"You have a visitor," announced Kilroy with a brightness he was far from feeling as he entered the kitchen. "I left him in the study. He didn't seem impressed with the decor. You look like shit," he added frankly.
"Yeah? You don't look so great yourself." Morosely slumped on the chair he had occupied the previous night, Griffin took a sip of coffee, grimaced and set the mug down. If it hadn't been for the fact he had changed and shaved, Kilroy would have thought Griffin had remained there all night.
"There's aspirin on the side if you need them," Griffin added colourlessly.
"Thanks." Kilroy took two, and after a pause, another two. "I can't remember the last time I drank that much."
"Nor me, but I can remember why I don't make a habit of it. It was a hell of a waste of good claret."
"I put it down to the brandy we had afterwards." Kilroy sank onto the chair opposite Griffin.
"Whichever." Griffin stared at the cigarette he had taken from a crumpled packet. "The guy in the study. Is he the architect or lawyer?"
"I didn't think to ask him. Given the Armani suit and Lotus I'd say the former. Name of Cassell."
"You'd be right. I'll go and get rid of him." Griffin heaved himself to his feet, all his usual grace lost.
"Your head must be bad."
"Why?" asked Griffin, frowning.
"I thought you were in a mad rush to get the workshop started."
Griffin shrugged and lit the cigarette he had been mutilating. "You still want me for a neighbour?"
"Christ, that's strong," complained Kilroy, having helped himself to a mouthful of Griffin's coffee. Then it dawned on him what he was being asked. "The fact your father was a manipulative bastard who may or may not have murdered your lover isn't relevant to us. It might not matter to you so much if you could stop feeling guilty for being alive." As he had intended, that caught Griffin's attention.
"Yes, I expect it might," he agreed coldly.
"Then give it a try. You'd better get a move on, Cassell looks like he charges by the minute. Here. My keys to the stable block, along with the spare set. Keep 'em. You'll need them both for when the workmen start," Kilroy added vaguely, helping himself to Griffin's coffee again.
"I haven't bought the place yet."
"I'm sure you're good for the money. Don't wait for the lawyers to start work. I trust you."
"Then you're a bloody fool." Scooping up the keys, Griffin paused in the doorway. "Maybe this isn't such a good idea," he said slowly.
Turning in his chair, Kilroy sighed when he recognised the doubts Griffin was in no state to hide. "Go," he said firmly. "I want to enjoy my hangover in peace."
Soaking in the bath that evening, Kilroy was frankly dozing in the steamy atmosphere when the door opened.
"Want any company?" asked Griffin; hovering, he made no effort to enter the room.
"Just so long as you close the door. There's a hell of a draught," mumbled Kilroy, who was floating in that blissful state of fatigue and physical comfort where consciousness was a moot point.
"I'm knackered. Started sorting through the junk in the breakfast room and got carried away. You know what it's like. Once you get a foot of space cleared you tell yourself you'll just do one more. Though I couldn't shift some of the furniture. There's a table in there at the back you're going to hate," Kilroy predicted happily, squeezing a sponge of warm water down his throat. "How did things go with Cassell?"
"Fine." Kneeling, his arms propped on the rim of the bath, Griffin pushed up his cuffs and absently trailed his fingers in the water, pushing bubbles along the wet hairs on Kilroy's upraised thigh. "Marcus isn't the stuffed shirt he might seem. Believe it or not, he's shy."
Kilroy gave a hoot of disbelief, then thought about it. "You could be right, I've known a couple of blokes like that myself. Can he do the job you want?"
"No problem. The plans should be couriered here by tomorrow evening. Once I give the go-ahead he'll organise everything, including the builders."
"Great. When will you be able to start work?"
Griffin shrugged, his eyes on the pattern he was creating on Kilroy's leg. "Depends when I can take delivery of the machines I need. Installing them won't take long. I'm looking for two weeks."
"Optimist. You don't seriously think they'll get the flat conversion done in two weeks?"
"Course not. But just so long as the ceiling's up, it won't interfere with me working down below. Everything I'll need will be ready."
"Fancy a bet on that - loser buys dinner?"
"I know just the restaurant," said Griffin, smiling, but there was still a certain reserve in his manner.
Kilroy decided to ignore it in the hope it would go away. "You would. Add some more hot water, this is cooling down."
"You'll turn into a prune," Griffin warned as he obliged.
"Already have." Waving a wrinkled big toe above the water which lapped around the base of his throat, Kilroy slipped and disappeared beneath the surface for a second or two.
Griffin's arm shot out to haul him back into view. "There are better things to drink than bathwater," he reproved, when Kilroy had stopped spitting. "Though it's surprisingly clean."
"This is my rinsing water," Kilroy explained hoarsely, still coughing as he wiped moisture from his eyes.
"That would account for it. Can I buy you a present?"
"Of what?" asked Kilroy with deep suspicion.
"Four strong men," said Griffin gravely.
A happy grin split Kilroy's face. "Now that's what I call real generosity."
His palm over the crown of Kilroy's head, Griffin pushed him back under the water. "To help clear the house," he explained patiently, when Kilroy reappeared.
"Spoilsport. That'd be great. Though I reckon it's because you can't hack the work myself. I surrender," Kilroy added cravenly, when Griffin loomed above him. "And thanks. It would take us for ever. You'll have to tell me what's worth keeping, then they can junk the rest. I don't know what I've done to deserve this."
"Nor do I," said Griffin, grimacing when he realised how damp he had become, "but I'll probably think of something."
"As you're so wet already, you may as well get in with me."
Wringing out the sleeve of his thick sweater, which did it no good at all, Griffin shook his head. "Too tired."
"I'll do all the work," coaxed Kilroy.
"You might have to." Griffin began to undress without noticeable enthusiasm.
Kilroy lay back to enjoy the view, the head of his penis rising to peep coyly out of the water.
"And hello to you, too. That was quick," noted Griffin, rubbing himself unselfconsciously as he dipped one foot in the water to check it was hot enough. "I suppose you expect me to sit on the plug?"
"Only if you can't find somewhere more comfortable." Kilroy gestured down to himself. "There are some Mates on the window-ledge."
"I hope they're not Great-Uncle Percy's," said Griffin, as he wandered over to retrieve them. A wet sponge catching him under the chin, he returned it with accuracy.
His holiday over far too soon, Kilroy was aware that something was wrong between them without being certain what it was. Uneasy at the foreign phone calls he had heard Griffin make, and beginning to regret his own lack of fluent Italian, his suspicions began to stir, the more so when he realised what the purchase and conversion of the stable block were going to cost Griffin. In the circumstances, he was glad to leave for London, having agreed that Griffin would remain at Whitehaven until the house had been cleared. Neither man suggested that they meet up before the following weekend.
By the time Kilroy got back to Whitehaven on Saturday morning he had been too busy to have time to worry about his domestic arrangements or Griffin's frame of mind. If Griffin had any doubts, they weren't apparent when he took Kilroy out to dinner.
"What will you do if the machinery isn't going to be installed until the week after next?" Kilroy asked over coffee.
"Why don't you just say 'I told you so' and get it over with? I'd hoped to stay down here and do some more house clearing but something has come up. I have to fly to Geneva on Monday."
"Not the gnomes of Zurich?"
"Right principle, wrong city," said Griffin, adroitly changing the subject.
When they arrived back at Whitehaven some time after midnight, Kilroy stood in the middle of the echoing entrance hall and flung out his arms. "You've got to admit, it's cosy."
"A small place, but your own," agreed Griffin. Rubbing the back of his neck, he added, "I'm beat. Do you mind if we leave the game of backgammon until tomorrow?"
"Course not. I won't be long myself."
"Don't hurry on my account. I've cleared out the room down the corridor for my use," said Griffin as he reached the top of the stairs.
Stunned, it didn't occur to Kilroy to follow him.
Going into the kitchen just after eight the following morning, Kilroy saw all the signs that Griffin had already breakfasted, from the look of the dried yolk on the plate, at least two hours ago. He found Griffin outside the stable block, unloading a transit van.
"Who does that belong to?" asked Kilroy.
"Alan at the pub. He's lent it to me in exchange for me stripping down that Welsh dresser he was conned into buying. I can't transport much in the Jag. and I needed to move the stuff I'd acquired at that workshop I rented in town. Now you're here, come and have a look at how they're getting on."
Kilroy was impressed and made no bones about saying so. The new front door of solid mahogany now led into a wide, light hallway, off which were a fully-functional office and a small kitchen and a bathroom. Glass panelling revealed the workshop, which stretched the full length of the upright of the L-shape. "What's through here?" he asked, pointing to a door.
"Storage shed for the wood. The temperature control isn't as vital as it might be because the wood is already seasoned, but I prefer to keep a decent level of stock - and a variety of timbers, of course. The damp is likely to be more of a problem than too much heat. I won't be seasoning my own timber at the moment, I've found a couple of excellent suppliers for all I'll need."
When Griffin opened the door, Kilroy took an appreciative sniff. "What's that gorgeous smell?"
"Wood," said Griffin in a patient tone. "Each species has its own characteristic smell. You're really interested?"
"I'm really interested," confirmed Kilroy. Two hours later he was far better informed, if a little confused.
"They should bottle the scent. With the office and stuff out front, you hardly need a flat."
"That's what you think."
"You'll echo round this workshop. What are they?"
"Speakers for the music system," said Griffin, as if it should have been obvious.
"Silly me," murmured Kilroy, staring out of one of the large windows which looked onto the patch of wilderness which had once been a part of his garden. "Is everything all right?"
"Of course. How d'you mean?" Griffin added without turning.
They stood so close that Kilroy was acutely conscious of the warmth of Griffin's body, the light tang of his cologne and the trace of nicotine. "Last night. I know a mattress in front of the fire isn't exactly luxurious, but I've got a new bed on order. I'd like to share it with you."
"It isn't that," said Griffin irritably, running a hand back through his hair.
"Then what is it? Me?" The speaking look he received reassured Kilroy on that point. "You'll have to give me a clue."
"I just thought it might be easier if we had separate rooms."
"Easier for what?" asked Kilroy, mystified.
"You're sex obsessed," said Griffin irritably. "So that when I can't sleep I don't have to lie there listening to you. You don't care for the idea?" He sounded no more than amused.
"No I bloody don't. I like sharing a bed with you and waking up next to you."
"And following me into the john to finish whatever conversation you're in the middle of. I'm used to some space in my life. This last week reminded me that I need it. I enjoy having time to myself, I've been accustomed to it for too many years to find it easy to adapt. It isn't you," Griffin added quickly as he met a reproachful blue stare, "it's me."
"I just thought the other room would be handy for the nights when I can't sleep," Griffin heard himself say weakly.
"I - " Breaking off whatever he had been about to say, Griffin made a soft sound of defeat and kissed his disconsolate-looking companion.
Inevitably one thing led to another.
That night Kilroy was gratified to see his bedroom door open; Griffin appeared, trailing a duvet that was partially wrapped round him, a paraffin lamp in one hand because the lights had failed again.
"I think I prefer candlelight," Kilroy remarked, his nose wrinkling. "Not only is it more romantic but it doesn't smell nearly as bad." To prove Griffin wasn't going to have everything his own way he remained on the portion of mattress he had warmed.
"It doesn't give much light either," retorted Griffin with asperity, turning the lamp down and sliding in beside him with an audible shiver.
Kilroy withstood the sound of chattering teeth for a good thirty seconds before, with a sigh, he clambered over Griffin. "Go on. It's warmer by the fire."
"I know," said Griffin smugly, wriggling across before he winced as a firm hand impacted with his rump.
"Missed me, did you?" asked Kilroy after a few minutes, during which he surreptitiously redistributed the duvet, welcoming the extra warmth: it was a cold night.
"Actually, my chimney started smoking."
"Why, you rotten..."
Chuckling, Griffin put up no defence.
Frankly bored by the lack of interesting work coming in to the agency, by the beginning of December Kilroy was fed-up with what was turning into a weekend romance. His strong hints to Griffin about the benefits of London air fell on deaf ears when the first bandsaw was installed in the workshop; worse, Griffin had no other topic of conversation. Well, maybe one or two, Kilroy conceded grudgingly, but he wasn't in the mood to be reasonable, feeling excluded by Griffin's new passion. Alone because he refused to drive fifty-eight miles for a lukewarm reception similar to the one he had received on Monday night, he rang the workshop, only to get Griffin's answering machine again.
"It's me," he said shortly. "There isn't any message."
It wasn't until he'd rung off that he realised how childish he was being. Somehow he didn't think it would help to ring back. Tossing his book onto the opposite chair, he flicked through all four TV channels, then debated calling up a couple of friends for an evening's pub-crawl. It was easier than facing the truth which had been creeping up on him for some time: he missed Griffin. Equally, the headlines in the financial pages made it difficult to be natural around him. Marius Melville's business empire was collapsing and Kilroy couldn't stop himself from wondering and worrying, particularly since Griffin had just made his third trip to Geneva in three weeks: the city which had been Melville's second home. Worrying a hangnail by the side of his thumb, it was a moment before Kilroy realised the subject of his thoughts stood in the doorway.
"I did call," said Griffin mildly. "It must be middle age if you've started dozing off in the evenings." He dropped a gleaming wooden case on top of the American air force pilot's jacket which suited him so well.
"I was thinking," explained Kilroy with dignity, getting up to give him an absent-minded kiss before he went back for another, paying attention this time. "You smell wonderful. What is it, some exotic wood?"
"Your aftershave. I ran out of mine."
"I wish it smelt this good on me," mumbled Kilroy, who seemed intent on eating Griffin alive.
"Kit, hang on a minute, will you," expostulated Griffin, just before his breath caught. "Never mind," he muttered, helplessly thrusting into the palm rubbing him.
"God, your hands are cold," Kilroy complained some time later.
"I wasn't given much chance to warm them," Griffin reminded him tartly. "I'm too old for rolling around on the floor. Kit..."
After a minor upheaval, Kilroy found himself looking up into Griffin's face. "I always underestimate your strength," he wheezed as Griffin settled fully over him. "Bloody hell. You weigh a ton."
"Tough," said Griffin, staying where he was until he had caught his breath.
"Are you really pissed off with me?" Kilroy asked, already confident of the answer he could expect, Griffin a seemingly boneless sprawl over him.
Stirring with obvious reluctance, Griffin got to his feet and began to rearrange his clothing. "I might ask you the same thing after all those anonymous phone calls I've been getting." Noticing Kilroy's guilty twitch, he gave a resigned sigh. "I gather I've got another one to look forward to."
"I rang just before you arrived," Kilroy admitted sheepishly as he clambered to his feet, making the same necessary adjustments to his clothing before turning his attention to his dishevelled companion. Trying to do up the buttons on Griffin's shirt, he had to concede defeat because several of them were missing. "Sorry."
"So am I. I liked this shirt." Griffin shivered. "May I switch up the heating and borrow something to wear?"
Kilroy rested a hand against Griffin's forehead. "You must be sickening for something, it's not like you to ask. Help yourself. Have you eaten?"
"No, you came too fast," said Griffin sadly, tying his hair back in the ponytail he had adopted since the night Annie had introduced him to the idea.
The glimpse of the vaulting rib cage and the intriguing shadow of the navel between the gaping edges of the shirt distracted Kilroy. "What was that? Never mind, I'll get us something to eat. Will an omelette do you?"
"Make it a big one. I'm starving," Griffin ordered, before he went into the bedroom to search for the warmest sweater he could find, over one of his own shirts. "I wondered why I couldn't find this one," he remarked, as he strolled back into the kitchen.
"I was hoping it would fit me."
"It should have done. You're not that fat, are you?"
"I'd thump you if I wasn't busy with this. What brought you to town?" asked Kilroy, whisking eggs.
"Came to see you, of course," said Griffin. Raiding the fridge, he chopped ham, tomatoes and onions, before grating cheese in the manner of one born to the task. "I could do with some salad, too. Are there any olives?"
"I finished them last night. What dragged you away from the workshop?"
"Partly to see you."
"And the other part?" pursued Kilroy, grinning.
"You never give me any credit," complained Griffin without heat as he munched a ring of raw onion before handing one to Kilroy. "Here, you'd better have a piece or you won't let me anywhere near you. I had a meeting in the City. It also dawned on me that I'd better empty my suite at Brown's. I needed some of the reference books I'd left there."
"So you'll want a bed for the night," said Kilroy with satisfaction. "I knew that key I gave you would come in handy one day. Damn. This may be a bit herby," he added, peering into the bowl.
"Your omelettes always are. And you can stop looking so pleased with yourself. Is this all the bread we've got?"
"You have it," said Kilroy superfluously, given that Griffin was already eating it. "When was your last meal?"
"Yesterday sometime, I think. I was working on something and didn't want to stop. From your lack of sparkle do I take it that there are still no interesting cases on the agency's books?"
"You do. I'm going out of my mind with boredom. Pass me the plates. I wish something would happen. Well, no, I don't because it means trouble for some other poor sod. Though I wouldn't say no to a nice little industrial espionage case, even if I have to fight off the others to get it. There you go, wrap yourself round this."
Talking about everything from The Guardian crossword to the best way of clearing the grounds at Whitehaven, they ate a leisurely meal. Having cleared away, they took the remainder of the bottle of wine into the sitting-room.
"Fancy a game of backgammon?" asked Kilroy eagerly, having been hooked on the game by Griffin.
"Sure. I brought a board with me. It's over there on top of my jacket," said Griffin, heeling off his shoes before sitting cross-legged on the sofa.
Kilroy paused when he saw the case. "This is gorgeous." Opening it to reveal the board, he looked up. "It's beautiful. Where the hell did you get something like this? It isn't factory produced. What's that fantastic smell?"
"Cedar of Lebanon. The cups are lined with it, the counters made with it, though they won't last long. The wood's too soft. Do you like it?"
"Who wouldn't." Looking up, Kilroy suddenly accounted for the sparkle in Griffin's eyes. "Is this an original Griffin?"
"That's what my trade mark says," mumbled Griffin, disconcerted by his need for approval.
"You're blushing," noted Kilroy with a mixture of glee and wonder.
Griffin gave a self-conscious twitch. "I am not. Am I?"
"Nah, but I got you worried. No wonder you're looking so pleased with yourself. If this is the quality of the work you produce I don't think you're going to have any worries about people wanting your stuff. It must have taken hours to get all these different bits stuck together. Ah, wrong thing to say?"
"But in character. It's inlay work. It's common to use glue but the real skill comes from not using it. These aren't my work," Griffin added, tossing the dice in his palm. "I didn't want you accusing me of loading them. I've never met such a bad loser."
"You wish. I'm feeling lucky tonight."
"You'll need to be."
Cup poised in his hand, Kilroy looked up. "I've just had a thought. You aren't any good at making bookshelves, are you?"
Realising he was serious, Griffin began to laugh.