It was mid-afternoon by the time Kilroy drove to London, accompanied by a splitting headache and the depressed certainty that things couldn't get any worse. Yet to concoct a convincing explanation to interested agency members for his split lip and bruised face, he retreated into his office and closed the door: the agency equivalent of 'Do Not Disturb'.
A beaker of coffee growing cold in his hand as he stared sightlessly at the opposite side of the room, he automatically answered the ringing telephone. His first impulse after Charlie Cassidy announced herself was to hang up, his second to voice his opinion of her actions. Hearing the note of hysteria in her voice, professionalism overtook personal preference; he spent the next hour trying to calm her. About the only crime she failed to accuse Griffin of committing was original sin. Too experienced not to recognise the sound of a woman close to breakdown, Kilroy felt a slither of unease upon learning that she and Langlois had moved to London, in dangerously close proximity to Griffin. With emotions running high on all sides, any meeting, chance or otherwise, could have deadly consequences.
When she finally rang off, Kilroy applied himself to spearheading a concentrated search for Griffin. Relieved to hear that a blank had been drawn at the airports, and unable to think where Griffin might go, he ordered a routine check of the main London hotels. Learning a couple of hours later than Griffin had booked into Brown's that morning, he nodded his thanks to Paula and called the others off the search. For some reason it hadn't occurred to him that Griffin would return to Brown's, which was probably why Griffin had done so.
Walking into the oak-panelled reception area he had come to know so well, and sidestepping a group of American tourists who were about to go out for the evening, Kilroy was accosted by an elegant if distraught-looking Charlie Cassidy.
"You're Kit Kilroy, aren't you! You bastard, you knew James was here all the time!" When Kilroy's expression hardened, she caught hold of his arm. "I'm sorry, but I'm at my wit's end. You've got to believe me," her voice shook with intensity, "he is having me followed!"
Taking a patient breath, his head beginning to pound again, Kilroy steered her away from interested eyes, through the writing room and into the deserted coffee lounge. Seating her on one of the green velvet chairs, he spent the next ten minutes trying to soothe her, no mean feat given that his first impulse on seeing her had been strangulation.
Having discovered he was out of cigarettes, Griffin dropped his key back in his pocket and walked stiffly down the stairs, his heavily bruised thigh protesting with every step. Once in the lobby, he took fast evasive action to avoid an insecurely-steered suitcase on wheels and found himself opposite the entrance to the coffee lounge. A too familiar broad back caught his eye and he stopped in his tracks. His first unconsidered reaction on recognising Kilroy was unadulterated pleasure, until he identified the woman who sat in the circle of his arm.
When Griffin realised how far Kilroy's lies must have extended, a muscle in his jaw began to jump, his expression disconcerting the elderly couple approaching him. Muttering an apology, he moved out of their way, heading out of the hotel onto Dover Street. Every nerve end felt rawly exposed, Kilroy's most recent betrayal the cruellest of all.
When he had steered Charlie Cassidy into a taxi and escorted her to Henri Langlois' London house, Kilroy made a point of seeing the Frenchman in private.
"Why did you bring her to England?" he demanded without preliminaries.
"Because she found life in Sydney insupportable. Charlie thought the pressure would ease when she delivered Cassidy's records to the authorities."
"That was optimistic of her."
"Why are you so angry?" asked Langlois without heat.
"Leaving aside the fact you lied to me, libelled James Griffin and seem prepared to continue to do so?"
Langlois shrugged. "I admit I falsified certain facts when I engaged your services. That I regret. But, as we agreed when you returned the dossier, the matter is closed."
Kilroy's hand clenched at his side. "Yes? Then perhaps you can explain why this was sent to me yesterday." He tossed a padded envelope onto the marble-topped table which sat between them.
"What does it contain?" asked Langlois, making no attempt to touch it.
"A poorly spliced audio cassette tape which purports to detail Mr Griffin's blackmail threats to Ms Cassidy. She was obviously recording their meetings when they were lovers, not to mention tapping his telephone conversations. Either that, or she had a contact in the security services who made those tapes available to her at a later date. She sent it to me as proof of Griffin's guilt and begged me not to drop the case."
Slumping onto a chair, Langlois turned the envelope over and over. "Are you sure? Yes, you must be," he recognised instantly. "Electronic surveillance is your area of expertise, not mine. I had no idea. Will this obsession with Griffin never die? Since I brought her to London to escape the attentions of the media she has become convinced she is being followed."
"So she told me. We met by chance at Brown's hotel - where James is staying," added Kilroy pointedly.
Langlois closed his eyes for a moment.
"Fortunately I met her before she made her way to his room. She's obsessed with hatred and on the verge of a nervous breakdown. She needs help," Kilroy continued.
"You're not suggesting she would harm Mr Griffin?"
"More than she has already? Yes," said Kilroy, his tone uncompromising, "I am."
"I will again urge her to seek the help she needs," muttered Langlois, the strain he had been living under becoming apparent as he dropped his guard. "Is Mr Griffin now a client of yours?"
"That isn't your concern," said Kilroy evenly.
"If so, he is a fortunate man."
"I doubt if he would agree with you. Will you destroy that tape, or shall I?"
"I will, of course," said Langlois absently, his fingers drumming on the arm of his chair. "I cannot leave London for at least three months. It took a certain amount of...difficulty to move to Britain in the first place. I have business commitments which cannot be set aside. Also, we have only just got Josh settled back at his old school. He should not be uprooted again so soon."
"Then find Ms Cassidy some other interest in life," warned Kilroy, getting to his feet. Afraid of the strength of his anger, he left as abruptly as he had arrived, knowing there was no-one but himself to blame for this mess.
Kilroy returned to Brown's, knowing better than to give Griffin advance warning of his presence. The porter greeting him like an old friend, Kilroy took the Dover Street staircase to Griffin's suite, a different one from that he had occupied before. Swallowing nervously, he knocked briskly on the door.
"It isn't locked."
As Kilroy turned from closing the door Griffin moved into view, obviously expecting a member of the hotel's staff; a suitcase sat by an ornate side table. He wore a suit which Kilroy had not seen before, and his hair had been restyled in the sleek cut familiar only from photographs, but his inimical expression was all too familiar.
"I must speak with you," said Kilroy in an attempt to pre-empt eviction.
"To tell me of the latest plan you and Charlie have hatched, no doubt. I may be a fool, but even I'm not likely to succumb to your charms again."
"You saw Charlie with me downstairs," recognised Kilroy with a grimace. "I know how it must have looked, but believe me, it - "
"Believe you? Goodbye. Or are you hoping for a wrestling match before I eject you?"
"At least let me - "
"No, let me tell you something. Meeting you has been an educational experience, but not one I care to repeat. Nor shall I. Must I call hotel security to evict you?" Griffin's tone was that of a weary host addressing a party guest too drunk to understand that he had outstayed his welcome.
"No," said Kilroy flatly. Despite the lateness of the hour, everything about Griffin was immaculate, but he looked worn to the bone by a mixture of tension and some other emotion Kilroy was wary of giving name. "Are you leaving?" He gestured to the case, realising that Griffin must have replaced the clothes he had abandoned at Whitehaven that morning.
"How quick of you to realise."
"Where would you like me to send your belongings?" asked Kilroy, feeling bruised with fatigue. "The workshop?"
"You may send my passport and any private papers to my lawyers. I'm sure you already know their address."
Kilroy's face tightened, but he could not deny it. "And your clothes and books?"
"Give them to Oxfam. Is that all?" Griffin glanced pointedly at his watch. He might have been encased in ice.
"Yes. I won't bother you again," added Kilroy with a trace of awkwardness.
Slate-coloured eyes drilled through him. "You don't bother me now." Each word was given a diamond-like clarity.
Unable to stop himself, Kilroy reached out. "James, I never intended to - " The edge of Griffin's hand deflected his grasp, numbing his arm from elbow to wrist.
Perfectly controlled, Griffin stood motionless, his hands at his sides again. His expression of bored distaste made it plain that he would defend himself if he must, but that he had no other interest in touching Kilroy; his cat's eyes were coldly disdainful.
"Goodbye," he said with finality.
His own temper slipping a few notches, Kilroy's mouth thinned. "Don't you think you're being overly dramatic about this? Can't we discuss what's happened like rational adults?"
For a few seconds Griffin's expression was one of murderous simplicity, reminding Kilroy of the honed steel beneath the silken veneer. Tensing in an instinctive reaction to that unmistakable threat, he experienced a fresh slither of doubt about Griffin.
The tension between the two men eased when Griffin's expression smoothed back to a civilized mask. "You must forgive my over-sensitivity, but I don't feel particularly rational about attempted rape. Or was that just one of the added joys of being your lover, bought and paid for? Goodbye."
Stark misery on his face, Kilroy watched Griffin turn away. The click of a door closing behind him held a bleak finality. Sighing, Kilroy rubbed his face, as if hoping to erase the emotions besieging him, and left the suite.
Having decided to remain at Brown's, partly in the hope everyone would assume he had moved out but mainly because he was damned if he would be driven away by anyone, Griffin ensured he filled every waking hour with activity, wanting to preclude the need for thought. While he didn't succeed, the illusion helped his battered self-esteem to a degree. By the end of the week the only physical reminders of how he and Kilroy had parted were some yellowing bruises; the mental scars were still as raw as the night Kilroy had thrown him out of the rosy fantasy he had been nurturing like a lovesick schoolboy.
London offering reminders of Kilroy at every turn, Griffin leapt at the invitation of an old school-friend and committed himself to a long weekend in Derbyshire.
Accustomed to getting his own way, Tom Culver wasted little time in persuading Griffin that his return to his rightful world would be best announced by a prestigious commission.
"From you, I suppose?" said Griffin, lighting another cigarette and wondering if he would ever feel warm again.
"Next year we celebrate the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the house. I'd been wondering about commissioning a piece of furniture to commemorate the event for posterity," said Culver with a wry smile, the burden of his ancestral home weighing heavily at times. "Only I couldn't settle on a designer I trusted."
"Don't bullshit me," said Griffin pleasantly. "I can think of six off the top of my head."
"And save the look of wounded innocence. If it didn't convince me when you were ten, it isn't going to work now."
Culver gave an unrepentant grin. "It works on Jilly."
Having been impressed by Culver's pretty wife, Griffin didn't enlighten him. In some ways he had found it an unsettling evening, the palpable contentment of his host and hostess in each other's company leaving a faint, persistent ache: a reminder of what he might have had. What he'd been stupid enough to believe he had, he reminded himself tiredly, wondering when he would get used to the pain of that.
"Will you at least consider the idea?" asked Culver persuasively.
Griffin took a mouthful of the excellent port. "It's been over twenty years since I last produced anything. What makes you think I'll be able to come up with anything worth keeping?"
"Because the kind of gift you possessed doesn't just vanish even if you allowed your creative muscle to get flabby. You've already set up your workshop. Unless you've changed radically, you've been working your arse off perfecting your skills. I never understood why you went to Cambridge and into the business world when you had the ability to..." Warned by the expression in Griffin's eyes, Culver smoothly changed tack.
"I'm glad you've come to your senses at last. I thought perhaps a pair of tables - for the entrance hall. I'd leave the details to you."
"That's lucky," said Griffin dryly, but there was a thoughtful look on his face. "I don't do reproductions."
"If that's what I wanted, I'd know better than to ask you. I want an original Griffin."
"What did you have in mind - exactly?"
"A pair of tables, one for each side of the main staircase. With marquetry tops. I was wondering about a country theme. An owl, perhaps, and a pheasant? Or a fox? You don't like the idea, do you," recognised Culver with resignation. "I suppose it is rather trite."
"Not at all," murmured Griffin. "We could always include some dear little bunnies, if you like."
An appreciative grin split Culver's lean face. "You haven't changed, I see. Consider me duly crushed. What am I going to have instead - and could you manage whatever it is by next September?"
"I'll let you know," said Griffin, trying to dampen his own enthusiasm for the project, a design already taking shape and texture in his mind's eye. "With a hall the size of this one, a screen might work. Carved, of course. In oak - I must allow you one cliche. Would you want to approve the design?"
Culver grinned again. "Do I look suicidal? I can't imagine trying to dictate to you about this - though no Karma Sutra, please, or not at the kids' level anyway. In fact not at any level. We get enough complaints about the nudes on the ceiling in the Long Gallery from 'disgusted of Stoke Poges' as it is."
"Mmn," said Griffin absently. He had intended to return to carving, refusing to limit his skills as so many craftsmen chose to do. Coming to with a start, he realised Culver was talking.
"What's this going to cost me?" Culver chuckled when he saw the consternation on Griffin's face. "I knew it," he crowed. "You need an agent. Remember Piers Masterson? The lanky boy with jug ears a couple of years ahead of us; two left hands, but a brain like a calculator. He runs a small agency, represents a couple of up-and-coming artists. While it's doing very nicely, he'd snap up the chance of getting you on his books before some of the other sharks get wind of what you can do. I'll give him a ring for you if you like."
"You're organising me," Griffin pointed out, without resentment; Culver could no more help himself than he could stop breathing.
"You need someone to give you a push in the direction you want to take," said Culver frankly, cracking a walnut shell between his strong fingers. "Besides, I owe you a large favour, remember? The crash of eighty-seven."
"Rubbish. Billiards?" Griffin added, wanting to steer the conversation away from the personal.
Resolute in his determination to make a new life which left no room for lying, blue-eyed men, he spent the rest of his stay concentrating on being the perfect guest.
Griffin's resolve to forget Kilroy and those who had hired him was shattered twenty-four hours after his return to London. Walking down Davies Street, his coat collar up against the cold, he paused when an art gallery bearing a familiar name caught his eye. Crossing the road, the elegant window display under the black and white striped awning gave him the perfect excuse to go inside.
The immaculately tailored assistant, whose oiled affability never wavered, lost the thread of his practised patter when he realised Griffin was interested in the chair rather than the painting displayed on it.
"Although I'll buy both if I must," Griffin added, sparing the still life a disparaging glance.
The assistant had the experience to sense a lost cause. "To the best of my knowledge the chair is a private piece and not for sale. Unfortunately Mr Langlois is unlikely to return until early evening."
"Henri Langlois? We met in Sydney."
"Mr Langlois' uncle." Gossip obviously dear to his heart, the assistant needed little encouragement to elaborate.
Accepting a glass of the excellent wine and ignoring the assistant's look of pain when he lighted a cigarette, it took Griffin, charm unleashed, only twenty minutes to learn that Raoul Langlois was one of the leading lights of London society. More damningly, the gallery had had its share of excitement, resulting in the hiring of the services of an investigation agency the previous year. From the wistful enthusiasm in the assistant's voice, Griffin was willing to guess who at the Lessingham Agency had handled the job. Wondering if Raoul had suggested Kilroy to his uncle, Griffin arranged to return to the gallery later that day, ostensibly to discuss purchasing the chair with Raoul Langlois.
The quickly veiled but unmistakable recognition on the face of the beautiful young man who emerged from the back of the gallery to greet him was all the confirmation Griffin needed. When the private amusement in Langlois' smile faded Griffin revised his opinion of the younger man's intelligence. His own smile yet to falter, he exerted himself to please.
Swiftly dismissing his assistant, who had been trying to flirt with Griffin, Langlois gestured to the comfortable chairs positioned in such a manner that they gave prospective purchasers the chance to assess the works on offer, before seating himself opposite Griffin and pouring them both a glass of wine.
"Ralph explained your interest in the chair to me. It grieves me to disappoint you, James - may I call you James? - but I should be desolate to part with such an exquisite example of modern furniture."
"Even to its designer?"
"You?" Langlois' expression betrayed his surprise.
"Me," confirmed Griffin. "May I?" Getting up, he tilted the chair and pointed beneath the intricate curve of the hand rest, where a carving was visible: a small griffin which would have fitted comfortably onto a ten pence piece, around which was a date. "My trade mark."
"I had never noticed that." Standing so close that his flank brushed Griffin's thigh, Langlois smiled with bright-eyed malice. "You are a true craftsman. You must have talented hands," he added, with an arrogant confidence in his power to charm.
"Now how am I supposed to answer that," mused Griffin, his smile as warm as his eyes were cold. Reseating himself, he allowed Langlois to overcharge him for the chair before he accepted the younger man's invitation, first to dine, and then into Langlois' bed.
"What would you like?" asked Langlois indulgently, his fingertips threading through the greying hair which covered Griffin's chest.
Avoiding the younger man's mouth with a skill which made the evasion appear accidental, Griffin's hands roamed with impunity. "To fuck you for longer than you think you can bear," he murmured, his velvety voice indulgent.
"Yes. Do me now," commanded Langlois imperiously, seeming to take the attention paid to him as no more than his due.
"Later," said Griffin, his stubble-darkened chin scraping beginning-to-ripple stomach muscles.
Sprawled over the foot of the bed, his feet still on the floor, Langlois encouraged Griffin to cover him, linking his thin, olive-skinned fingers with Griffin's. "Did you truly design and make that chair?"
There was an expression on his face which Griffin was not sure how to interpret. "Why should I lie? I made it when I was seventeen. Twenty-three years ago," he added with deliberation.
"You still have a good body," consoled Langlois.
Caring nothing for what this arrogant boy might think of him, Griffin gave a crooked grin. "For a man old enough to be your father?" he mocked.
"For a craftsman," corrected Langlois, serious now. "You are a true artist. I wish I had known...you then," he added in clumsy amendment, obviously having realised he was on the point of betraying himself.
Unseen, Griffin's eyes narrowed. "I doubt it," he murmured, his teeth closing over a plum-dark nipple to the point where pleasure and pain walked a tightrope and Langlois began to writhe, mindless under the sensations travelling from his nerve-rich nipples to his genitals.
"A griffin is a fabulous creature indeed," he sighed, his expression rapt and introverted as his body was arranged for Griffin's pleasure. Bent beneath the older man, his spread knees almost brushing his narrow shoulders, he quivered with need, as open and vulnerable as a man could be.
Poised to swoop, Griffin's smile possessed the cold brilliance of an arctic sun. "But not so easily domesticated. Did no-one warn you that I'm a dangerous man to cross?" It was ease itself to pin the younger man; he exerted enough strength to make Langlois wince.
The lust-blind eyes were slow to refocus. "James? You're hurting me." There was perfect confidence in the attractive voice.
"No, not yet. I presume you thought it would be amusing to bed your victim, whom you assumed to be ignorant of your involvement in his affairs. Why you should have abetted your uncle I don't know. Loyalty? I doubt if you're capable of understanding the concept. So why, I wonder. For sport?" Griffin tightened his grip.
Langlois' sweating face betrayed the beginnings of fear. "I don't know what you're talking about." His denial lacked conviction.
"Oh, I think you do. Well, mon brave, you picked the wrong target when you chose to play games with me. It's time you learnt there's a price to be paid when you meddle in the lives of others."
"You're hurting me," gasped Langlois.
Griffin gave a cruel smile. "Sweet boy, I haven't even begun."
"Why?" While Langlois' tone was sharp and panicky, it was noticeable that he did not meet Griffin's eyes.
"For sport. What other reason is there? Why did you suggest to your uncle that he hire Kit Kilroy? Ah, I see your memory is improving. Well, I have a message for you to pass to dear Henri."
With great deliberation Griffin transferred Langlois' captive wrists into a strong one-handed grip. The controlled apprehension on the younger man's face mutated into open terror when Griffin flexed the fingers of his free hand before forming a graphic fist.
"Try not to make too much noise," he said with a chilling matter-of-factness
"James?" Langlois' voice cracked.
"Are you so innocent? I find that hard to believe. I'm going to fist you, beautiful one."
As the muscular forearm disappeared from his line of vision, Langlois began to struggle in earnest. Lacking leverage and muscle power against the older man's greater strength, he gained nothing but cramp. He trembled when fingers brushed his buttocks.
"My God, no! You'll kill me! I beg you, not this."
Griffin's face seemed all hard-angled planes. "Why should you expect mercy from me? I thought you enjoyed dangerous games."
"Not like this." Langlois quivered like a leaf in the wind, fear stark on his face, terror stealing away his beauty.
"You mean not games where you are hurt?"
Langlois cried out as Griffin's knuckles nudged his balls before brushing his open anus. "Please!"
His breath caught as another cramp savaged him, his body protesting at the strain of the position imposed on it. Biting his bottom lip, he averted his face from his tormentor, shivering with a mixture of pain, fear and revulsion, but a soft sound escaped him as the agony increased, locking his muscles in visible knots. Incredibly the bruising grip restraining him eased, then vanished, the weight pinning him removed. Massaging the spasming muscles, Griffin's face betrayed nothing but an impersonal concentration for the task. The pain diminishing to a bearable level, Langlois gave an audible swallow and slumped, his skin clammy with shock.
"Thank you," he muttered finally, sensing that he was safe. The relief from terror was so exquisite that exhaustion swamped him. "I'm sorry," he whispered awkwardly.
"Is that supposed to be enough?"
Uncertain if it would be permitted, Langlois pushed himself up, grimacing as his over strained body protested. "It seemed no more than a diversion. I wanted you the moment I saw your photograph. So when you came into the gallery - "
"You sought further amusement at my expense. I understand perfectly."
The biting contempt in the clipped voice caused Langlois to look away. "Yes," he admitted, before he ventured a crooked smile of tested charm. "But my instinct was sound. You would not have hurt - "
"Your instincts don't bear close examination," snapped Griffin with exasperation, looming over the seated man.
Pinned by that dissecting gaze Langlois could not hide behind the maliciously amused facade he habitually presented to the world. "Don't," he muttered finally, an ignominious shake in his voice.
Leaving the bed, Griffin collected cigarettes from his jacket pocket, lit two and handed one to Langlois before going to stand by the window. Even Chelsea was quiet at this time of the morning.
"Why didn't you take me?" asked Langlois, having no idea what Griffin was thinking and made uneasy by the silence. His mind shied away from the horror of what had almost happened.
Griffin's tone was clipped and cold. "I could give you several reasons but I doubt if you would enjoy any of them."
"Very well." This time there was no trace of compassion on the face Griffin turned to the younger man. "I'm selective in my choice of lovers. Your physical charms are no compensation for your obvious deficiencies, not the least of which is the fact the concept of mutual pleasure with a bedmate doesn't seem to be one you've grasped. And your irresponsibility in failing to insist that your partner wears a condom. In the era of AIDS, wilful juveniles who expect gratitude when they offer up territory visited by half of London are going to be disappointed - or dead within a decade, wreaking god knows what havoc in their wake. Take you?"
The contemptuous dismissal in Griffin's voice flooded Langlois' face with colour. "So it was revenge you sought."
Stubbing out his half-smoked cigarette, Griffin began to dress. "Why else do you suppose I accepted your invitation - lust? Grow up, while you still have time."
There was a bitter twist to Langlois' mouth now. "You've made it obvious I don't meet your standards of perfection. Who is it you want? Kit?" Alerted by the quality of the older man's silence, Langlois caught hold of Griffin's arm. "Is it him?"
"Don't," warned Griffin, his muscles tightening.
Releasing him, Langlois sank back on his heels in the centre of the bed. "The plan worked." He sounded astonished.
Griffin wheeled round, the silk lining of his jacket flaring out with the speed with which he moved. "Yes, it worked. Better than you could have dreamed. Now I'm alone and Kit's alone and I doubt if either of us is very happy. Is that what you wanted to know?"
The intensity of raw emotion revealed in anger struck an unwelcome chord with Langlois. He made a helpless gesture, at a rare loss to know what to say.
Recovering control as quickly as he had lost it, Griffin demonstrated that he had not finished with him yet. "Earlier you said you'd seen my photograph. Was that in a newspaper, or have you seen the dossier your uncle prepared about me?"
Held by nothing more than the force of Griffin's personality, it did not occur to one of the glibbest tongues in London to lie. "The latter."
"Before or after evidence was manufactured to suggest that I'm an extortioner?"
"Before. Henri asked me to recommend a man of integrity. I am capable of recognising that trait in others. I suggested Kit, and that the lever should be a threat to Charlie and Josh." Langlois would have told this terrifying man anything he wanted to know if it meant he would be rid of him. Having been forced to face some unpalatable truths about himself, it wasn't only violence he feared now.
"Why? Were you so bored? Charlie has cause to hate me but even she can't believe I would hurt her, let alone Josh." Tie fastened, Griffin slipped on his shoes.
Feeling at a disadvantage naked, Langlois dragged on a dressing-gown and cautiously left the bed, for all his bravado yet to be convinced he was safe from physical harm. "I need a drink even if you don't. We should talk."
"About what?" Griffin stalked after him.
"Charlie Cassidy. What will you drink?"
"Nothing. What about her?"
"I understand your reluctance to become further involved. Unfortunately we carry our past with us."
Griffin gave him a brief look of uncomfortable intensity, which left the younger man feeling as if every buried emotion lay exposed before that merciless gaze. But when Griffin spoke, it was quietly, as if to himself. The extravagant children, who lately swaggered/ out of the sea like gods, have, I think, been soundly/hunted by their own devils into their human selves..."
When he fell silent the illusion of communication fled and Langlois blinked. "What? Oh, yes, I see. Aren't we all, one way or another. Perhaps Charlie most of all. While we have never met, I know she has been living under intense pressure. First her father's death, his legacy, the murder of her friend Alice, and the attentions of both the media and the authorities."
Griffin sharply exhaled a plume of smoke. "And perhaps even a twinge of guilt for being an accessory to my father's murder."
"What?" Langlois' new-found composure cracked.
"Didn't you know? I suppose you wouldn't. It's hardly gossip fodder for the cocktail circuit."
"That cannot be true," protested Langlois, shock obliterating his cynical air.
"No? Had I been the son my father wanted, there would be a blood bath in Hong Kong even now. For Charlie's sake, and particularly for Josh's, I hope she's severed her connection with Chong. Members of his Triad dismembered my father."
Motionless for a moment, Langlois recovered enough to notice Griffin; he pushed his glass toward Griffin, judging him to be in greater need of it. "Take this. It's only brandy. Ms Cassidy isn't the only one to have been under great strain. My uncle knows none of this, I'm sure."
"Nor should you," said Griffin, ignoring the drink. "Now four people know." His inference was clear.
"How could it help my uncle for me to tell him this?" Langlois gave Griffin a shrewd look. "You will not harm me, therefore you must trust me to be discreet. It goes against the grain, does it not."
"Are you surprised?" But there was no bite to the mellow voice now. "I believe my father ordered Alice Wu's murder and that he threatened Charlie. I imagine she gave Chong, Alice's father, the name of the man responsible. It may reassure you to know Charlie isn't a homicidal maniac."
"Only, I think, on the verge of a nervous breakdown," said Langlois sombrely.
Griffin tensed slightly. "For which your uncle blames me?"
"I don't believe his motives were ever clear cut. He's an honourable man - "
"I could tell that."
"But he is in love. When this began, he was fighting a rival he had never met. One who intruded on every private moment. He was jealous of you."
"And that excuses what he did?"
Langlois sighed. "Have love - and hate - never made you act irrationally? In a manner you later regretted?"
"Touché. I intend to meet your uncle."
"Your quarrel is with me," said Langlois protectively.
"Only in part. The smaller part. Will you arrange the meeting, or shall I?"
"I'm not sure where he is," prevaricated Langlois.
"How long's he been in London?" Griffin asked casually, stubbing out his cigarette.
"Just under a - " Langlois grimaced. "How did you know?"
"If he was still in Sydney you wouldn't be so worried. Besides, I've had the pleasure of seeing Charlie, albeit from a distance. I take it Henri left Australia for her sake?"
"Of course, although he made business his excuse. Why do you want to see him?"
"To discover how many other people have seen that dossier he compiled and to retrieve all the copies. Call me unduly sensitive, but I take grave exception to having my life investigated and my reputation libelled."
"Libel?" Langlois frowned. "I had not considered that."
"Start now," Griffin advised him. "I'm staying at Brown's. Tell your uncle to contact me. If he doesn't, my lawyers will be contacting him." Leaving the sitting-room, he headed down the hall, pulling on his overcoat.
"You don't like me very much, do you," remarked Langlois with unconscious egotism.
Pausing, Griffin's gaze travelled over the younger man, recognising all the signs of recovery. "What do you think? But if it's any comfort, I like myself even less for what I did to you."
Langlois stared at him blankly. "But you didn't go through with it."
Pulling up his collar, Griffin eyed him with something like pity in his eyes. "I did worse than that," he said gently. "I made you believe I'd fist you. There is a difference."
It took a moment for the humiliating truth to sink in.
"You mean it was all a trick! You cold-blooded bastard! You set me up! I've never been so terrified in my life!" cried Langlois hotly, outraged by the cruel calculation of Griffin's actions.
"That was the general idea. You'd do well to remember as much." Griffin's voice hardened when he saw Langlois tense, as if considering physical retaliation. "I've let you off lightly so far. Interest yourself in any aspect of my life again and I promise you'll live to regret it. Acts of mercy, like mistakes, should never be repeated." Frosty air billowing around him when he opened the front door, he paused on the top step. "Do I make myself plain?"
Like a rabbit hypnotised by the beam of powerful headlamps, Langlois could not look away. It seemed impossible that this coldly dangerous man could be capable of human warmth, yet he had glimpsed the passion hidden beneath the surface, felt the searing heat before the furnace door was slammed shut. It did not occur to him to try to capitalise on the knowledge. Tonight had warned him that Griffin's revenge would take a form far more subtle than physical violence: the memory of his near escape made him sweat despite the cold.
"Well?" asked Griffin.
"I understand," confirmed Langlois, blinking nervously.
"Good. I'm glad we've finally managed to communicate." Griffin turned away.
"James! Mr Griffin! Wait!" Langlois called, impelled by a sense of fellow-feeling which he had no intention of trying to analyse.
"What is it now?" demanded Griffin, obviously impatient to be gone.
"The dossier. Kit had every reason in the world to believe the worst of you. If you think it would help matters between you I will see him. To explain," Langlois added hurriedly, wishing he hadn't surrendered to impulse and had simply allowed his dangerous visitor to go.
The wind whipping the corners of his collar and stinging his eyes, Griffin shook his head. "Unfortunately the moment for explanations has passed."
"I mean it," insisted Langlois fiercely, feeling as if his honour was being impugned. "You may believe that much."
The severity of Griffin's expression eased fractionally. "Oddly enough, I do. You aren't the only one with instincts. Goodbye." Without waiting for a reply he ran down the rest of the steps and hurried along the street to where his car was parked.
Despising his descent into the depths for a revenge which had already turned sour, Griffin's quota of self-hatred was high when he turned his Jaguar out of London. It had been necessary, as so often in the past, to demonstrate a show of strength - jungle law prevailed - but he wished he had found another means of making his point. Sex should never be used as a weapon. Nor should love, he reminded himself, his expression bleak as he drove north with a speedy precision. Having no destination in mind he intended only to unwind enough so that he could sleep. The monotony of the motorway offering too little challenge, he left it to follow a winding route along B roads, abandoning town in favour of countryside. Even the familiar pleasure of driving failed to work its magic.
The discovery that he had smoked his last cigarette made Griffin pull up to a brightly-lit transport café just after four in the morning. The scent of frying bacon and the warmth seduced him into staying, his stomach quick to remind him how little of his last meal he had eaten. The café was crowded with lorry drivers, their presence a sure sign of the excellence of the food.
Ordering everything but black pudding and baked beans, Griffin took his meal to one of the few empty seats. Grateful to be ignored after wary nods of acknowledgement, he concentrated on his meal, peripherally aware of the diversity of conversations taking place around him.
"You look as if you needed that," remarked a neighbour, when Griffin pushed his cleared plate away. "Smoke?"
"Thanks." Taking one of the Woodbines offered to him, Griffin passed his lighter around. "I hadn't realised how hungry I was." Flexing his stiff shoulders, his lack of sleep beginning to catch up with him, he leant back on the shabby plastic-covered bench, the unfamiliar tobacco harsh in his throat.
"It always gets to you this time of the morning. Murder it is, sometimes, when there's no decent grub within miles."
"I can imagine. Have you been on the roads for long?" asked Griffin, his lack of interest well-hidden.
It was diversion enough for the seasoned drivers around him. Encouraging nods fostering the illusion that he was listening, Griffin drank the strong Indian tea, grateful for its warmth, and shared out his cigarettes. The conversation turned from tall stories about sights seen on the road to an analysis of the recent final of the Rugby World Cup, on which subject his time with Kilroy had left Griffin better informed than he wanted to be. The enthusiasm of a stocky, thickly-accented man reminded him of Kilroy so acutely that he had to close his eyes against a rush of longing.
In the ten days since he had sent Kilroy away, he had begun to think of more than his own lacerated emotions. In fact he had done little else but think, first with the pulsating agony of betrayal raw in his mind, then in an icy rage before sheer emotional exhaustion brought a merciful numbness. That had been only another form of protection from the realisation he had been justly served. Whatever he had thought he felt for Charlie Cassidy, it hadn't stopped him from using her. At least Kilroy's motives had been purer. At that stage Griffin began to accept that Kilroy had been used just as much as he had, a victim caught in the same trap. Every conversation between them returning to haunt him, at first they had seemed no more than stinging reminders of how easily he had been duped. Only recently had he been able to see where the pattern had changed as Kilroy's involvement became real, gaining dimension and warmth.
Kilroy took the responsibilities of his job seriously. Given what he must have read in Langlois' dossier, the only surprise was that he should have been able to trust at all.
Absently lighting a cigarette, despite the fact that one already sat burning away in the ashtray, Griffin stared at the rejected curl of bacon rind on his plate. Unpractised in sharing his life with others, he knew it would require a considerable effort on his part; an effort not required of him until now. He didn't seem to have any choice in the matter. He missed having Kilroy in his life; his warmth, his humour, his dependability and his integrity. They were stolid-sounding virtues; the reality was very different, bringing a contentment Griffin had never found with another human being, and which he had not known he needed until it was taken from him. The only astounding thing was the fact Kilroy seemed to feel the same way about him, despite everything that had happened. Unconscious of having made any decision, he got to his feet.
"Going to chance your arm and go back home, are you, mate?"
Looking at his companions Griffin saw the same good-natured understanding on each face. Even knowing how quickly their reaction would change if they discovered the gender of his mate did not, on this occasion, sadden him. Rubbing his stubble-roughened chin, he nodded.
"Was I that obvious?"
His wry tone earned him friendly grins around the table. "It's the usual explanation when a bloke dressed to the nines turns up in a transport caff in the middle of the night, smokes two cigarettes at the same time and then sits staring into space."
"Best of luck," said another man.
"Thanks. We'll need it. A safe trip home." Leaving the café, Griffin wasted no time getting onto the London-bound side of the M1. Lucky enough not to meet a police patrol, his speed slowed only when he met the coagulating stream of commuters on their lemming-like rush to work.