Having spent the weekend decorating, Kilroy went to collect Griffin from his workshop late one Sunday afternoon. "I didn't know you did carving," he said with surprise.
Looking up, Griffin shrugged and got up to flick off the CD that had been playing. "I don't like to limit myself. There are too many processes I enjoy exploring. Besides, it's a skill I need to hone for Tom's screen. That's why I keep putting off starting work on it."
"What other processes are there?" asked Kilroy, helping himself to the mug of coffee at Griffin's elbow; inevitably it was cold. Griffin gave him a sceptical look. "No, I'm really interested," insisted Kilroy. "There's a lot more to this woodwork lark than I'd realised. What do you call yourself?"
"A guy who makes furniture. I don't like labels, or the limits they impose. That's why I try not to limit myself in my skills. As for the processes I use, you've already seen most of them. I turn wood, use joinery, carving, cabinet-making. The better your technical confidence, the freer you are when it comes to design."
"How did you learn all this?"
"Was that all they taught?"
"Of course not. We did all the regular lessons."
"I meant about wood. Tell me the worst. No, I mean it. Half the time when I ask you a question when you're working you don't even hear me."
"Well, OK, but you'll be sorry. Let's see." Griffin began to tick things off on his fingers. "We studied the qualities and properties of the various timbers; hand and power tools; methods of construction; abrasives; adhesives; finishes; woodworking machines; the history of design and its underlying philosophy; use of colour and texture; the function of ergonomics; the principle of structure. Are you still awake?" he broke off to ask.
"Faint but pursuing. Keep going. I'll ask questions later."
"God, this is going back a bit. Some of the courses were terminally dull. Design methods and practice; copyright; sketching; perspective and working drawings; display; prototypes; model and toy-making - and how to run a business, of course. The basis of our training was geared to the art of making something, while retaining the integrity of the timber - or material - used."
"They didn't muck around, did they. What I can't work out is how you decide what wood to use for a particular piece. Hey, this is wicked," exclaimed Kilroy, picking up the carving Griffin had been working on, "if not libellous. Can I have it for the office when it's finished?"
"It's only a practice piece," dismissed Griffin, taking it back from him and smoothing a line with the side of his thumb. "I suppose it isn't bad," he realised, studying it with a critical eye.
"It's wonderful. Paul will never recognise it as a caricature of himself. What made you pick on him?"
"Aggravation that I got stuck with taking him for a drink when I came to collect you on Wednesday. I've been doodling with this at odd moments ever since. His politician's smile invites caricature. Do you know what today's date is?" added Griffin without much interest.
"The nineteenth of April."
"What?" Consternation on his face, abruptly Griffin was all activity. "Damn. Where's the phone? I've got to be on a plane tomorrow. I've a Trustees' meeting in Hong Kong on the twenty-first and another in London the week after."
"It's that damn committee Tom conned me into sitting on. Maybe I could come down with something contagious," added Griffin lugubriously. "I wanted to get started on Tom's screen now I know exactly what I want - and that I can do it."
"You can make your phone calls and tell me about the screen later. I want you to come and admire my handiwork now. What I've been working on all weekend," Kilroy prompted.
"I said I'd help," remembered Griffin guiltily.
"It's all right. I didn't believe you at the time," consoled Kilroy.
"Maybe not, but next time haul me out of here. There's no reason you should have to do all the hard work. Is the heating working over there? That's what I thought," said Griffin, when Kilroy looked shifty. "Give me a minute to put on something warmer and I'll be with you."
""Come into my parlour," said a spider to a fly:," intoned Kilroy, grasping Griffin by his left wrist, but his grip was gentle over the band of scarred skin, a legacy of the handcuffs Griffin had worn.
"This is your room."
"Quick, very quick. I've been working my arse off in here, remember? Your hands are cold," noted Kilroy.
"That's because this house is freezing," explained Griffin patiently, shivering despite his layers of clothing.
"They say your circulation slows down as you get older," said Kilroy provocatively. When Griffin didn't move in on him, he paused. "That's the trouble with you older men, no stamina."
"Hypothermia, more like. Well, let's see what sort of an interior decorator you make," said Griffin, flicking on the light. "Hey, this isn't bad at all, especially considering it's your first attempt at plastering and papering. That plastering you did the other week was obviously as good as you claimed. I'm impressed." Looking up, he fell silent.
"What is it?"
"I'm not sure. I wish there was more light in here."
"So do I. I tried to put new bulbs in but these seem to be corroded in place. Well, what do you think?" added Kilroy, gesturing proudly.
Griffin was still staring upward. "It's not just the shadows. There's definitely something..." He climbed onto the bed, dashing Kilroy's hopes by remaining on his feet and pointing up. "There's a bulge. See? It's huge."
"Oh shit. It must be an air bubble."
"It's a bloody big bubble," remarked Griffin, frowning. One hand on Kilroy's shoulder for support on the unsteady surface of the mattress, he stretched up to run his hand over the bulge. "It's moving!"
"I shouldn't do - "
Kilroy was interrupted by an ominous rending sound, just before what seemed like half the ceiling fell on them. Shock as much as the debris knocked them onto their backs. Choking on dust and rotting plaster, covered by the disgusting residue it had trapped, Griffin spluttered, coughed and hawked before he looked at his unhurt but equally shaken companion.
"Are you all right?" asked Kilroy worriedly. Sitting up, what looked like a portion of bird's nest slipped off his shoulder.
Gingerly edging forward, Griffin sat limply on the end of the bed and began to laugh, moisture where his eyes were running creating clean streaks down his face. "Oh god, I'm covered in grit and...mouse shit? No wonder it stinks."
"I had a different sort of room-warming planned," sighed Kilroy ruefully, only now daring to look up through the gaping hole. "It's lucky we'd moved the furniture out. If some of those pieces we shifted from the attic had been above us we wouldn't be here to laugh about it now."
"Who's laughing?" responded Griffin, brushing pieces of something grey and foul-smelling from Kilroy's cheek. Wary of the ragged hole above them, through which debris continued to drift, he slid from the bed and began to brush himself down. "Can I ask a favour?"
Kilroy delicately removed the skeleton of a mouse which had become caught in Griffin's hair. "Only one?"
"It's a big one," admitted Griffin, rubbing his stinging eyes. "Let me arrange for the renovation of the house by experts rather than local odd-job men."
"Fred's a qualified electrician," defended Kilroy. "You smell horrible," he added dispassionately, continuing to remove foreign bodies from Griffin's person; a couple of eight-legged ones proved to be alive and scuttling.
Blinking when he saw the size of one spider, Griffin moved hastily out of its way and gave Kilroy an expectant look.
"I'm not stepping on anything that big," said Kilroy cravenly. "All life is precious to me."
"Like the mice, I suppose. Where's it gone?" added Griffin with a hunted look.
"Just be grateful it has," said Kilroy in heartfelt tones, keeping a surreptitious eye on dark corners. If he had seen how big it was he wouldn't have gone near it, never mind touched it.
"Grateful! Shelob's sister is lurking round here somewhere, we're covered in rotting plaster, mouse shit, dead birds and god only knows what else."
"Yes, I noticed that," agreed Kilroy, enjoying that peevish tone as he searched for a spot on Griffin clean enough to kiss. Failing to find one, he kissed Griffin anyway, but it was a gritty and unsatisfactory embrace.
"You even taste horrible," complained Griffin. About to wipe his mouth on the back of his hand, he caught sight of what was smeared over it and thought the better of it.
"You can take charge of the house," sighed Kilroy in defeat.
"Stop gloating. Really."
"What brought about that change of heart?"
"The fact I'll probably lose my conjugals if I say no."
"That won't be the only thing you'll lose," promised Griffin darkly.
"Just don't get carried away with the repairs. I can't afford to do everything the house needs in one go."
"I know, that isn't the point."
"No," agreed Griffin, wiping his palms on his backside before rubbing his eyes again. "I need to clean up."
Pulling a face, Kilroy gave the debris on the bed a half-hearted swipe before scrunching across that littering the floor to follow Griffin into the bathroom. "I didn't mean that the way it sounded. If you're going to spend a fortune on the place, you should have an interest in it," he said mildly to Griffin's back, where he was bent over the sink.
Taking his time to rinse his face, Griffin hooked a towel from the rail and dried himself. "It's all right. It was a stupid idea on my part. I should know better by now." He began to finger-comb debris out of his hair.
"I'm serious," said Kilroy in exasperation. "I want you to have to share in Whitehaven. I mean, who else would be mad enough to take it on?"
Griffin's face lost its look of sombre introspection as his expression cleared. "Don't bullshit me. You just prefer the house the way it is. I'm going back to the flat to have a bath and wash my hair."
"What about this mess? The roof must be leaking."
"The mess isn't going to go away and we knew the roof leaked. Though I don't think that's what caused this. Remember that old water tank you found when you were clearing out the attic? You said it would need replacing. I think it's had a slow leak, more like a drip, for months, if not years. Whatever caused this has brought down two floors, if you count the attic. I want us out of here before anything else falls down. We'll get it fixed," Griffin promised, yanking an off-balance Kilroy out of the room.
"I suppose your flat is more comfortable," allowed Kilroy, following Griffin down the stairs. Just as they reached the bottom, the lights flickered and went out. "Don't even think it," he warned, groping his way to the door. "Have you got your lighter on you?"
"Not since I gave up smoking," said Griffin virtuously.
"Don't give me that. Or did you think I wouldn't smell the smoke on you."
"One, I had. Days ago," protested Griffin.
"You're a hero. Though now's a fine time to have taken the pledge. This bloody door. It's the damp that makes it stick."
Remembering the crack above the lintel, Griffin added his strength to Kilroy's, relaxing only when he had got him safely away.
"It's quite warm out, isn't it," realised Kilroy, as they strolled down the lane.
"Warmer than the house," agreed Griffin. Seeing Kilroy turn to stare back at it, he tucked his arm in Kilroy's. "We'll be living there in a few months," he consoled.
"Let's get cleaned up before I start negotiations," said Griffin. Peeling off his jacket and three sweaters as soon as they got indoors, the heating such that he was comfortable in shirtsleeves, he headed for the bathroom.
"What about me?" asked Kilroy plaintively.
"There's a perfectly good bathroom downstairs."
"It's not as much fun as sharing."
"We're not sharing anything until we're both clean. I hope I don't smell as appalling as you," Griffin added frankly, stepping under the powerful spray of the shower.
Finally clean, he rubbed his still stinging eyes as they waited for their evening meal to cook. "You look a bit puffy-eyed. Are you all right?"
"Fine. It's probably just irritation from the plaster dust. I'm still itching though," admitted Kilroy.
"Me, too. We've probably caught some disgusting Victorian disease," said Griffin with gloom.
"They didn't have anything we don't, did they? No, don't tell me. I'm happier not knowing. I wouldn't mind a decent bathroom at Whitehaven," Kilroy added, luxuriating in the comfort of Griffin's flat and mentally comparing it with his house.
"A man of modest aspirations. How about new wiring first?"
"Anything you like," murmured Kilroy, drawing Griffin back against him. "You can rebuild the place, if it'll make you happy. I mean it." Thumbs on Griffin's hipbones, hands splayed over his flanks, Kilroy's mouth travelled from the nape of Griffin's neck to the base of his throat, before he encouraged him to turn, seeking his mouth.
"Is it passion or steam from that saucepan fogging my vision?" asked Griffin prosaically, some time later.
Kilroy slapped him lightly on the rump. "Have you no soul?"
"Not until I've eaten," Griffin said firmly, before he began to scratch again.
By ten o'clock he was worried enough about Kilroy's red-splotched and swelling face to insist that he see a doctor. The fact Kilroy failed to make more than a token complaint did not reassure him.
"One word about sensitive skin," warned Kilroy when Griffin came back from seeing the doctor out, his speech impaired by his swollen lips.
"Would I? And don't scratch. I'll be back soon."
"Where are you off to?"
"He doesn't carry the cream you need, so he's given me a prescription. The nearest chemist that's open on a Sunday night is in Langley. You look terrible. Thank god it's only an allergic reaction," added Griffin, who had been badly worried by the time the doctor actually arrived.
His eyes running, Kilroy peered at him from beneath grotesquely swollen eyelids. "I feel it," he admitted. "It's not fair. You're not affected nearly as badly as me."
"Ah, but I don't have sensitive skin," Griffin reminded him, dodging the cushion thrown in his direction. "One good thing about all this, at least I've got the perfect excuse for getting out of that meeting in Hong Kong."
"Yes, that's a great comfort to me," Kilroy assured him earnestly, before he began surreptitiously to scratch again.
The moment he had the breath to spare, Griffin began to mutter bitterly about people who took an unfair advantage.
"Stop moaning, you enjoyed it, didn't you," said Kilroy, who was in no doubt at all. "You're only irritable because you're missing your post-coital cigarette. Suck me instead."
"In the hope of what?" scoffed Griffin, recovering enough to cradle Kilroy's laxness.
"Give me a minute or two."
"This I've got to see." Releasing him, Griffin sat up cross-legged, his elbows on his knees and his face cupped in his hands, his expectant gaze fixed on the relevant area.
Kilroy got the giggles.
"Shouldn't something be happening?" asked Griffin, hauling the duvet around himself, grateful that he had stopped scratching at long last.
"Oy! Half of that's mine! So I exaggerated a little."
"OK, a lot. 'Strewth, it's cold tonight," Kilroy added as they snuggled down under the covers. "I hope efficient central heating's high on your list of priorities."
"What do you think? I know what I'm doing."
"I think I resent the implication behind that remark," decided Kilroy, enjoying the comfortable fug generated by their combined body heat under the covers. His head turned on the pillow. "What makes you think any repairs you get done will be more successful than mine?"
"I don't think, I know."
"I hate it when you get that smug look."
"Only because you've learnt I'm usually right. You dare let any cold air in," added Griffin in warning, before he brushed Kilroy's cheek. "It's a relief to see you back to your usual colour."
"I blame it all on you for hoping for something contagious so you could skive off your meeting."
"Figures. Is there any chance of discussing plans for the house sensibly? Thanks to your sensitive skin we've already lost five days."
"If it wasn't for your advanced years I'd thump you. I'm never going to live that down, am I. OK, stun me."
"How many times have you had the heating repaired? God knows what the plumbing's like. And the state of the wiring frightens me silly. Who's your architect?"
"I'm repairing the place, not rebuilding it."
"I rest my case." Griffin eyed him speculatively. "You gave me a carte blanche."
"Which I'll undoubtedly regret. You can't rebuild the place."
"Not personally," Griffin agreed.
"But that would - You really think it needs that much work?"
Remembering the state of the house, Griffin began to laugh at Kilroy's hopeful tone which begged for a denial. "Don't you think it does? And something's got to be done about the smell. It isn't just the damp, it's mice. Dead mice."
"Only someone as optimistic as you could hope I wouldn't. The house could look wonderful, if eccentric. If you'd only let me organise a few basic comforts."
"Which will take me ten years to pay for, if not more."
Kilroy gave him a thoughtful look. "Are you suggesting I become a kept man?"
"Only if I'm the one doing the keeping. Do I have a free hand?"
"Two, if you like. You can do whatever you like to the house. I have absolutely no hang-ups about being your toy-boy," Kilroy added, and beneath his flippancy he was quite serious, secure now about his place in Griffin's life.
Recognising as much, Griffin gave him a bewitching smile, although his tone was strictly practical. "I'll get Marcus to start work on the plans for Whitehaven in the morning - and find out whose palm will need greasing to get planning permission through fast."
"You're a cynic."
"Realist. A couple of lunches and a donation to the local hospital should do it."
"Bloody hell. You are serious."
"It'll be years before we can live at Whitehaven again." Kilroy sounded like a man in mourning.
"Six months from the date I get planning permission," said Griffin with a serene and nauseating confidence.
"Not a chance."
Griffin leant up on one elbow. "Would you care to place a bet on it?"
"I'm not a gambler," claimed Kilroy.
"Oh, so you admit that I can do what you can't."
"Not in a million years."
"Then let's bet on it. If work on Whitehaven is finished within six months from the date I get planning permission, I never have to cook again. If not - "
"You'll still slide out of doing it," said Kilroy realistically. "It would be a blessing if you stopped trying - I'm too beautiful to die."
"At least I don't burn fried eggs."
"Only boiled ones."
Griffin pushed a pillow over Kilroy's face, then peered beneath it. "We could always employ a cook, even a housekeeper. I'm not enamoured of doing the laundry either."
Kilroy gave a hoot of unkind laughter. "Based on the one time you put something in the washing machine, I suppose. And even then you forgot to put any powder in."
"Don't quibble. I have a mind above mundane domesticity." Griffin's lofty tone earned him a predictable retribution.
"Bone idle, more like," said Kilroy, one finger still toying with the greying hair between Griffin's nipples. "Still, a bet might be interesting - with the right stakes."
"Oh god," said Griffin with foreboding.
A gleam appeared in Kilroy's eyes. "Got it! And you'll hate it but you'll agree because you think you're going to win. If the house isn't ready in the agreed time, you'll pay for a tattoo. A small, elegant tattoo - of what, and placed where, I choose."
Memories of 'Kilroy was here' returning to haunt him, Griffin stared at him wide-eyed. "Tattoos are for sailors. The bet's off," he said with decision.
"Only because you don't have the courage of your convictions."
"I hate tattoos," complained Griffin pathetically.
"You'll love this one," Kilroy promised, patting him on the bottom.
Griffin brushed his hand away before settling on the area in dispute. "You've got to win yet. Hang on, what do I get out of this when I meet the deadline?"
"Don't you mean if? The satisfaction of a job well done."
"Me?" suggested Kilroy soulfully.
Unimpressed, Griffin stared at him before a slow, untrustworthy smile formed. "Yes, I'll have you," he agreed silkily.
"For twenty-four hours you'll be mine to do what I want with. You do what you're told, when you're told."
A broad grin crossed Kilroy's face. "Either you've been buying dubious books in Soho, or you've got bored with my technique and decided to turn kinky - or should I say kinkier - after all."
"Well, suggesting I be your love-slave."
Griffin gave a crooked grin. "You'll never believe this, but I hadn't thought of that. But that's no reason to reject a good idea. All right, you've talked me into it - unless you've lost your taste for the bet?"
"I don't see that I can lose whatever happens," said Kilroy honestly, intrigued by the speculative gaze roaming over him, having cause to respect Griffin's fertile imagination already.
"Neither do I," said Griffin immodestly.
"What did the survey say?" asked Kilroy as Griffin drove them to Whitehaven. "Does the house need much work?" He looked as anxious as an expectant father told he had to go inside the delivery room.
"Some," Griffin conceded, making a mental note to lock the report in the safe.
"How much is 'some'?"
"Quite a lot," prevaricated Griffin, glad it was dark so that when they passed the house Kilroy would not be able to see the amount of scaffolding which was already in place and panic.
"They can save the house, can't they?"
"Of course." Griffin felt it would be unwise to go into painful detail at this stage; he was still recovering from the shock himself.
"You'll have no trouble meeting the six month deadline then."
"None at all," lied Griffin, who had been searching for a face-saving way of weaselling out of their bet since reading the survey. Defeat was one thing, a tattoo something else.
"Can I see the survey?" asked Kilroy, three miles later, his tone would-be casual, his earlier fishing expeditions having gained him nothing.
"Don't you trust me?" The hurt note Griffin injected into his voice failed dismally, Kilroy a wiser and sadder man.
"Now that you mention it, no."
"That's what I thought," said Griffin with resignation. "You gave me a free hand. If you see the survey, that changes the terms of our bet."
"Uh uh. I'll live without it. I've found this great tattoo parlour in Wandsworth."
Griffin muttered something in Cantonese with great feeling.
"True," said Kilroy, who had got the gist, whatever the language used.
He was so busy looking at Griffin that he failed to notice the darkened outline of Whitehaven visible through the gates as the car sped past it.
Taking his briefcase and suitcase from the boot of the car, Griffin yawned as he carried them round to the flat, wishing, not for the first time, that parking wasn't such a problem in London. The wind caught the front door, banging it shut behind him.
"At last!" exclaimed Kilroy with relief, meeting him at the top of the stairs. "Your flight landed nine hours ago."
"I did notice," said Griffin mildly. "I made the mistake of thinking I'd have time to pop down to the workshop. I had no problems getting there, but coming back was a bitch. The roads are fucked after four pile-ups in a row. To cap it all, I had a puncture." He held out his hands, the nails of which still betrayed a trace of grease from the wheel nuts.
Kilroy grinned. "When you concoct an alibi, you go all the way, don't you."
"Of course, I'm a thorough man. It's lucky I wasn't expecting sympathy for my trials." Leaning forward, Griffin attempted to kiss him.
"Not here," hissed Kilroy, dodging back before hustling Griffin past the sitting-room and into the tiny study, and shutting the door firmly behind them.
"Is in here all right?" asked Griffin, no more than amused.
"Have you been drinking too many duty-frees?" enquired Kilroy, but he responded with a gratifying promptness.
"Given that I caught the red-eye, have a heart."
Taking off his suit jacket, Griffin gave a lengthy stretch before removing his tie, which was already at half-mast, unfastening the first few buttons of his shirt, and folding back his cuffs to mid-forearm. Glancing up, he saw Kilroy frowning at him.
"You're looking fraught. What's the trouble? The house was still in one piece when I drove past it, if that's what's worrying you."
"It isn't. And there's nothing wrong, or at least I don't think there is. You have a visitor. I stuck him in the sitting-room. An elderly European bloke - name of Goring. He's determined to talk to you but he insisted I give you this to read first." Kilroy ceremoniously handed over a foolscap cream envelope.
"Goring? Elias Goring?" All trace of warmth fled from Griffin's face.
"That's right. You know him?"
"I should do. He was my father's best - only - friend. Amongst other things. He's a lawyer." His tone absent, Griffin's gaze was on the middle distance; whatever he saw there obviously held no happy memories.
"Listen, if he's trouble, I can - "
"It isn't likely to be good news," Griffin interrupted, abruptly refocusing. Tapping the envelope against his thigh, he ripped it open without ceremony, a smaller envelope falling from it to the floor. Scooping it up, his mouth compressed. "Oh no," he said in an odd tone. "Not another legacy from the dead."
"How do you mean?"
"First Cassidy's legacy to his daughter, now I receive this. It's from my father - who's also dead."
"Are you sure?"
"Very. I identified what was left of him."
It took Kilroy a moment to appreciate that Griffin had not intended to be sarcastic. "I meant about the letter being from him," he said quietly. "How can you be so sure?"
Griffin held up the smaller envelope. "I recognise his handwriting. Anyway, it says so. To be given to my son, James Melville Griffin, one year after my death. You don't understand, do you," he added with a trace of bitterness. "Men like Cassidy and my father don't submit gracefully to the idea of losing their power. Even death has no dominion over them. Christ, won't he ever let go," he muttered, a mixture of exasperation and desperation on his face.
"Burn it," said Kilroy savagely, having learnt how deep the hurt had gone when Melville disinherited his son.
Eyebrows raised, Griffin stared at him. "Could you - without reading it?"
Kilroy wanted to lie so badly it made his teeth ache. "No," he admitted.
A humourless smile crossed Griffin's face. "Nor can I." His lips pursed, frown lines deeply marked, he was still turning the envelope over and over between his fingers.
"Would you rather read it in private?" asked Kilroy, afraid he already knew the answer.
"Yes. No," amended Griffin instantly, looking up. "Stay. Please." Taking a deep breath, he ripped the envelope open without further preliminaries, straightening the single sheet of paper.
A silent spectator, Kilroy watched Griffin's shoulders tense as he half-turned to the window to read the letter, the late afternoon sun highlighting the chestnut and silver in his hair. Wondering what hornets' nest Melville's letter might stir up, Kilroy went over to Griffin when the minutes stretched on and still he did not speak.
His head bowed as if in contemplation, the jade ear-stud Kilroy had given Griffin for his birthday was richly green. At the light touch on his arm, Griffin looked up, his expression clearing immediately.
"It's all right," he said in reassurance. "Really. I'm fine." Still clutching the letter, he caught Kilroy in a fierce, one-armed hug, giving him a brief, hard kiss before his mouth gentled. "It was good news. Unexpected, but good."
Grunting under the strength of Griffin's grip, Kilroy relaxed; he was smiling without knowing why because Griffin's euphoria was contagious. "What's happened?"
"Nothing, except that, as usual, my father failed to understand anything of importance about human nature." Griffin's voice was warm with affection. "But he meant well, that's what's so beautifully ironic about the whole thing. It obviously never dawned on him that I would believe he'd intended to cut me out of his life. Here, read this." Thrusting the letter at Kilroy, he walked away and began fumbling through the desk until he found a crumpled packet of cigarettes: it was empty.
"Are you sure you want me to see this?" asked Kilroy doubtfully.
"Positive. You haven't seen any cigarettes around here, have you?" asked Griffin, moving from drawer to drawer and leaving chaos in the wake of his search.
"You're supposed to have given up. Chew a chair leg instead," said Kilroy, viewing his activities with an unsympathetic eye because he knew who would have to clear up the mess.
As Griffin renewed his search, Kilroy leant back against the wall and smoothed the crumpled paper. Written in a cramped, black hand, the letter was dated but contained no address or salutation.
All men want their sons to be a reflection of themselves. Perhaps I wanted this more than is usual or wise. Even my vanity has limits.
If you are the son I once believed I wanted, you will have contested my Will, utilising all the means at your disposal to ensure you have control of what I always intended should be your inheritance. I suspect you will have spent the last year learning to be your own man, the man you were meant to be.
We live in increasingly dangerous times. It is not my intention that you should become a target for a prize you never sought. My world is not one you would have chosen for yourself; I wish I had recognised that before now. It has never been my desire to cause you pain. I never understood you, nor you me, I think. But be certain that I love you - for what you are as much as for what you tried to become for my sake. I regret nothing in my life, except the fact I never knew how to tell you this.
Frowning, Kilroy re-read the letter. Even the ponderous tone could not obscure the genuine emotion which must have prompted it. Reared by a man obviously unaccustomed to communicating on an emotional level, the only wonder was that Griffin was able to function at all.
"Wow," he said with feeling as he handed the letter back to Griffin. "I see what you mean."
"Yeah." Refolding it, Griffin tucked it into his wallet before opening another drawer and smiling with satisfaction as he dislodged an unopened, if crumpled packet of cigarettes.
"The poor bastard. He didn't have a clue about you, did he?"
Griffin shrugged and lit a cigarette. "I didn't give him much help. He understood more than I intended he should about some things."
Kilroy looked sceptical.
Prowling around the room, Griffin paused, looked at him, and then said:
"And what the dead had no speech for when living,//They can tell you, being dead; the communication/Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
"All I can tell you is that his letter is enough for me."
"It wouldn't have hurt him to speak up sooner," growled Kilroy, astringent and unforgiving on Griffin's behalf.
Griffin gave him an affectionate glance. "Not that you're partisan, of course. Don't you understand? He spent a lifetime building an empire, and he sacrificed his vision of the future just to keep me alive." The wonder of it was in his voice, making it obvious what he would have expected Melville's choice to be.
"That isn't the letter of a man who regretted his decision. Nor, from what you've told me about him, would it have been made on impulse. Goring took his time getting it to you," Kilroy added critically.
"Not according to the instructions on the envelope. From that letter it's obvious my father didn't want me to have it for a year after his death. Goring's only out by a few weeks. Don't forget, he had to find me first - and he didn't have the Lessingham Agency to help him." Griffin rubbed his chin and sighed. "I'd better go and have a word with him. Aren't you coming with me?" he added at the door.
"It might be private." Kilroy looked self-conscious.
"Private?" echoed Griffin, returning to his side. "This is you talking, isn't it?"
Kilroy looked uncomfortable.
"What's that prim expression for?" demanded Griffin with exasperation. "You already know all my murkiest secrets." He paused, as if making a mental inventory. "Yes. I'll save the confessions about my fetish for sheep for later. Come off it, Kit. We both know that if you don't come with me I'll only have to endure an interrogation from you later."
Kilroy relaxed. "Sheep, eh?"
"Flocks of them," confirmed Griffin.
"Your imagination worries me sometimes. The Langlois business must have left me a bit paranoid - in case you think I'm spying," added Kilroy, with a hint of awkwardness.
His expression gentling, Griffin nudged Kilroy's chin with his knuckles. "I worked that much out for myself some time ago. That's history. While you might be nosy, manipulative and prone to thinking you know what's best for me, your motives are good. I'm still adjusting to the fact that what affects me, affects you, and vice versa. That's the only reason I want you with me when I see Goring," he added pointedly, knowing his Kilroy. "I'm quite capable of fighting my own battles, should the need arise."
"That doesn't mean I can't help, does it," said Kilroy pugnaciously.
Griffin shook his head at him before initiating a kiss so thorough that it wasn't until they heard a polite cough behind them that they realised they had an audience.
Refusing to feel guilty about kissing his lover in his own home, but grateful the angle of the desk masked their lower bodies, Kilroy half-turned, forgetting the hand which still cupped Griffin's left buttock.
"Mr Goring. We were just coming to see you," he added in unmistakable reproof.
All Goring's attention was on the man at Kilroy's side. "James?"
"Of course," said Griffin, leaning across the corner of the desk to shake the hand extended to him. "Have I changed so much?"
Goring studiously avoided looking at the ponytail Griffin was regrowing, or thinking about the intimacy of the embrace the two men had been sharing. "Er, not at all. I was distressed to learn you had been injured." His gaze dropped to Griffin's right hand.
"I'm fine." Griffin tucked his hands in his trouser pockets and Kilroy glared at the older man.
"Have you had an opportunity to read Marius's letter yet?"
"I'm still absorbing its implications. I'm surprised you felt it necessary to deliver it in person."
"It was his wish. No doubt you followed the collapse of his empire."
"It was inevitable," said Griffin sombrely. "He expected it, of course."
"There was only one Marius Melville. Once he chose to split up the various... But that is in the past. There are a number of important matters we should discuss." Goring cast a look of meaning at Kilroy.
"And now's your opportunity," said Griffin crisply. "Shall we go into the sitting-room?" Ushering the older man through, he gestured to an easy chair and offered him a drink.
"Perhaps some tea." Goring glanced at Kilroy again.
"Certainly. I won't be long," said Griffin, a distinct edge to his voice by this time.
"No," said Kilroy, exerting a reassuring pressure on Griffin's shoulder. "I'll see to it. You'll have a lot to discuss." Mouthing 'behave' at Griffin, he left the room.
He was humming as he warmed the teapot, knowing that Melville's letter had freed Griffin from the sense of failure he'd felt after being cut out of his father's life. He returned to the study in time to hear the end of Goring's recital concerning his search for Griffin, which had been made easier by the extensive publicity surrounding Griffin's kidnap earlier that year.
"It must have been a most unpleasant experience for you. Does your hand trouble you at all?"
"Tea?" interrupted Kilroy brightly. "I was surprised to hear you're a friend of James'," he added.
"Really?" Goring's tone was frosty.
Turning away to hide his smile, Griffin lit his second cigarette in a quarter of an hour.
"You were in a position to warn James that he was going to be disinherited, instead you chose to leave him to face public humiliation," said Kilroy critically.
"It's all right," cut in Griffin, before the conversation should further degenerate.
"It was a far from satisfactory situation," conceded Goring stiffly. "Mr Kilroy is in the right of it. The fault was mine. I should have persisted in my attempts to speak with you before the reading of the Will."
"Your faxes and invitation to dine," remembered Griffin. While the emotions of that day were seared into his soul, most of the practical details were blurred.
"I had hoped to have an opportunity to give you a hint when you arrived for the reading of the Will. Unfortunately your flight was delayed and we were interrupted by my secretary. A most capable girl. I was sorry to let her go. It was Marius's idea that I employ her. She is Chong's youngest daughter. As you will appreciate, it was vital he believe you disinherited."
Having noticed Kilroy's look of puzzlement, Griffin explained. "Chong ordered my father's murder. I believe they were business partners. My father knew I had no interest in taking over his business. He also knew that if he indulged himself and made me his heir, I would be a sitting target for any number of the factions who were waiting in the wings to take over various aspects of his business. After the contents of his Will became public knowledge - and I imagine that was within minutes of the meeting breaking up - no-one would spare me a second thought."
Goring sipped primly at his tea. "Essentially correct. Marius was most concerned about your safety. You will note his letter was written three days after Charles Cassidy's funeral. While I am not a fanciful man, I believe Marius had a presentiment of death. He altered his Will at the same time, being more concerned with ensuring your safety than in preserving his life's work." His disapproval was plain.
Kilroy gave an audible snort.
Perched on the arm of his chair, Griffin rested a hand on Kilroy's thigh, rubbing it gently as he spoke to Goring. "I know what my father did - and why. You must miss him."
"I do," said the lawyer shortly.
"But why did Mr Melville wait a year before healing the rift?" burst out Kilroy. "No-one else need have known about the letter."
"That is the least of James's inheritance," Goring reproved him. Receiving two blank looks, he gave a testy sigh. "I had hoped you would have read the Deed of Gift by now."
"What Deed?" asked Griffin, without much interest.
Tut-tutting, Goring looked around. "The package I gave you contained two envelopes," he told Kilroy, who got up to fetch it from the study. Taking it from him, Goring eased out another envelope which fitted snugly inside.
"Because secrecy was vital, it was impossible for Marius to make open provision for you from his personal estate," he told Griffin. "So he left his personal estate in its entirety to me, on the understanding it would pass to you after twelve months. Naturally I made the appropriate amendment to my Will, in case I died before the expiration of that time."
"Naturally," echoed Griffin dryly.
"The tax position is unfortunate, of course. I believe it may prove possible to offset a proportion - "
"That isn't important," dismissed Griffin, a strange expression on his face, half amused, half bemused.
Goring's expression soured. "I beg to differ. Although, of course, you can have little idea of the sum involved. It is my happy duty to inform you that the bequest encompasses a number of items: Marius's art collection, furniture, library, telescope - he insisted that be listed separately - "
"He would," murmured Griffin, smiling.
" - together with some personal papers and effects," finished Goring, as if there had been no interruption.
"Personal papers? What kind of personal papers?" asked Griffin warily, coming back to earth with a bump.
"Letters. While obviously I have not read them, I believe some are from the lady who was to become your mother. But the bulk of the correspondence consists of your letters to Marius - from your school-days."
Griffin's eyes widened. "He kept those?"
"How extraordinary. I didn't think he even read them," muttered Griffin blankly, remembering the Sunday afternoon chore imposed at his prep. school: the gulf between what he wrote and what he felt.
"Marius may not have been a demonstrative man but I know for a fact that he read them, many times."
Absorbing that, Griffin lit another cigarette. "I'll put the telescope in the observatory," he told Kilroy after a minute or two.
"The one I've been planning for Whitehaven. Didn't I mention it to you?"
"No," said Kilroy, "but then you didn't mention the pool, gym, jacuzzi and sauna complex either."
"Never mind that now. You wait till you see the 'scope. It's the most beautiful piece of craftsmanship. The Germans knew what they were doing. It dates back to the eighteen-seventies and it has - "
Goring gave an irritable cough. "I have yet to complete the inventory," he said reprovingly.
His mouth twitching, Griffin gave Kilroy an admonitory poke in the back when he heard his muffled snort. "I'm sorry. Please go on."
"There remains the matter of Marius's personal fortune, which as of yesterday's date was in the region of eighty-five million dollars. U.S., of course."
"Of course." Griffin's head rose. "How much?"
"I thought you hadn't appreciated the sum involved," said Goring smugly.
"It never occurred to me to ask."
Subtle hints bypassing him, Goring shook his head, looking more gnome-like by the second. "Perhaps it should have done," he said in gentle reproof. "Marius hoped that in the period after his death you might choose to make your own way in life."
"Which James has done," snapped Kilroy, recovering from the shock to defend him.
Griffin gave a soft chuckle. "No, to my father what I do now would be no more than an acceptable hobby. Business was his life - and death. The cunning old fox," he added with a mixture of admiration and affection. "I should have known he wouldn't let me go without a fight."
"James! I must protest. Your father - "
" - was a complex and devious man. He must have known I'm hardly poverty-stricken."
The disparaging glance Goring cast around the comfortable sitting-room begged to differ. "There are degrees. Surely the bequest will have its uses," he suggested delicately. "You have been accustomed to a certain - er - standard of luxury."
"Which has increased, not diminished, in the last year," Griffin assured him with mock gravity, aware of Kilroy bristling beside him. "Did my father never investigate my personal holdings?"
Goring frowned. "Not to my knowledge. As far as I'm aware your resources stem solely from the various directorships you hold. And whatever investments you have made." His tone was condescending.
"Oh, I think he knew better than that." Amusement bubbling in his voice, Griffin took pity on the older man's evident curiosity. "I made my first million before I was twenty-five. I saw no reason to rest on my laurels. If it was my father's intention to cast me destitute into a hungry world, he was off by a considerable sum."
"Oh, I wish he had known that!" exclaimed Goring, eyeing the younger man with the first sign of approval.
Griffin rubbed his nose. "I suspect he knew to the last cent. It probably prompted that burst of affection in his letter."
"If that is a joke, it is in poor taste. Marius - "
" - took care to ensure that I'll never be totally free of him," said Griffin without resentment. "Unlike you, he understood that the money was the least of his bequest."
Goring's expression betrayed his lack of comprehension. "There are some matters we should discuss resulting from the transfer of monies," he said stiffly.
"We are 'in private'." Griffin's voice hardened in warning.
"James, are you sure you have considered - ?" Meeting Griffin's unblinking gaze, Goring obviously thought the better of completing whatever he had intended to say. "There are times when you bear an uncanny resemblance to Marius," he muttered crossly.
"That wasn't a compliment," Griffin murmured in an audible aside to Kilroy.
Goring gave an offended sniff. "If you will excuse me, I need to collect my briefcase, and er - "
Taking the hint, Kilroy gave him directions to the bathroom, watching the older man make his exit, his shoulders stiff with disapproval. "You haven't lost the knack, I see," he remarked to Griffin with a grin when they were alone.
Griffin's reply was an uncomplimentary remark about Goring's sexual abilities.
"And that from a man who admits to shagging sheep."
"I'm open to conversion. When he's gone we'll break open a bottle and you can give me your undivided attention," Griffin promised.
"OK." Kilroy's tone was that of one making a great concession.
"Don't overwhelm me with enthusiasm."
"I'll fight against it. Do I have to sit through the business meeting?" Kilroy added plaintively. "I'm going to be bored rigid."
"Promise? Only he'll go on for hours otherwise. We've never got on. He drives me crazy."
"I noticed. You were hardly subtle. But you aren't being very fair to him. He can't be all bad. An honest lawyer. They should stuff him and exhibit him in the Science Museum with the other extinct species."
"Don't exaggerate. Though you have a point. I'll put on my party manners. If you see them slipping, give me a poke. I didn't mean to bite his head off. He doesn't deserve it."
"The things I do for you," grumbled Kilroy, before he brightened. "Now I know you're stinking rich rather than just rolling in money, you can buy me that water bed we saw the other week."
"Dream on. I get seasick playing with my rubber duck in the bath." Griffin's yelp when Kilroy pinched him coincided with Goring's return from the bathroom.
Recognising the error of his ways from the older man's evident embarrassment, Griffin exerted himself to charm. Rigidly correct, his mouth set in untrustworthy prim lines, he was all outward attentiveness as the small lawyer began to talk, until Goring's frosty manner thawed to the point where he sat reminiscing for another hour.
"I told you he'd take for ever," said Griffin in a long-suffering tone when he returned from seeing Goring out.
"No, it just seemed like it. He's a strange old fossil, isn't he. Still, he must have been a hell of a good mate for your father to make the arrangements he did. He could have kept the lot and no-one the wiser."
"He's welcome to everything but the telescope and books. I'm starving," added Griffin, heading for the kitchen where he began to construct sandwiches of some substance.
"You mean that, don't you," realised Kilroy, helping himself to one.
"Why shouldn't I?" asked Griffin, pausing to flex his stiff shoulders before he nibbled a sliver of smoked salmon.
"I suppose I thought that having been a businessman all those years, you'd miss the life. This money would give you the clout to move back in with the big boys. If you wanted to."
Following him into the sitting-room, Griffin shook his head. "I don't. Besides, the Melville empire was a big fish but only in a relatively small pond. I can think of three bigger in Hong Kong alone. Ironic, isn't it, I don't even need the money. It's irrelevant."
Kilroy gave a snort of derision. "Not the way you spend it. Although you made your views clear. I thought Goring was going to start gobbling at one point."
"Probably when he realised I intended to use my own lawyers," said Griffin cynically. "It's going to hurt him to part with control of a fortune of that size. Money has always been his primary passion."
"He certainly thought that's all I was interested in," said Kilroy dryly.
"I doubt it. Most of his disapproval stemmed from the fact you so obviously appreciate my more visible assets."
"How could he know?" demanded Kilroy indignantly.
"He'd have had a hard time missing it. You were hardly subtle towards the end."
"I thought it might speed him on his way," admitted Kilroy.
"It helped, but I shouldn't worry. He hasn't gone away thinking you're a fortune hunter. Didn't you catch all those pointed references to family ties and self-made men? He's checked you out - in some depth. If I know Goring he probably made a point of meeting your father."
"Bloody cheek!" exploded Kilroy, before the irony of the situation struck him. "It's a strange old world, isn't it. I've never met anyone who gets such a charge out of money as him - except my father, of course." His eyes darkened.
"Have you ever thought about getting in touch with him?" asked Griffin, setting down his plate.
"For what? A chat about the good old days? Don't look so worried," Kilroy added in a different tone. "He never took much notice of any us - unless we did something that might reflect badly on him. You can't miss what you've never had."
"Perhaps not," said Griffin, not believing it. "But I wish - "
"Well, don't. You're all the family I need."
The emotional declaration which once would have seemed an unendurable burden was now so natural that Griffin took it for granted. Reassured by the fact Kilroy had volunteered even that small amount of information, Griffin smiled at him.
"Then it's best you know here and now that I don't feel at all paternal," he said lightly.
"I'm glad to hear it," said Kilroy, running his hands up and down Griffin's sides. "All right?"
"Of course. What a day," murmured Griffin.
"At least it's laid one ghost to rest," Kilroy said soberly. "Being disinherited hurt you."
"It gutted me," admitted Griffin simply, allowing himself to slump against Kilroy. "I should have trusted him more. If I'd used my brain I would have known there was more behind that Will than met the eye. But my defences were already down. No-one enjoys rejection, so I tried to pretend it never happened." Turning, his expression brightened. "D'you realise, if it hadn't been for that, I might never have come to England?"
"And met me?" prompted Kilroy sentimentally.
"I was thinking more about my setting up the workshop," lied Griffin, his eyes alight with laughter as he pinned Kilroy's arms to prevent immediate retaliation.