron of the archetypal servant, but the black dress of mourning, a smart sheath that showed the woman’s figure to advantage.  She wore a simple row of pearls with it.

 

“Mr Giles?  Please.  Come in.  Miss Summers, let Hugh take your suitcase.  And you, Mr… Angel.  Please come in out of the weather.  I’m Miranda Lamerton, Mr Gabriel’s housekeeper.”

 

She took them through the house, with Hugh bringing up the rear.

 

“I’ve put you in the North Wing.  We’re expecting some other guests, but you will have this wing to yourselves.  You, Mr Giles, are here,” and she opened a door onto a bright and comfortable room.  “Miss Summers, you are here,” and a door on the other side of the corridor was opened to show a very feminine room, with a four-poster bed draped in what seemed to be acres of lace and gauze.

 

“And you, Mr Angel, are here.”  She’d reached the end of the corridor, and opened a door onto the room that occupied the northern end of the wing.  The rich furnishings included another four-poster bed, this time with heavy tapestry curtains and a tester.

 

“These rooms form a complete suite, and there are interconnecting doors.  If they aren’t suitable, please tell me.  There are plenty more to choose from.”

 

She smiled at them.

 

“You must be tired.  If you want breakfast, it can be served now, or we can wait until later, if you prefer to rest.”

 

They did prefer to snatch a few hours sleep, and so breakfast waited until late in the morning.  As Hugh closed the door on them and the last of their bags, Angel looked at Giles, quizzically.

 

“Mr Gabriel?”

 

They’d not found anything significant about the address they’d been given, and there had been no time for in-depth research.  This was the first time they’d heard the name of their client.

 

“Anthony Gabriel,” replied Giles, his voice slightly awed.  “Self-made billionaire, supporter of charities up and down the country.  I should have recognised the story that Broadribb and Shuster gave us, but I was in somewhere called Sunnydale, as I recall, and clearly didn’t pay enough attention to the society pages.”

 

Buffy looked up from her unpacking.  “We aren’t going to get bilked on the fees, then?  He can afford it, even though he’s dead?”

 

“I think the answer to that must be a yes, Buffy.  Yes, the estate can afford it.”  Giles looked around the frothy room.  “If we leave you in here, we might never find you again.”

 

“Hah!  For once in my adulthood, I’ve got a nice girlie room.  I’m going to enjoy this.”  She opened a door.  “And a nice girlie bathroom.  Out you go, boys.  This girl is going to wallow in froth and frills and foam.”

 

The men beat a hasty retreat, although not before Angel made sure that the door between Buffy’s room and his was unlocked.

 

+++++

 

In the breakfast room, they were greeted not by the housekeeper but by Edwards, the butler.  Buffy took one look at the mist-shrouded moor and helped herself to sausage, egg, bacon and fried bread.  As she ate it, though, she could almost feel it go to her hips.

 

Angel watched her with a small smile on his face as he sipped his coffee.  He’d already breakfasted.

 

Miranda Lamerton came to see them as they finished.  Having assured herself of their comfort, she told them of the plans for the day.

 

“We’ll have some more guests arriving, and it’s been arranged that everyone should gather in the library at five o’clock,” she said.  “Dinner will be served at five thirty.  In the meantime, feel free to examine whatever you like.  If you need assistance, you just have to ring for me or for Edwards.  Hugh can run any errands you need.”

 

She glanced out of the window.

 

“The mist will be gone within an hour.  You can see it’s already getting a pearly glow to it.  If you want reading material, there’s the library.  We’ve put papers into the bureau for you.”  She held out a key, and Angel took it.

 

And so, after a tour of the house, Angel settled himself into the library, reading more newspaper accounts of the disappearance of Michael Gabriel and Felicity Wareham, of the finding of the girl’s badly beaten body, and of the funeral.  Then there were the reports of the various private investigators that Gabriel had hired, none of whom had found the missing son.  There were family photographs and family archives – a very slender file, that one.  And there were tourist information leaflets and maps for the surrounding areas.

 

Meanwhile, Giles took Buffy into Tavistock.  The housekeeper was right.  By the time they reached the town, the mist had blown away, leaving a bright and sunny day.  Nevertheless, the wind seemed to have a chill to it, and Buffy pulled her jacket tighter around her when they got out of the car.  The town was built of grey granite, and even on this summer’s day, seemed to be grimly huddled against the worst that the moor might throw at it. 

 

The town had looked pretty, when they’d first seen it as they came down off the moor, all summer gardens and hanging baskets, nestled into a river valley.  The River Tavy, Giles had said, for which Tavistock got its name.  It was a town with a lot of history, he’d said, but then, didn’t everywhere in this country have a lot of history?  There was absolutely no getting away from it.  Its history, dragging its ghosts and demons with it.

 

And now that they were in the town, she could see how, despite its summer dress, it was hunched in on itself, in its dour grey armour.  Waiting.

 

Giles had come to the local museum in Court Gate.  As they got out of the car, he pointed to an undeniably old gateway, an arch, with rooms over the top and on either side, and with the sort of crenellations that normally went with a castle.

 

“That’s where the museum is, Buffy.  That’s the surviving gateway into the courtyard of Tavistock Abbey.  The rest of it is mainly long gone, of course…  Founded by Earl Orgar in 961, as I recall, as a result of a tutelary dream…  He had a rather notorious daughter who went around killing people.  Now, what was her name… Aelfritha, I think.  The Abbey came first, and then the town.”

 

“You can remember the date, but not the name?”

 

Giles might almost have blushed.  “I had a quick glance through one of the tourist leaflets about Tavistock.  It only referred to her as ‘a notorious daughter’.  And no wisecracks about my fading memory cells, thank you.”

 

“Well, at least we haven’t got a thousand year old notorious devil-daughter to deal with!  Just a human mystery.  Right.  The Museum.”

 

Buffy looked at the adjoining buildings, all in the same sort of architecture, taken from the Abbey.  The stone had probably been robbed from the Abbey, too.

 

“Oh, good,” she said.  “Handy for the Town Hall, the Guild Hall and, oh yes, the Police Station.  At least we know where they are, if we need them.”

 

Giles stared at her over his glasses.

 

“We’ll probably do better without the police, do you think?”

 

Grinning, she followed him up the stairs and into the Museum.

 

There was no charge for entry, but she saw Giles put a few pound coins into the donation box.  The Museum itself was an eclectic mix of memorabilia from the different periods of the town’s existence.  It was also very small, and manned by a single volunteer.

 

But Giles hadn’t come to look at the exhibits.  He’d come to find information, and the volunteer was the best starting point.  He took off his glasses, and walked over to where the man sat.

 

“I’d like to talk to someone who knows about family history around here.”  Newspaper clippings and police reports were one thing.  Personal knowledge was another, and possibly far more useful.

 

He didn’t understand the answer, delivered as it was in the rich, rolling accents of Devon.

 

“I’m sorry, could you repeat that?”  He put his glasses back on, the better to hear the answer.  All he caught was ‘Old May’.

 

“Old May, did you say?  Is that here?”

 

The volunteer sighed, and adopted the normal English approach to language barriers.  Say it slowly enough and loudly enough, and eventually the foreigners will understand.  His baritone voice echoed throughout the building.  Giles nodded in acknowledgement, and hustled Buffy out into the sunshine.

 

“So what did he say?”

 

“Um.  I gathered we need to talk to someone called Old May who will be here tomorrow.  I think.”

 

“Giles!  This is one of your countrymen.  Don’t tell me you need a translator.”

 

“Keep that up, and I won’t offer to buy you a double latte and whatever sticky bun you fancy in that nice tea room over there.”

 

Buffy motioned zipping her lips, and they went off to find some refreshment.

 

+++++

 

They stayed in their suite of rooms until just before five o’clock.  From Buffy’s sitting room, they could watch the approach to the house, and so they waited there.  A number of cars had arrived in the last fifteen minutes, and at last they judged it time to go back to the library.  Angel led the way.

 

He’d left the library just after lunchtime, having refused the offer of something to eat, and since then the room had been quietly transformed.  Now, a desk stood at one end, and chairs had been laid out in neat rows in front of it.  Already, most of them were occupied.  As usual in such circumstances, those still vacant were in the front row.

 

“Dash it,” Giles muttered.  “That means we won’t be able to watch the other people.”

 

“Don’t worry, Giles, I’ll do the watching,” Angel replied, and led off to three chairs at the end of the front row.  Exercising old-fashioned courtesy, he helped Giles and Buffy be seated, and in so doing, managed to turn their chairs a little, into an arc, and to space them away from the rest of the row.  His own chair he positioned closer to the wood-panelled wall, at the end of the short arc, so that it gave him a good sideways view of all those who would otherwise have been behind him.  As it transpired, he needn’t have bothered. The meeting was short and succinct, and the reactions obvious.

 

Mr Broadribb and Mr Shuster entered the room, accompanied by the housekeeper, Miranda Lamerton, the butler, Edwards, and a smartly dressed young woman whom they hadn’t seen before.  The two solicitors seated themselves behind the desk, and Mr Shuster opened a folder, which he placed on the desktop between them.  It was Mr Broadribb who spoke, and he did so with no preamble.

 

“It is unusual to have a reading of the will in this day and age, but we are here to follow Mr Gabriel’s instructions exactly.  Mr Gabriel wished it to be known that he has asked a team of investigators to make one last effort to establish the truth about his son, Michael, and to find out whether Michael still lives…”

 

Here, Mr Broadribb was interrupted by gasps from his audience, and by a man’s voice, saying, ‘No!’  The petulant voice was soothed into silence, and the lawyer’s deep baritone continued to deliver his message.

 

“Mr Giles, and his associates, Miss Summers and Mr Angel, have agreed to undertake the commission for a period not exceeding one month.  Therefore, the reading of the will cannot take place today, but will be deferred until the end of their investigation.”

 

At that, a man of about thirty stood up to remonstrate, his flushed face a picture of outrage, but Mr Broadribb continued.

 

“All of you here will in some way be beneficiaries, together with a number of people and organisations who are not represented, and you are asked to reconvene at a date to be notified.  In the meantime, some of you are invited to stay for dinner and, for everyone else, a buffet has been prepared, an extension of the funeral meats, if you like.  Mr Gabriel asks that you co-operate with his investigators in every way that you can.  Whether it be…” And here, Mr Broadribb looked down at the file and quoted from what he saw there, “Whether it be from long-standing friendship, or long-standing enmity, it matters not, since either may bear fruit for you.”

 

He looked then at the man who had risen to his feet.

 

“And for you, Mr Deverill, Mr Gabriel was very clear.  He instructed us to tell you that he would very much appreciate your co-operation in this final attempt to get at the truth of the past.  This house is entailed, and he had no wish to break the entail.  Therefore, rightfully, the house passes to you on his death, provided that Michael’s body is found, or the necessary steps are completed to have him declared dead.  However, if you hinder the investigation in any way, or…” Mr Broadribb consulted his folder again.  “Or move so much as a mantelpiece ornament during the lifetime of the investigation, then you can whistle for anything other than the house.  The remainder of Mr Gabriel’s estate will, in that event, be given to the Cat’s Home.”

 

With that, Mr Shuster gathered up the folder, and the two men made their way out, leaving a startled audience behind them.

 

+++++

 

Angel worked his way around the room in which the buffet had been laid out, doing something that always came hard to him – striking up a conversation with perfectly ordinary strangers.

 

In the aftermath of Mr Gabriel’s post-mortem bombshell, the unknown woman with the housekeeper and the butler had walked over to them.  Long legs and a stunning figure beneath a long-skirted black business suit, and a glimpse of shapely ankles, had definitely caught Giles’ attention.  She’d introduced herself as Helen Earnshaw, Mr Gabriel’s private secretary and invited them to follow her to the dining room. 

 

Angel had demurred, not wanting to face a very public display of playing with his food, and not in the way he really enjoyed.  He would first join the buffet group, he said.  Make their acquaintance, just in case he heard anything of interest.  Miss Earnshaw assured him that any dietary preferences could be met, if he was worried about that.  Angel was sure that would be the case, and he would join them in a little while, if that wouldn’t be considered rude?

 

Miss Earnshaw said that they were aware that Angel drank a lot of tomato soup, and they had a good supply of that, made by their first rate cook from the best organic Italian plum tomatoes.  Mr Gabriel’s research had been thorough.  She’d blushed a little as she said it, and her three auditors fervently hoped that Mr Gabriel’s research hadn’t been as thorough as he’d thought.

 

Buffy filled the silence.  She would offer Angel’s apologies, and what a good idea it was to talk to the other people.  That left Miss Earnshaw with nothing more to say.  And so here was Angel, with what he had thought might be the lesser of two evils, thinking now that maybe he’d got the evils the wrong way round.

 

The gathering seemed to contain an inordinate ratio of elderly women.  If there was one thing that elderly women were good for, it was gossip.  And so he walked the shadiest parts of the room, sipping a glass of wine and talking to elderly women.  And listening.

 

“Such a lovely girl that Felicity Wareham.  So pretty…”

 

“Anthony Gabriel never got over his son’s disappearance…”

 

“They never got on, though, Anthony and Michael.  The son could never do right for the father…”

 

“You’d never have thought a nice boy like that had it in him, to beat someone to death like that…”

 

“Fancy us being remembered in his will.  And such lovely little sandwiches…”

 

“Those two spinsters have never been the same, have they?  Doted on her far too much.  Kept her too close.”

 

“Away from here, never let them out of your sight, not for a minute, you hear?”

 

“Whatever happened to that other boy?  Stuart?  Stanley?  Something like that.  It was at the same time, wasn’t it?”

 

“They thought Michael killed him, too…”

 

“He doesn’t look like an investigator, does he?  What does he think he can get from talking to a half senile old woman like Gracie Talbot?”

 

“And that little tick Deverill to inherit!  He’ll soon have frittered all that money away.”

 

“As long as he fritters it around Devon, I shan’t care…”

 

“If you ask me, Michael Gabriel ran away from what he’d done and fell into one of the bogs.  Thought he knew the moor, he did, but it’ll always catch you out…”

 

“Fathers and sons, that’s what was at the bottom of it all.  Fathers and sons…”

 

“Canapé, sir?”

 

+++++

 

When Angel arrived at the dining room, his head was full of small talk and gossip, some of it harmless, some of it as vicious as sharp tongues could make it.  It was all driven to the back of his mind, though, as the door was opened for him. 

 

About a dozen people sat around a mahogany table, with the wood gleaming in the soft lamplight. The scene looked agreeable enough.  Giles looked relaxed, Buffy interested in what was going on around her.  There was something, though.  There was something in that room that spoke to him in words that had no voice, something that pulled at the demon.

 

Framed for a moment in the doorway, he extended all his senses into the air around him.  Another vampire?  No.  He would have known.  He could always tell.  A demon of some kind?  No, there was neither scent nor feel of anything other than humans, apart from himself and the Slayer, although he couldn’t scent himself, of course.

 

Angel could read them both like a book, though, after all this time.  There was nothing disturbing Buffy, but Giles… Ah, Giles.  The man was wound up, somewhere beneath that stiff upper lip British façade.  As he walked towards his seat, Angel re-examined what was tugging at him, stirring up the demon in his heart.  It wasn’t sex.  The vampire was always ready for that, always aware of the pheromones of desire.  And then he looked deeper.  The attraction wasn’t only for the demon.  It was also for whatever humanity he possessed.

 

It was with a small frown of puzzlement that he took his seat.

 

They’d been split up.  The woman that he recognised as Helen Earnshaw sat at the head of the table, hostess for the evening, with Giles at the foot.

 

“I hope you’ve had a profitable time, Mr Angel,” she said, as he went to his place halfway down the table, opposite Buffy.

 

“It’s Angel.  Just Angel.”

 

It was her turn now to wear a puzzled frown, but her brow cleared quickly, and she nodded.  He turned to his chair, to find a small brown teddy bear sitting in it, with an uneaten plate of dessert on the table in front of him.

 

“Um…”

 

“Until you came, we were thirteen at table,” said Helen Earnshaw, as a dark-coated waiter lifted away both bear and dessert.  “We keep Algernon handy for these occasions.”

 

Thirteen at table.  He glanced over to Buffy, who wore an exasperated look.  It seemed that the superstition had been explained to her.  He looked back at Helen.

 

“We wouldn’t want the first person who leaves the table to die an early and unnatural death, no,” he said, mildly, reflecting that one already dead person at table was enough.  But, if Anthony Gabriel had invited this gathering because he believed one of them to be the killer, it might just be as good a way as any of determining guilt.  Struck by the fell hand of superstition.  That would be a result.

 

“Let me introduce you to our other guests,” she said.  “Mr Whitchurch, the vicar of our parish, and Mrs Whitchurch.”  An elderly, portly man in a clerical collar and his stick-thin wife nodded gravely to him.

 

“Miss Grace Chillaton-Kelly and Miss Hope Chillaton-Kelly.”  Two middle-aged women on the other side of the table simpered at the handsome new arrival, in a maiden aunt sort of way.

 

“Miss Jane Buckland.”  A bird-like Miss Buckland stared at him, and then gave a thin smile.

 

“Mr Charles Eworthy.”  A grey-haired man with a broad, florid face nodded briefly.

 

“Mr John Deverill and Miss Georgina Kaye.”  Miss Kaye wore a hoop of diamonds on her left ring finger, and so Angel deduced that she might soon expect to be Mrs John Deverill.  Both of them gave him the slightest of frosty nods.

 

“And Lady Elfrieda Bridestowe and Sir Edgar Bridestowe.”  There were no nods from these two.  Sir Edgar murmured a polite greeting, but Lady Elfrieda, sitting next to Giles, simply stared at Angel.  Then, as though she had seen enough, she turned and said something to her husband, in a low voice.  Something stirred in Angel’s subconscious, unrecognised, but with claws outstretched.  He caught movement from the corner of his eye, and turned sharply to find a silent waiter placing a bowl of red soup in front of him.

 

Shaken, because people simply didn’t steal up and catch a vampire unawares, he lifted the spoon.  He already knew he didn’t have to worry about the soup.  His vampire senses told him it was tomato, even though, to his vampire taste buds, what little flavour it had was more appropriate to the compost heap than to the dinner table.

 

As he spooned down the soup, everyone else played with their desserts, and the snippets of gossip that he had heard chased themselves through his head.  He refused anything further, saying that he’d eaten at the buffet. Over coffee, he turned his attention back to the over-abundance of pheromones in the room.

 

It wasn’t sex.  He’d known that as soon as whatever it was had stirred in his blood.  No, not sex – at least, not the thing that was rustling around in some of his deepest hungers, although he wasn’t too sure about Giles.  Stop being mealy-mouthed, he chastised himself.  He was sure about Giles.  The woman, Elfrieda, had her claws in him.  He didn’t need the pheromones to be clear about that, although he didn’t think Giles knew it yet.

 

She was radiating nervous energy, even seated.  She was full of small gestures, which carried as much emphasis as though they had been large and extravagant, and made on the stage.  The movement of her fingers, to accentuate what she said, the way she used her body to reflect her every mood.  She was holding court, and accustomed to doing so.  Everyone else paid attention.

 

No, not sex.  He’d no idea what it was that coiled and slithered around his psyche, enticing him to do…what?  No idea at all.  He sipped the black coffee, and tried to concentrate, but couldn’t.

 

The dinner party broke up soon after.  John Deverill was the first to leave, and Angel wondered whether the superstition would count a vampire at table as a man or as a teddy bear, or whether it wouldn’t count a vampire at all.  They went back to their rooms to discuss what they had learned.

 

In his own room, Angel poured himself some blood, and then went to join the others in Buffy’s sitting room of chintz and frilly lace.  They were comparing notes as he came in.

 

“I don’t understand what Gabriel was doing, arranging this party,” Buffy grumbled.  “None of the people here looked like killers.  Why were they invited?”

 

Giles scratched his ear.

 

“Either Gabriel thought that one of them was the killer, or he thought that one or more of them could lead us to the killer.  He just didn’t know which.  I’m sure of it.  Although, I’m less sure about why he thought that we could solve this.  If anyone could exonerate his son, surely the police would have done that?  Or one of the private investigators he hired?  The very good private investigators?”

 

Buffy shook her head as Angel took a seat.

 

“No,” she said.  “We’re more about hacking and slashing and chopping heads off.”

 

Angel put his glass down on a small table.

 

“He asked us because of the Carteret case.”  His voice was strong with certainty.  “Because you, Giles, pursued a lifelong friend to the courtroom itself.  He didn’t think that his son would be exonerated.  He might have hoped it, but he didn’t expect it.  Because he thought that his son was guilty.  He wanted justice for the dead girl, and he didn’t do anything about it until he knew that he wouldn’t be alive to see the result.  You’re his Nemesis, Giles.  His Avenger.”

 

Giles grunted noncommittally.  Eventually, he replied, “Well, if I am, we all are.  But I’m certain you’re wrong, Angel.  He must surely have had faith in his son?”

 

Angel was silent, but his thoughts weren’t.  No, he heard in his mind.  No, Gabriel had lost faith.  He thought he knew his son for what he truly was.  It was a father and son thing.

 

+++++

 

They decided to divide the dinner guests up between them.  The next morning, Giles and Buffy went into Tavistock.  Giles went to see Old May, at the Museum, while Buffy went to see the sisters Chillaton-Kelly.  Angel would talk to the staff in Merrivale House.

 

Standing outside the Museum, Giles gave a small shudder as he remembered the incomprehensible Stentor of the day before.  He squared his shoulders and walked in.  There was no one immediately obvious, and so he glanced at the exhibits in this room.  There were a few statues and busts of comparatively recent date, a small show of Guiding and Scouting, with old uniforms, a collection of items from tin mining and smelting, an exhibit about Tavistock Abbey, and other, very local, memorabilia.  He was about to walk through to the second room when a woman walked out of the dimness and almost bumped into him.

 

She was no more than thirty, and all that Giles saw was pale skin, a cascade of mahogany-coloured hair, and cat-green eyes.  He felt his hand rise involuntarily towards her, before he recovered himself.  This wasn’t Ella.

 

She wasn’t Old May, either.  She was far too young and beautiful for that.

 

“I b..b..beg your pardon,” he stuttered.

 

“Why?  Because I almost ran you down?”  She laughed as she said it, her voice low and musical, full of painful remembrance for him.  He saw that she carried a wooden display case in both arms.  It was full of policemen’s truncheons from days gone by.

 

“Here, let me take that…”

 

He reached for the case.

 

“I can manage.”

 

“I’m sure you can, but let me.”

 

Laughing again, she relinquished her burden to him.  When he’d placed it to her exacting requirements, he introduced himself.

 

“I’m Rupert Giles.  I, erm, I understood that I should speak to…” and he hesitated, “erm, Old… Old May.  Is she here today?”

 

The woman looked at him in open-mouthed astonishment, and then her musical laughter rang out again.

 

“Oh, Stanley told me that there was a damn fool emmet who couldn’t understand a word he said.  He’s from Cornwall, you understand, from just across the Tamar.”

 

“Emmet?”

 

It was Giles’ turn to gape a little.

 

“Ant.  It’s what the Cornish call the tourists – they’re an irritating nuisance….”

 

“Yes, yes, I know what it means.  But emmet…?”  The look he cast her was plaintive.  “Besides, we aren’t tourists.  We’re investigators, here at the request of Anthony Gabriel.”

 

“That would sound like a tourist to Stanley.  It’s me you’re looking for.  I’m Carol.  Carol Oldmay.”

 

From somewhere deep in his researcher’s reflexes, Giles found the necessary words.

 

“Oh, good.  You’re just the person to help us.  I gather you specialise in family history.  I wondered what you knew about the Gabriel family?”

 

+++++

 

Buffy knocked on the door of an imposing Georgian-style house on the outskirts of the town.  She had been told that she would be expected, but she’d believe it when the door opened.  She raised her fist to hammer at the doorknocker again, but as she did so the door swung wide, and she was greeted by Grace Chillaton-Kelly.  The elderly spinster ushered her in to a comfortable, if slightly eccentric, kitchen.

 

“Hope will be with us momentarily.”

 

Buffy wished that were true, in the broadest sense.  She had no real faith that they were going to succeed where the police had failed, in this ordinary, human, affair.  She followed Grace’s gaze, out of the kitchen window and into the garden.  Hope stood by the side of a young weeping willow, staring down at the ground.

 

“She likes to spend time in the garden.  It so refreshes the mind as well as the body, don’t you think?”

 

Buffy nodded absently, and then Hope Chillaton-Kelly turned abruptly and came into the kitchen door.

 

“Well, now.  Buffy, isn’t it?  So pleased to see you again.  Won’t you have some tea?

 

+++++

 

Angel talked to the three senior members of Anthony Gabriel’s staff. 

 

Helen Earnshaw had not been part of the household at the time of the disappearances and murder, and so she could add nothing of fact.  She talked of her employer with respect and affection, demanding as he had been, but she had never met Michael Gabriel.

 

Miranda Lamerton had been the housekeeper at the time, but only for a matter of months.  Her statements were in the files.  She wanted the truth for Mr Gabriel’s sake, but she knew nothing more.

 

Angel met Edwards in the Armoury, where he was polishing and dusting.  It seemed that almost every house in the British Isles that was of a certain size and a certain age had a room like this, where the plain white walls were decorated with displays of weapons.  There were swords and knives and ancient guns, old pike heads, and a few battered shields.

 

Jonathan Edwards had been Mr Gabriel’s butler for thirty-two years.  He’d seen Michael brought home as a newborn, and he had watched him grow into a wild youth.  If there was harm in Michael, he said, it was the self-destructive kind, not the murderous kind.  It was a father and son thing.  Angel had to swallow hard.  He’d been at both ends of that schism, now.

 

Michael, said Edwards, had never been able to do as his father wished, and his father couldn’t hide his disappointment.  Michael had been a tearaway, but not vicious.  Except to his father, when the boy felt hurt beyond endurance.  Everything Edwards knew about the disappearance was in the files.  He could remember nothing else.

 

Angel closed up his notebook.  He didn’t need to take notes for his own benefit, but Giles liked to have them to refer to.  He watched as Edwards replaced the claymore that he’d been cleaning as they talked.

 

“Looks like you’ve got another one out,” he remarked, nodding towards a starburst of swords that was lacking the central upright.

 

Edwards frowned.

 

“Well, sir, it’s odd that you should mention that.  The police made nothing of it, but that went missing the same night that Mr Michael did.  So did a shield.”  He pointed to a bare spot on the wall.  There was no indication that anything had ever hung there, but it left an unbalanced display.

 

“Inspector Eworthy thought that he’d taken them to sell them for money, because they were the two most valuable pieces, but they never turned up.  Not anywhere.  Mr Gabriel had people hunting up and down the country, and on the Continent, too.”

 

Edwards shook his head, as Angel added to his notes, and then thanked the butler gravely.  He walked back to his room, very much troubled.  If Michael Gabriel hadn’t taken the pieces to sell, then why had he taken them at all?  Something slithered through his subconscious, and then was gone.

 

+++++

 

When they gathered again in Buffy’s sitting room, Giles started to compile what they knew.  He asked for every little detail.  If everyone else – the police and private investigators – had failed, then there must be some tiny detail, some small point that had been unnoticed, not included in their synthesis.  Project Paranormal wouldn’t make the same mistake, if they could help it.

 

Buffy told them of the sisters Chillaton-Kelly.  When Felicity Wareham had been left an orphan at the age of two, they had become her guardians.  They had doted on the child.  They had album after album of photographs, all of which they had insisted on showing her.  They called her ‘their golden girl’, and so she had seemed to be.

 

She had been loved by everyone, one of those girls who was almost too good to be true.  At the age of eighteen, she had a place at University, and an offer of marriage from Michael.  Those two things weren’t mutually exclusive, but either or both of them would have taken the girl away from the sisters.  Buffy wasn’t certain the sisters had been ready for that, but their grief was real enough, even ten years later.

 

Michael and Felicity had disappeared on the same night, on midsummer night, ten years ago, and it had been assumed that they had run away together.  Assumed, that was, until a body had turned up eight months later.  A farmer had been hedging and ditching, and he’d found the shallow grave in the ditch along Barrowman’s Field.

 

The clothes were Felicity’s.  The body was too decayed to be recognisable.  The face would never have been recognisable anyway, because the girl had been beaten so badly that the facial bones were smashed.  But with the clothes, the bright golden hair and the jewellery, there could be no doubt.

 

Now, she lay buried in the local churchyard, and the sisters seemed to be lost.

 

Angel reported back dutifully on his discussions with the staff, and the other two were as puzzled as he about the missing sword and shield.  He said nothing, though about the feeling that he had, the thing that seemed to be rustling through his mind.

 

Giles had had little more luck with Carol Oldmay.  Everything that she’d remembered, they already knew.  But, over coffee and cakes in the same tea room that he’d taken Buffy to, she had agreed to do some research tonight.  She would see him again in the morning.

 

As Giles spoke, Angel could scent his interest in this woman, and he was relieved.  Elfrieda Bridestowe was a most unsuitable object for his attentions, and not only because she was married.

 

It was almost sunset, late now, in the run up to midsummer.  Despite the hour, Angel had an appointment.  In the division of suspects or witnesses, he’d taken the vicar.  He chose to walk, and it was almost ten o’clock when he knocked on the door of the Vicarage, but he was expected.

 

Mrs Whitchurch, thin as a rail, and faded, a woman who like so many clerics’ wives seemed to have spent all her physical substance in good works, invited him in.  He studiously avoided looking at the occasional cross on the wall, but otherwise the Vicarage was reassuringly normal.  The vicar was earnest, and anxious to help. 

 

He remembered it all well, one of the stains of the past that coloured the darkest of his memories.  At the undertaker’s, it had been a closed-coffin affair, of course, and the funeral was very well attended.  The sisters Chillaton-Kelly had been inconsolable.  It seemed that, for all those months of uncertainty, wandering around like grey ghosts, in funereal blacks and lavenders, they had lived in hope that Felicity would be found.  And then she had, but not as anyone would have wanted.

 

Angel asked if he could see the grave.  He wasn’t sure whether he could learn anything there, but it would be wrong not to look.  The devil was in the details.  Geoffrey Whitchurch rummaged in a drawer for a torch, and then led the way into the next-door churchyard.

 

Angel didn’t know what he might have expected, but it probably wasn’t the plain, unadorned granite headstone that simply read:

 

Felicity Wareham

1979 -1997

 

There were no tokens of remembrance, no flowers, not even a vase to take a posy.  There was simply the grave, the headstone, and the body beneath the earth, young, about eighteen, rotting.

 

“I always thought it odd,” said Whitchurch.  “The sisters don’t lack for money, but the funeral, although well-attended, was simple, the burial positively sparse, and not even a ham sandwich afterwards for the mourners.  Odd, when they positively doted on the girl.”

 

“You keep a tidy churchyard,” said Angel, looking at the plain, mown grass before him, and then looking round at the other graves, with their evidence of visitors.

 

Whitchurch looked up at him in confusion, and then his face cleared.

 

“Ah, the lack of offerings, so to speak.  Never.  No one needs to keep this spot clear, other than mowing the grass, because nobody ever leaves anything.”

 

Angel nodded.  That was definitely odd.

 

He bade the vicar goodnight, and walked back to Merrivale House.  For some reason, he kept looking over his shoulder, as though he were being followed, but there was nothing to see.

 

On his way, he passed a landmark that he recognised from the tourist brochures and the local maps.  Vixen Tor.  Nowadays, said the literature, it was out of bounds to walkers.  It stood out clearly to him in the darkness, although he couldn’t see any resemblance to a vixen.  He thought back to the brochures.  It had been named for a witch called Vixana, who lured people to their deaths in the mire beneath the tor, for reasons not specified.  Or, the more sensible literature said, several tors here were named after foxes, because the cracks and caves made good foxholes, and dens for rearing cubs.  He was about to walk on, when movement caught his eye.  Something pale, in the moonlight.

 

The barbed wire that kept humans out was no barrier to him.  The moon wouldn’t be full until the end of the month, but there was ample light for him to see.  More than enough.  This darkness was what his eyes were made to see in, to use, to hunt in.

 

The path to the Tor was overgrown with lack of tourist feet, and surrounded by marshland where all the season’s exceptional rain seemed to have collected, but none of that presented any difficulties.  Certain of his footing, he made his way to the thing that had caught his attention.  And he wasn’t the only one to have used this path recently.  He could see the small signs of recent passage, and he could scent the aroma of humanity.  Someone visited the forbidden Tor.

 

As he walked, whatever the presence was that he had detected, it stretched itself once more.  He could think of no other way to describe it, other than as a vague rustling in his senses, and claws, waking up his demon.  He shook his head, to try and clear his mind, and almost fell over a pile of rocks.  As it was, he barked his shins, the sudden pain driving the distractions away.

 

Here, at the foot of the rocks, three slanting uprights set deep in the earth supported a flat capstone.  And here, in front of that cluster of stones, lay a bouquet of flowers.  Pretty flowers, English garden flowers, not a bouquet from a florist, the petals of the moonpennies fluttering a little in the soft breeze.  Those were what he had seen.  Fresh flowers.

 

He felt his senses stir again, and beat a hasty retreat to the road.  As he vaulted lightly over the barbed wire, he thought he saw movement near a few scrubby hawthorns at the side of the road, and he waited.  There was nothing.  Whoever it was, they were very good.  He decided to play the game.  Perhaps things were getting interesting.

 

He walked for a long time over the moor, and it was very late when he got back to Merrivale House.  In his room, he stood for a moment with his hand on the knob of the door that led to Buffy’s.  On his tongue was still the taste of Megan’s all too human blood, and his mind’s eye conjured up the remembrance of Buffy’s neck, stretched out for him.  He badly wanted to drink, and he wasn’t at all sure that he should trust himself tonight, and so he let go of the doorknob, and slept alone.

 

+++++

 

The next day, breakfast was difficult for Giles and Buffy.  John Deverill rolled into the house, and it was clear that he’d just come from a night of drunken carousing.

 

He’d flounced off, they’d been told – although not in those exact words – after the dinner, which he’d only been persuaded to attend with reluctance.  His fiancée was lodged in the Dower House, where it had been supposed that he had been.  Not so, from the look of him.

 

Buffy thought that his eyes were as red as a Durril demon’s, and his skin even more pasty.  He stank of whisky and cigarette smoke, and something entirely more exotic, and he could barely hold himself upright.

 

When he saw Giles, he began a tirade about his bastard of an uncle, and how he was being deprived of his inheritance.  Not for the first time, as he tried to calm Deverill down, Giles wondered whether this man had had a hand in the events that had effectively removed his competitor for Gabriel’s money.

 

Then, Deverill caught sight of Buffy.  He fell into the chair next to her, and lifted his hand to her cheek.  She batted it away, but he persisted, leaning over her and leering.

 

Giles rose, with an ‘I say…’, intent on damage limitation.  Damage to whom, he wasn’t entirely sure, and he fervently hoped that Angel didn’t put in an appearance just yet.  Buffy waved him away, though, and got up from the table.

 

“Let’s go, Giles.  I’m done here.”

 

Deverill leered at her again.

 

“Catch you later, my dear.”

 

“Just try.”

 

+++++

 

Giles went back to the Museum, and Buffy went to see Miss Buckland. 

 

Angel read the tourist literature, and then pulled up information on archaeological sites.  The rocks at the foot of Vixen Tor were a rather fine kistvaen, an Early Bronze Age tomb, now almost buried beneath the peaty soil.  It was four thousand years old.  Why would people be leaving fresh flowers?  He knew that people in these rural areas could have long memories, but that seemed ridiculous.

 

He settled down to think through what had been learned so far.  And to read.

 

Carol Oldmay wasn’t needed at the Museum that day, and so she took him to see some of the sights.  They walked to the Pannier Market as they talked.  She had a fund of knowledge about the old families in the area.  Better still, she had a folder full of papers, which she gave to Giles.

 

As they wandered through the old market building, looking at the crafts and antiques on display in a market that had operated for over nine hundred years, Giles began to feel the weight of millennia that hung heavy on west Dartmoor.  People had been here for a very long time.

 

She knew about the murder, of course.  And she told Giles there were other disappearances that were never solved.  People always got lost on the Moor and died on the Moor, but there were others.  He should look at those, perhaps.

 

The Gabriels, she said, had been at Merrivale for about twenty years.  Louisa Gabriel had died giving birth to Michael, and they’d come here soon after, although Anthony Gabriel spent a lot of time at his other house in London.  One of his other houses, anyway.  And not since that final illness, of course, which had seen him more or less confined to Merrivale House.

 

Deverill was a leech and the worst kind of playboy.  He’d sponged off Anthony Gabriel since Michael went missing.  Drawing his inheritance early, some thought.  Gabriel had despised him, and yet had tolerated him for the sake of his dead mother, Gabriel’s younger sister.

 

The Bridestowes?  Ah, yes, an interesting family, that, she told Giles.  They lived at Alford House.  That had been in Elfrieda’s family for centuries.  Sir Edgar had turned up about thirty years ago, penniless, but with a minor title.  She’d married him, and they’d stayed at Alford House.

 

When Giles remarked that Elfrieda must have been a young bride, Carol frowned in thought, and agreed that must have been true.  She’d only been a child herself, so she couldn’t remember.

 

And so they talked, bits and pieces of information, all of them something or nothing, but which of those they might be, Giles couldn’t yet say.  They had lunch together, and he asked her to meet him for dinner.  Next week, she said, and she would look forward to it.  She couldn’t manage an evening before then.

 

She still wore a frown, though.

 

“There’s something,” she said.  “Something that I can’t bring to mind.  One of us said something earlier, and that prompted a memory, and I can’t think what it is.  If I remember, I’ll call.”

 

And so it was left, and Giles went off to see his next interviewee, ex-Inspector Charles Eworthy.  As he drove to his appointment, he could have sworn that a motorbike was following him, but then it was lost in the traffic, and he relaxed again.

 

Meanwhile, Buffy was having morning coffee with Jane Buckland.

 

She discovered that this, frail, bird-like woman had a sharp sense of humour and an even sharper intelligence.  And she loved to gossip.  She answered all of Buffy’s questions, and then, when the Slayer ran out of things to ask, the ex-postmistress supplied some questions of her own.

 

“Don’t you think it strange,” she asked, “that no trace should ever have been found of Michael?  He took no money with him, to speak of…”

 

“He took a sword and shield.  Perhaps he got money for those?”

 

“Did he now?  Well, I never heard about that.  But the staff at Merrival House have never gossiped.  Never.  So, you think he got enough money from those to fund ten years of living anonymously, then?”

 

“After a while, wouldn’t things calm down?  He could get a new identity…”

 

“That’s true,” said Miss Buckland, as she poured more tea into the fine bone china cup, and offered Buffy another fondant cake.  “That’s very true.  But didn’t you find it odd, too, about young Stephen?”

 

“Stephen?”  Buffy racked her brains to remember why that name seemed familiar.

 

“A young man, a traveller.  He disappeared at the same time as Michael.  The police said that he simply moved on, but his father came back here several times, looking for him.  He stopped doing that after about five years, so perhaps Stephen was found.  But it’s an interesting question, isn’t it?”

 

“Why Stephen?  Why might he be important?”

 

“Because he was in love with Felicity, that’s why.  There he was, every night, making sheep’s eyes at her, and Michael was furious.  They had a fight over her.  A real fight, with the rest of the travellers watching.”

 

That piqued Buffy’s interest.  “Who won?”

 

“Michael did.  He was always handy in a scuffle.”

 

“And the police weren’t interested in pursuing this?”

 

Buffy thought at first that Miss Buckland must have bitten into a bad cake, because her mouth screwed up in distaste.

 

“You’ve spoken to the good ex-Inspector,” she said, mildly.  She made it a statement, not a question.

 

“No, not yet.  Giles is doing that this afternoon.”

 

“Very good.  He should be asked about these things.  I mentioned them to him at the time, but I believe my interference was unwelcome.”

 

Buffy could imagine that, from what she’d seen of Eworthy.  She made a note, and took a bite of fondant cake.  She could get used to elevenses.

 

Miss Buckland wasn’t finished, yet.

 

“And I do so think it would be instructive to know whether there were other missing people about that time, don’t you?”

 

“Miss Buckland…”

 

“Jane.  Please.”

 

“Jane, this is quite a small town.  How many people could disappear without being noticed or missed?”

 

As she said it, Buffy’s heart sank.  She knew exactly how that could happen.  But she’d had no vamp vibes, not a sniff of a demon.  Neither had Angel, at least not so far as she knew, and she was sure he would have said.  Still, the most innocent and unlikely-seeming people could surprise you.  She remembered Alice.  No, Jane wasn’t a demon, she was sure.  Just a rather inquisitive old lady with a brain like a bacon slicer.

 

Miss Buckland simply peered at her over her gold-rimmed spectacles, satisfied that the point had been made.  This young woman was brighter than she let on.  Miss Buckland pursued her train of thought relentlessly.

 

“And there’s another thing that always seemed so odd to me.  Something about Felicity.  She was adored.  She was pampered and preened and given every good thing.  She was loved.  And yet, such a plain headstone, don’t you think, for a girl who was loved so much?”

 

Headstone, thought Buffy?  Headstone?  Angel said he’d seen the grave, but then, he had a particular point of view about graves.  A not very human point of view.  What he’d told them was that the grave was occupied, and not by a vampire, or by anything else that could rise again.

 

“But does it make any difference what sort of headstone they put there?  It’s where Felicity is buried…”

 

“It’s where someone was buried.”

 

Buffy looked at Jane quizzically, thinking that Giles should have picked this gig.

 

+++++

 

On his way to see Eworthy, Giles got a phone call.  Buffy told him of Miss Buckland’s questions.  She would go back to the church and have a look at the headstone.

 

When she got there, she saw what Angel had seen.  She couldn’t vouch for the body under the earth, but she was sure that this plain little headstone didn’t fit what she had heard from Miss Buckland, or seen for herself at the Chillaton-Kellys.  And Angel had said that the sisters never visited.  No one ever visited.  It was as though whoever lay there had been as invisible in life as they were in death.

 

Nonplussed, she made her way back to Merrivale House.  She was so deep in thought that, for once, her Slayer senses were numbed, and she was unaware that she was being followed.

 

+++++

 

Giles didn’t like Eworthy, but he tried to ignore that.  The man was truculent, resentful of yet another despised investigator dipping their fingers into what had been his case.  Giles thought that he might have a sharp nose for the truth, but perhaps didn’t much care whether that was the coin he dealt in, so long as he got a result.  Then he chastised himself for being uncharitable, and tried to apply himself to getting the information he needed.

 

The case had been simple, so far as Eworthy was concerned.  Felicity Wareham had disappeared.  Her boyfriend, Michael Gabriel had disappeared, on the same day.  It was known that he had become jealous of a young traveller called Stephen Smith, who was also paying attention to Felicity, and that the two young men had fought.  Six months later, Felicity’s body had been found, identifiable only by her clothes and jewellery.  Despite a huge manhunt, Michael had never been found.  Ergo, he must be the killer.

 

Giles hung on to his temper with both hands, as several other possibilities loomed large for him.  But, Gabriel had employed private investigators – good private investigators – and they had come up with nothing better.  He asked questions.

 

No, Stephen Smith had never been interviewed.  His family said that he, too, had gone missing.  Good riddance.  One less traveller.

 

Of course it was Felicity Wareham’s body.  Who else’s would it be, with her blonde hair, and her clothes and her jewellery?  No, of course there hadn’t been a DNA test.  They’d been rare and expensive, then.

 

Deverill?  Don’t make me laugh.  He’d never have the backbone for a killing.  Besides, why kill her?  Why not just kill the Gabriel boy?

 

And so on.

 

Angered beyond endurance, at such a closed-minded investigation, Giles took his leave.  Eworthy had retired to the coast, and Giles had a fairly lengthy drive back.  He noticed that a black motorcycle, with a black-clad rider, had been behind him all the way, but then it turned off in Tavistock, and he relaxed once more.

 

+++++

 

Back at Merrivale House, Buffy headed to the Library where she expected to find either Angel or Giles, or possibly both.  Instead, she found Deverill, halfway through a bottle of brandy.  He stood, as she walked into the room, and moved behind her, to stand between her and the door.

 

“Well, now,” he said, his voice a drunken slur, “Just what do we have here?”

 

“Wrong room,” she replied, her voice tight, and she edged around him.

 

He was quicker than she had anticipated and, before she realised it, he had her pinned face first against the wall, his body pressed against her back, his hands on the wall, on either side of her head.  The fumes on his breath made her nauseous.

 

“Right room, blondie.  Right room and right man, not that pretty boy that you came with.  Separate rooms, I gather.  He’s too much of the limp wrist variety for a red-blooded girl like you, eh?”  He dropped his head towards her.

 

Rightfully, this was his house, although she didn’t think that he’d get much sympathy from any quarter.  Alienating him might mean that things became very difficult for the Westbury contingent, but that never entered her head, and wouldn’t have stopped her if it had.  She snatched his wrist and, with a quick flip, their positions were reversed.  She pushed his captive arm hard up his back.  Deverill whimpered in pain.

 

“When I came here, I promised Giles and Angel that I would be good,” she lied.  “That I wouldn’t, just for instance, break someone’s arm.  Giles has a lovely saying that I really like.  I’ve got promises like pie crust, easily broken.  I should remember that, if I were you.”

 

She pushed his arm harder, and he cried out in pain.

 

“You know, Buffy, it isn’t fair if you don’t pick on someone your own size.  Still, I was never one for being fair.  You all done here?”  The tone of voice was mild, slightly amused.

 

She hadn’t seen Angel come in.  She gave one last, vicious push, and wished she were cruel enough to take it a little too far.  Deverill cried out again.

 

“Yeah.  I think we’re all done.  Don’t you?”

 

She let Deverill go.  When he turned round, the look he gave her was so venomous, so reptilian, that she wondered for a moment whether her Slayer-sense had gone on vacation, whether he was a demon in disguise.  She hadn’t yet got over the fact that none of them had known there was a resident Silarri in Westbury.  Could this be another one that was only skin-deep human?

 

No.  He wasn’t a demon, she was certain.  He was simply one of those obnoxious humans that gave innocent reptiles a bad press.  She hissed at him to get out, and he fled on unsteady legs.  He had to push past Angel to get out of the door, and Angel made no move to give him more room, his solid bulk a real hindrance to Deverill.

 

As they heard the unsteady footfalls receded, Angel gave her a quizzical look.

 

“You okay?”

 

“You heard him?”

 

“Yeah.”  Angel paused, and then persisted.  “You okay?”

 

“Sure.”

 

“You want me to do something about him?”  He was definitely not amused now.

 

Buffy smiled at Angel as though he’d offered her a real treat.  Which, she thought, was what he had done in the male-female, breast-thumping-to-keep-off-the-competition stakes, while still allowing her to fight her own battles.

 

“Nah.  He’s just a s…” She was going to say ‘snake’, but she remembered all those hard-done-by reptiles.  “Slimeball.  A real slimeball.  He’ll get his come-uppance without us.”

 

Angel wrapped his arm around her waist and gave her a squeeze.  “Let’s go get rid of the smell of him, before Giles gets back, shall we?”  He smiled for her, but she thought it looked like a predatory smile. She liked that thought.

 

She stood on tiptoe and kissed the end of his nose.

 

“You and your supersenses…  Yes.  Let’s.”

 

+++++

 

It was Angel’s idea that he be the one to go and find Stephen Smith.  Or, to find out about him.  Giles looked worried, but Buffy agreed readily enough, which demonstrated to Angel that she didn’t fully understand what he was going to do.  He didn’t say anything, and neither did Giles.

 

They’d reviewed what they’d learned so far.  Stephen Smith seemed to be a good suspect for perhaps doing away with both Michael and Felicity. 

 

Then there was the enigmatic suggestion from Jane Buckland.  Could someone else be buried in the grave?  Stephen Smith?  Michael Gabriel?  But neither of those had been blond, so far as they could determine, even with the help of a bottle, and they could only presume that the pathologist had been competent to tell boy from girl, despite the decomposed state of the body.

 

Angel riffled through the records, and his notes.  Two investigators employed by Gabriel had tried to get the body exhumed, but there had been no real cause in law for so doing, and the sisters Chillaton-Kelly had refused permission.  Besides, if it wasn’t Felicity, where was she?

 

Giles was due to see the Bridestowes the next day.  It had originally been intended that Buffy, as perhaps the least objectionable of the three to the irritable heir, should see Deverill and his fiancée, but Angel stubbornly refused to permit that now, even though Buffy was game.  And so they agreed that Angel would hunt down the travellers, and Giles would conduct the remaining interviews.  Buffy would trawl back through all the records, in the light of their advancing knowledge and suspicions.

 

There was something to do first, though, and Giles made the call.  It was to Ian Collins.  When Collins understood what he was being asked, his response was predictable.

 

“You want me to release confidential information to you on open cases of missing persons in the Dartmoor area?”

 

“Well,” said Giles, intent on mollifying the irascible Detective Chief Inspector, “I assure you that it will only be used confidentially.”

 

“No.”

 

“Ian…”

 

“Sorry, Giles, it just isn’t possible.”

 

And with that, Giles had to be content.  Angel hoped that they’d have more luck with transport.  He didn’t want to take their only car, and leave Giles and Buffy reliant on taxis.  They went to find Edwards.

 

The butler was in close discussion with Helen Earnshaw and Miranda Lamerton.

 

“Why, yes, sir,” he replied, to Angel’s question.  “Most of Mr Gabriel’s cars were disposed of during his final illness, but there are two available still.  The Rolls, or the Ferrari.”

 

“What colour’s the Ferrari?” Angel asked wistfully.

 

“Red, sir, as all Ferraris should be.”

 

Back at their rooms, Buffy stretched out her hand to the doorknob, knowing that she would miss Angel that night.  Giles, curious, said to her, “I’m surprised you didn’t object to Angel being the one to go after Stephen Smith.”

 

“Why should I?  He’s off to find a family of travellers.  What’s wrong with that?”

 

“You don’t know what travellers are?”

 

She looked uncomfortable.

 

“Travelling salesmen?  Tramps?  Ageing hippies?”

 

“There are New Age travellers, certainly.  But some travellers are gypsies, Buffy.  Real gypsies.”

 

+++++

 

Angel headed into the South West, to the tune of the throaty roar of the Ferrari.  There had been some quibbling about whether he should use the Discovery, but Angel had merely smiled and taken the keys and gone.  He’d worried briefly at leaving Giles to see the Bridestowes, and hoped that he might decide to take Buffy with him.  He could still remember the charged atmosphere of the dinner table, and the way that Giles had seemed… entranced.  But then Giles had met Carol Oldmay, and although Angel was dismayed that the man should be attracted to someone so like Ella, and yet so unlike, he thought that the attraction would safeguard his friend when he got to Alford Hall.

 

That first night, before he had to take cover from the dawn, Angel found three groups of travellers, all of them young men and women, young families, trying out the New Age lifestyle.  Two of the groups were heading for Stonehenge, to celebrate the summer solstice and the midsummer sunrise.  The third were heading for more earthy pleasures at the Glastonbury Festival.

 

They were all harmless, in his estimation. Most of them would have been too young, ten years ago, to be involved, anyway.  And none of them were missing anyone.  In Angel’s judgement, if these groups were responsible for any murders or abductions, it was only of chickens or geese.

 

It was the second night, and Bodmin Moor, before he found what he was looking for.

 

+++++

 

Giles was just leaving Merrivale House to see Sir Edgar and Lady Elfrieda Bridestowe when a policeman on a motorcycle drew up in front of the door.  He pilled a large brown package from his pannier, and handed it to Giles.  It was marked ‘Artefact Information – Attention Rupert Giles’.  As the policeman rode off down the drive, Giles was inclined to simply leave the package on the hall table.  There was too much to do to spend time on identifying artefacts just now.

 

Duty won.  If they’d sent a policeman with this, it must be important.  He tore open the package.  It was a bundle of papers and copies of photographs, and on the top, a yellow post-it note read, ‘You owe me one.  Ian.’  It was information on missing persons in the area.  Grinning, he ran back to Buffy’s room. The day would hold telephone calls for the Slayer, and a lot of reading.

 

+++++

 

Alford Hall was the Gabriels’ nearest neighbour, almost within sight, if it weren’t for the hills and tors, and Giles found it easily enough.  It was large, and rambling, and old, probably older than Merrivale House.  A suave young man opened the door to him, and led him through a maze of hallways to a comfortable room on the first floor.

 

Sir Edgar sat at his ease in a black leather chair, but Lady Elfrieda paced up and down like a caged wolf.  She was dressed in black, a slim, figure-hugging dress with a flared skirt that swirled with her as she paced in front of the fireplace.  It might be almost the end of June, but a log fire burned there, casting welcome warmth, and a gleam of red, onto everything in front of it.

 

When the butler announced him, Lady Elfrieda turned and walked swiftly over to him, holding out her hand.

 

“You are welcome, Mr Giles.  How may we help?”

 

As he took her hand, it felt hot, fevered, as though her excess energy was burning outwards through her skin.

 

“Rupert.  Please, call me Rupert.”

 

She smiled.

 

“And I am Freda.  This is Edgar.  Sit down, and tell us what you want.  Would you like some tea?”

 

Without waiting for his answer, she strode over to a bell pull by the fireplace, and gave it a tug.  Almost instantly, a young woman hurried into the room.

 

“Bring the tea tray, please, Marie.”

 

The girl bobbed her head in acknowledgement, and hurried out again.  Giles sat, but Freda did not.  His natural courtesy would have made him feel uncomfortable, except for his experience with Buffy, whose own pent-up Slayer energy often made her just as restless as the woman prowling the carpet in front of him.  When she stopped, she would stand in front of the mantelpiece and fiddle with the ornaments, or she would twitch a curtain until it lay a touch more fetchingly.  Occasionally, she would breathe deeply, the movements inevitably attracting attention to what as beneath that tailored bodice.

 

It was as though she were absorbing energy directly from air and fire.  Giles smiled at that fanciful thought.  There was no doubt that she was an extremely handsome woman.  Her age was hard to determine, but her self-assurance was such that he thought she might be in her forties, despite the fact that she looked younger.  Her black hair was cut close to her head, an elegant style of feathery layers.  Her perfect make-up enhanced her flawless complexion, her milky skin inviting him to touch it, her perfect cupid’s bow of a mouth, with her blood-red lips, demanding to be kissed…

 

And then the tea tray rattled in, propelled by the young maid, and laden with fine bone china teacups, and plates of fancy cakes.

 

+++++

 

Buffy was bored with reading files, and disheartened by making phone calls to the relatives of missing loved ones.  She told them that she was trying to find a missing person, but so far as any of them knew, no one had been acquainted with Michael or Felicity.  She’d tried to find patterns in the disappearances, but to no avail.  Some she could discount immediately, she thought, because they’d been too far away and in entirely different circumstances.  Others, though, seemed to have vanished on Dartmoor as though a portal had opened up and swallowed them.  Here, though, the portal was likely to be just a boggy pit that had led to a suffocating death.  She hadn’t realised that anywhere in England could be so naturally dangerous, especially a place that was visited by so many tourists and walkers.

 

And prison visitors.  The grim, granite prison, so close to Merrivale House, had taken her quite by surprise.  It had been built to hold French and American prisoners of war during the time of Napoleon, and perhaps it was the American connection that made her uncomfortable about it.  She’d looked up the website, and discovered that it ‘offered cellular accommodation on six wings’, as though it were a hotel.  She couldn’t help smiling, but then she became serious again.  It was seriously weird, having a major prison so close.

 

She shook off the fancy that perhaps people were disappearing into the prison for some nefarious reason.  She really wanted to talk to Angel.  She picked up her phone, meaning to call him, but then she stopped.  It was daytime.  She knew that he could hide in plain sight in daytime, provided that he was out of reach of the sunlight.  She didn’t know where he’d chosen to find safety.  Would a phone call put him in danger of unwanted discovery?

 

Sighing, she put the phone down on the bedside table.  It took a full five seconds before she consciously understood what she’d seen there.  She looked back to where her phone lay, next to his.

 

Damn.

 

+++++

 

Giles asked his questions, even though he felt as though his collar were getting tighter and tighter, as though he might never breathe easily again.  He fought through the distraction, unaware that he was digging his fingernails into the meat of his palm in the effort to keep his mind focused.

 

No, said Freda, the Bridestowes hadn’t known Michael very well.  Such a wild young man.  They’d had no reason to make his acquaintance, other than in passing.  And they were such new arrivals here, the Gabriels.

 

Felicity?  Yes, a lovely girl.  Everyone had known Felicity.  A great loss to Merrivale.

 

Stephen Smith?  Why yes, of course they’d heard of the jealous posturings between him and Michael Gabriel.  Typical of all young men, really.  No.  They knew nothing more than could be read in their statements.

 

All the while, it was Freda who answered.  Edgar sat in his chair, content to leave his wife to deal with the intruder.

 

As she talked, she said nothing new, and Giles watched her closely to see whether she gave anything away by her body language.  He noticed for the first time that she had a large ruby that gleamed at her throat, and rings on every finger.  Expensive rings.  Her skin shone softly, with a pearl-like sheen, as if dusted with tiny drops of moisture in the afterglow of carnality, reflecting, like the ruby, the red flames of the fire.

 

And then his phone rang.  He excused himself from the room, meaning just to take the caller’s details and ring back.  But it was Carol Oldmay.

 

“I’ve remembered what it was,” she said.  “It was about the Bridestowes’ son.  Very mysterious.  Talk to me before you talk to them about it.”

 

He arranged to meet her at the Museum in an hour, wondering what on earth could be so mysterious, so cloak and dagger.

 

When he walked back into the room, the Bridestowes were as he had left them.  Freda hadn’t moved from where the ringing of his phone had brought her to rest in her pacings, standing immediately in front of the fire.  Giles thought that might have been the first time she’d been still since he’d arrived.

 

He asked the final questions on his list, and then took his leave, gravely thanking them for their hospitality.  Suddenly, Freda seemed to have diminished, to be simply a very attractive woman.  And she seemed to have lost interest in him, to be ready for him to go.  She gave him her hand abstractedly, and then the suave young man escorted him out.

 

He stopped on the way, parked in an impromptu lay-by to review his notes and to call Buffy.  The road was little used, and he wondered whether the Bentley that passed him was from Alford Hall.  Then it was gone, and there had been no glimpse for him of the occupants, no chance to see who was going where.

 

An hour later, as he pulled up in Tavistock, he saw Carol, in front of him, hurrying towards the Museum, a large brown envelope in her hand.  He called to her, but she didn’t hear.  He watched her for a moment, the sun making her hair burn with all the shades of autumn, then he dug into his pocket for some pound coins.  He cursed silently as he realised that he had no change for the parking meter, and so he ducked quickly into a shop and bought a newspaper, watching for the approach of a traffic warden as he queued to pay with a ten-pound note.  When he came out, Carol was gone.

 

Walking to meet her, he thought that the gods might finally be smiling on Tavistock, as the sun shone down out of a relentlessly blue sky, the warmth striking down onto his back, through his jacket.  It was so warm that he took off the jacket, and carried it over his arm, smiling at the prospect of seeing the historian again.  Perhaps, when this was all over, he could come down for a week or two.  Buffy and Angel could manage very well without him for a bit.  A holiday might be just what the doctor ordered, and a holiday romance...

 

He was halfway across the square in front of the Museum when it happened.  A woman’s scream cut through the holiday atmosphere, shrill against the enduring stone of the surrounding buildings.  It came again, weaker this time, and then again.  The Museum.  He was off and running before the first cry had died away, and he was at the door with the echoes of the last.

 

Carol Oldmay lay on the floor, the colours of autumn drowned in a welter of blood.  Clots of blood and brain matter spattered the wooden floor.  He fell to his knees by her side, and lifted her, to cradle her, but he knew, even as he did so, that she was quite dead.  An antique policeman’s truncheon lay by her side, covered in gore.  Of the killer, or of the brown envelope that the dead woman had carried, there was no sign.

 

Giles was still holding her when the police arrived, and he would have been arrested on the spot, except that two witnesses came forward.  One was a young woman, Jane Skilbeck, dressed in motorcycle leathers, and clutching a crash helmet, who said that she had been behind him when the woman had screamed, and she had seen him run and pick her up.  The other witness, who corroborated that, although somewhat churlishly, was Charles Eworthy, ex-Inspector of police.

 

+++++

 

Angel called at the Jamaica Inn, remembering a different time, to ask whether any travellers were in the area.  He was in luck.  There was a band just two miles away, camped at Dozmary Pool.  He wasn’t at all sure that the Ferrari would appreciate the rough trackways around the Pool, and he knew that he’d lost his shadowy follower, and so he walked the rest of the way.  It was probably best, anyway.  He wouldn’t get much of a reception, in a Ferrari.

 

He didn’t get much of a reception anyway.  There was no cover at all on the approach to the trailers circled in a small, stone-walled field close to the only house for miles.  The buildings of the farmhouse itself offered a temporary darker clot of shadow, but there was nothing else.  And as he stood in the shadow of a stone barn, he’d reckoned without the dogs.

 

First came one tentative bark, and then a serious challenge.  Other canine voices joined in, and long grey shadows raced towards him over the field.  Why couldn’t gypsies be like other people?  Most would shout at the dogs to be quiet.  These people trusted their dogs, and simply let them slip.

 

This band of travellers were gypsies, true gypsies, he had no doubt of that.  There was something about the scent.  There might be differences, but not enough to deny their heritage.  That odour took him back too many years and too many sins.  Now, the dogs had him circled.  It wouldn’t be hard to deal with them, although not without some damage, but that wasn’t what he was here for. 

 

Men’s voices drew closer, calling to each other.  He recognised the language, and had a sudden, craven desire to run.  He hunched his shoulders.  No doubt he would find some penance to pay for that moment of cowardice, some way to show the Powers, Buffy, Giles – himself – that he wasn’t the same waste of space that he’d used to be.  He took a deep breath – odd how some habits never died – and stepped out into the circle of torchlight.

 

+++++

 

Giles had specifically told Buffy not to come down to Tavistock, that he would get back to Merrivale House as soon as possible.  Therefore Buffy, naturally, got Edwards to drive her down to the police station in the Rolls Royce.  It was all over when she got there. 

 

Giles had given his statement.  Broadribb and Shuster had confirmed that Giles and his colleagues were investigating on behalf of the Gabriel estate, and the two witnesses had made their statements, that Giles was in plain sight, in the square, when the woman in the Museum screamed.  Being concerned citizens, they had followed him in.

 

When Buffy saw him, he was pale, his lips pressed into a thin line.  She put her arm through his as they walked out of the police station.  It was far too soon for him to have any real affection for the dead woman, but he had been attracted.  This must be hard for him.  She’d misjudged his mood though.  His pallor was one of anger.

 

“This has something to do with the Bridestowes.  I don’t know what, but I know they’re involved.”  His voice was harsh, his enunciation precise.  She took a firmer grip on his arm.

 

“Why would you say that?”

 

“I was at Alford Hall when the call came from Carol.  She said that there was something mysterious about a son of the Bridestowes.  Have you seen a son?  No,” he said, answering his own question, “we haven’t seen a son.  But Carol Oldmay remembered something.  She was going to tell me, but she didn’t get chance.  She had information, in a brown envelope, and now it’s gone.  I knew that there was something strange, something amiss with the pair of them after that phone call.”

 

He patted Buffy’s hand.

 

“We’re going to make her death count.  We need to find out about the Bridestowes’ son.”

 

“Will there be something to hit?” Buffy asked, more in hope than in expectation.

 

“Oh, I imagine so.  We usually find something to hit, don’t we?”

 

They got back to where Giles had left his car, hours ago, on a parking meter.  It had been towed away, and Buffy thought that Giles might find something to hit there and then.  He cursed, softly, and then they walked back to where Edwards waited with the Rolls.  Someone else could sort the car out.

 

+++++

 

Angel was surrounded by a circle of dogs and men.  A handful of the dogs were slim and lithe, built for speed.  Lurchers, used to hunting and killing, he was sure.  The rest were big and well-muscled, with teeth to match.  Mastiff-types, good at guarding.  None of them liked the look of him, and all of those teeth were bared in snarls.  It looked as though the dogs had a good dentist.

 

The men carried an assortment of weapons, mainly sticks and cudgels.  Three of them had guns, though.  Shotguns.  They wouldn’t kill him, well, not unless they all shot together for his head, and that might well rank as decapitation, but they would make one hell of a mess.  Buffy would be so pissed.  So would Edwards, if he got the Ferrari back with blood all over the nice red interior.

 

The men didn’t seem to like the look of him either, even though he raised his hands, and tried to look as unthreatening as possible.  He tried to take the initiative, and to look as unthreatening, as human, as possible.

 

“I’m looking for…”

 

A man, older than the rest, stepped forward, to get a better look at him.  The man saw Angel’s pale skin, and perhaps he saw something else as well.  In any event, he said just one word.

 

“Undead!”

 

The men holding guns raised them, to fire, and the dogs closed in, silent now that the kill had been ordered.  This definitely wasn’t how he’d wanted it to go.  Faster than the eye could follow, because there was no point in camouflage now, he leapt at the nearest man, knocking the gun from his hand as he took him.  Still trying for ‘as human as possible’, he didn’t release the demon, but he had his forearm around the young man’s throat, and his teeth close enough to the neck to make the point.

 

“I didn’t come here looking for trouble.  I came to find Stephen Smith.  Or Stephen Smith’s family, if he’s dead.”

 

The dogs crouched, almost in mid-leap, frozen, snarling statues.  The men stood still, unmoving, no doubt considering how to get him without hitting the hostage.

 

“Don’t tell me.  You’re all called Smith.  Makes finding any one of you harder for the authorities.  I don’t care.  I’m only interested in Stephen Smith.  Had a fight with Michael Gabriel over Felicity Wareham.  Do you know about it?”

 

There was silence, and then the older man asked, “Why do you want Stephen Smith?  What is your business?”

 

“Anthony Gabriel wants to know what happened to Felicity, and to his son.  Seems to me that’s all tied up with Stephen, too.  If he’s alive, I need to talk to him.  If he’s not, I need to talk about him.”

 

Nobody moved.  But this was the right group, Angel was sure of it.  Taking a chance, he pushed the hostage away from him.

 

“Sometime tonight would be good.”

 

+++++

 

It seemed best to start with the staff.  Surely, if there had been a son at Alford Hall, someone would remember.  It seemed that no one did.  Then Miranda Lamerton took them to talk to the cook.  ‘Cook’ might be the wrong word for the elderly woman who presided over the Gabriel kitchens.  She had ‘cooks’ working for her, and it was clear that those kitchens were ready to turn out a banquet at a moment’s notice.

 

“Letty, Mr Giles and Miss Summers have some questions to ask you, if you wouldn’t mind?”

 

Buffy held out her hand with a smile.  “It’s just Buffy, especially to people who can turn out meals like you do.”  It was exactly the right thing to say.

 

“The Bridestowes,” Letty mused, when the problem was put to her.  “Now, I never heard anything very specific, but Tanya might know.  She was here as a young girl, in the late seventies, a nursery maid to help Mrs Pollard with Michael.  But she and Mrs Pollard didn’t get along, and she was offered a job with the Bridestowes.  She took it, although she never told us what it was for.  She wanted to work with children, so we always suspected Lady Elfrieda might be in the family way.  There was never a sign of it, though.

 

“Tanya never came back to visit us, but I did hear from Bert, the postman, that about a year later, she went back up north.  To her family, I expect.  Featherstone, I think it was.  Tanya Knowles.  I don’t know any more than that.  It was a long time ago, now.  Over thirty year gone.  I can’t see it has anything to do with Mr Michael disappearing.”

 

That was the best lead they could get.  Giles left for Featherstone that night.  It was a slim lead, but better than no lead at all.  The next morning, Buffy would go back to Miss Buckland, and to the two sisters, to see whether they could remember anything at all.  She would most definitely not go to Alford Hall.  Not yet, anyway.

 

As Giles drove over the tops of the high moors, the mist started to gather.

 

+++++

 

One of the cudgels prodded Angel in the back, nudging him – not too gently – towards the trailers and caravans.  Shotguns were aimed into both of his ears, but not close enough for him to snatch them both if he had to.  Still, he’d come here to talk, and unless they intended to dust him inside a trailer, which would be extremely untidy, then compliance seemed to be the way forward.

 

And so he walked, with his strange, encircling entourage, into the camp.  As they reached the pool of light surrounding the camp the men switched off their torches, which they’d kept played on him, and he could see rather better.  He hesitated, and another sharp prod urged him forward.  The man in front of him held a long, thick staff, and when they reached the steps up to a battered green trailer he brought Angel to a halt by the simple expedient of thumping the end of the staff into his belly.

 

The older man called up to the trailer, in a language that Angel remembered well, or a very close variant of it.  The door opened, and an old man looked out, and then replied.  A rapid conversation took place, none of it in English.  This old man must be an original immigrant, Angel thought.  Judging by the age of him, he probably came over as a boy during the Second World War, most likely to escape the Nazis.  It wasn’t only Jews who were rounded up and gassed.

 

Perhaps this man came, alone or with a family, bringing with him his language and his beliefs, and his darkest supernatural nightmares.  They would have thought to escape the most hideous persecution, only to find a more subtle form, in a crowded country where land was owned, and enclosed, and there was no room for nomads.  He felt a stab of sympathy for the life they led.

 

The conversation was over, a decision made, and the old man stood back.  A cudgel in his ribs told Angel that he was to go up into the trailer.  The older man followed him, and the door slammed shut behind them.

 

“Sit.  At the end, behind the table.  Make no sudden moves, or I’ll kill you.” 

 

Angel followed the instructions.  The man who had entered the trailer with him sat at the end of the bench seat that ran in a horseshoe at the end of the trailer, around a plastic table, but he didn’t lower the shotgun that he’d brought.  The old man sat down, stiffly, on the other side of the table.

 

“I am Thomas.  This is Nicu.  He does not speak English, and so I will translate.  Who are you?”

 

It was possible they knew his name.  Angel didn’t want to risk that.

 

“I don’t have a name that’s worth hearing, but I’m not what you think…”

 

Thomas started to translate, and Nicu held out his hand to Angel.  Surprised, Angel hesitated, and then took it.  As their hands came together he felt a hardness in Nicu’s palm, and then the sear of burning flesh.  He snatched his hand away from the concealed cross.

 

“We know exactly what you are.  The civilized people of this country may have forgotten, but us?  Never.  Even here, there are those of your kind.  The dogs can recognise you.  Now, did you kill Stephen?”

 

“Would I be here if I did?  No…” He was going to say ‘we’, and changed his mind at the last moment.  If things went badly, he didn’t want Giles and Buffy hunted by vengeful gypsies.  “No, I have been hired by Anthony Gabriel to find the truth of what happened that summer, ten years ago.  If there’s a murderer, he wants him brought to justice.  That’s what I’ve promised to do.  And I need to find out about Stephen.”

 

There was a rapid discussion between the two men.  Angel wondered whether to reveal that he understood what they were saying, and then decided that was a piece of information too many.  Besides, he could find out more by pretending ignorance.

 

“Why does Anthony Gabriel not come here himself?”

 

“He’s dead.  This was his last wish.”

 

“You killed him?”

 

“No!  I’m not a killer.  Not now.  He died after a long illness.  I didn’t know him at all.”

 

The two men looked at each other, and the old man, Nicu, nodded.

 

“Nicu is Stephen’s grandfather.  Stephen was a rash young man, but not a bad one.  Occasionally, we would camp close to Merrivale for a day or two.  Like here, there are people who don’t mind us spending a few days on their land.  And then we move on.  We would stay at Merrivale on land belonging to Alford Hall, on our way up into the west.  That year, we were delayed because of illness.  Stephen had time to meet people.  He fell in love with a girl.  Felicity.

 

“Felicity already had a boyfriend, a man who wanted to marry her.  That was Michael Gabriel.  Stephen and Michael clashed many times, and at last Stephen challenged him to fight for her.  If Michael won, he said, then he, Stephen, would not try to see her again.  If Stephen won, Michael would give her up. 

 

“Neither of them thought to ask the girl what she preferred.  They were both very young.  They came to our camp, and Michael won.  Stephen kept his word.”

 

He fell silent.  Angel could smell the uncertainty.  He prompted Thomas.

 

“And…?”

 

Nicu nodded again.

 

“About a week later, Michael came to our camp to see Stephen.  They went off together.  Neither of them ever came back.”

 

“Do you know why Michael came, or where they went?”

 

Thomas asked Nicu, and the old man answered, his voice heavy.  Thomas appeared startled by the reply.  This was something he hadn’t heard before.  Without offering Angel a translation, yet, he asked whether Nicu had told the police.  Nicu shook his head.  Let the vampire make what he could of it.  The police would have laughed at what Nicu had heard.

 

Thomas’s translation was slow, almost reluctant.

 

“He says that he does not know where they went, or why, although they set off in the direction of the Moor.  But he heard Stephen say to Michael that it was a dangerous business, playing Saint George for Aelfritha.”

 

“Saint George?  Aelfritha?”

 

Nicu shrugged.  They talked on, but there was nothing else that was new.  Angel asked where their camp had been on that night.  At least he would have a direction to follow.  He had one last thought.

 

“I was told that Stephen’s father went back to Merrivale for about five years, to try to find him, and then stopped coming.”

 

The old man’s rheumy eyes glistened with tears, and Thomas’s face hardened.

 

“He disappeared on the Moor.  No one was interested in Marcu, just as no one was interested in Stephen.”

 

“I’m interested.”

 

Thomas stood, to let Angel out from behind the table.  As he walked to the door, Nicu called something after him. 

 

“He asks why you are doing this.”

 

Angel sought for a reason they would believe.

 

“I’m being paid to do it.”

 

Nicu shook his head, and said, “There must be more than that.  Anthony Gabriel chose you to be his Nemesis, and he must have had a reason.  Why do you care?”

 

Angel, a little shaken to have his own words given back to him, didn’t wait for Thomas to translate.

 

“Let’s just say that sometimes you might have to forget your preconceptions about avenging angels.  I promise, if I find out what happened to Stephen, or to his father, I will come back and tell you.  Wherever you are.”

 

The two stared at him, but he left unchallenged.  As he walked back to the Ferrari, he mulled over what he had learned.  Halfway there, some piece of information, a random fact, collided against another, a lock and a key.  The pieces of the jigsaw puzzle cascaded down, fitting one into another into another, into a picture he didn’t like the look of at all.  No wonder the police had made no headway.  If he was right, this was a Giles, Buffy and Angel job, not a police job.  And Giles and Buffy didn’t know. 

 

He ran.  As he ran, he felt for his phone, but his pockets were empty.  Cursing, he ran harder.

 

+++++

 

Miss Buckland was interested in the latest snippets of information.

 

“Well, of course,” she said, “the Bridestowes have always been very private.  Very private indeed.  I remember when Sir Edgar came to Tavistock.  He was rather disreputable, you know.  Something of a rake, and quite dissolute.  He’d been hanging around with a bad crowd, I expect, because Elfrieda changed him.  That would be almost twenty-five years ago, now.  He’s been a quiet country gentleman every since.”

 

“Lady Bridestowe looks very young to have been married twenty-five years, doesn’t she?”

 

“Yes, my dear.  She keeps extremely well, don’t you think?  Now, this supposed son of hers… Yes, I remember Tanya very well.  A bright child, rake thin.  She’d come here with her parents for a summer holiday, escaping from one of the northern towns for a bit.  She liked it so much, she came back a year later, into service with the Gabriels.  She didn’t like the nanny, though, so she moved to Alford Hall. 

 

“She had a young man, you know, a suitor, but she stopped seeing him after she went to the Hall.  A good friend, too, Sally something or other.  They used to tell each other everything.  I think they’d made some sort of pact between them, always laughing and giggling.  I thought they were always amused at something the rest of the world didn’t know.  You know how young girls can be?” 

 

She pronounced it ‘gels’.  Her forehead wrinkled in the effort of remembrance.  “Tanya was at Alford for a year or so, and then she went home.  As I recall, Sally went with her.  I’m sorry, I don’t remember where that was.”

 

“Featherstone,” Buffy said.

 

“Really?  Well, if she asked for any post to be diverted, I don’t recall.  And I normally do.  Strange that she should have been employed at Alford, but if there was a child, it would explain it.  She wanted to work with either children or animals. I was surprised she went home so… secretively.  Never a goodbye to anyone.  Sally neither.”

 

By now, Buffy’s slayer sense was working overtime.  It could all be so innocent, and yet…  People coming and going, and no one knowing what had become of them…  Visitors disappearing, and the only explanation being the Moor…  She mentally revisited the files that she’d gone through that morning, of missing persons in the area.  So many young people…

 

When she left Miss Buckland’s, the fine mist that had hung around that morning had thickened and clotted, and it swirled like smoke through the town.  Plants stood bejewelled, dripping liquid diamonds from every leaf and petal.  Edwards had brought her down, and then returned to Merrivale House.  He’d said he would pick her up when necessary.  She didn’t want to think how bad this might be, higher up on the moors, at Merrivale.

 

She called Giles, but his phone was switched off.  She hoped that was because he’d found what he was looking for.

 

She walked the three miles or so to the sisters Chillaton-Kelly, and was greeted warmly.  Her hair clung to her face in moist tendrils, and her clothes were damp and uncomfortable.  Grace insisted on offering her a bathrobe, until her clothes dried, and Hope made a warming soup and some sandwiches.  It seemed churlish to start asking questions immediately, and so she settled into the warmth, and let the sisters pamper her, just a little.  Outside, the weeping willow let fall its silvery tears onto the carefully tended grass below.

 

+++++

 

Giles had come to know Featherstone really rather well.  He’d talked to a dozen Knowles families, before he’d struck lucky.  He’d been directed to Albert Street, behind the new library.

 

The woman who answered the door seemed to be prematurely aged, her face lined with the cares of life.  When he asked about Tanya, her face closed up, and the years seemed to hang even more heavily on her.

 

“Why are you asking about her?  Can’t you let her lie, dead and buried?”

 

Trying not to look confused, he told Mrs Knowles that he was trying to find out about Tanya, because of a missing girl.  Perhaps one could shed light on the other?

 

Mrs Knowles blew her nose, and tried to pretend that this hadn’t raised old pain for her.

 

“Tanya was killed on her way home from Devon, knocked down by a hit and run driver, she and her friend, Sally.  How can that help anyone?”

 

Giles had to admit that perhaps it couldn’t.  Mrs Knowles was certain that Tanya had never written about her job, other than to tell her mother that she was enjoying it, and was treated well.  She’d never written about her employers either.  Mrs Knowles knew nothing, except that her daughter had never reached home again.  She was buried in the local cemetery, and Mrs Knowles still left flowers every week.

 

+++++

 

Buffy had talked to Grace and Hope.  They had marvelled at the things that she asked, but shaken their heads.  No, they knew nothing of those matters.  They’d been in such a state when dear Felicity vanished, such depths of grief, that they couldn’t remember half of what had been going on.  So sorry.

 

When she rang Edwards, the fog was so thick that it was impossible to see beyond arm’s length.  No, it certainly wasn’t safe for him to come and pick her up.  She would walk.

 

No, said the sisters, in unison.  She would stay with them until the morning.  Then Edwards could come and collect her.  It would be so exciting to have a young person in the house again.  She could tell them all about herself.  They so rarely met strangers, they would love to hear her story.

 

Still in the bathrobe, Buffy told them about California.  Something about it, anyway.

 

+++++

 

Angel wanted to go fast, and the car obliged.  But, as he approached Dartmoor, the fog swirled and thickened, until even demon eyesight couldn’t maintain the pace.  But he knew where he needed to go.  Or thought he knew.  Vixen Tor.

 

He was tempted to go to Merrivale House first, but if anything had happened to his woman and his friend, it would be around Vixen Tor.  The more he thought about it, the more sure he was.

 

He could go no faster than a crawl now, in the car.  He would do better on foot.  There was something to do first, though.

 

He turned left, onto the road up to Merrivale House, and stopped abruptly.  He was out of the car in seconds, just in time to stand in front of the motorcycle that followed him.  The bike braked sharply, and hit the ground.  He walked over to it, and pulled the leather-clad rider to his feet.  The rider removed his helmet, revealing a she and not a he, an attractive brunette.

 

“Where did you pick me up again?”

 

The woman tossed her head, and he thought that she wouldn’t answer, but she did.

 

“Tavistock.  You had to come back through there, and even in the fog, I can tell a Ferrari when I hear one.”

 

“Where are the others?”

 

Without a phone to call Buffy or Giles, he’d prefer to know.

 

She pulled out a slim black phone and dialled a couple of numbers, speaking briefly to each.

 

“Mr Giles is coming back from Featherstone.  Miss Summers is staying overnight with the Chillaton-Kelly sisters.”

 

Angel felt the chill of real fear.

 

“If you are what I think you are, Buffy needs you more than I do.”

 

“There’s someone else following you.”

 

“I know.”

 

“You know that it’s John Deverill?  He’s been trying to get up the courage to make some mischief for you all.”

 

“I know.  I’ll take care of it.”

 

The woman looked undecided.  It was critical that he be rid of her before he went further.  He also wanted to make sure that Buffy wasn’t in trouble.

 

“What’s your name?”

 

“Alison Booker.”

 

“Alison, it was very good of Mr Gabriel to ensure that we had three bodyguards looking after us.  Right now, I don’t need you, but Buffy does.  I think the Chillaton-Kellys are in this up to their necks.  Please.  Go and take care of her.  I’d do it myself, but I have something else to do.  I’ll hold you responsible, you know.”

 

She gave a wry smile.

 

“I’d hold myself responsible, too.  How did you know, by the way?”

 

He tapped the side of his nose.

 

“PI’s hunch,” she said, wryly.  “I might have known.”

 

He resisted a smirk.  He knew she’d think that, although his gesture had been much more literal.  He helped her lift her bike from the ground, and watched her go back down toward the town and his beloved.  Giles, up in the North, should still be safe enough.

 

Satisfied that she had gone, he started off running towards Vixen Tor.  He came at it from a different angle than the last time, and quickly found the mire.  There was no way he was ever going to walk on water, but there was just enough solid footing here to let him pass with ease.  For a human, it would be a death trap, especially in the fog.

 

When he reached the kistvaen, there were flowers.  Not moonpennies, this time, but roses.  Big, pink damask roses.

 

He searched the tor, looking in every nook and crevice.  He found a cave that reeked of fox, but it was small, and a dead end.  Suddenly, he began to doubt himself.  After all, Giles was the big thinker, the research end of the gig.  Perhaps he was wrong…

 

He was back at the kistvaen, with its offering of fresh roses.  In his mind, something stretched a claw.  He began ripping at the turf around the stones, until he’d uncovered the stone burial chamber.  He heaved the cover stones away, and was left with upright slabs surrounding a bare floor.  There was no sign that anything had ever been buried there, and yet…  And yet, there was something.  He stood perfectly still, with his eyes closed, and allowed himself to simply feel.

 

It was like standing in a graveyard.  There were bodies all around, some ancient, some not so ancient.  Very few of them lay quiet.  And beneath his feet…

 

He worked his fingers under the largest flooring stone, and heaved with all his strength.  It came up with a rush, tumbling over onto the grass.  The others followed, and then he dug into the peat, tearing up great handfuls.

 

And then he had it.  He’d made a hole.  A small hole into somewhere large.  He tore at more of the peat, and revealed a set of rough steps.  Wishing that he had brought a torch, for the human comfort of the light, rather than to help him see, he started down into the darkness.

 

+++++

 

Giles, on the way back from Featherstone, called in at a service station for food and coffee.  Over a sandwich that seemed to have been laundered a lot to freshen it up, he dialled Buffy, but her phone was switched off.  He knew that Angel didn’t have his with him, but Giles worried.  After all, gypsies…  Might they still carry stories of Angelus, and what they had done to him, even in this other country?  Did they know what had happened a hundred years later, and half a world away, when Angelus returned?

 

And had Buffy found any connections in the file of information that Collins had provided?

 

There could be no answers until he got back to Devon, unless Buffy turned her wretched phone back on.  He was hungry, and so he persisted in masticating the soggy sandwich – it could never be called ‘eating’ – and poured himself a cup of coffee from the pot that he had bought.  The ill-fitting lid, the poorly conceived spout, and the carelessly filled pot inevitably resulted in a flooded saucer, and a pool of coffee spreading across the plastic table.  Cursing softly, he set about mopping up.  Then, because he was worried and fretful he took the pot back and angrily demanded a replacement.  It didn’t make him feel any better, though.

 

+++++

 

Buffy could barely see Grace and Hope through the swirling mist, as she stood looking through the kitchen window and into the garden.  It was dark outside, and she stood to one side of the window so as not to be silhouetted by the light.  She wasn’t trying to conceal herself, she thought.  No, not at all.  What reason could she have to do that?  No, she just didn’t want them to think she was snooping on them.  They’d excused themselves for a few minutes, as they sat with her in the parlour.  She somehow was sure she wasn’t supposed to see what they were doing.  Perhaps they’d expected her to stay where she’d been left.  Some chance.

 

They were kneeling on the wet grass beneath the weeping willow, holding hands, like two children lost in the woods.

 

Perhaps Jane Buckland was right.  Perhaps Felicity wasn’t buried in the churchyard.  Perhaps the sisters couldn’t bear to be parted from her, and had buried her under the weeping willow.  Or had buried her, and planted the weeping willow on top of her.  It didn’t look very old.  That was a lot of perhapses, but then again, they seemed to set a lot of store by that small part of their garden.

 

If that was the case, though, who was in the grave?

 

As the sisters rose to their feet, Buffy slipped back to what they had called the parlour.  That had confused her, until she’d realised it was just an old-fashioned word for the sitting room.  When Grace and Hope joined her, they’d brought in the tea tray.

 

Over tea and biscuits, Buffy tried a few more questions.  Subtlety, Buffy, she told herself.  Subtlety.

 

“That’s a nice tree you’ve got out there.  I love that droopy shape.  I keep telling Giles that he should get one in his garden.  Are they hard to grow?”

 

Grace looked at Hope uneasily, and it was Hope who replied.

 

“No, dear, they aren’t hard to grow.  But not too close to the house, mind.  Their roots dig down everywhere.  They take everything from the soil, too.  They need feeding.”

 

Buffy nodded.  Grace was knitting, but still managing to watch their guest closely, and it made Buffy feel uncomfortable.  She persisted, though.

 

“I have a question I meant to ask you earlier.  Just after Felicity went missing, another girl was reported as lost.  She was an Australian.  Stacey Swan.  A blonde, like Felicity.  She was hitching up to Dartmoor from Plymouth.  Did you ever read about that?  Do you know whether any more was ever heard of her?”

 

Buffy knew that nothing had, and she thought that was a nice subtle touch.  Once again, there were those exchanged glances, and once again, Hope replied, as Grace knitted.

 

“No, dear.  We were too grieved to take much notice of other people.  Now, how about a nice game of Scrabble, before we turn in for the night?  Yes, let’s, and then I’ll make us all a nice cup of cocoa.”

 

+++++

 

As Angel descended into the pit, whatever had caught his attention was all around him now.  The rustling in his mind sounded like scales, like wings, like the movement of tough leather.  There was a bitter taste in his mouth, and something… alert… that he couldn’t identify.  There were claws and teeth, and they weren’t the vampire’s.  Nevertheless, he kept on.

 

He had no trouble seeing in the darkness, although, at the bottom of the stairs, he could have wished that the case was otherwise.  There were skeletons.  Ten years was a long time, where a body was concerned. 

 

As he allowed his eyes to accustom to the almost total lack of light – even vampires needed a second or two – he saw that he was in a huge underground chamber.  It might have been created by the volcanic paroxysms that had originally spawned the surrounding granite rock, the walls having a strange, melted look, but it was apparent that there were tool marks, too.  And at the far end of the cavern was another set of stairs, with an iron-bound door at the top.  He’d go out that way, then, and see where it led to.

 

By the steps that he had walked down, the first skeleton lay sprawled, partially disconnected, and not a little gnawed.  Close by were a long wooden staff, very like those he’d seen used by the gypsies, and a knife that would have been wickedly sharp, if it wasn’t rusted.  The neck was broken.  Stephen, then, he guessed.

 

The rest were even more shocking.

 

There was a large alcove in the rocks, and a second skeleton lay chained in that niche.  In front of the alcove lay another jumble of bones.  These showed signs of charring.  The bones of one hand clutched the handle of a shield that had been held into a fierce flame, the metal scorched and half-melted.

 

Most terrible of all, sprawled across the floor was a shape he recognised all too well.

 

Dragon.

 

Its body was as big as a rhinoceros, and it was winged, although only bones remained.  Bones, and a very few golden scales.  The skull, long and slender, was set on a thin, supple neck, and counterbalanced by the long tail.  In life, it would have been a beautiful thing, but its life had been taken by the broadsword that had been thrust through the throat and now lay embedded in the brain case.

 

Michael, then, had faced the dragon, and had killed it, although he’d lost his life in doing so, and he hadn’t been able to save the girl, even with his own body.  Angel understood how he would have felt.  He stroked the dragon’s skull, not consciously aware that he was doing so, as something sleek moved through his thoughts.  Then, a fleeting recollection struck him, a memory of an image that hadn’t been quite right, and he moved over to the girl’s skeleton.  There was no head.  Someone had taken that away.

 

As he straightened up, a sound from the end of the chamber made him turn.  The door had opened, and Elfrieda Bridestowe stood in the light from the passageway.

 

“I could tell someone was down here,” she said, as she reached out to the wall, and the cave was flooded with light.

 

She was a chic as ever, in a black and white dress that hugged her figure, her hair lying in dark feathers against her pale skin.  Her earrings were long black pendants that swung with every movement of her head.  The only points of colour about her were her blood red lips, and the ruby that sat at her throat.  She had rings on most of her fingers, but these were diamonds and jet, emphasising those white, shapely hands.  For a moment, Angel couldn’t drag his gaze away from that pale, elegant neck; swan-necked, it used to be called.  Edith Swan Neck… Now, where had that come from?

 

“You can’t leave this chamber, you know.  Not alive.  You know too much, now.”  Elfrieda’s tone was conversational, as though she said that a lot.  Perhaps she did.  She started to walk down the stairs towards him.

 

“In that case, it can’t hurt to tell me what happened, can it?  You wanted Felicity for some sort of sacrifice to your pet, but Michael and Stephen got in the way?”

 

Her face twisted into an angry snarl.

 

Pet?  He wasn’t a pet.”  She’d reached the dragon’s bones by now, and she paused, staring down at them.  He thought she was sad, but when she looked at him, there was blazing anger in her eyes.  “He was my son!”

 

That took Angel aback, and the mental puzzle pieces shifted, giving him a different set of images.  The thing in his thoughts, the thing that he could almost smell and taste in the air, started to… To do what?  To hiss in anger?  Yes.  The sound was almost physical.  And then another puzzle piece clicked into place.

 

“You needed a virgin sacrifice, and nubile virgins are in fairly short supply?”

 

She turned towards him, stalking through the cavern like a predator, her smile fierce.

 

“Exactly so.  Felicity was the best one around.  I wanted only the best for my son.”

 

“What?  He could only eat virgins?”

 

“No.  He needed a virgin for his twenty-first birthday.  It’s part of the magic, you see.  The magic that would allow him to take on human form whenever he wished.”

 

The closer she got, the more the sense of serpent coiled and writhed around him in anticipation.  At last, she was only an arm’s length away.

 

“And now I have to find another husband to sire another son.  Edgar won’t serve any more.”

 

Her gaze raked up and down Angel.

 

“You’ll do.”

 

“Actually, no.  I won’t.”  He backed away from her.  “Not a chance, lady.”

 

Her nostrils flared.

 

“Oh, I think there might be.  There’s something in you, trying to get out.”

 

She seemed to grow in stature, to become more… puissant.  Magic crackled in the air, invisible, yet there.  And the final puzzle piece fell into place for Angel.  He tensed himself, ready for what was to come.

 

She continued to wrap herself in power, her skin shimmering, the ruby winking at her throat.  Somewhere behind him, he heard a sound, but it was far off, almost in another time, another life.  And then Elfrieda was gone, and a dragon stood before him, a white dragon, with a ruby red breast, and much larger than the skeleton on the floor.  She made the chamber look…cosy.

 

He leapt over her back, a huge, demon-fuelled leap, as she drew breath in one giant inhalation, but all that came from her throat was a long hiss.  No fire.  Perhaps only the males had that.  No wings, either.  Perhaps only the males had those, too.

 

Her long, serpentine neck twisted, and her head swung round towards him.  He still heard her speech but now it was in his head.

 

“That wasn’t terribly human.”

 

He didn’t reply.  He’d seen what had made the sound behind where he’d been standing, something out of Elfrieda’s sight.  Not a what, a who.  John Deverill, swaying on the steps.  He’d forgotten about him.  The man might be drunk, but he wasn’t drunk enough not to understand what he’d seen.

 

Elfrieda turned her head to see what Angel was looking at.  With a nonchalant flip of her tail, she caught Deverill in the midriff, and knocked him back up to the edge of the pit, where he lay motionless.

 

“Now,” she said, “where were we?  Ah, yes, not terribly human.  What are you, little man?”

 

Angel allowed himself to change, slipping the demon from its leash.  Whatever ghostly enticements the dragon was using against him, they were overwhelmed by the resident vampire.

 

“A vampire!” she spat.  “Well, perhaps we can still make something of you.  We’re both eternal and you are…desirable.  It’s a pity you can’t sire sons for me, but you could find suitable men.  And that magical virgin’s blood, of course….”

 

“Be your pimp, you mean?  I don’t think so, Elfrieda.”

 

“I prefer Aelfrida, thank you.  It was my given name.”  She pronounced the d as something between a d and a th.

 

He started to move sideways, very slowly, wanting her attention focused on him.  He definitely didn’t want the tail end.  He remembered his reading.

 

“Aelfrida?  Orgar’s notorious daughter?”

 

“Very clever, vampire.”

 

He moved a little further round, coming closer to the skeletons.

 

“You killed your stepson, didn’t you, back in the day?  Your husband’s son?  So that your own son could inherit.  Ethelred wasn’t it?  Ethelred the Unready?  Bit of a waste of space, wasn’t he?  Not really worth the trouble.”  He toed at the dragon bones in front of him.  “This him?”

 

She hissed again.

 

“Don’t be stupid.  That son is long dead.  I’ve had others, since then.”

 

“What happened?  I thought you spent the rest of your life founding Abbeys and nunneries, and things, atoning for what you did.  Absolution hard to come by, was it?”

 

“You have no idea.  It seemed my acts of contrition weren’t enough.  This is what was done to me.  But it has its advantages.”

 

Inwardly, Angel shuddered.  If this was her punishment for one killing, what might his be?  He put that thought as far away from him as he could, and edged a little further sideways.  Her head came up, that huge white head, with its glittering fangs, and jewelled eyes, and her nostrils flared. 

 

Time to go for it.  He ran down the length of the dragon bones, and snatched up the sword, rolling out of the way as her jaws snapped shut behind him.

 

“Not for much longer,” he muttered.  He really didn’t want to hear any more.  “I’ve finished off tougher dragons than you, Lady.”

 

Her tail caught him in the ribs, and he fetched up in a crashing fall among the bones of the sacrificed girl.  There was no time to worry about bruises or broken bones.  Taking a tighter grip on the sword, he leapt for her throat, clinging on like a monkey.  Then, as Michael had done to her son, he thrust the sword, rusty and blunt as it was, up through her lower jaw, through her tongue, up into her palate, to come to rest in her brain.  He gave it a sharp twist for good measure, and then he threw himself clear.

 

Her death paroxysms shook the cavern, and he had to use every scrap of agility to stay out of her way, but eventually she did die.  As she breathed her last, her form shimmered, and she became human once more, sprawled in ugly death on the cavern floor.  The dragon in his head fell silent. 

 

+++++

 

Buffy lay tucked up in a warm and quilted bed.  Strange, she thought.  It was pretty well midsummer, and here she was, wrapped up, and with a mug of hot cocoa.  As she picked it up from the bedside table, the window flew open and a blonde, leather-clad woman leaned in.

 

“I wouldn’t, if I were you.  It’s got cyanide in it.  Rosemary watched them make it.  Angel sent me.”

 

Buffy put the poisoned cup carefully back on the table.  Angel was so going to have some explaining to do.

 

+++++

 

Angel’s first thought was to see to John Deverill, and he ran up the stairs to the Tor.  But it was too late.  John Deverill had dragged himself away from the ruined kistvaen, but Dartmoor had claimed another victim.  He had fallen, and he lay face down in the morass.  Angel turned him over, to be sure, but there was no real need.  He knew.

 

He couldn’t forget that Deverill had been the first to get up from the table, that first night.  Nor could Angel get rid of the thought that, no matter what he did, or how hard he tried, the physical world around him wouldn’t acknowledge him, and that he might even be more invisible to the superstition of thirteen people at table than a child’s toy.

 

He still hadn’t done enough, then.

 

He went back into the cavern, and pulled the sword from Elfrieda’s body, and then he went up the other stairs, to the door.  It stood ajar.  Clutching the sword firmly in his right hand, he strode down the passageway.

 

It ran for a long way, but in the end, it led to Alford Hall, to Sir Edgar’s library, to be exact.  Sir Edgar was there.  He seemed changed.  Perhaps it was that he stood taller.  He took one look at the bloody sword.

 

“Elfrieda?”

 

“I’m sorry.  She’s dead.”

 

Sir Edgar’s knees buckled, and he staggered backwards.  Angel caught him and helped him to a chair.

 

“Thank God,” the older man muttered.  “Thank the merciful God.”  He gripped Angel’s wrist.  “Do you understand what it’s been like, living enslaved to her?  Not able to have a thought or deed of my own?  I’m glad she’s gone!  Glad, do you hear me!”

 

“There’ll be some tidying up to do, in that chamber.”

 

Sir Edgar nodded.

 

“But at least the dead can perhaps be restored, now,” he replied.

 

+++++

 

By the next morning, Angel had managed to cover over the hole in the cavern roof, and rebuild the kistvaen.  The replaced turf looked a bit rough, but, with luck, it would re-root before anyone noticed.

 

The bones of Stephen, Michael, and Felicity he had brought up and placed into the fox den in Vixen Tor.  It was time for them to be found.  Elfrieda’s body, and the bones of her son, he left in the cavern.  No good could come from those seeing the light of day.  Later, he would come back and collapse the passageway to the Hall.

 

It was almost dawn when he got back to Merrivale House, and the fog had cleared.  Buffy wasn’t there, and neither was Giles.  He found his phone where he had left it, by Buffy’s bed.  He called her first.  She and Giles were at the police station.  She gave him the pared down version of events.  He did the same.  There was time to catch up properly, later.  Then he said, “Tell the policemen that I’ve found three…” No.  Remember John Deverill.  “Four bodies.  They might want to take a look.”

 

+++++

 

In the investigation that followed, the police were left with a lot of unanswered questions.  John Deverill’s body was recovered from the mire, but in the process a human femur was found.  The police decided to dredge through the bog, and found remains from perhaps sixty individuals, some ancient, some not.  Many of the bones had been gnawed and cracked, or burned, before they’d been placed in the mire.

 

The complete remains of two skeletons, and the partial remains of another, were found in the fox den at Vixen Tor.  DNA analysis showed them to be the remains of Felicity Wareham, Stephen Smith and Michael Gabriel.

 

Grace and Hope Chillaton-Kelly were arrested for the attempted murder of Miss Buffy Summers, as witnessed by Alison Booker and Rosemary Vernon, two of the three bodyguards hired by Mr Gabriel to protect his investigators.  In the course of their enquiries, the attention of the police was called to the weeping willow tree in the Chillaton-Kelly’s garden.  The tree was chopped down and dug up, and beneath it was found Miss Wareham’s severed head, wrapped in silk and placed in an expensive silver casket.  The sisters said, in their defence, that they owed allegiance to the dragon, that they had been offered a reward beyond their imagining, and that renewed life for Felicity had been promised.  They were sectioned to an asylum for the criminally insane.  They would never come to trial.

 

It was never established who had killed Carol Oldmay, but when she was buried, the funeral was paid for by the Gabriel estate, and there were too many mourners to fit into the church.

 

The body buried as Felicity Wareham was exhumed, and shown to be Stacey Swan.  That was one more family who could mourn properly, and bury their child.

 

The bones of Stephen Smith were buried alongside those of Felicity Wareham and Michael Gabriel, at the request of both the Smiths and the Gabriel estate.  On the night after the discovery of the bones, the Smiths had a late night visitor who was only briefly challenged by the dogs, and who sat drinking slivovitz with Stephen’s grandfather until the early hours of the morning, speaking of how bravely the boy must have died.

 

And one night, Alford Hall burned to the ground, with Sir Edgar in it.

 

+++++

 

Back at Summerdown House, the three of them relaxed in the breakfast room.  Buffy and Angel spent more and more time in the main house, and Giles felt increasingly uncomfortable about the cramped space that they had.  Yet, sharing a house with a Slayer and a vampire had certain practical difficulties that he didn’t want to think about, if he were to try and divide the building between them.

 

This morning, they’d been reviewing the notes on the Gabriel case.

 

Buffy put her coffee cup down with a decided snap.  “One thing I still don’t understand is why the sisters had Felicity’s head,” she said.

 

Giles stirred his tea moodily.

 

“No.  It doesn’t make a lot of sense.  Except… within the beliefs of reincarnation, the tree can be one of the stages of life into which the soul can return.  Perhaps they thought that she would in some sense occupy the tree.”

 

“What?  And come back from it?”

 

“Perhaps.”

 

“Weird.”

 

“Undoubtedly, Buffy.”

 

Angel simply watched and listened, and remembered the dragon.  Then he heard the crunch of wheels on the drive.

 

“Postman’s here.”

 

There was the usual assortment of bills and letters and advertising.  There was a letter that Giles ripped open immediately.

 

“It’s from Keith McKechnie.  Everyone is fine.  The window beneath Overtoun Bridge is still closed, and, oh, good!  He’s got a new puppy! Her name’s Flurry.  She’s related to Folly and Flag, and he’s sent a photograph…”

 

He passed the square of card round, and even Angel felt the urge to coo a little over the fat barrel of a puppy that was clearly trying to chew Flag’s ear off.  The letter, too, was passed round.

 

Then a second letter was ripped open.  A cheque fell out.  Angel snatched it up before it hit the table.  It was from Broadribb and Shuster, for fifty thousand pounds.  There was also a letter inviting all three members of Project Paranormal back to Merrivale House for the reading of the will.  Would they come down the night before, for a meeting with the lawyers?  They could and they did.

 

They went down one night early, and stayed in a hotel in Okehampton, so that they would be at Merrivale House shortly after sunset.  The lawyers were already waiting.  With them were Miranda Lamerton, Helen Earnshaw and Jonathan Edwards.  They all sat around a table in Mr Gabriel’s private conference room, with refreshments on a side table behind them.

 

“Mr Gabriel asked the five of us to assess the results of what you managed to achieve,” said Mr Broadribb.  “He would have been relieved to know that his son was now decently buried, and we do have, of course, a briefing from the police.  What we would like is your story, to fill out the report that you provided.  We don’t actually know why Michael died, or Felicity, or Stephen.  Perhaps you would be good enough to fill in the blanks, so to speak?”

 

It was Giles who replied, with a cobbled together story of a cult of human sacrifice, and two brave young men who had died trying to rescue Felicity.  Mr Broadribb, took a sip of his coffee, and looked to his fellow interviewers.  They all shook their heads.

 

“Mr Giles,” said Mr Broadribb, “we are well aware that you are paranormal investigators, and are therefore accustomed to hiding things from ‘normal’ people.  Michael took a sword and a shield, according to your report.  Where are those now, we ask?  And why were some of Michael’s bones charred?

 

“We here stand in place of Mr Gabriel, and he would have every right to know the truth.  Please.”

 

Giles looked at Buffy and Angel.  Buffy pursed her lips, and then shrugged.  Angel gave the matter more consideration, and then nodded.  Giles sat back in his chair, and told the truth.  Or most of it, anyway.

 

When he had finished, his audience was rapt.  It was Miranda Lamerton who broke the silence first.

 

“You mean to say that Elfrieda was preying on people hereabouts for hundreds of years?”

 

“So far as we can determine, yes,” replied Giles.

 

“And visitors will be a lot safer now?  With only natural hazards to worry about?”

 

Giles polished his glasses, and then spoke the truth as he saw it.  “They’ll be safer, there’s no doubt about that.  But there might be other supernatural dangers at work on the Moor.  I can’t guarantee anything better than ‘safer’.  Not ‘safe’.”

 

Mr Broadribb picked on a point not answered in Giles’ story.

 

“The weapons?  What about those.  They should perhaps be returned to Merrivale House.”

 

 “No,” said Angel.  “No, they shouldn’t.  We have the sword, and best we keep it.  It’s covered in dragon’s blood, and that’s far too dangerous to leave lying around.  The shield is still with the bones.  It isn’t in any condition to do any more shielding, believe me.”

 

Broadribb looked at Edwards, who nodded his acceptance.

 

“Very well, then,” Broadribb boomed.  “Our congratulations to all three of you.  We’re sorry that you should have experienced such dangers to resolve this investigation, but you have succeeded beyond Mr Gabriel’s wildest dreams.  And you have exonerated his son.  Justice has indeed been served, for a number of souls.  All of you, you have been Mr Gabriel’s Nemesis, his avenging angels.  Thank you.

 

“Now, you’ll join us at the reading of the will tomorrow?  There may be something to your advantage.”

 

+++++

 

A crowd of people had gathered in the Library, for the reading of the will, and Mr Gabriel’s bequests were generous.  As a woman in the row behind them pointed out to her unseen companion, Anthony Gabriel was a billionaire, and now had no direct heir.  His estate could afford to be generous.  There were provisions for charities, trusts and foundations, for Universities and hospitals, for friends and retainers, and for communities round about.  His most trusted servants weren’t forgotten, with a farm in Wales for Edwards, a villa in the South of France for Miranda Lamerton, and a house in London for Helen Earnshaw, all backed by generous cash sums.

 

At last, when all seemed finished, and even an estate of this size exhausted, Mr Broadribb came to the residue.

 

“And the remainder of the estate shall be divided into 12 shares plus Merrivale House.  Mr Gabriel intended that six of those shares, together with Merrivale House, would, in the event of Michael Gabriel’s proven death, go to John Deverill.  Not an enormous bequest, but enough to maintain the house, and to establish himself in something more productive than his existing rakehell ways, was how Mr Gabriel saw it.  He didn’t believe in mink-lined starts in life.

 

“The death of John Deverill now means that Merrivale House, and one share should go to the Tavistock Museum.  The remaining eleven shares go in trust to Project Paranormal, to use as they see fit, to conduct the business that they have conducted so well for Mr Gabriel.”

 

As everyone filed out for another ham sandwich tea, Buffy and Angel and Giles stayed rooted to their chairs, to the amusement of Mr Broadribb and Mr Shuster.

 

“Um.  And how much might Mr Gabriel’s residual bequest be worth,” asked Giles in failing accents. 

 

Mr Broadribb named a sum.  Buffy’s jaw dropped.

 

“How much?” Giles repeated.

 

Mr Broadribb gave the figure again.

 

“My goodness.”

 

Angel remembered the dragon.  The standard fee was usually the princess’s hand in marriage, and half the kingdom.  This was a lot less than that, but it would see Project Paranormal on a sound financial footing for many years to come.  He offered a small prayer that the spirits of Anthony Gabriel and Michael might now find some way to be reconciled; that after death, the father might find something to be proud of in his son’s life; that for them, at least, the father and son thing was over, even if it could never be over for himself.

 

+++++

 

Giles lost no time when they arrived back at Summerdown House, and asked Buffy and Angel to join him in the study.  As they sat down, he bent to unlock the safe and pulled out the plans for a second house at Summerdown.

 

“There’s something I’ve been meaning to talk to you about…”

 

 

THE END

July 2007

 

Author’s Notes

 

I wrote ‘Nemesis’ because I am a great fan of Agatha Christie, and I wanted to see whether I could rewrite one of her stories (her own ‘Nemesis’, in this case) with a different story, a different cast of characters, a supernatural twist and a different ending, and yet still have it recognisable as the Agatha Christie story.  And that’s why you might recognise a few character names, if you’re a Christie reader.

 

I started researching my chosen setting, around Tavistock, and discovered the Saxon Earl Orgar, and his notorious daughter Elfrida, or Aelfrida, who became a perfect choice for villainess.

 

Following that, weird things happened.  For example, Christie called her dead girl Verity Hunt.  I called mine Felicity Wareham.  Then I read that Elfrida had murdered her stepson, Edward, whose body was found on the Wareham Road.  Spooky.  Then it got spookier.

 

Elfrida, in atonement for her sins, founded abbeys and nunneries.  One of the nunneries that she founded was in Cholsey.  Buried in Cholsey parish churchyard is… Agatha Christie.

 

I hope you enjoy this little story, and the games that I’ve played with an author I admire very much.

 

1        Serious Organised Crime Agency

 

http://www.soca.gov.uk/

 

2        Art and Antiques Unit

 

http://www.met.police.uk/artandantiques/

 

3        Phoenician/Etruscan scripts

 

These are recognisably related, but are probably nothing to do with demons.

 

http://www.omniglot.com/writing/etruscan.htm

 

http://phoenicia.org/tblalpha.html

 

4        Organic box schemes are becoming very popular here.  This is one:

 

http://www.abel-cole.co.uk/

 

5        Merrivale

 

Merrivale (or Merivale) is a bit of a quarry.  My Merrivale isn’t.  But, there are intriguing ancient landscapes there, including some stone rows dating back 4,000 years.

 

http://www.chycor2.co.uk/westcountryviews/dartmoor/merrivale/merrivale.htm

 

http://www.stonepages.com/england/merrivalesr.html

 

6        Tavistock

 

To see the Museum, go here

 

http://www.tavistockhistory.ik.com/

 

For pictures of the Pannier Market:

 

http://www.tavistock.gov.uk/tavistock/pannier_market.htm

 

And about Tavistock itself:

 

http://www.tavistock-devon.co.uk/

 

7        Elfrieda

 

Elfrieda is based around the real life woman Elfrida (the spelling varies) who was a noted beauty.  She persuaded King Edgar to murder her husband so that he could marry her, and then she murdered Edgar’s son by his first wife so that her own son, Ethelred the Unready, could have the throne.

 

Information about her comes in bits and pieces, often as part of the information about Edgar, or Ethelred.  Here’s a start:

 

http://www.englishmonarchs.co.uk/saxon_13.htm

 

 

8        Nemesis

 

The Greek goddess of divine retribution, who made sure that people got their just desserts, whether they wanted them or not.

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nemesis_(mythology)

 

9        Vixen Tor

 

There’s a lot about Vixen Tor on the web, because there’s been a big kerfuffle about access being denied to the public recently. 

 

http://www.richkni.co.uk/dartmoor/tors.htm

 

http://www.walkingdartmoor.co.uk/vixana.asp

 

10      Dartmoor Prison

 

This is a very famous prison, and it really does describe itself as offering cellular accommodation on six wings.  As if inmates had any choice in the matter…

 

http://www.hmprisonservice.gov.uk/prisoninformation/locateaprison/prison.asp?id=322,15,2,15,322,0

 

11      Dartmoor

 

Here are some nice general pictures of Dartmoor:

 

http://www.dartmoorperspectives.co.uk/dartmoorphotossw.html

 

 

12      Dozmary Pool

 

What a lovely name for a lake.  It means ‘Drop of Sea’.  Here’s a picture.

 

http://www.cornwalls.co.uk/photos/img1008.htm

 

13      Lurchers

 

Wonderful dogs – I had two.  I didn’t know that the name came from the gypsy ‘lur’, meaning ‘thief’, but they are definitely gypsy dogs.

 

http://www.dogshome.org/rehome/choosing_a_pet/which_breed/lurcher.html

 

and here’s something about mastiffs

 

http://www.englishmastiff.org.uk/page3.html

 

14      Featherstone

 

The town of Featherstone is near Wakefield, in Yorkshire, and has a famous rugby league team, Featherstone Rovers.  It’s very coy about having information on the web, though.

 

15      St George

 

George and the Dragon.  Of course.

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_George

 

16      Edith Swan Neck

 

Only a few decades after Elfrida and Edgar came Harold and the battle of Hastings.  Harold’s mistress was called Edith Swan Neck, and it was she who identified his hacked-up body on the battlefield.

 

http://www.battle1066.com/harold2.shtml

 

 



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