Because 'flu had swept the ranks of the partners, to his intense disgust Kilroy found himself stuck with an additional four nights manning the phones, a duty he didn't care for when they were busy; when they were slack, life hit an all-time low. He arrived at Whitehaven early Friday evening. As he and Griffin dined in the kitchen on the best Marks & Spencer could provide, the minor irritations of the week began to recede. Content and at peace, Kilroy lazily toasted Griffin with his bottle of lager.
"Have you been sneaking in any more odd improvements while I've been away?" he enquired. "The house smells...fresher."
"It's called 'clean'. The novelty of finding everything sticky with mouse pee wore off so I imported a small army of non-squeamish ladies to help out, and hired a mountain of gear."
"Then it must be polish I can smell. I bet it frightened a few spiders. We didn't have a fridge last week, did we?"
Griffin looked vague.
"You like cold lager, don't you? I got fed up with having to go shopping every day and I don't like warm milk. Oh, that reminds me. I hired those blokes we talked about. The house is clear - except for the attics."
Kilroy grinned. "I should've guessed. Even the room with the newspaper?" They had both been avoiding it, the smell when the door was opened warning enough.
"Don't remind me. There were some very odd things growing out of the floorboards in the far corner and the stench was foul. I had to give them a hand or they would have walked out. I would have liked to myself. Can we change the subject while we're eating?" Griffin added plaintively.
"Have some fruit, it'll clear your palate for that chocolate cake."
"You mean you can't manage a second piece?"
Kilroy eyed the fat, moist wedge with sorrow. "While it pains me to admit it, I couldn't." His face brightened. "Never mind, I'll have it for breakfast."
"I wish I thought you were joking," murmured Griffin, deftly peeling a clementine.
"It's better than wasting it. I'll start clearing up. That's a dishwasher! OK, what's the excuse for this?" demanded Kilroy, unamused to realise he had been sitting in a showcase kitchen for the last two-and-a-half hours without noticing; given what it replaced, he couldn't think how.
"We both hate washing-up. I haven't done anything else," said Griffin guiltily.
Mumbling to himself, Kilroy looked round. "I should think not. It looks fantastic," he admitted. "I thought I felt comfortable, just couldn't work out why. You'll have to let me know what I owe you."
"Civility would be a novelty. Forget it."
"Forget it," said Griffin, a note of warning in his voice. "Or are we going to start bookkeeping about who pays for what?"
"The odd meal's a bit different from a new kitchen. Blimey, where did you get that glare from?"
"Just so long as it works," said Griffin placidly.
"It works. This is nice," discovered Kilroy. Wandering around the room, he opened and closed cupboards, whistling when he realised the kitchen now boasted every modern aid. "Get a couple of armchairs in here and we won't need to worry about the rest of the house."
"You'll be wanting the bed in here next. Oh, it won't surprise you to learn that BT say they have a waiting list. No phone for at least another couple of weeks. So I've left my second mobile in the study for you."
"Thanks. There are a couple of calls I meant to make before I left town. Jake was due back a couple of days ago and no-one's heard from him. As he went off touring Kenya we're a bit windy in case a poacher confused his beer-gut with an elephant's backside. The study, you say?"
"Oh, that reminds me. No, I haven't touched it," Griffin added indignantly, conveniently forgetting the repaired windows and replastered walls. "While we were clearing out I found a few more pieces that will be worth keeping. One of them was a desk. While it's not worth hanging on to in the long run, I thought you might find it useful for the moment. I've cleaned it up. Give me a few hours to work on it and the captain's chair I put in there with it will definitely be worth keeping."
"Terrific. I suppose you didn't come across any family heirlooms?"
Griffin shook his head, wishing he'd had the sense to import a few pieces; Kilroy would never have known and it might have helped his financial problems. While Kilroy hadn't said anything, it was obvious that the sale money from the stable block had gone into the agency. And he'd stopped talking about major repairs to the house, undertaking only piecemeal work as it became necessary, which in the case of the wiring was about once a week.
"Maybe Great-Uncle Percy kept the silver in the attic."
"Not judging by his taste in collectables. Ah well."
They parted just before ten, Griffin to enjoy a protracted soak in the bath, while Kilroy caught up with his phone calls.
It was gone midnight before Kilroy finished the last of them. Taking his feet off the edge of the battered oak desk, he looked through the stack of post which had accumulated in the week he had been away. Most was junk mail or bills; tossing the former into the fire, he made a mental note to pay the latter, having no wish to explain to Griffin why the electricity had been cut off. A large padded envelope, delivered by courier, held a battery-operated tape deck, inside which was an unmarked audio tape. The note which accompanied them was self-explanatory.
This is a poor copy of the original tape which is in my possession. I beg you to reconsider your decision not to proceed with the investigation of James Griffin.
The cramped signature was barely legible as Charlie Cassidy's.
Holding the cassette between two fingers, Kilroy was tempted to throw it in the fire; inevitably curiosity got the better of him. Pouring himself a drink, he set the tape deck on the desk, inserted the tape and hit the play button. Sitting back with a sleepy contentment, the shock of what he heard was instant.
By the time he had listened to both sides of the tape, its hiss remaining in his ears long after it had stopped playing, Kilroy's glass lay in the hearth, whisky-fed flames reflected in the scattered shards.
Langlois had given him the evidence and he had ignored it. That was what came of letting his balls do his thinking for him. After a half-arsed investigation he'd kidded himself he knew all there was to know. Christ only knew what Griffin had been arranging over the phone.
Self-contempt burned Kilroy's gut as he stared at the fire, one hand clenching and unclenching while he mentally castigated himself.
This time he could find no excuse. Griffin stood convicted out of his own mouth; Josh Cassidy wouldn't be Griffin's first victim by any means. But he'll be his last, Kilroy promised himself viciously, livid because the tape also gave him incontrovertible proof of his own gullibility. At the moment he wasn't sure which hurt the most.
His emotions in chaos, he sat rigid in the chair, deaf to everything but his slowing pulse as a sense of betrayal began to eat into him like acid. Only an hour ago he had thought their life together mapped out, now there was nothing.
"Aren't you coming to bed tonight?" asked a sleep-husky voice.
Glancing up, Kilroy saw Griffin on the far side of the room, one arm propped on the door jamb; the slipping ties of his black robe meant that it revealed more than it concealed as he rubbed lazily at his armpit. His thick mane of hair dishevelled, stubble shadowing his jaw, he was all smiling, sleepy eyes and rumpled sensuality. His body responding instantly and inopportunely, Kilroy's cold fury was given both a focus and a means of expressing his rage.
"Yes," he said in a clipped tone, "I've finished here."
Rising from his chair, he brushed past Griffin. They would go to bed, but how much joy either of them would gain from the experience was a moot point. It was time the prime user and abuser of those weaker than himself learnt what it felt like when the tables were turned. Kilroy felt just the man to teach Griffin a lesson he would never forget.
"I didn't realise how late it was until I woke up," explained Griffin, still half-asleep as he trailed up the stairs in Kilroy's wake. "Did you manage to get hold of Jake?"
It took Kilroy a moment to remember his concern for the operative who had been late returning from holiday; the conversation seemed light years away. "Yes," he said shortly. Pushing the bedroom door shut, he flicked off the light and began to strip, untypically leaving possessions scattered over the floor.
Griffin paused to yawn and stretch where he stood at the foot of the bed, oblivious to the warning signals emanating from Kilroy. "That's good." He came to a halt when a hand caught the back of his robe. "D'you want something?"
"You'll have to wait until morning. I'm done for tonight."
"Not yet you're not." Dragging the robe down Griffin's arms, Kilroy effectively pinned them at the elbows. His hand in the small of Griffin's back, he pushed the off-balance man onto the bed.
An out-thrust hand just saving his face from impact with the mattress, there was no more than surprise in Griffin's eyes as he tried to roll over. "No, I'm really - " A hard weight pinned his thighs. "What the - ?" The pillow muffled his voice. "Kit?"
"Oh, I'm here," grunted Kilroy, shifting position over the beginning-to-struggle man. "You enjoy playing power games with people, don't you. Well, let's see how you like this game of mine."
The sense of what Kilroy was saying subordinate to his actions, Griffin's eyes shot open when he realised that the unthinkable was about to happen as bruising hands grasped his flanks, thumbs digging into the muscle of his buttocks. "I'm not - Christ, not like this!"
"Tough. You've had things your own way too often. Now it's my turn. Shut up and open up," grated Kilroy, probing with an ungentle finger.
Enduring the bruising invasion, Griffin tensed the moment Kilroy's fingers left his body, knowing he had only seconds to make his choice: he could fight, or he could submit to rape. Instinct took over, adrenalin flooding his system. Rather than trying to rise under the weight pinning him, he went limp. The moment he felt Kilroy's grasp slacken, he rolled sideways, kicking out strongly. One foot connected with Kilroy's face.
"Oh, so you want to play rough." The blow Kilroy delivered made Griffin see stars. "Next time you decide to pick on someone weaker than yourself, maybe you'll remember how it feels," Kilroy hissed vindictively, leaning over the prone figure. Wanting the satisfaction of seeing Griffin's face in defeat, he was blind to the threat of bunching muscles.
An elbow caught him in the throat, reflex saving Kilroy's voice box. Stumbling back, wheezing for breath, his expression changed as Griffin came after him; as unsteady as Kilroy, there was a chilling intent on his pale face.
Devoid of grace, there was a short, ugly struggle for supremacy, whatever skills either man may have possessed forgotten. Fortunately it ended before either of them could seriously damage the other when Kilroy stunned himself. Having caught his foot in a dangling tangle of sheet, he tripped, fell, and caught the back of his head on one of the massive bed legs.
Hands on his knees as he tried to catch his breath, Griffin didn't trust himself to go to Kilroy immediately.
While still conscious, Kilroy's world was hazed and spiked with red, the thumping pain in his head matching his pulse. Movement and coherent thought beyond him, he heard Griffin approach. When careful fingers probed the back of his skull he tried to jerk away but he was too disorientated to escape the thorough if impersonal examination.
"You'll live." There was no audible joy in Griffin's voice, nothing beyond a flat statement of fact.
It all seemed too much effort to reply and Kilroy gave up the attempt. Even with his eyes closed, red splotches of colour danced in a dizzying pattern that only gradually slowed. Hard fingers bracketed his mouth, exerting a numbing pressure.
"I know you can hear me, so listen carefully because this is the only warning you'll get. If you ever try to force me again I'll kill you. Do you understand?"
Griffin's fingers tightened, making Kilroy wince. Unable to speak, he nodded, shooting pain through his head. Finding himself released, it was with some relief that he heard Griffin move away, a rustle of fabric followed by the banging of a door.
His senses continuing to clear, Kilroy laboriously stirred. The fire giving the only illumination, the dying flames cast strange shadows on the crimson wallpaper, the pattern assuming sinister shapes. A window rattled and he shivered as draught rippled across his body. Various bruises making themselves felt, he clambered to his feet in slow stages, holding on to a bed post until the room stopped revolving. Staggering into the bathroom, he stuck his head under the cold tap and gritted his teeth until the pounding in his head eased to a more bearable ache. Straightening, he closed the lid of the toilet and sank onto it, staring at the cracked lino until the cold forced him to go and find some clothing. To his relief the bedroom was empty. Grateful to be alone at first, he pulled on a fleece-lined tracksuit and a pair of trainers.
He could have killed James. Had come close to doing so, he realised numbly. A sour taste in his mouth but steadier on his feet now, he made his way slowly down to the kitchen. He saw no sign of Griffin. Drinking a glass of water while he waited for the kettle he had filled to boil, Kilroy absently rubbed a couple of sore spots and shivered.
If he was cold, James would be freezing, he thought absently. It was then that the merciful numbness which had surrounded his emotions cracked. Too shaken to recognise his shocked state, he couldn't stop thinking about what he had almost done. He felt only relief that Griffin had defeated him, without pausing to consider how unlikely that victory should have been given his own SAS training.
He added coal and two logs to the ashes of the fire in the study, waiting until he was sure they had caught. Then he made an extra mug of tea and went in search of Griffin, needing to reassure himself that he had taken no lasting harm. The bare rooms were easy to search and devoid of life; it was some time before he thought to return to the study.
One draught, stronger than the others eddying around the house, led him out into the huge conservatory which overlooked the patio and lawn. They rarely ventured here, where plumbago, figs, jasmine and bougainvillea lived in a choking, tangled exuberance of unchecked vegetation; one of the many jobs he hadn't got round to tackling. Too busy playing at Happy Families, he thought, bitter with his own naivety. And yet he stayed where he was, needing to see that Griffin was unharmed.
Through a twisted knot of fig branches he glimpsed a tiny glow of orange, Griffin's dark robe blending too well with the shadows for him to be immediately apparent. It seemed so unlikely that it took Kilroy a moment to realise that Griffin had opened the French doors to the night; despite the cold, he stood in the doorway, one shoulder propped against the frame. It wasn't possible to see his expression, only the outline of his profile visible. While he wasn't a man given to fidgeting, the quality of his stillness now was absolute, a cigarette burning away unsmoked in the hand at his side as he looked out into the darkness.
Watching that motionless figure, his emotions roiling, Kilroy was left with only one certainty. "I've made you some tea," he said, offering that mundane detail because he did not know what else to say. He felt obliged to announce his presence, in some curious way feeling as if he was witnessing an intensely personal moment not intended for his eyes.
Griffin's already straight back tensed as his weight shifted. He drew on his cigarette before saying, "Thank you." The courtesy sounded mechanical, an automatic response he probably wasn't aware of making. There was a blur of light as he flicked the butt out onto the patio, leaving him in the shadows again.
Kilroy absently shredded two fig leaves between his fingers. Understanding Griffin better than he liked to admit, he knew Griffin would not refer to the attempted rape again. Having chosen a rapist as his lover, he would think he must pay the penalty in silence. Ashamed that so much ugliness could exist in him, Kilroy shook his head. His temper slow to rouse, he had guarded for years against his propensity for violence when enraged. What he couldn't understand was why, after Griffin's first blow, he had continued to fight. What would he have done to him if he'd won? He'd already planned to rape him. The fact stared him starkly in the face and Kilroy found himself hugging his own body for warmth, having always held the crime of rape second only to child molesters.
Brushing through the vegetation, he slumped onto one of the ancient wicker sofas. Dust rose from the musty cushions as he settled on them, waiting for his personal storm to break.
Alone with the nocturnal scents of an English garden in winter, the sickly sweet smell of decay was still apparent under the cleansing edge of the thin breeze which had begun to drive toward him. Shivering, Griffin remained where he was. The silence stabbed like jagged splinters of glass. Then the muted call of an owl, some distance away, drifted eerily through the trees. It seemed the loneliest sound in the world, increasing his sense of alienation.
Bruised mentally and physically, he felt pulped, squeezed dry of emotion. Inviting Kilroy to his bed, he had been attacked by a pitiless stranger. It was less what had almost happened than the measure of the mistake he had made in believing he knew Kilroy, which had shaken Griffin so. He needed time and privacy in which to regroup his sundered defences. It was childish to feel...betrayed, though that was a mild description for what he felt, only the bruises springing onto his body reminding him the scene hadn't been some sick nightmare. It had all happened so fast, Kilroy's anger unleashing before he'd been alert enough to recognise the warning signals.
Why was he finding excuses for himself? He hadn't invited this. But he knew why. Kit had been his choice, and he'd chosen a rapist.
It was a rare man who never expressed his anger in sex on occasion, he rationalized, trying to find an excuse for Kilroy. So why was he shaking?
Ugly as the scene had been, he knew intellectually that it could have been worse; there had been a split second, Kilroy lying stunned at his feet, when he had wanted to kill. Now only the ashes of his rage remained but they weren't enough to camouflage his disbelief.
How could Kit have hidden what he was so well?
Digging into his pocket, Griffin pulled out another cigarette, sheltering the lighter flame from the strengthening wind. Inhaling, his hand tightened around the lighter until the tiny diamond pattern engraved on the gold transferred itself to his palm.
Walk away, chalk this up to experience and forget it, he told himself tiredly, but intellect could not convince his beginning-to-stir emotions. He had mistrusted the ease with which Kilroy had become an integral part of his life and so had said nothing about their future together while taking it for granted that they had one. Somehow that sop to his pride didn't help as much as it should have done.
He couldn't believe he could have misread Kilroy's tastes and character so badly. But it hurt that a relationship which they had slid into without conscious thought and which had felt so gloriously right, should have come to such an ugly end. From Kit, of all men The knowledge that he had never known Kilroy hurt worst of all.
Shuddering with the cold to the point where his teeth began to chatter, he stared blindly out into the garden. He'd been happy here. Happier than he could ever remember being before; to the point where he had begun to take it for granted.
The muscles of his face tightening, he raised his cigarette to his mouth. As abrupt as a gushing pipe, it began to rain; not the soft English rain he'd become used to but monsoon hard and spiteful. He flinched under the impact of the cold, marble-sized drops before realising that hailstones were mixed with the rain. They drove him back into shelter, his ankles stinging where hail had bounced up from the patio. Shivering violently, his numbed fingers fumbled as they set the bolts into place. Rain rolled down his face like tears before he wiped the moisture away, slicking back his wet hair.
"Last time I looked there was an old blanket in that cupboard behind you," announced Kilroy, trying not to notice too obviously how the wet silk of Griffin's robe clung to him, accentuating the breadth of shoulder and narrowness of flanks.
Griffin froze, as if he'd forgotten Kilroy's presence, before he nodded an acknowledgement. Finding and shaking out the musty blanket, he stripped off his sodden robe; wrapped in prickly grey wool, he sat because he wanted to hide the fact he had begun to shake again.
Aware Griffin was on guard, and why, Kilroy stared at his feet. "I don't know how to begin to apologise," he said abruptly, his clasped hands tightening.
"Don't try. I'm not a child."
"No, you're my lover. As such, you're entitled to an explanation."
"I waive my rights." Picking up the mug set on the table beside him, Griffin curved his unsteady hands around its body for warmth. The tea was cold and the consistency of treacle.
"Sugar's good for shock," said Kilroy tactlessly, having noticed Griffin's grimace as he swallowed.
"Then you drink it."
As quickly as it had begun the intensity of the storm eased, the sky lightening to reveal Griffin framed by the elegant sweep of the high-backed peacock chair. He looked like a remote stranger, his face a study in bleak control.
"James, please," whispered Kilroy, his throat tightening.
Pausing in the act of lighting a cigarette from the damp packet, the lighter flame revealed Griffin's glance of inquiry.
"Damn it, I'm not a rapist," Kilroy burst out in a mixture of frustration and disbelief at his own actions.
"No? Accidents will happen," said Griffin with a brittle flippancy. "Do you know what time it is? I have an appointment in London at nine."
Kilroy automatically glanced at his watch, squinting in the half-light. "Nearly twenty-to-six." He must have spent longer than he'd thought before coming out here, unable to remember for certain. "You're leaving, aren't you?"
Griffin met his gaze head on and it was Kilroy who looked away first. "Of course you are. Anyone would. Will I ever see you again?"
His precipitate rise more painful than he had anticipated, Griffin paused before walking stiffly to where Kilroy sat; he was one of the few people who could make a blanket look like haute couture.
"What do you think?" His tone was biting.
"I know that I don't want to lose you," Kilroy said baldly, knowing there must be some other explanation for the tape he'd been sent. Odd that it should have come from Charlie rather than Langlois.
The silence was such that Griffin's winded sigh was audible before he swung away. Then he stopped and turned; it was an awkward gesture for a graceful man. "Why did it happen?" The question sounding as if it had been dragged from him, it was then that his mask slipped.
Glimpsing the desolate bewilderment Griffin had hidden so well until now, Kilroy's unwary heart twisted. "I was...angry," he said lamely. Aware of the inadequacy of that explanation, he knew he was trapped in a snare of his own making, unable to tell the truth without making matters even worse.
"With me?" Griffin gave a puzzled frown.
"Ah." Griffin's face twisted in an approximation of a smile. "Is that all?"
"All!" Grasping Griffin's arm, Kilroy released him immediately when Griffin's eyes narrowed in warning. "No, that isn't all. We need to talk. I banked up the fire in the study before I came out here," he added, trying to diffuse the emotion-charged atmosphere. "We could talk where it's warmer. I won't touch you again."
"No," agreed Griffin, "you won't." Passing Kilroy, he went through the study, across the hall and up the stairs, pausing when he realised he was being followed. "I'm going to get dressed. Alone."
Kilroy hardly heard him, his gaze on the portions of Griffin bared by the blanket: his flesh mottled with the cold, livid bruises were springing into prominence. His head began to pound again. "How I must have hurt you."
Griffin made no attempt to deny the obvious. "So?"
Closing his eyes in an orgy of self-hatred, Kilroy gave an audible swallow. "I didn't...I don't know why I... It's too late, isn't it. I forfeited the right to care. But I do." Mute, he extended his hand palm upward, his expression nakedly revealing.
While Griffin did not take his hand, nor did he turn away. "No human being should expect to have rights over another," he said tiredly.
Kilroy continued to stare at him, more hope than expectation on his too pale face.
"You should see a doctor about your head. You could have concussion," added Griffin in the same flat tone.
That trace of unwilling concern stung Kilroy more surely than a lash. "I'm all right."
Griffin stared at him. "I don't think either of us is 'all right'. I don't understand... I'm going to get dressed," he amended, plucking at the coarse wool blanket with distaste.
"I'll make..." Kilroy's voice trailed away. While he needed to take some positive action, no matter how trivial, he could think of nothing appropriate.
"Coffee. Without a bowlful of sugar this time." Continuing up the stairs, every step laboured, Griffin entered his rarely used bedroom and closed the door behind him with a quiet finality.
Fatigue hitting him, Kilroy took fresh coffee into the study, adding more logs to the already blazing fire. The sky leaden, it had yet to stop raining and the house of a thousand draughts felt colder than ever. He sat slumped in a limbo state between consciousness and sleep, stirring only when he heard a sound on the stairs.
A couple of minutes later Griffin came into the room, cradling a mug between his hands, both of which were scraped and bruised. He looked in need of both warmth and some kind of stimulant, disillusion and obvious physical discomfort leaving marks of strain around his mouth. Kilroy allowed himself to hope when he saw that instead of one of his designer suits, Griffin was casually dressed in pale grey, a sweater a couple of tones deeper and a thick, light grey, knitted jacket.
"I've left a message cancelling the meeting I was supposed to be attending. We need to talk. There's water flooding down the wall outside the second bathroom again," Griffin added abruptly. While he was moving with more ease, it was noticeable that he was in no hurry to approach Kilroy.
"Instead of trying to rebuild it, I should have knocked the house down. I've a talent for destruction." All emotion flattened from his voice, Kilroy stared sightlessly at the floor, his fingers yellow with the pressure he was exerting on them.
Griffin shot him an unseen glance, but remained silent. The fire drew him like a lodestone. He had moved close enough for Kilroy to catch a waft of familiar soap and shampoo. Beneath them was a trace of something antiseptic. His eyes widening, Kilroy forced himself not to look away.
"I must have hurt you inside when I - ? Do you need a doctor?" he finished awkwardly.
"Are you sure?"
"I think I'd have a shrewd idea, don't you?"
Unable to sustain the bleak gaze which stared through him, Kilroy looked blindly at the floor and forced his unsteady mouth to firm. "Thank god for that much at least," he muttered almost inaudibly, his head pounding in rhythm with his pulse.
Opening his mouth to savage Kilroy, Griffin noticed the green-tinged face and found he could not. Moving away, he supported his weight by resting his forearms on a chair back, trying to summon the energy to leave, or even for some righteous fury.
The noise of a log shifting in the fire made Kilroy aware of the lengthy silence, goading him back into speech. In the time he had been alone he had not made any conscious decision, but it was obvious what he had to do.
"There's something you should hear," he announced curtly. "An audio tape. It doesn't excuse what I did but... I'd just finished listening to the tape when you came downstairs earlier. It's the reason..." Getting up, he switched on the tape deck.
" - three million dollars at least. Late payment will be even more expensive for you - "
"That's my voice," recognised Griffin, surprise on his face as he straightened.
"I know. There's more. A lot more," said Kilroy tiredly. Now it was too late he could hear the discrepancies he should have noticed the first time. Even allowing for the work of an amateur, the voices had been poorly spliced to give the illusion of various conversations taking place. Because he had never trusted Griffin enough, the taint of Langlois' accusations lingering, he had accepted this second-rate forgery as proof of Griffin's guilt without question or hesitation.
Open disbelief on his face, Griffin slowly approached the desk as he listened to his own voice interspersed with Charlie Cassidy's. Josh was threatened with some unnamed horror if Charlie did not pay Griffin at least three million dollars.
"This is what made you so angry?" he asked finally, when the tape came to an end. "Or was it just recreational sex you had in mind?"
His face looking pinched, Kilroy shook his head. "You must know that isn't true. There's more on the other side of the tape."
"I should hope there is. It didn't occur to you to discuss this with me? Or to question its content?"
"Obviously not." Kilroy stared at his shoes.
Ejecting and turning the cassette over, Griffin reinserted it. "I want to hear the other side."
"There's no need. I know now that - "
"There's every need," said Griffin coldly, turning up the volume before hitting the play button. Seating himself with caution on the captain's chair behind the desk, he took his lighter and cigarettes from his jacket pocket. Listening to the tape with mounting incredulity, he forgot to light the cigarette he was turning over and over.
"You believed this piece of melodramatic crap?" he said at last, outraged disbelief giving the illusion of energy. "Even a child would know it's been spliced - and badly. You're supposed to be an expert in such matters." His voice was spiked.
"Yes," agreed Kilroy, knowing he would have to tell Griffin everything and not having the slightest idea how to go about it. "But I'm not usually personally involved with the subject."
Griffin ignored that. "Someone must have been bugging my phones way before ASIO arrived on the scene. Wait, this section, I'm talking to David Cheng. He was trying to persuade me to finance some half-assed development scheme for a sports complex. And that third part, I was with Charlie. In her room, not mine. We never slept in my suite, even when Josh was staying with Sam. I thought it was in case Sam tried to get hold of her if Josh was ill. Not the first time I've been wrong." He paused to light the cigarette he had been in danger of shredding. "She must have had a tape running the whole time we were together. Ironic that, considering she later claimed that I'd used her. I wonder if she kept the tapes running when we fucked. If so, you'll enjoy those. That last section, in which I'm supposed to be a practised extortioner, is me talking to my bankers. I might even be able to prove as much - not that it's worth the bother."
Kilroy's mouth thinned. "You don't need to go through the entire tape. I believe you."
"That's very generous of you, if late in the day. Were you drunk when you listened to this? Do I strike you as being this stupid, quite apart from this venial? Switch that rubbish off," Griffin added irritably, leaning forward to do it himself.
"But it was your voice."
"Well at least you got that much right. What a charming picture you have of me. Not only do I dabble in extortion in my spare time, but I threaten children with mutilation. You believed me capable of that?" Griffin's softened voice held a silken note which was its own warning.
"It dovetailed with what I'd been told about you."
"You know I can't tell you," said Kilroy wearily.
"Fuck client confidentiality. If I'm being slandered by one of your clients I have a right to know by whom. Their name."
"Henri Langlois," said Kilroy, because by sending him this forged tape Langlois and Charlie Cassidy had forfeited all rights.
"Who?" Blank incomprehension overrode the menace in Griffin's expression.
"Charlie Cassidy's current lover. He's a Frenchman living in Sydney. A banker."
Griffin's eyes narrowed. "The merchant banker? I know him. Of him, at least. We only met once, and that briefly. How could he possibly imagine - ? Ah, Charlie, of course. My god, how she must hate me. Perhaps with due cause. But I don't understand why you should have believed their lies so easily."
"At the time I found them all too convincing." Kilroy offered it as an explanation, not an excuse.
"Convincing! You must be the con man's dream. Good god, just how gullible are you?" Griffin demanded with contempt.
Looking down, Kilroy knew there was worse to come. In a minute Griffin would think to ask what Henri Langlois had hired him to work on, and he would have to tell him the truth.
Having passed through anger, Griffin unsteadily stubbed out his unsmoked cigarette. "Was it so easy to believe the worst of me?" Pain was leaking through his surface control now.
Something in Kilroy broke when he recognised it. "Easy? It was the first thing I knew about you. There's something else you should know. It was no accident we met. I'd already had you under surveillance for a couple of days. Henri Langlois hired me to become your lover, to establish a relationship with you."
His face stark, eyes wide and unblinking, Griffin was watching Kilroy as a condemned man might watch his executioner. "Go on," he said dully.
"My primary task was to gather enough evidence against you regarding your plan to kidnap Josh Cassidy for a criminal prosecution to succeed. I was given a dossier on you - and your father. His reputation in some circles gave credence to the idea that you could be involved in such a plot."
Griffin's face might have been carved from stone, every sinew and muscle defined, but little by little the mask was breaking down.
Doggedly Kilroy forced himself to continue. "The evidence against you was circumstantial but damning. That isn't all," he added with difficulty, finding this even worse than he had imagined it would be. "The reason it was hoped we would become lovers, quite apart from the chances it would give me to get you talking, was that I was supposed to try and make you fall in love with me, as Charlie claimed you had done to her. Then I was to tell you the truth. They wanted you to know what it felt like to be used."
Griffin was beyond controlling his expression. Pain bleeding from his eyes, he continued to stare at Kilroy. "It lost its novelty factor longer ago than you can know," he said at last, his voice devoid of emotion.
"James, I - "
"Congratulations," continued Griffin, but his voice broke on the word before he regained control. "You've done a splendid job. What a wonderful time you've had, rooting in the dirt like a pig hunting truffles. You were very convincing. But then I was an easy mark, wasn't I? Mark, that is the right word, isn't it? Or should it be John?"
"It wasn't like that," Kilroy protested.
"It was exactly like that. I'd never thought of Charlie as a pimp. I hope she paid you well, you've worked hard for your money." Unable to go on, Griffin covered his eyes with the heels of his hands. Exerting a painful degree of pressure, the reddened darkness was splintered by dazzling shards of light.
His self-respect in shreds, able to think only of this new hurt he had inflicted, Kilroy was beyond speech.
Eventually Griffin found the courage to face his tormentor again. His eyes dry and burning, his face looked strangely hollowed, but when he spoke he asked the last question Kilroy had been expecting. For a man dealt a mortal blow he betrayed an ingrained capacity for understanding that there was always more than one side to any issue.
"Why did you tell me this? You must know I trusted you implicitly." There was no recrimination in the emotion-deadened voice, only the dawning realisation of the extent of the betrayal, the first searing drop that would eat away at self-esteem until there was nothing left but exposed nerve ends.
"I lied to you from the first day we met. But you have to understand, it stopped being a job a long time ago. I knew I'd have to tell you the truth one day, it was essential if we were to have any chance of a life together. There have been so many lies. Too many. I can't lie to you any more. Not after what I did to you tonight."
"You do yourself an injustice."
The deceptive gentleness in Griffin's tone launched Kilroy to his feet before he swung away, unable to meet his eyes. Irresolute, he stood for a moment before he turned to grip the back of the chair he had been sitting on.
"Probably," he agreed, steadying his voice only with some effort. "I knew something about their story was wrong from the beginning. But then I wasn't thinking straight at the time. I took the case for all the wrong reasons." He did not see Griffin flinch at hearing himself so described. "The last thing I wanted was another case involving a child. I'd lost my nerve after Emilio's death. Then I was told about the threats to Josh and it seemed like a chance not only to keep one child safe, but to salvage my self-respect by getting something right. Doing something positive. From your dossier you sounded like a spoilt, amoral bastard who needed to be taught a lesson. I've always been inclined to think the worst of the rich. Then, of course, there was your father's reputation. You're his son."
"Yes. Make no mistake about that."
Attracted by an unfamiliar note in Griffin's voice, Kilroy looked at him. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Merely that I shall take steps to protect myself."
"What kind of steps?"
"Whatever it takes," replied Griffin in the same deadened tone.
"James, don't! Christ, d'you think I'm proud of myself? Do you think I don't know how criminally wrong I've been about you?"
"That hardly matters now, does it?"
"You don't mean that."
"Who the fuck are you to tell me what I mean?" A moment later Griffin's anger was capped; it made him no less dangerous. "It's a pity you didn't think to video this denouement for Charlie. She'll be delighted to know she bought herself such a well-trained whore."
"Very probably," Kilroy agreed colourlessly, having called himself that too often in the past three months to think of denying the charge.
A muscle jumped in Griffin's jaw. "If you think I'm right, your experience of the breed has been limited. Like much else about you. It would be better if I left," he added abruptly, staring at his hands.
"Oh, for me. Who else do I have to consider?" Pausing, Griffin audibly took a steadying breath. "While you may not believe this in light of all you've been told about me - and I'm sure much of it's true - I have never killed anyone. Nor have I ever ordered anyone killed, or harmed in any way." It was obvious he had little expectation that he would be believed.
"My insanity of earlier tonight excepted, it never occurred to me that you might have."
"Then it should have done," said Griffin coldly.
"Why?" asked Kilroy in blank surprise.
"You mean you hadn't realised? Did you put my recent drunken ramblings down to self-pitying excuses for a lifetime of failure? Or perhaps the dossier was incomplete regarding certain important details. While that doesn't matter, it's just as well. Who knows what other actions you may have taken it upon yourself to perform if you'd known. It was my father's habit to remove those who...inconvenienced him."
"By bribing them," Kilroy reminded him.
"No, by whatever means it took. Sometimes money or blackmail wasn't enough, sometimes, as with Alice Wu, he had them removed permanently. Right now I can understand the temptation. By christ I can." On this occasion it was the intensity of his anger which made Griffin's voice shake, his eyes fierce and predatory as a hawk.
Believing that much, Kilroy nodded. "Your quarrel is with me, not Langlois or Charlie Cassidy."
"You?" There was contemptuous dismissal in Griffin's raking gaze. "You're just the gullible fool they hired." But his voice cracked on the last word.
Most people would have missed that tiny betrayal; by now Kilroy missed nothing about the man he had so wounded. "Don't!" he pleaded. Surrendering his advantage of height, he crouched beside the chair Griffin occupied, one hand on the edge of the desk for support as he looked up at him. "We both know you won't break the habit of a lifetime and turn into the man your father wanted you to become. I love you," he added, steady-eyed.
Griffin hit him; a ferocious backhanded blow which Kilroy never saw coming. It sent him sprawling, his head ringing with renewed ferocity. By the time he had righted himself, blood welling from a split lip, Griffin was already at the door.
"Damn you," Griffin said, without turning. "You might have spared me that." Then he was gone.
Stumbling to his feet, Kilroy took the short cut to the garage, skidding to a halt when he saw Griffin's Jaguar take the turn in the drive so fast that it kicked up a spray of gravel before its tail vanished from sight. Wiping the blood from his mouth, he continued to stand in the pouring rain, untypically having no idea what he could do next.