Griffin gave the alarm clock a look of sour disapproval and his sleepy-eyed companion a prod in the ribs. "Have you got a fetish about waking up at five-thirty?"
Kilroy grunted and tried to co-ordinate glottis, tongue and lips; failing, he settled for a drowsy grin of some sweetness. He sighed with relief when Griffin killed the alarm.
As he snuggled back into the glorious cocoon of warm, man-scented air, Griffin's mood began to mellow. Crooking one leg over Kilroy's, he bit gently on the stubble-darkened chin before seeking out the sleep-softened mouth.
"I was going to... Mmn." Kilroy's hands began to roam.
"Meant to get up early," he explained, some time later.
"Bits of you did," Griffin reminded him, stroking slick warmth into his belly.
"There's no need to make more mess than necessary," reproved Kilroy. "This is the last pair of clean sheets till I get to the laundrette. Besides, we should've used rubbers."
"Sheets?" Griffin's head turned on the pillow.
Kilroy gave a patient sigh. "Condoms. You're not awake yet, are you?"
"If it makes you happy to think so," said Griffin kindly, snuggling fully under the duvet again.
"I should get up," remarked Kilroy without enthusiasm. "Get my report done, close the case and return the files to the client. Then I'll take some leave. I'd like to spend it with you. If you're free?"
His newly-leased workshop beckoning seductively, Griffin met hopeful blue eyes and sighed. "I could be," he said weakly.
Kilroy beamed. "Great. Then we can go down to the house. You agreed ages ago," he pointed out, when Griffin opened his mouth to protest, "and we never did get there." He gave Griffin a look of dark suspicion.
"But it was a great weekend," Griffin reminded him.
"True. We're still going to Whitehaven for a few days."
"That sounds like a threat."
"Whatever it takes," replied Kilroy cheerfully.
"Go to work," Griffin groaned. "If I must, I must. You can pick me up here later. A lot later."
"You mean you're not going to see me off?" said Kilroy with reproach.
"You're going across the road, not to Antarctica. I'll be with you in spirit," promised Griffin, rolling into the centre of the bed as Kilroy reluctantly left it.
"It's bloody freezing," Kilroy discovered.
"Serves you right for switching the heating off. Oh, come here then. I'm warm enough for both of us."
"That's a first," said Kilroy, obeying with alacrity.
A phone call to Sydney having established that Henri Langlois was visiting Paris and London on business, it was late afternoon when Kilroy went to meet him, intent on handing back the dossier in person. Too many people had seen it already. He also returned Langlois' fee, which had increasingly come to feel like thirty pieces of silver.
Despite a stormy meeting, Langlois' affable manner slipping when he heard Kilroy's decision, Kilroy felt happier than he had done for weeks when he drove away from the banker's city office. Force of habit took him to the agency rather than his flat. As he had expected at this time of the evening, he had to unlock the front door. Resetting the alarm, he went in search of Kevin, who was night-duty officer for the week.
Approaching the general office, from where he could hear sounds of activity, Kilroy was surprised to see Griffin in conversation with Annie while he operated the photocopier. He felt a moment's panic in case Griffin had met John or Dave and somehow learnt of the existence of the Langlois case. While Kilroy knew he would have to tell Griffin the truth about the circumstances of their meeting one day, he wanted to ensure their strengthening relationship would be able to withstand the strain of his disclosures. He had a five-year plan in mind for the date of his confession.
"Have we taken on a new office boy?" he asked.
"I wish," said Annie. "Kev's got a rush job on. James turned up to see where you'd got to and volunteered to help out."
"'Volunteered' is stretching the truth a bit," interjected Griffin, crouching to refill the paper tray.
"You're welcome to moan all you like just so long as you keep working," returned Annie placidly, her gaze never leaving the file she was checking.
"What's the rush job?" asked Kilroy.
"The Helvetia Foundation's called a beauty parade for tomorrow, to decide which agency gets its business - world-wide."
"Christ," said Kilroy involuntarily. While the Foundation generated a lot of dull and time-consuming work, they paid well and promptly, helping to cover some of the agency's loss-making work. He had used his position as senior partner to insist that, the recession notwithstanding, the agency continue to take cases on the basis of a client's need for their expertise as much as for their ability to pay.
"Quite," said Griffin, before adding to Annie, "I'm working, I'm working."
"Kev's the obvious presenter. He's busy preparing the sales pitch while trying to cost the job. He needs umpteen files. Roger's in Archives rooting them out. He could use some help," Annie added pointedly.
"Consider me gone. You OK?" Kilroy added to Griffin.
"Fine. This is likely to be an all-night job. Kevin's booked on the eight o'clock flight."
"You're a worse slave-driver than Annie," complained Kilroy, taking the hint.
After a frustrating couple of hours, during which he discovered their file retrieval system did not work, Kilroy went to see if Kevin needed help. He found him with Griffin, both men hunched in front of a VDU; Griffin's face bore the expression of a man told to climb Everest while wearing wellington boots.
"Oh good," said Kevin, when he spotted Kilroy. "Look, I know it's irregular, and I should have checked with you first, but I need help fast and James can give it. He's all but persuaded this bloody machine to dance. Can he work on preparing the projections? He can do them standing on his head."
"Sure," said Kilroy without hesitation. "While he can be a perfectionist and a pain-in-the-arse, he's no security risk. You two should get on fine. What can I do?"
Kevin's first suggestion was anatomically impossible.
Teamwork and tight deadlines the norm at the agency, everyone was accustomed to doing whatever was necessary to get a job done. Kilroy spent the night doing everything from making coffee to driving to Kevin's flat to pack for him. On his return, just after five-thirty, he discovered Kevin, Annie and Griffin slumped in chairs, satisfaction helping to obscure the fatigue on every face.
"How's it going?" he asked, setting the luggage down.
"All done. And very smart everything looks too. A courier collected twenty sets of each report ten minutes ago. Can we afford to hire James?" added Kevin, helping himself to a cigarette from the packet Griffin had left on the table.
"You have a fan," Kilroy told Griffin.
"The sandwiches he persuaded Brown's to cough up around midnight didn't hurt," added Annie.
"I might've guessed. There's no need to spoil them, you know," Kilroy told Griffin severely. "Dried crusts have always been adequate in the past."
"I'm serious," said Kevin. "James finished the projections in half the time Paul would've taken, never mind the rest of us. More to the point, he's accurate. You're a bloody marvel," he told Griffin.
"Only when compared to you," Griffin assured him, ignoring Kevin's two-fingered salute.
"Now tell Kit what you think of our system," suggested Annie.
"Inadequate and out of date," said Griffin bluntly. "When was it installed?" Kilroy looked vague, the others amused. "You must waste hours every week."
"They do," chipped in Annie. "And guess who has to sort out the mess. It would help if they'd take time for proper training, never mind installing a system for the nineties."
"Unbelievable. Your IT Department is a joke."
"How would you feel about being a consultant for us?" asked Kilroy.
"We'd pay," added Kevin.
"There isn't money enough. I'd be a basket case in a day."
"Patience isn't his strong point," Kilroy explained.
"I didn't notice a lack," said Kevin.
Griffin eyed him kindly. "You must have selective hearing. I can recommend a consultant if you're really interested."
"Tonight's proved we have to be," said Kevin, turning to Kilroy. "Or did you enjoy your hours file hunting?"
"Don't look so pathetic," murmured Griffin, patting Kilroy's arm. "Kids of five use them. The secret is not to let them intimidate you."
"Sorry to interrupt," said Annie insincerely, turning back from the telephone call she had answered, "but that was Roger. The car's ready and it's time Kev went to clean up. We thought he could use your flat," she added to Kilroy.
"Terrific. OK," he sighed.
As the office emptied in the bustle of seeing Kevin off, Griffin propped his feet on the edge of the desk, lit a cigarette and lazily contemplated the pleasures of sleep. A tap on the shoulder made him jump.
"Don't get too comfortable," Annie told him. "Kit's gone with them. Meanwhile, there's all these files waiting to be put back together." There was an expectant look on her face.
"You're a monster," complained Griffin, getting to his feet.
Returning to the agency, Kilroy stood listening while a trapped Griffin endured one of Annie's infamous interrogations. While he parted with information unwillingly, Kilroy gained an unexpected insight into the man, who as an eight-year-old had been sent halfway across the world to prep. school.
"Don't you remember your mum at all?"
"She died when I was a baby. Have you got the papers for August eighty-eight? They should have been with this batch."
"I've seen them. Yeah, here you go. You must have missed her though," pursued Annie.
"Sometimes. I was OK."
"You must have a good dad."
"I thought so."
About to intervene, Kilroy relaxed when he saw the resignation on Griffin's face as he tried, unsuccessfully for the most part, to parry questions.
After ten minutes or so of receiving increasingly abbreviated replies, Annie sighed. "I'm being pushy, aren't I. My John's always saying I never know when to give it a rest."
Griffin smiled at her and Kilroy drew in his breath, abruptly wanting the man. "He could have a point."
Annie grinned. "I've never been called nosy so politely before. Trouble is, I like listening to people. Will you be staying in England?"
"I'm buying a home here," said Griffin, dropping the last file onto a stacked trolley.
"With Kit?" Annie's hand flew over her mouth. "Oops. Sorry. That just popped out."
"No it didn't. And that isn't any of your business. Your John has my sympathies."
Kilroy saw Griffin shoot her a shrewd glance, obviously sensing something amiss but unwilling to ask a question which might embarrass Annie. Pushing his hair back from his face again, he muttered something about getting it cut.
"Don't cut it, tie it back. A lot of blokes are wearing ponytails. It'd suit you and I'm sure your hair's long enough. I meant to say last time I saw you. Here, sit yourself down and I'll have a go."
While Griffin began a weak protest, Kilroy was not surprised to see him sitting, a mixture of resignation and trepidation on his face when Annie produced a pair of scissors and a comb.
"Don't panic, I'm only tidying up a couple of bits. I like these grey flashes. Are they natural?"
"It's called old age. Shit!"
"Don't be such a baby, I hardly pulled it at all. Stop fidgeting. There! It really suits you."
"Yes, it does," agreed Kilroy, deciding to make his presence known.
"Aging hippies must be all the rage," remarked Griffin, eyeing his mirrored reflection with doubt.
"In two thousand pound suits?" mocked Kilroy.
Griffin gave him the finger, kissed Annie on the cheek and lit a cigarette. "Can we have breakfast now? What takes your fancy, Annie?"
"A bath and a long sleep. I'm off home."
"Book a taxi," ordered Kilroy. "And just for once don't argue." Having seen her into a cab, he and Griffin left the agency as soon as a partner arrived to man the phones, Kilroy pausing to arrange cover for the period of Kevin's absence.
"You're looking a bit pensive. What's up?" Kilroy asked Griffin.
"Can we take a walk round the block?"
"Blocks are for builders. Make it the park.”
Griffin remained silent even after they had dodged across the busy road and entered St. James’s Park.
“How many laps do we have to do before you tell me what the problem is?" Kilroy asked.
Avoiding the main path, which was crowded with commuters hurrying to work, Griffin tucked his hands in his pockets. "Me. At the agency. I shouldn't have butted in uninvited. I knew better."
"Didn't you hear what I told Kevin?"
"In the circumstances you didn't have much choice."
"That's what you think. Besides, Kevin wouldn't have asked for help if he'd thought you were a wrong 'un."
"Basing his faith on an acquaintance of at least ten minutes." Griffin batted away a drifting plane leaf.
"He's got a nose for villains. Straight up." As it began to drizzle, they turned for home and eased into a jog.
"You're full of it," snorted Griffin. "God, now I know the rot's set in. I'm starting to talk like you."
"Another few years and you might even get the hang of it," Kilroy agreed, fumbling for his key. "Of course, you realise you've got out of going down to Whitehaven again. In the rush I forgot to arrange any cover for when I take leave."
"Great. I'll be able to make use of the workshop after all," said Griffin with satisfaction.
Kilroy gave him an exasperated push into the flat. "I sometimes wonder if you've got your priorities right," he said severely.
"Why? You won't be working all night, will you?"
"I bloody well hope not," said Kilroy with feeling. A look of consternation crossing his face, he followed Griffin into the bathroom, where Griffin was relieving himself. "What date is it?"
"Do you mind?"
"Course not," dismissed Kilroy, oblivious to sarcasm. "What's the date?"
Giving up, Griffin told him. "Why's it so important?"
"Because I'm on sodding night-duty from Thursday, that's why. Eight to eight shifts."
"I wish I was. We - the partners - take it in turns."
"I'll hire the workshop for an extra week," said Griffin, putting on the shower and beginning to strip.
"Don't you ever think of anything else?" asked Kilroy, although after hearing Griffin tell Annie about Bedales school, which was famous for its furniture design and carpentry courses, Griffin's obsession with wood seemed more explicable.
Pausing, Griffin looked him over, lingering a little. "Occasionally," he said blandly, gesturing to the shower stall. "Coming?"
"I don't think I could," said Kilroy sadly.
The crease down Griffin's cheek deepened. "I always respond best to a challenge. I have the feeling that with a little expert encouragement you could surprise yourself."
While Kilroy wasn't wholly amazed by what followed, he didn't waste his breath pointing out as much.
"Does it bother you that Annie's realised we're lovers?" asked Kilroy the following evening, as they drove out of the sports club car park.
"It's a bit late to worry now," said Griffin placidly. "I take it you're out of the closet at the agency."
"Oh, they're very liberal. I'm their token gay." The flippancy Kilroy had intended was absent from his voice.
"Token hokum. You're the senior partner. From what Kevin was saying you've spun the agency round on its axis since you took charge. Annie thinks a lot of you, too."
"Have a nice chat about me, did you?"
"Great, until she started the cross-examination. While she never got round to asking my intentions, I was convinced she was going to ask if we practised safe sex."
"Don't exaggerate, she wasn't that bad."
Griffin spared him a brief, amused glance. "I thought you'd been there longer than you let on. You might have come to my rescue."
"You were quite capable of stopping her."
"What with, an Exocet?"
"I was there, remember? Why don't you admit it, you're just a softie."
Griffin parked the car and gave Kilroy a glance he was not sure how to interpret.
"No. I just like Annie."
Obviously favouring his own theory, Kilroy let it pass. "She needs friends. While she's never said anything, I've got doubts about her John. He's had more jobs than we've had hot dinners, and I think he sometimes slaps her around."
Griffin leant against the car, the keys dangling from his fingers, and gave him a shrewd look. "Why don't you check him out?"
"Don't think I haven't been tempted. But I don't have the right to interfere. While Annie might like listening to people, she doesn't volunteer a lot about herself. Have we got any food at the flat?"
Griffin, who was learning, gave him a look of wide-eyed innocence. "I thought you were getting it."
Contenting himself with a sceptical snort, Kilroy led the way out of the small agency car park which Griffin used when he wasn't staying at Brown's. While technically still a guest there, since his return from Hong Kong he had visited his suite only to collect fresh clothing and pick up any messages.
"We could eat out. Good food and wine, soft music, candlelight," suggested Griffin.
"The flat can manage the music, light and wine - and I can take my shoes off."
"I wonder about you sometimes."
"That's a step in the right direction," said Kilroy encouragingly. He was still at the stage where his conscience kept reminding him he had lied to Griffin from their first meeting onwards. The relief that he no longer had to sift and analyse every conversation was exquisite, provided he ignored the odd doubt which insisted on resurfacing.
Relocking the front door, Griffin tucked his key back into his pocket and turned to see Kilroy's smug expression. "I'm staying at Brown's," he said pugnaciously.
"Only because they do your laundry and I won't."
"I can think of other reasons," Griffin admitted, sighing when Kilroy's look of satisfaction increased.
After a tedious week on night-duty, Kilroy was delayed at the agency until mid-afternoon on Friday. Almost asleep on his feet by the time he returned to the flat, he experienced a flicker of life when he entered the kitchen and saw Griffin, who turned at his wolf-whistle.
"What's that for?" he asked, reaching out for a second mug to make Kilroy some coffee.
"You should wear jeans more often. My god you should. Are you wearing anything under those?" added Kilroy, his hand gliding over an area of particular interest.
Seeming to take the attention as no more than his due, Griffin continued with what he was doing. "Given that it's close to freezing outside and you're condemning me to staying in a draughty Victorian house, what do you think? I've packed the car for a week - including food. D'you want any scotch in your coffee?"
"Please. No, that's plenty."
"Then if you'd like to change we can - "
" - get it over with?" completed Kilroy with amusement.
"Something like that," admitted Griffin, who was itching to get back to work now he had taken the plunge of committing himself to making a piece of furniture. It was going well, to the point where any delays were unwelcome.
"No rush. I need a shower - and I'm starving."
"There's nothing left unpacked except for some stale bread. I'll take us out," said Griffin quickly, wary that Kilroy might produce some esoteric recipe which would demand knowledge he did not possess and could not bluff his way through.
"Too much effort," dismissed Kilroy, yawning. "Try the cupboard in the corner. I'm sure I saw some tins in there the other night."
Crouching down to investigate, Griffin looked up with a grimace. "Two cans of lager, three of baked beans and one of apricots - in syrup."
"Great!" said Kilroy, deaf to the lack of enthusiasm. "Baked beans on toast. Be a new experience for you, baked beans will."
"No they won't. You forget, I spent ten years in the English public school system. Baked beans and pease pudding are but two of the horrors I've been trying to forget."
"Stop moaning and start cooking," commanded Kilroy, rubbing eyes gritty with fatigue. Lack of sleep was a common problem when on night-duty; by the time his system adapted to the change he was back on days and condemned to a period in the twilight zone until his body caught up.
"Right." Griffin peered at the label, frowned, and turned the tin round.
"Problem?" asked Kilroy, when he became aware of the lack of activity.
"Then what's up?"
"How do I cook these?" Griffin asked, a defeated look on his face.
Kilroy looked blank. "You are joking?"
"Half the label is missing - including the cooking instructions for the microwave," snapped Griffin.
Kilroy gave a crow of laughter which, after glimpsing Griffin's expression, he tried unsuccessfully to turn into a cough. Comprehension dawning as he remembered the small burns Griffin acquired each time he worked in the kitchen, and the culinary disasters produced when he was left to his own devices, Kilroy's expression changed to one of affectionate understanding. "There weren't any kitchens in your hotel suites, I take it."
"No. Now how do I cook the fucking things?"
"You don't have to use the microwave. They won't take long to warm on the cooker. Just stick the contents in a saucepan over a low heat and keep stirring to stop them sticking."
Cutting his finger on the edge of the can Griffin sucked the small wound, and fished for a saucepan, narrowly missing braining himself when the smaller one inside it fell out. His back to the room, even the set of his shoulders was defensive.
Understanding on his face, Kilroy moved behind him to slide an arm around Griffin's middle. "I wasn't laughing at you. You did brilliantly to hide the fact you can't cook, though I don't know why you bothered. There's no reason why you should have learnt. I'm no great shakes myself. We'll pool our resources from now on."
"That won't take long as far as I'm concerned," Griffin admitted. "And you can stop soft-soaping me." He lessened the reproof by leaning back into the embrace.
Inhaling 'Givenchy for Men' and warming baked beans, Kilroy folded his other arm around Griffin and nipped delicately at his ear lobe. "Shit! That's the second time I've bitten your ear stud," he complained.
"Teach you to be so oral," said Griffin, before he sniffed the air. "What's that smell?"
Reaching around him, Kilroy switched off the bubbling baked beans. "These."
His nose wrinkling fastidiously, Griffin turned. "No. It's coming from you."
"That's a very personal remark."
"It's a disgusting smell."
"I hoped you wouldn't notice," admitted the eternal optimist. "The sink in the office kitchen was bunged up and I made the mistake of trying some DIY."
"And there was me thinking you were the complete handyman," murmured Griffin, his intent gaze on Kilroy's mouth. He closed his teeth over Kilroy's lower lip, dragging gently on it before tracing its contours with his tongue tip. "How would you like to be fucked?" he enquired, his hands sliding with a lazy purpose between the edges of the stained shirt to stroke the smooth flesh over Kilroy's ribs as his knee slipped between Kilroy's legs.
"But you've never...that is...a lot. I think. Shall I shower first?"
Griffin's expression changed to one of rueful recognition. "Poor Kit. I didn't realise, you're half-asleep. Lousy timing on my part. I'll take a rain check. I'd prefer your undivided attention." Drawing away, he willed his untimely erection to subside.
"You don't mind?" Kilroy blinked owlishly.
"Of course I do. But not to the point of taking umbrage. What did you expect?"
"I'm not sure," Kilroy said slowly, sinking onto a chair. "I've never seen you lose your temper. You just get a cold look in your eye and close me out when you're pissed off."
Kilroy ignored the warning signals. "So give yourself a treat, let go sometimes. Be yourself."
Griffin's mouth pursed. "I hate to break it to you," he said at last, "but what you see is what you get."
With the stubbornness of the over-tired, Kilroy shook his head. "That's bollocks and we both know it. You don't even relax completely when we're...alone," he finished lamely, yet to reach the point of exhaustion where he couldn't foresee danger if he offered anything that could be construed as a criticism of Griffin's technique in bed. But it was a fact that Griffin had yet to drop all his barriers. Even on the point of climax he seemed to hold back something of himself.
Frowning, Griffin sat opposite him. "What is it you expect from me?"
"I dunno. Everything, I suppose. I'm going to bed. You'll want to get back to your workshop."
"No. I'll get the laptop from the car and get on with some work. I've got a bit behind recently."
"On what? Making money?"
"Is there something wrong with doing that?"
"How would you know, you've never done anything else."
"I can work in my suite if you're afraid you'll be contaminated."
Oblivious to the icy note in Griffin's voice, Kilroy shook his head, yawned and blinked sleepily at Griffin. "Don't be daft. 'S nice having you around the place. You won't be disappointed if we don't go down to Whitehaven until tomorrow?"
Rumpled, unshaved and smelling strongly of drains, he was still hard to resist: Griffin abandoned the attempt. "I think I'll be able to bear up. Don't you want to eat before you sleep?"
Kilroy thought about it. "No. I'm not that fond of beans myself." Ambling in the direction of the bedroom, he never knew how close he came to having them thrown at his head.
Kilroy emerged from his period of hibernation to find the flat empty and a note on the table, promising fresh food in the refrigerator. Feeling drugged after his spell of death, he drank from the opened carton of orange juice. Switching on the radio to mask the silence of the flat, he sang along to some golden oldies while he cooked himself eggs and bacon. He had just finished his meal when Griffin returned.
"Hi. You look better," he remarked, with what Kilroy could only feel was a disgusting amount of vivacity.
"I feel it. Breakfast, or have you eaten?" Kilroy was already frying more bacon.
"I'm starving. I went for a jog. Don't panic, I dumped my kit at Brown's. It's miserable out, just starting to rain - perfect weather for the country. Even I can cook eggs and bacon," Griffin added, when he noticed what Kilroy was doing.
"You've got enough burns on your hands already," pointed out Kilroy with more truth than tact as he broke eggs one-handed into the pan; the professional effect was ruined when he had to pause to fish out some shell.
All wide-eyed admiration, Griffin sat down to watch. Catching Kilroy's glare, his expression was blandly innocent. "I wasn't going to say a word."
Kilroy threw a balled up tea towel at him. "These should be...um, yes, they are. You do like rubbery eggs, don't you?"
"I seem to have acquired a taste for them since meeting you. Where are you off to?" Griffin added, when he noticed the signs of departure.
"Some last minute shopping. I won't be more than an hour." Mindful of his responsibilities as host, Kilroy intended to stock up on wine, torches, candles and thermal sleeping bags in case the heating should play them false. He thought it best not to mention the possibility to Griffin. "You can clear up while I'm gone," he added generously.
"Gosh, thanks," breathed Griffin. As he suspected would be the case, his irony was wasted.