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HUNTED BY DEVILS

Chapter Text

TWENTY

 

After a near-sleepless night Kilroy spent the following day avoiding Griffin, knowing he was incapable of offering the patient support Griffin needed. He retreated to The Anchor as soon as the pub opened that evening, sitting at a corner table while he tried to soak up the uncomplicated warmth of other people's lives.

Nursing only his second pint in what had been a long evening, the irony of his insistence that Griffin needed counselling wasn't lost on him. He had begun to think Griffin was dealing with the aftermath of the kidnap better than he was. In his imagination Kilroy had lived through every conceivable scenario. He could still remember his first sight of Griffin in hospital; the horror of opening the package from the kidnappers, the stained newspaper no warning for what it had contained, despite his supposed experience in such matters.

Leaving when he realised Alan was waiting to close up, he reluctantly returned to Whitehaven, relieved to find it in darkness. Reassured by the report from the purple-nosed night-watch, he went to bed.

In the darkness memories of his teenage years returned to haunt him, as lurid and ugly as the day his world had fallen apart. Experiencing the same desolate sense of alienation he had felt at sixteen, for the first time in years Kilroy became conscious of how solitary his life was, loneliness eating into him.

It was only when he awoke, his heart racing, that he realised he must have fallen asleep after all.

Switching on the light brought no relief. Trying to get warm, he cursed the lack of courage which prevented him from going to Griffin: not for Griffin's comfort but for his own. Able to imagine the reception he would meet with if he tried, he got up, pulling on his warmest tracksuit, and went downstairs, hoping the warmth and light would chase away the night terrors.

Staring into the dregs of the coffee he had made, he lost track of time until a sound made him look up to see Griffin, still dressed, standing in the doorway.

"I'll leave you in peace," mumbled Kilroy, getting up to go because it was preferable to watching Griffin walk out on him again.

His eyes widening when he realised Kilroy was serious, Griffin's unwary heart twisted when he recognised the bleak misery on Kilroy's face. "No, don't go," he murmured, touching him lightly on the shoulder as he came into the room.

Nodding, Kilroy slumped back on his chair. Hunched in upon himself, he made no attempt at conversation as Griffin made some fresh coffee, the aroma of freshly ground beans scenting the air.

"I opened a Pandora's box for you yesterday. I'm sorry. I had no right." Needing to offer some form of comfort, Griffin remained beside Kilroy after he had set the mugs of coffee on the table, wondering how such a bleak adolescence could have produced a relatively well-balanced adult.

"What does that matter? You certainly owed me," muttered Kilroy, fidgeting restlessly on the chair.

"Not this," said Griffin, fiercely protective of him.

Swivelling round to see Griffin's expression, blind need stark on his face, Kilroy turned sideways on his chair and leant against the support silently offered to him with a sigh of relief. When an arm loosely encircled his chest he began to relax for the first time in hours.

"He found me, you know," Kilroy muttered later, as Griffin's fingers continued to smooth the edge of his rib cage. "Or us. Nick and I were only kissing, though I suppose it was obvious what we'd been doing. I thought he was going to kill me. I can still see the look on his face, hear his... And I just took it. I let him do that to me. Like it was something to be ashamed of." The arm around him tightened fractionally. Then Griffin kissed the top of his head and tucked his other arm around him, encircling him in warmth.

"You were sixteen. You know better now. I hate amateur analysts," added Griffin quietly, his breath stirring Kilroy's hair, "but from what I've seen and heard of your father's over-publicised views, he's the sort of man who has to take his inadequacies out on the rest of the world. You made an easy target. Has it ever occurred to you that perhaps he has inclinations he can't cope with? For all you know he could be a closet queen."

Kilroy gave a startled choke before he began to laugh, which eased the tight knot in his belly. "If he is, I can guarantee he won't be coming out. I'd never thought of that. It's a wonderful idea. It's a pity it isn't true."

"It could be. Equally, he could be impotent, or just a raving bigot."

"That's more like it. Christ, I hate fanatics."

"Anyone with any sense does. He's so off the wall he's made himself a laughing-stock. He's pathetic, rather than dangerous. Don't let him screw up the life you've built for yourself."

"I'm all right," said Kilroy gruffly, unaccustomed to such concern.

"Of course you are," agreed Griffin dryly.

Kilroy tilted his head as far back as he could from this position. "Really. It just got a bit out of proportion. I woke up feeling like I was sixteen again. It took a while to wear off, that's all." Taking one of Griffin's hands in his own, he raised it to his mouth, absently nuzzling the palm until the fingers brushing his cheek quivered. "I've missed you so much," he muttered.

Cool fingers slowly closed around his own. "Don't," murmured Griffin, but Kilroy didn't seem to have heard him.

"I didn't even know you'd been kidnapped until Wednesday, when we found the ransom note at my flat. I thought you were dead. I knew you must be when I heard what Charlie had done. The next thirty-six hours...dragged."

Griffin planted another light kiss on top of the dark head. "An over-active imagination is no asset in your line of work. Let it go. Everything's fine now."

"Yeah?" Dragging free from the embrace, Kilroy glared sceptically up at him.

"It will be," said Griffin with certainty. "They were moronic bully boys, opportunists who saw a way to make some easy money. Forget them."

Some of the belligerence on Kilroy's face faded. "Can you?"

"Not yet," admitted Griffin evenly. Still absorbing knowledge so recently learnt, he said what Kilroy needed to hear. "But it's already fading." Perching on the edge of the table and propping his foot on the chair between Kilroy's thighs, he gave a half-smile. "I know you insist in believing the world can't turn without your hand on its rim, but you couldn't have done a thing to stop what happened. It was sheer chance they took me as well as Josh."

Not for the first time he was defeated by Kilroy's silence. "If it'll make you feel any better, I'll tell you anything you want to know. Tomorrow. It's late and it's cold. Let's get some sleep."

"Yeah." Only then did Kilroy seem to take in the finer points of Griffin's appearance. "You're still dressed. What were you doing up at this time of night?"

"I was going to bed when I heard you come downstairs. I wondered if you wanted any company," said Griffin, perjuring himself without hesitation. Now was no time to announce he had been about to start packing ready to leave Whitehaven.

As they went upstairs Griffin, who had been watching Kilroy, put out a restraining hand. "We could both do with some company but I can't face the smell of rotting plaster in your room. Can we use mine until we get yours redecorated?"

Rubbing his face, Kilroy nodded but made no comment as he followed Griffin into his room, and then into the cold double bed. Slow to relax, he finally rolled onto his stomach in a familiar position of comfort. One arm tucked under the pillow, he stared at what he could see of Griffin's profile next to him.

"Are you really all right?"

Dragged back from the edge of sleep, it was a moment before Griffin woke up enough to reply. Swallowing a tart retort, he said: "More or less, though I wouldn't recommend creeping up behind me for a while."

"I won't," promised Kilroy. A few minutes later he tentatively rested his hand on Griffin's flank. The even breathing didn't alter. Kilroy would have taken more comfort from the fact but for his realisation that Griffin was asleep.

 

Waking to a sour taste in his mouth and a racing heart, it took Griffin a moment to realise where he was. Even though the windows were uncurtained, the room was pitch black; since escaping from the garage he had kept a light on at all times.

He'd be crawling back into the womb next, he thought irritably, impatient with his own paranoia. Restless, edgy and in need of some distraction, his awareness of the man sleeping next to him shot straight to his groin. Sorely tempted, he stretched out a hand. Some fast, hot sex was better than lying here feeling sorry for himself. His fingers hovered, before he frowned and turned away from temptation. There was no need to use Kit more than he'd been used already.

Discomfort radiating from his right hand, and wishing he had a cigarette, Griffin slid from the bed. Four hours' sleep was better than he'd managed for a while. Picking up the warmest clothes he could find, he dressed in the bathroom and quietly let himself out of the back door. While it might be cold and drizzling, at least the air was sweeter than in the house, he thought, turning up the collar of his jacket before he began to cough.

"Is everything all right, sir?"

"Oh bloody hell," croaked Griffin, staring up the necessary few inches into Andy's face, the younger man seeming to appear from nowhere. "I'm going for a walk. If you insist on coming with me, keep quiet and out of sight. I'm in no mood for company."

"No, sir." The lack of expression and deferential tone still managed to hold a wealth of meaning.

Griffin turned back to him with an apologetic smile. "Sorry. I'm just... Do you have to follow me everywhere?"

"I'm afraid so, sir."

"Shit. Call me James. How do you feel about going for a drive?" Feeling stifled, Griffin needed at least the illusion of freedom.

"To where, sir?"

"Never mind," Griffin sighed. "Look, I know Kit wants you to keep an eye on me, but not in the grounds, surely."

"Everywhere, s...James."

"Well, that's a step in the right direction, I suppose," acknowledged Griffin, leading the way round the side of the house to the main gate.

Resolutely ignoring the younger man, who disappeared from view as they emerged onto the lane, he set off for the village. While he managed the three mile walk there, he didn't know how he was going to get back to the house, appalled by his lack of condition. Even worse was his inability to relax, every rustling bush and moving branch making him flinch. Slumped on a low stone wall, exhausted after another bout of coughing, he fatalistically watched the blue Renault driving towards him and slowly got to his feet when it parked a few feet away.

"If you wanted a morning paper you're too early. The shop isn't open yet," he told Kilroy.

"Andy called me," said Kilroy tersely, disdaining any pretence.

"Figures. Kit, I can't live like this. It's driving me mad. I've got to have more space. Tell them to ease up."

Recognising the poorly-concealed desperation behind the determined tone, Kilroy nodded. "Maybe I did go a bit over the top. No-one in their right mind would be out this early on a Sunday morning in January. Can I offer you a lift, or would you rather walk back?" He resolutely refrained from commenting on how awful Griffin looked.

Getting in beside him, Griffin leant his head against the seat back. "There's no need to be that tactful. Home. Hang on. Where's Andy? There's no point in making him walk, is there."

"You haven't got the hang of this at all, have you," sighed Kilroy, but he took out his RT.

 

Griffin spent the rest of the morning stalking through echoing rooms, listening to the emptiness. Inhaling the stink of neglect and damp and dead mouse as he paced, he thought about his workshop, but without enthusiasm. His nerves jangling, he finally caved in and raided his luggage, finding a crumpled packet holding two cigarettes in the pocket of a jacket. Unable to find a lighter, he went into the kitchen, using the gas ring to light one. Beginning to cough the moment he inhaled, he recovered to find Kilroy propped in the doorway, watching him.

"You sound like you're enjoying that. I thought you'd given up."

"So did I. Now keep quiet so I can cough my guts up in peace," rasped Griffin, but he had to stub the cigarette out a few seconds later. "It's a conspiracy," he complained, one hand pressed to the discomfort in his side.

"Anything you say."

Griffin gave him a look of instant suspicion.

"Let me take you to London. This house is too cold and damp for you," said Kilroy.

"It isn't the house, it's me. It'll pass. What are you going to do this afternoon?" Griffin added with little interest, waves of inertia washing over him. The temptation to crawl into bed, haul the blankets over his head and stay there was acute.

"I assumed I'd be debriefing you today," said Kilroy in bland reminder.

"I don't think so," said Griffin with restraint, before he remembered the promise he had been rash enough to make. "Can't it wait?" he asked plaintively.

"It won't change what happened to you, or the fact you need to talk it out."

"No. I knew there was a reason I never made promises," sighed Griffin.

Kilroy gave him a considering look. "I've noticed you keep those you do make. Shall I make us some coffee before we get started?"

"Why not?" said Griffin without enthusiasm. He eyed the bread, the variety of cheeses, grapes and apples Kilroy set on the table. "What do you want to know?"

"Everything. Start at the beginning. Why did you go round to Claire Cassidy's house so early that Saturday?"

Absently picking at the grapes, and telling himself this was something Kilroy needed far more than he did, Griffin tried to reply in full. At first his sentences were disjointed, his memory unco-operative as he struggled to maintain his distance, but gradually, led by Kilroy, he began to talk unprompted, his gaze remaining on the scrubbed tabletop, his coffee cooling. But where, with the police, he had given them a bald statement of the facts, Griffin managing for the most part to remain divorced from the emotional impact of what he was saying, this time was different. Baring his soul to the quiet-voiced interrogator on the opposite side of the table, it was impossible to distance himself from the experience as he relived every conversation, impression and emotion. His recital became so real that he never knew there were tears of rage in his eyes at one point, or the despair his voice revealed when he spoke of his terror when he had been imprisoned in the garage. He did not notice Kilroy's flinch when he spoke of his sense of abandonment during the days he had become convinced that there was no-one who believed in his innocence.

"I don't remember much after I got out through the window," Griffin finished tiredly. "I must have fainted at one point, because I remember crawling out of a ditch."

"Given your physical condition, it's a wonder you made it as far as you did," said Kilroy unemotionally.

"My being unconscious for so long after I was picked up annoyed the hell out of Franklin. He thinks they missed the men by a matter of minutes."

"That's his problem, not yours. If you'd waited to be rescued you'd still be there." Or dead, Kilroy added mentally. "You don't owe your freedom to anyone but yourself. Taking back control of your life must count for something."

"I suppose so. All I know is I'd had a gutful of being used." Limp with reaction, Griffin didn't notice Kilroy wince.

"One of the things Franklin commented on about you first was your strength of will. Bloody-mindedness, he called it. You say you gave up for a couple of days - and perhaps you did. The point is, you got yourself out with a combination of guts and strength of mind. Those are the same qualities which will see you through this. It's not going to happen overnight but the worst will pass," said Kilroy with flat conviction.

Feeling strangely light-headed, Griffin looked up. "I feel so inadequate," he finally admitted in a low voice. "I crack up in under a week, while some poor bastards went through more than five years of hell in Beirut. And they're only the ones we know about. I had it easy."

"In what way do you think you had it easy?" asked Kilroy evenly, and they were off again.

 

 

"God, I'm tired," sighed Griffin at last, wiping a hand over his face and surprised to feel the rasp of stubble. "What time is it?"

"Nearly five. Here, eat this."

Griffin absently ate the cold chicken set in front of him, chewing and swallowing automatically; he drank the glass of cold milk handed to him without a murmur of protest. A banana and half a bunch of grapes later, he could eat no more.

"I was hungry," he said, sounding surprised.

"You've had a long day. Don't mind me if you want a nap."

"It must be middle age catching up with me," conceded Griffin, mid-yawn.

Suddenly feeling as if he had been beaten with clubs, he went upstairs. Once in his room he collapsed onto the bed, still half-dressed, and was asleep within seconds.

Kilroy went in to him ten minutes later, having expected nothing else, this a pattern he had seen many times before. Pulling the duvet over Griffin, he checked that the electric heaters were working and sat down to watch over him.

 

Having eaten more for breakfast than Kilroy, Griffin gave a replete stretch, then sighed when he saw it was still raining. "I'd planned to go for a jog, and a walk when my wind gives out. I'm out of condition."

"It's hardly surprising," Kilroy pointed out.

"Is that supposed to help," snapped Griffin, before he grimaced. "If you humour me too much I'm going to take advantage and be unbearable to live with."

"You mean you aren't?" retorted Kilroy, deadpan.

Griffin avoided all the obvious responses. "Very probably. I suppose I could always jog through the house - it's big enough."

Kilroy thought about it. "Swimming might be better exercise for you - until the weather improves."

"God, yes. I hate jogging. Where?"

"We could go to the public baths."

Griffin's nose wrinkled fastidiously. "Public baths?"

"Spoilt, that's what you are. It'll do you good to see how the other half lives."

"I haven't got any trunks with me," said Griffin, swiftly back-pedalling.

"Yes, you have. I had all your clothes brought down from Brown's," Kilroy told him smugly. "Shall I get them or will you?"

Never gracious in defeat, Griffin muttered something uncomplimentary under his breath and went to get ready.

Even Kilroy's enthusiasm was dented when they arrived at the baths to find every pool swarming with children of various ages, the noise they made bouncing off the tiled walls. Unimpressed by the dingy changing cubicles and shabby metal lockers, or the fact he had to wear the key to his locker on an elastic band around his wrist, Griffin stood shivering beside the largest pool.

"Let's go home," he pleaded. "I'm sure the damp is bad for my chest." He managed an unconvincing cough.

"You know your trouble, you're a snob," said Kilroy severely, but he displayed no rush to get into the water.

"No, I'm a realist. That pool's full of ten-year-old boys. What do kids of that age always think it's amusing to do in water?"

Comprehension dawning, Kilroy grimaced. "Good thinking," he said, heading purposefully for the changing rooms.

Overtaken by a genuine fit of coughing as they emerged from the baths, Griffin made no demur when Kilroy suggested they go straight home, more tired than he cared to admit. While he had tried to ignore it, he had begun to feel exposed in the open, seeing his kidnappers in the turn of a stranger's head. He made a mental note to ensure he went out every day, before paranoia had a chance to take hold and rule his life.

"I can't see you being able to jog very far until that cough clears up," remarked Kilroy as they sat down to the light lunch he had prepared. "I'll ring round the local hotels. One of them is bound to have a swimming pool we can use." He watched Griffin push scrambled eggs around his plate.

Finally abandoning the pretence of eating, Griffin sat back in his chair. Sipping his coffee, he grimaced when he found it was instant. "Not on my account. I can always drive to town and use the pool at the club if I get desperate. It's time I fixed a meeting with Piers anyway. The guy Tom recommended for my agent," he added, when Kilroy frowned.

"Tom?"

"Culver. House in Derbyshire. I've known him since I was ten. You probably had him on file," said Griffin colourlessly when he saw he had jogged Kilroy's memory.

"Yes," confirmed Kilroy, tensing.

"No doubt you'll get to meet him in the fullness of time. I think you'll get on," added Griffin, as if he hadn't noticed Kilroy's reaction. "What is it?" he asked, aware he was under a steady-eyed surveillance.

"I was wondering about something you said yesterday," murmured Kilroy innocuously, and Griffin was in the middle of another debriefing session before he knew to be wary.

oOo

The day after, ignoring Griffin's excuses to avoid it, they began earlier, each succeeding session taking longer than the last. After a few days it was Griffin who began to set the pace, sometimes pausing to help himself to food, or to make coffee, at others asking questions of his own.

Unobtrusively monitoring him, Kilroy relaxed to a degree when it became obvious that Griffin was sleeping better; his physical condition improved to the point where he was able to jog first to the end of the lane. By the end of the week he was jogging to the village and taking a juvenile pleasure in flushing out his escort, so that they had to run at his side rather than attract attention by trying to remain hidden.

"That's it, isn't it," Griffin said the following Tuesday, after another lengthy session. "The rest is up to me."

"It always has been. You've done it on your own."

"No, I seem to remember having some help along the way. I feel... Better."

"You look it. But don't forget, there'll still be bad moments, bad days even. If you need to talk, you know where I am."

Giving a lengthy stretch of sheer well-being, Griffin slumped. "You've done your bit. More than, in fact. And you're bloody good at it. Thanks. You'd better tell Andy to resign himself to more early mornings. I'm fed up with the village route, I'll be going cross-country tomorrow."

"That'll please him."

"Tough," said Griffin without sympathy. "That's what he gets for following orders to the letter. Your lads hold you in a healthy respect."

"There's no need to sound so surprised. Some people do. I'll see you later."

Faintly surprised by all the signs of withdrawal, Griffin watched Kilroy leave the kitchen before he shrugged and made himself an impromptu sandwich, wondering why talking should have given him such an appetite. Whistling as he made some tea, he glanced at his watch. The evening was still young. Feeling as if he had crawled out from beneath some stifling burden, he was in the mood to celebrate and went in search of Kilroy.

He arrived at the door of the study in time to see him downing a large scotch. Pouring himself another, Kilroy slammed the glass on the desktop, slopping whisky over his hand before he gripped the edge of the desk, his head bowing.

Jolted from his euphoric sense of release, Griffin gave a shaky exhalation. Either Kit was even better at his job than he had realised, or Griffin had been so blinkered for the last couple of weeks that he had missed all the signs. Kit looked terrible, his body language eloquent of his fatigue and depression.

Going into the room, Griffin slid a hand under Kilroy's jacket, rubbing his back gently. "It's only me. Dispassionate observer, eh?" he queried, only now understanding the intensity of Kilroy's involvement with their counselling sessions.

Dull-eyed, Kilroy's head turned, comfort obviously the last thing he had expected. "I had no justification for putting you through the mill the way I've been doing. I'm sorry."

"As you took such pains to remind me," said Griffin, perching on the edge of the desk, "I have control of my life. I could have stopped you at any time."

"Why didn't you?" asked Kilroy, his voice rough-edged with emotion.

"In the beginning I told myself I was doing it for your benefit. Regrettably I'm not that altruistic. I soon realised that, despite my conviction that I could cope, I needed to talk the experience through with someone who...knows me. I needed not only to admit what happened but to come to terms with what I felt about it."

"And have you?"

Griffin rubbed his chin. "I've certainly come closer. While in one respect I feel like I've gone ten rounds with Tyson, I feel...scoured clean. Almost light-headed in fact. But I couldn't have been so honest about how I felt with anyone else."

Giving a wry smile, Kilroy gently flicked the edge of Griffin's jacket. "I hate to disillusion you, but any well-trained counsellor would have done. You were the one doing all the work."

"You think so? I'll stick to my theory, you stick to yours. You've taken me beyond the point where I need that kind of sop to my pride." Cocking his head, he studied Kilroy with a disquieting frankness. "I hope you don't empathise this much with all your clients."

"How soft-headed do you think I am?" demanded Kilroy with a more familiar exasperation.

"Substitute heart for head. Look, I'm not claiming there's been a miracle cure but talking it out with you...helped. More than you can know - or I realised until recently. I was cracking up and I couldn't see it. While it's far from adequate, I'm grateful. Very grateful," said Griffin seriously, unreservedly placing the credit where he knew it was due.

Kilroy gave a shrug of dismissal and fiddled with the glass on the desktop. "It isn't over yet by any means. You may need more sessions."

"Then I'll book your services again," said Griffin, but with less enthusiasm.

Hearing the change of tone, Kilroy smiled. "See how you go. The main thing is that you accept there'll still be bad days. They aren't a sign of weakness that you have to try to hide or deny. Half your trouble is the fact you push yourself too hard. You expect far more of yourself than you expect of other people."

"Sounds like someone else I know not a million miles from here. We're both over-achievers. I don't know about you, but I could do with a break from all this introspection. Let's be hedonistic and indulge ourselves this evening. Bright lights, music, good food," invited Griffin.

"At The Anchor?" returned Kilroy, making the effort to respond in kind.

"I was thinking of something more exotic. There's a nightclub near - Never mind," Griffin amended, seeing the flicker of dismay on Kilroy's face. "The Anchor does a good steak and kidney pie, and I never did get the hang of playing darts."

"And if the excitement gets too much for you there's always dominoes," said Kilroy, his smile reaching his eyes this time.

"Maybe I'm not ready for the high life yet," mused Griffin. "Given that it's freezing out, why don't you ask Andy or Clive to drive down to the local chip shop for double portions of everything, after which you and I could have a game of backgammon."

A flicker of relief crossed Kilroy's too-controlled face. "That sounds good."

"Then we'll settle for that," agreed Griffin, who wanted to keep Kilroy under his eye.

But by the time they had eaten their meal and drunk a can of lager each, he could see that Kilroy was almost asleep. "Let's have an early night. We can - Damn!" he added, as the lights flickered and went out.

Kilroy was on the RT immediately. "It's not a power cut, it's us," he reported.

"Again? At this rate Fred may as well move in with us. Have you ever thought of trying another electrician?"

"No, but I will. We may as well go to bed. Uh, given the security problem, don't worry if you hear footsteps in the night. It'll only be me doing the rounds."

"Just so long as it's not mice, I don't care. But it's a waste of time. Why don't you just share my bed? As the heating's off I'll be glad of the extra warmth," added Griffin casually.

There was a small silence.

"Do you think that's a good idea?" Kilroy looked hunted.

"Yes, I do," said Griffin firmly, and this time he didn't pretend he was making the decision for Kilroy's benefit.

 

A cold draught on his back woke Griffin, who discovered that it was still dark and that at some point during the night he must have crept across the mattress. Disconcerted to find himself wrapped around Kilroy, he told himself the snug fit of their bodies was due to the lack of bedding. To test his theory, he hauled the slipping duvet back over them, but felt no imperative to move away.

Inhaling the scent of warm Kilroy with a familiar pleasure, he absently nuzzled the curve of a strong shoulder, his nose brushing a tuft of dark hair at the armpit.

Strange the things you missed, the things you took for granted until you no longer had them, he mused idly, sucking gently on a tender ear lobe. His free hand moved lazily from rib cage to waist, flank and thigh before it settled over the crisp thatch of hair at Kilroy's groin, feeling the muscular rump flex against him as he woke up.

"James?"

"Who were you expecting?" teased Griffin huskily.

There was a disconcerted silence, during which Kilroy seemed to stop breathing for a few seconds.

"You're like a damn poker," Griffin murmured with satisfaction a few minutes later. He undulated gently against a muscled thigh for the sweet torment of the hairs which teased the head of his naked cock.

"I can't think why. Do that again and I'll come," warned Kilroy, his breath catching.

"That's the general idea," purred Griffin, his thrusts gaining power, pre-ejaculate providing some necessary lubrication.

"Safe - Sex," gasped Kilroy, when it was too late as far as he was concerned. The hands on him tightened, a sharply indrawn breath and the pulsing warmth trickling down his thigh telling him that Griffin probably hadn't heard a word he had said.

"What was that you said about sex?" asked Griffin breathlessly, some time later, before he began to nuzzle the back of Kilroy's neck.

"Never mind," sighed Kilroy, as goosebumps rippled over his skin. "Oh god, don't. That drives me crazy."

"I hadn't forgotten," said an amused voice. "And I've nothing against sex at all. 'Night."

Brought down to earth with a bump, Kilroy frowned at the wall, the intensity of his gaze such that the cracks began to undulate. Blinking rapidly, he tried to ignore his acute awareness of every point of contact he and Griffin shared, for they did nothing but accentuate the loneliness he felt.

 

Waking to a cold space in the bed next to him, Kilroy rolled over, relaxing when he saw Griffin, wrapped in a blanket, standing at the window, watching the rain.

"You'd never believe there's a hose pipe ban in place, would you," he offered sleepily, padding across the room. For a moment he wondered if Griffin had heard him.
"...And so each venture /Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate /
With shabby equipment always deteriorating /In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,/ Undisciplined squads of emotion.
"

Suspecting that some reaction might be expected of him, Kilroy manfully swallowed a yawn and tried to look intelligent.

Glancing round, the faint frown Griffin wore disappeared. "Sorry, I should know better until you've had at least one cup of coffee." Smiling, he drew Kilroy to him and slid an arm around his waist before his gaze returned to the rain-soaked drive.

"What are you thinking about?" asked Kilroy, some time later. On this occasion his yawn was audible.

"I'm resisting the urge to drive to the nearest shop for some cigarettes," lied Griffin, wryly aware that, as usual, his timing was appalling. First thing in the morning it was best to restrict conversations with Kilroy to words of one syllable.

Kilroy gave an inelegant snort, which ruffled Griffin's hair. "Typical," he grumbled, his palm gliding over the flat plane of Griffin's belly, his fingertips teasing the arrow of greying hair. "Come back to bed. It's barely light, there's a gale whistling past the window-frame, and the heating still isn't working."

"No, you go."

"What is it?" asked Kilroy quietly.

Half-turning, Griffin opened his mouth, saw the wary anxiety on Kilroy's face and kept his uncertainties and regrets to himself. A new beginning, he reminded himself, wishing he could believe it could be possible.

"Nothing. Really," he added, when Kilroy mumbled a doubtful interrogation in his ear.

"Then what were you concentrating on so intently?"

"Andrew. The poor sod's sheltering under the cedar tree opposite us. Let's invite him in for breakfast. He must be frozen."

"That's what he's paid for," said Kilroy unsympathetically, stepping away from Griffin and taking the blanket with him.

Snatching it back, Griffin slung it around his shoulders. "If I'm indoors with you I'm hardly likely to come to much harm, am I? Particularly with the alarm system you've set up. Yes, of course I noticed," he added tartly, before he reached back, the wool of the blanket irritating his backside.

Kilroy massaged it for him. "Shouldn't you have stopped missing cigarettes by now?" he asked to distract himself. "It must be a good four weeks since you last had one."

"Twenty-three days, if you don't count that one I tried. And I don't. Let's have breakfast. I'm starving. We can dress properly later."

"That's my tracksuit you're putting on," realised Kilroy with a trace of indignation.

"You have excellent taste. Come on."

Watching Griffin make short work of a huge breakfast, Kilroy made a mental note to go shopping when he was beaten to the last piece of toast.

"I need to keep my strength up," said Griffin, but he cut it in half, if with a grudging air.

"What made you up give up smoking now the chest infection's more or less cleared up?" asked Kilroy, licking marmalade from his fingers.

"Lots of reasons. Mainly to prove I can. I hate being dependent on anything."

"I'd never have guessed," said Kilroy dryly.

Griffin's mouth quirked. "I'm working on it. On a number of levels."

"Should I be impressed?" asked Kilroy, but he was smiling.

"Just patient. If Fred's going to be around all day I'm going to the workshop. Rather than freeze here and be driven mad by Fred's platitudes, you're welcome to come with me - if you don't mind the noise I'll be making. Which reminds me, I must get the workmen back to finish off my flat."

Careful not to react to that announcement, wary of reading anything into it, Kilroy finished his coffee. "Good idea. I'll be over as soon as I've done some shopping. Is there anything you need?"

"Chewing gum. I loathe it, but...or ten cigarettes."

"I'll get you a box of Wrigley's finest," said Kilroy with decision.

oOo

Wearing only the jacket Kilroy had bought him to replace the one ruined by the kidnappers, and a satisfied smile, Griffin stirred from his resting place on Kilroy's chest and hitched ineffectually at the duvet.

"It seems a shame to cover you up," mused Kilroy, draping it over him. "There's something very erotic about the sight of you in nothing but that jacket. Could start a whole new fashion."

"Not by me," said Griffin with decision. "I just didn't want frostbite. There's ice inside the windows. Stop fidgeting, you're letting cold air in. I need to spend a few days in London," he added, yawning. "I've a few things I can't sort out on the phone."

"Just so long as you don't mind some company," said Kilroy, wondering again why Griffin, whose flat above the workshop was now habitable, was still content to live at Whitehaven, despite the obvious disadvantages. Although he had stopped feeling as if he was walking on eggshells around Griffin, Kilroy didn't ask, wary of the answer he might receive.

While Griffin's look spoke volumes, he didn't waste his breath protesting.

oOo

They spent four days in London, Griffin discreetly attended by Andrew or Clive, whose presence he had begun to treat with a resigned acceptance, amused by the obvious awe in which Kilroy was held by his subordinates.

"Just so long as they listen to me," said Kilroy, resigned to the fact that where his own safety was concerned, Griffin didn't.

"You don't have to worry about that. Though the gospel according to Kilroy isn't exactly a bundle of laughs. I can't even take a leak without them following me. I'm getting a very odd reputation," Griffin informed him, more in resignation than sorrow.

"Not for the first time," dismissed Kilroy.

Replete and half-asleep, it took Griffin a moment to realise he had been insulted. "You wait till I've got my strength back," he warned, his hand moving in lazy circles on Kilroy's thigh.

"But you do understand why they're doing it?"

"I suppose so," conceded Griffin grudgingly, before his expression brightened. "One advantage of this flat, apart from the central heating, of course, is the fact we lose the bodyguards."

Prudence led Kilroy to restrict his reply to a mumble; in light of their recent activities, he hoped it would be put down to exhaustion after a job well done.

"All right, where are they?" demanded Griffin, sitting up. "And spare me that innocent look. It's just as well you've no ambitions to be a poker player."

"There's only one man keeping an eye on the back," defended Kilroy.

"What about the front?"

"I'm guarding that."

"And doing an excellent job of it, too. How much longer are they going to be around? They're a pleasant enough pair, but my lawyer took one look at my escort and decided I'd taken up with a toy-boy. Embarrassed the hell out of Andy." Griffin's malicious grin made it obvious he had done nothing to help the younger man out. "Hawker and his friends will have better things to worry about than me. Given their limited capacity for thought I can't believe they haven't been arrested yet."

"It's not for want of trying. Hawker's sister gave Franklin his life history. Apparently she was livid about the state they left her house in. Have you finished your business?"

"Almost. I managed to weasel out of going to the meeting in Paris this month."

"I thought the meetings were in Hong Kong?"

"Not the Trust, the bank. Langlois' bank. The Consortium nominated me to represent them on the board and it looks like I'm stuck with it for a while. Even Henri supports the idea. It serves me bloody well right - although there's no denying they need some help. Leon's fine for PR purposes but otherwise he's as much use as a third leg."

Kilroy stared thoughtfully at the ceiling. "You and Henri have a lot in common."

"Including Charlie? Sorry. Yes, I know. The infuriating thing is, I like him. He's got a good head on his shoulders, too. But..." Griffin punched his pillow into shape. "Never mind, I expect it'll sort itself out."

Kilroy gave him an amused glance, having realised, even if Griffin had not, that he would never be able to leave the business world behind completely; he enjoyed some aspects of the work too much.

"How's Josh?" he asked, knowing how much time Griffin had spent on the telephone talking with the boy.

"We met yesterday. I thought I'd told you. On the surface he's doing fine, but the fact Hawker and Co. are still at large is preying on his mind. Apparently his shrink told Charlie that seeing me might help, hence our meeting. Instead I think I just brought the kidnap back to him. He didn't ask when he could see me again. But now Charlie's on her way back to the real world, I'm hoping I'll soon be able to withdraw from the picture completely. You wouldn't believe the change in her. Henri's looking ten years younger. Do we have to talk about them?" Griffin added, with a plaintiveness which wasn't wholly assumed, aware that, together with a profound mistrust of Charlie Cassidy, Kilroy was jealous of her.

"What would you like to talk about?"

"It's ten-past-three in the morning. I'd like to get to sleep before the traffic starts up."

"Who started this conversation?"

"You probably." A thought striking him, Griffin hitched himself higher against the pillows. "Was everything all right at the agency when you called in?"

"Fine," said Kilroy quickly. "I'm still on holiday."

"One of the perks of being the boss?"

"That's right."

Aware that the only reason Kilroy was taking this prolonged break was so that he was in place as a bodyguard, and being driven slowly crazy by their enforced togetherness, Griffin decided it was time to take steps. But one at a time, he reminded himself.

"Now the painters have finished in my flat we may as well use it until the central heating at Whitehaven's fixed. But we need some furniture and I've no experience at furnishing a place. I could use some help."

"From me?"

"Unless there's anyone hiding under the bed. I don't see why I should suffer alone. And you'll be sitting on the sofa and sharing the bed. I'll make anything else we need."

Kilroy gave the enthusiast next to him a tolerant look. "Including carpets, rugs, curtains, towels, cutlery, china...?"

"Oh god." Griffin looked pained.

"Exactly. You could pay someone to furnish the place for you," added Kilroy, not without hope; he loathed shopping.

"No thanks. After seventeen years of living in hotels, I'm an expert on how they're furnished. I want something more personal for my home."

His expression softening, Kilroy rolled onto his side. While he wasn't a pack-rat, he had a few personal possessions he'd be reluctant to part with. Griffin seemed to have none.

"And you can take that soft look off your face," said Griffin with asperity.

Kilroy flicked off the light.

"I suppose that's your idea of humour," sighed Griffin in a long-suffering tone.

"Shut up and give me a cuddle," commanded Kilroy. To his secret astonishment, Griffin obliged.
oOo

 

Exhausted after a day shopping in Bond Street and Knightsbridge, but conceding that the experience could have been worse, Kilroy greeted with relief the news that Griffin was taking Kevin out to lunch.

"I'd take Annie too but I haven't seen much of her when I've called in at the agency. Is she all right?"

Kilroy moved his hand from side to side. "No-one sees much of her. She comes to work, takes three times longer to do everything than usual, then goes home. No-one can get a word out of her. From the way she jumps every time John's name is mentioned, I think they're having problems. But I can't force her to talk to me." He gave Griffin a thoughtful look. "She likes you. As you're not the boss, you might get more joy out of her. Come in with me tomorrow and see what your silver tongue can do."

"Careful, that was almost a compliment. Though don't expect too much. She may be embarrassed around me. I've noticed that with a quite a few people I've met recently. I suppose it's like bereavement. People want to help but don't know what the hell to say. But I'll certainly try."

His mug of coffee arrested halfway to his mouth, Kilroy stared at him. "Are you trying to tell me something?"

"Only if you think it might be applicable," murmured Griffin, sounding absurdly demure. That alone would have alerted Kilroy, even if Griffin's expectant look had not.

"I suppose I have gone a bit over the top," he admitted.

"Only a bit?"

"I'm not spying on you."

At that assurance Griffin's smile froze before he gave Kilroy's knee a gentle push. "That never occurred to me. It's all right. I understand. And I'll try to stop moaning." He hoped it was a promise he would be able to keep, feeling increasingly stifled by the fact he was under constant, if benign, surveillance. "And I'll see what I can do with Annie," he added, determined to turn his attention to Griffin next.

 

Entering the agency, Griffin frowned when he saw Annie, fumbling through a diary. "Hello," he said, horrified to see how haggard and nervous she looked.

Jumping, she turned even whiter and fainted.

Half an hour later she was still insisting she was all right as Griffin put her into a taxi, Annie resolute in her determination that she didn't want any company on her journey home.

"Well, if you're all right, and you're not worried that I've suddenly taken up child molesting, is it anything to do with Kit?" he asked, ignoring the taxi driver's impatient sighs.

"K-Kit? No, of course not," she said with more certainty.

Griffin frowned, having been aware of an odd atmosphere emanating from several of the partners he had met that morning, and that he hadn't been conscious of on his other recent visits to the agency.

"Call me unduly sensitive, but while everyone was their usual affable selves - once they'd got over your collapse - there was a certain air while they were with me. As if there's something I should know." When he saw her relax, he knew he was on the wrong track.

"Look, guv, are we going to Swanley, or not?"

While Griffin did no more than look up, the driver closed the glass partition and picked up The Sun.

"You're one of us," Annie said with less restraint in her manner. "Everyone took your being kidnapped personally, so it's great to see you looking so much better. But you were too close for comfort. A reminder. Some of them don't know how to handle it, that's all."

"Yes?" said Griffin sceptically.

Annie grimaced. "And the fact you and Kit are - er - close."

"Close," echoed Griffin, before he smiled. "Now I wonder how they know that."

His teasing missed its target. "Kit told them," said Annie simply. "He was worried sick about you. We all were. You are all right, aren't you?" she added abruptly. Clutching his arm, her eyes filled with fresh tears.

"I'm fine," he told her gently. Handing her a handkerchief, his mind worried the problem, disturbed by her intensity. "Go home. Take it easy. You look exhausted - unless you're coming down with 'flu or something."

"Yes," she agreed with gratitude, "that's probably it." She sat back as he closed the door and prepaid the driver, open relief on her face.

Frowning after the taxi's tail lights, Griffin shrugged and went to meet Kevin.

 

"I knew this lunch wasn't for the pleasure of my blue eyes," sighed the younger man, the main course arriving just after Griffin had finished outlining his plan. "You realise Kit will kill me when he finds out what I've helped you to set up."

"I'll protect you."

"Presuming you're still in one piece by the time he's finished with you," said Kevin with gloom.

"Look, you know as well as I do that the police are no closer to catching those men now. And Josh is...suffering."

"What about you?" asked Kevin, having learnt there was no hope of getting an answer out of Griffin with anything less than a direct question and sometimes not even then.

"I'd be happier if the men were behind bars but it's not keeping me awake at nights any more."

"Really?" Kevin ignored the cold-eyed stare he received.

"Take that expression of professional interest off your face, I'm not a client of yours."

"Not yet you're not," agreed Kevin, uncowed. "You haven't been watching too many vigilante movies, I hope?"

"Grow up," said Griffin irritably. "This is the real world. While everyone seems to have a job remembering as much, I've been living in it quite successfully for the last forty years. I've had enough of being wrapped in cotton wool. I'm quite capable of protecting myself, should the need arise. The kidnappers are still at large. I want them out of circulation in case their next victim isn't lucky enough to survive."

Wondering why Kilroy hadn't spotted the signs of a man going stir-crazy, Kevin picked up his fork. "What does Franklin say about your plan?"

"Well for one thing he was a damn sight more enthusiastic than you. He confirmed that one hundred thousand should flush every informant in the country out of the woodwork. All I'm asking you to do is keep Kit out of the way while I give the press conference tomorrow morning."

"All." Kevin eyed his rapidly sinking spinach soufflé without enthusiasm. "We could have gone upstairs after all. I think I've lost my appetite. Why don't they serve these up there, anyway?"

"Apparently the soufflé doesn't survive the journey up the stairs. Or interrogations by you, it would seem," added Griffin, pushing his meal away untouched. "If you don't feel able to help, I have another option - I go underground."

"Oh, brilliant. That'll solve everything, that will."

"Sarcasm doesn't become you. I had no idea you were this chicken-hearted."

"Kit isn't going to like this," Kevin pointed out, unmoved.

"I can't say I'm wildly enthusiastic myself. But if it's the only way of sorting this out once and for all, I'll put up with the publicity. I'd rather use the Lessingham Agency to help me than any other."

"For what?" asked a familiar voice.

Seeing Kilroy looming over him, Kevin dropped his fork.

"I didn't know you were joining us," said Griffin, with every semblance of normality.

"I didn't intend to. Then I began to wonder why you would want to take Kevin out for lunch. Nice chap that he is," added Kilroy, his gaze moving between the two men. "No, I can't detect any signs of passion, so at least I don't have a rival."

Having seen Kilroy in a temper before, Kevin didn't react as, without ceremony, Kilroy hooked a spare chair from a nearby table and sat down to give him a narrow-eyed glare.

"Do you want to order?" asked Griffin, as if he had noticed nothing amiss.

"What I'd like is to know why Franklin should ring you with a message about tomorrow's press conference," said Kilroy in the same smooth, soft tone.

"Damn," said Griffin without emphasis, having recognised the hurt behind the anger.

Kilroy's smile was devoid of warmth. "Quite. I'm sure you can explain."

Unintimidated by that velvety tone, Griffin sighed. "I can, but if we're going to have an argument, this isn't the best place for one. I think you can assume lunch is over, Kevin. I'll see you later."

"So will I," Kilroy added in a grim tone, as the younger man got to his feet.

About to speak, Kevin caught the slight shake of Griffin's head and left, accepting that his presence wasn't going to help.

Settling the bill, Griffin steered Kilroy out of Langham's restaurant before he could attract more attention. "I know I shouldn't have gone behind your back, but it seemed the best way to deal with this," he began quietly.

"We'll discuss it in my office," said Kilroy, striding across the road, oblivious of the number thirty-eight bus bearing down on him.

 

Still in mid-flow, Kilroy swung round when the door to his office burst open without ceremony. "What is it? Annie, not now! I haven't got time."

"Bloody hell," said Griffin in a shaken tone, when he saw the man looming behind her. "Though..." He frowned at the man who towered over Annie, one massive arm dwarfing her. "Sorry, for a moment I thought you were someone else. Do you happen to have a brother?"

Recognising that Annie was close to collapse, Kilroy sat her down, trying to soothe her, before he looked at the two men. "You recognise John?"

"John?" Griffin visibly brought himself under control. "I thought you were one of my kidnappers until I saw your face properly. But you're nothing like him. I'm sorry," he added, belatedly aware he was being less than tactful.

"Don't be. That's why we're here," said John, in a bass voice that rumbled with fury. "I've been up north, doing a bit of business for the last few weeks. I haven't been watching the news. If I had... Anyway, it seems Annie here saw the identikit of the blokes who snatched you and immediately thought I was involved. If she had half a brain she'd've known her slime ball of a brother's been up to his old tricks." The glare he gave her was unforgiving.

His gaze sliding to Kit, who was already punching phone buttons, Griffin relaxed. "That would explain why Annie's been looking so ill - and avoiding me. But naturally she'd want to protect you."

"Is that supposed to help? I'm no angel but the day I take to snatching kids... It's her bloody brother you want. The stupid git's been nothing but trouble since I've known him. But all small-scale stuff, and he swore he was going straight the last time we lent him some cash. I've put him straight now," he added with a grim satisfaction.

"Do you know where he is?"

Undeceived by Griffin's tone of mild inquiry, Kilroy tensed, all his attention on Griffin even as he murmured a succinct string of instructions into the phone.

"Course I do," said John with contempt. "Where d'you think I went first. I know where he always holes up - with his bloody mother."

"Then where is he?" asked Griffin, his impatience thinly veiled by this time.

"Downstairs. Trussed up in the back of my van. Only Annie wanted him," John jerked his head in Kilroy's direction, "to know before the law. Now you do, I'll turn him in."

"That won't be necessary," interrupted Kilroy. "I've sent a couple of men down to keep an eye on the van until the police arrive. I've also called a doctor. Annie's too overwrought to be questioned at the moment."

"I should bloody well hope she is!" exploded John. "Nearly two years we've been together, and this is what she thinks of me. I tell you, girl - "

Kilroy stepped into his path. "That's enough!" He didn't need to raise his voice to exert his authority, unconscious of the speculative glance Griffin gave him. "Annie thinks the world of you. Why else d'you suppose she's in this state? Why d'you suppose she supports you through thick and thin? Though I'm damned if I know why. Any man who gets his kicks from beating up women - "

"What!" John stared past him to where Annie was huddled, before his expression gentled. "Ah, Annie. Why didn't you tell me, girl? I'd've sorted out your little brother once and for all. That bucket of lard wouldn't know how to tackle anyone up to his weight. Why didn't you tell me he was up to his old tricks?"

"B-because I didn't want you to get into t-trouble," managed Annie, shaking, her face pinched and splotched with red, her nose running.

Brushing past Kilroy, John scooped her into his arms. Realising they wouldn't be missed, and more importantly that Annie was quite safe, Kilroy and Griffin slid from the room, stopping outside the office to stare at one another.

"So that's how the kidnappers knew about me - and you," said Griffin, sounding dazed.

"Yes," said Kilroy tightly, as oblivious as Griffin of their interested audience crowding the corridor, rumour having been quick to spread through the agency. "I sent Dave down to check on the condition of Annie's brother. We don't want our star witness keeling over before everyone else is in custody. Franklin's on his way. He wants to handle this personally."

"So do I."

Alerted, Kilroy gave him a sharp look. "It's in the hands of the police now, you know that."

It was a moment before Griffin replied. "Yes. Yes, of course I know," he added, with more conviction. "Get a doctor to Annie - and keep the police off her back. This isn't her fault. Ah, I can hear Franklin's dulcet tones. I'll see to him. You will keep an eye on Annie?"

"Of course." Irritated at being told how to do his job, Kilroy's expression softened when he realised that Griffin was all rigid lines of tension. Uncaring of who might be watching, he caressed the corner of Griffin's mouth with the side of his thumb, before briefly cupping his face; the muscles beneath his palm twitched. "Are you all right?" he murmured.

His eyes glittering, Griffin gave him a look of surprise. "I will be when this mess is sorted out. I can't see Annie's John getting an easy ride, can you. One look at him and Franklin will lock him away and throw away the key."

"Possibly."

"Probably, you mean. I'll keep an eye on him."

"Why?" asked Kilroy blankly. "He's nothing to do with you."

"Call it fellow feeling," said Griffin cryptically, before he shrugged. "Never mind. Chief Inspector," he murmured, stepping forward to greet Franklin.

 

Having identified a severely bruised and obviously unnerved John Potts, and given and signed his statement, Griffin was still at the station when Peter Hawker and the man he knew only as Terry were brought in.

Identifying them without difficulty, having turned down the option of doing so by means of the two-way mirror, Griffin returned to stand in front of Hawker, who stared through him. Memories flooding back Griffin waited with the patience of a cat at a mouse-hole until Hawker finally met his eyes, looked away and then back again, flinching from what he saw. Satisfied, Griffin smiled, causing Hawker to take an involuntary step back. The tightening grip on his arm regaining his attention, Griffin refocused on Dave Collier, took a steadying breath, and allowed himself to be escorted from the line-up.

"OK?" asked Collier when they were outside.

"Of course," said Griffin, before his expression cleared. "I wouldn't have hit him."

Collier gave him a sceptical look. "Better safe than sorry."

"What makes you imagine I'd have been sorry?" Nostrils twitching, Griffin caved in and asked for a cigarette.

"Sorry. I thought you'd given up."

"So did I," admitted Griffin, inhaling with dedication. "Judging by the speed with which Potts has been spilling his guts, John obviously made a thorough job of straightening him out."

"We'd've cracked Potts."

"Yes, of course you would," agreed Griffin politely.

Collier was too excited to notice subtle undercurrents. "We netted quite a haul when we nicked Hawker and Castle. It seems they had a nice little scam going. From what Potts told us, Hawker would case likely looking houses while he worked there as a part-time gardener - and that's a joke, I've got greener fingers than him - and Castle would get them inside. While he's a dozy git, he's got a way with locks and alarms. I can't understand why they haven't got any previous form. Masterminds they're not. We'll need another brief statement from you, I'm afraid."

"My pleasure." Griffin followed the younger man down a dingy corridor and into an interrogation room, loathing the stale, institutional smell of the place. "It's all right, I know what to do by now," he added, sitting at the table and fishing for his fountain pen. "Is there a cigarette machine anywhere nearby?"

"Have these. I'll get some tea brought in for you, too. You all right?" added Collier, who was obviously eager to get back to more interesting interrogations.

Griffin gave a white-toothed smile. "I am now."

 

Two hours later Franklin paused on his way out of the station when he saw a bored looking Griffin sitting on a wooden bench opposite the desk sergeant. "I thought you'd be long gone."

"So did I. I'm waiting for John - I don't know his surname. The bloke who brought Potts in."

Franklin's expression hardened. "You could have a long wait. Summers is still helping us with our enquiries. We'll want a word with his girlfriend, Potts' sister, too."

"Neither Summers or Annie are involved."

"I wish we were as sure of that. Just because you didn't see them - "

"Does he have a lawyer?"

"He hasn't asked for one."

"Then I'll be happy to arrange one for him," said Griffin in the same smooth tone. "He didn't have to come forward."

"Given that what would have looked like his picture would have been splattered over every TV screen and paper by tomorrow night..." Taking a deep breath, Franklin tried again. "I'm only surprised no-one grassed on him before. At first glance he and Potts are very alike. Summers has got form, you know."

"Recently?"

Franklin shook his head. "I wouldn't have taken you for a soft touch," he said sadly.

"You'd be right. But he wasn't involved. Coincidences do happen."

"Not often, in my experience. He's a nasty piece of work."

"Granted he looks like Neanderthal man, and he's in a stinking temper at the moment because his girlfriend, like you, assumed the worst."

"What gives with you and this bloke? You don't owe him anything. If it wasn't for his girlfriend's slack mouth and bent brother you'd never have been snatched."

"Summers saved you a lot of work, and me the unpleasantness of more publicity. For which I'm extremely grateful. I wasn't looking forward to tomorrow's press conference. And I like to pay my debts."

"If I know the press they'll still be after you for comment."

"They're welcome to try. I don't owe them a fucking thing. Have you checked out John's alibi for the relevant period?"

"That's police business."

"Yes, of course. Summers notwithstanding, I'm glad to have seen you. I wanted to thank you for all you've done. I know it must have been like looking for a needle in a haystack. Would you pass on my thanks to the rest of your team, Dave Collier and P.C. Thomas in particular. They helped keep me sane in those early days. I know police aren't allowed to accept gifts, but would it be in order for me to take them out for a meal? Socially?" asked Griffin, his manner now one of grateful deference.

Franklin's thaw was perceptible. "I expect so. Although it would be...unusual. I'll pass the message along." Thrusting his hands in the pockets of his jacket, he eyed Griffin thoughtfully. "You must have been a real joy as a prisoner. Summers should be out any minute. His alibi checked out. Though I'm not promising he won't be questioned about his activities up north at a later date."

Griffin got to his feet in one smooth movement, wondering why every policeman he met seemed to tower over him. "Again, my thanks for all you've done. You have my phone number, I believe. If Dave and P.C. Thomas would like to get in touch, I'll fix up a couple of evenings. Perhaps you and your wife would be free for dinner?"

"You reckon the pair of us could survive an evening of chit-chat?"

"Probably not," Griffin conceded, returning Franklin's grin before they went their separate ways.

 

Wearing an intimidating scowl, Summers stopped in front of Griffin. "They tell me you got me out. Why? You don't owe me a thing."

"Let's get out of here," said Griffin, leading the way out of the station and down the steps. "I don't have any transport," he added, when they were on the pavement. Despite diesel fumes from a bus caught in the traffic jam beside them the air seemed sweeter.

"My van should be round the back. They said I could take it. You want a lift from me?"

"Great. I'm going back to the agency, and I presume you'll be collecting Annie, if Kit hasn't already taken her home."

Fishing for his keys, Summers dropped them twice before managing to unlock the van, although he made no attempt to get inside. "She thought I'd snatched a kid, beaten up a mate of hers and - Forget it. She's not worth it."

"We both know that's not true. Thanks to the identikit Josh and I came up with, I can see why she made the mistake she did. As you weren't around, or in touch with her, the misunderstanding couldn't be cleared up and so grew out of all proportion. She could have gone to the police the moment she saw the identikit picture. You're lucky no-one else who knows you didn't."

Summers shook his head. "Luck had nothing to do with it. I've been wearing a beard for a while now. Only Annie never really took to it so I decided to shave it off before I came home. We'd had a row before I left, about me going in fact, and I hoped... Some welcome home," he added bitterly.

Going round the front of the van, Griffin took the keys from him. "Shall I drive? I'll find us a pub. I don't know about you but I could do with a drink."

"Just get us out of here," said Summers, subsiding into the passenger seat, which twanged in protest at his bulk. "I'm not usually such a prat, only... I hate coppers. They scare me to death. I got nicked when I was eighteen - for pinching cars. I went down for nine months. Never again. Never ever again. Nearly ten years now I've been straight. But they still... I could use a drink," he admitted, as Griffin eased the van out of the station yard.

 

Halfway down his pint of Murphy's stout, Summers looked up, as if only now taking in his surroundings. "You've got no cause to thank me. If John hadn't been meeting me and Annie at the agency about a job he wanted me to do in his mum's kitchen, he'd never have seen you and heard... It's not that Annie gossips about her work, but she likes you. Maybe she said more than she should. Only she trusted him. It's the way she is."

"I know. She has nothing to blame herself for. But surely you can see why she might have thought it was you. You and Potts could be twins at first glance."

"Thanks a bundle. Though that was one of the reasons I grew the beard. I got tired of taking stick for him. Jobs are hard to come by at the best of times. I've no qualifications, you see, though I can turn my hand to most things. But nowadays that's not enough." He shrugged. "Annie and me, we've had our bad times but we've always been solid, even when her mum was trying to break us up. Bloody John Potts. Now there's a bloke who needs putting away. He's been mucking Annie around for... Forget I said that. I don't know what's wrong with me. I'm not usually slack-mouthed."

"After the sort of day you've had, you're entitled. It wasn't the welcome home you might have expected."

"You're right there. To know she thought I was a kidnapper. It bloody hurts," muttered Summers, his hands parting in a helpless gesture. The bewildered pain in his eyes was uncomfortably familiar.

"Yes, I know."

"How can you know? You've got it all."

"You think so? Someone I...cared for made the same assumption about me once."

Summers' head rose. "You're joking! No, you're not, are you. Well, I'll be damned. Sorry, mate, I didn't mean to... It's a bastard, isn't it."

"Yes," said Griffin shortly, furious with himself for reopening a barely healed wound.

"Did you manage to work it out?" asked Summers, as he finished his pint.

Silent for a minute or so, Griffin shrugged, lighting a cigarette. "That's the twenty-four thousand dollar question. I don't know yet. I'm not very forgiving. Maybe I will have something stronger than a Perrier after all."

"Sit tight. I'll get this round. What'll you have?"

"A double scotch."

By the time Griffin had made his phone call Summers had returned with the drinks. Griffin looked at John's glass. "Orange juice?"

"The last thing I need is to be over the limit if we get stopped on the way back. We should get cracking soon. Annie'll be worried sick. She knows how I feel about the law at the best of times."

"She knows you're safe," said Griffin, feeling the warmth of the scotch hit his empty stomach. "I rang Kit just now. She's at home, hoping you'll want to go back to her."

"After I turned her precious brother in?" scoffed Summers, but he looked hopeful. "Everyone knows what a scumbag he is. Why she lets him get away with slapping her around..."

"Kit said she told him why she thought the picture had to be of you. According to Annie, her brother couldn't work his way out of a wet paper bag without help. Don't forget, she had no reason to connect him with me. She probably forgot he'd been to the agency, whereas you call in regularly to pick her up. But Hawker met the rough edge of Charlie Cassidy's tongue and the rest..."

"John's not the brightest thing on two legs," allowed Summers, but his expression was clearing. "And if I didn't know better, I might have thought that picture was of me."

"That's my fault. For which I'm sorry. Only between the stubble and baseball cap..."

Summers shook his head. "That's water under the bridge. I can't say I'll be sorry to see him banged up for a few years' hard, though."

"Me neither. Go home to your lady," urged Griffin, wanting some time to himself. "I'll get myself a taxi."

"You sure? Only she'll need a bit of looking after for a while. Takes things hard, does my Annie. And the law's bound to think she - "

"No," said Griffin. "I've made it clear to them that she wasn't. But in case there's a problem, here's my phone number. The police will want to question her but it shouldn't be more than a formality. Go with her - and keep your temper. Franklin told me your alibi held out. You're safe enough. If you have any problems, ring me and I'll have a lawyer there fast enough to make your head spin."

"Thanks. Look," hovering, obviously ill at ease, Summers frowned down at Griffin, "about what John did to you. I'm sorry."

"It was nothing to do with you, or Annie. And it took guts for you to come forward."

Summers' smile changed his entire face, eradicating any hint of menace. "It wasn't guts, mate. I was too bloody furious to think straight, that's all. Look after yourself."

"You, too." When he was alone, Griffin remained at the table for some time after he'd finished his scotch because, unlike Summers, he wasn't sure of the welcome he could expect.