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HUNTED BY DEVILS

Chapter Text

ONE

Half-expecting an assassination attempt from Chong's men, for his failure to obtain Cassidy's records as much as for the fact he was his father's son, Griffin made no attempt to guard himself. There seemed no point; money had not bought the kind of loyalty his father had needed to stay alive. Besides, it was the problems of life which beset Griffin; death would be easy in comparison.

In the days which followed his father's murder Griffin grew resigned to the greedy demands of the press, perfecting an icy public calm as rumour and speculation dogged his heels. He was sardonically amused by the speed with which his father's peers decided to make his acquaintance, particularly the Vice-President of Melville Holdings.

Melville's funeral had been a simple affair because Griffin had notified members of his father's board of directors only after the event. It was they who arranged the memorial service held three weeks later. It swiftly degenerated into a media circus as the powerful and the merely wealthy flocked to pay their respects, anxious to assess the unknown who was heir to the Melville billions.

His father's passion having been reserved for other than the flesh, Griffin was the only family mourner, a lone figure in the front pew. While Melville had perfected the mechanics of power, he had always been uneasy with the day-to-day trivia of human congress, as if they were a need he could not comprehend. If Griffin possessed other relatives he had never heard of them; as far back as he could remember there had been only his father, and those Melville had hired to care for him.

Ostensibly listening to the newly-elected Premier of New South Wales deliver a panegyric, Griffin speculated cynically about the identities of those who must have blackmailed the man to attend. No politician would voluntarily ally himself with Marius Melville now; not with scandal hovering like a toxic cloud. The news of the nature of Charles Cassidy's legacy must break, the only question was when.

Staring fixedly ahead with an intensity which turned the altar to an indistinct blur, Griffin wondered if Charlie had felt at her father's memorial service what he felt now. It seemed unlikely; but for her his father would still be alive. Even that knowledge could not blunt his longing for her.

One is one and all alone and ever more shall be so. The half-remembered song from his school-days played mockingly in his brain. Not that she had ever been his.

Reliving their too short time together, Griffin realised how little of herself Charlie ever shared with him. It hadn't occurred to her to return his words of love; words never spoken since his teens and which had slipped past his guard, frightening him half to death because he feared the vulnerability they entailed. He had been right to fear them.

Charlie had Sam now, the father of her son and a pillar of the community. Griffin had seen them together only last week in Sydney, finding an excuse to leave the charity ball which duty had demanded he attend in place of his father.

To Griffin's surprise he even found himself missing Josh, perhaps because the boy reminded him of himself thirty years ago. Griffin was too intelligent not to realise how closely he had identified with the Cassidy family - in particular with Charlie's struggle to free herself from the manipulative clutches of her father. She had won her battle, albeit with secondhand blood on her hands.

It had begun so innocuously, with one of the commands his father had always voiced as requests, when he summoned Griffin to Geneva. 'I want you to do me a favour. I need Charles Cassidy's records, which the mischievous fool gave to his daughter just before his death. Obtain them, by whatever means you judge will be most effective. But do it quickly, otherwise I shall have to take other steps to recover them.'

Because Griffin had learnt early in life what the consequences to others were if he did not obey, he had tried. While he had expected to succeed, experience having taught him that most things were for sale at a price, he hadn't expected to fall in love.

'You manipulative bastard! You're a whore! That's all you are!' Even though Charlie had calmed, clinging to him, he had known it was the beginning of the end. The growing contempt in her eyes had confirmed it.

The female of the species. His father had underestimated Charlie, or perhaps the ferocity of a mother defending her young from threat. Something else he would never know. He didn't want to know - he was already the custodian of too many secrets. The memory of the means Charlie had used to protect herself stirred in the shadows of his mind, rekindling the raw horror of what he had seen. Hard to believe the human body held only eight pints of blood. Or was it nine? His father reduced to butchered meat.

He became aware that the mockery of a service was coming to an end and clamped down on self-pity.

Melville employees flanked Griffin as he left to greet the dignitaries jostling with the press. An elegant and severe figure in black, he was unaware that there were those to whom his icy self-containment was more threatening than Melville's monolithic courtesy had been because no-one knew what Griffin might do. The news that he was Melville’s illegitimate son had become public knowledge only at the time of Melville’s murder.

Elias Goring, Melville's lawyer and personal friend for more than forty years, appeared at Griffin's side, anxiety deepening the lines on his face. "James, I must speak with you," he muttered urgently.

"Later," murmured Griffin, who neither trusted nor liked the man.

Griffin tensed when he spotted another familiar face on the fringe of the crowd, Chinese bodyguards unobtrusively in place. He moved toward them, politely brushing aside those who sought to detain him, careful to keep his empty hands in view. He had seen the invitation list and had been braced to meet his father's killer. Atavistic impulses under control, he greeted Chong with the same distant courtesy with which he had met everyone else. Having lived amongst the Chinese for so long, Griffin was as adept as they at oblique conversations.

By the time the Triad leader and he parted company, still in the public eye, both men knew the blood feud was over. A pragmatist, Chong would be glad to avoid a costly war; for his own part, Griffin had no taste for death. Too much blood had been spilled already, its reek clinging to him. The chill of the morgue was with him still. When he closed his eyes images of his dead father’s face remained, as if imprinted on his retinas: one more figure in his private chamber of horrors.

He evaded members of the Melville board, all of whom had yet to be convinced he had no ambition to step into his father's shoes and flew to Sydney, retreating to his suite at the Malmont Marquis. The silence clamouring in his tired mind, he was standing at a picture window, still dressed in funereal black, when the first of a series of bland-faced men entered his life, the line of their ill-fitting jackets distorted by the guns they carried. Having been expecting this since his failure to buy Cassidy's records, Griffin accompanied the men to their headquarters.

The pattern of questioning, release and detention for further questioning by ASIO was formed. Recognising the lures set for him, Griffin did not hide his disdain at their clumsy attempts at entrapment. While his manner won him no friends he was always treated with care; the potential heir to the Melville empire would never be treated with anything less. So accustomed to deference that he took it for granted, Griffin did not notice their forbearance.

When the nature of Cassidy's legacy was leaked to the media, a witch-hunt began. Several high-ranking politicians and two businessmen prominent in the community resigned; whispers about a cover-up only grew louder. Melville, a name once unfamiliar to the popular press, became a convenient scapegoat for the corruption rife in political and business life: the new Professor Moriarty. That, too, hurt, if not as much as Griffin's realisation that Charlie must have used her remaining influence to try and see him put behind bars.

He was given little opportunity to come to terms with the nature of his losses; such indulgences were not available to the heir of the Melville empire. Continuing to meet the heavy demands of his own workload, Griffin took on the public relations duties which were expected of him, attending charity balls, dinners, concerts and parties as if unconscious of the security services, who made no attempt to conceal their investigation of every aspect of his life, or the ever avid press. His rooms searched, his mail intercepted, his servants were questioned about his personal habits; privacy became a forgotten luxury, stress grinding away his control. Like an over wound clockwork toy Griffin did all that was expected of him, slept when exhaustion demanded it and, as was his habit, kept his own counsel about his inmost feelings.

He rarely lost his temper; the day he was sent an audio tape of a telephone conversation with an ex-lover cold fury goaded him into using the power which had always been at his disposal. Possessing an excellent visual memory, not least of the compromising photographs he had seen while helping Charlie to move her father's records, he made one call, from a public telephone. It lasted only four minutes but the surveillance by ASIO stopped ninety minutes later and was not resumed.

Fear of incrimination played no part in Griffin's actions. He had accepted his own guilt years ago. By his continued silence he had condoned his father's activities, day after day, year after year, until he became accustomed to the burden and the accompanying lack of self-respect, trapped into complicity by loyalty for a man he had both feared and loved.

oOo

Like so many powerful men Marius Melville clung to his power even from the grave, having left detailed instructions to be followed in the event of his demise. At his command, the reading of his Will took place six weeks from the day of his death. Ironically, the date coincided with Griffin's fortieth birthday.

His flight from Manila delayed, Griffin was the last to arrive at the luxurious penthouse suite which comprised the nerve-centre of the Melville empire in the Far East. Goring was waiting for him when he stepped from the express lift, a fact unusual enough to put Griffin on his guard.

"James, at last! I've been trying to speak with you for weeks." More animated than usual, Goring's tone was a mixture of reproof and accusation.

"Yes?" said Griffin without interest, having ignored the series of faxes which had followed him around the Far East with the persistence of homing pigeons.

"This afternoon has been arranged in accordance with Marius's wishes. I had hoped to see you before now. It is imperative that you and I speak privately together. Perhaps tonight. At my home. You have the address?"

Griffin's reply was interrupted by the arrival of Goring's secretary, a stunning-looking Chinese girl of no more than twenty-five. "Perhaps later," he said blandly. "If you will excuse me, I've kept everyone waiting long enough." Wanting to get this meeting over with so he could decide what to do with the rest of his life, he escaped into the boardroom.

He responded to the standard civilities which greeted his entrance as if unconscious of the predatory stares of the nineteen men seated around the boardroom table. Only one chair, that which he presumed his father had always occupied, remained empty. His manner composed, Griffin seated himself with a characteristic economy of movement and invited Goring to take charge of the meeting. He sat back, aware of the greedy undercurrents pervading the room. Melville had been an absolute ruler of his empire, those hungry for that power were straining at the leash.

In measured tones which betrayed his sense of occasion, Goring began to speak. Melville's last Will and Testament was a lengthy document, sounding more like a complex business plan. As dispositions were made with no mention of Griffin, more and more glances turned in his direction. It took over four hours to reach the provisions which specifically disinherited him from every aspect of his father's estate.

Reaction was instant. The room in uproar, Goring abandoned his attempt to continue. Like everyone else his attention was on the man at the head of the table.

His interlinked fingers motionless, his expression unrevealing, Griffin's gaze travelled from face to face, unsurprised by the emotions he read on them. He had no friends in this room. Save that he was paler than normal, and that a muscle jumped in his tightened jaw, he gave no indication of the agony this public flaying had inflicted. Under his eyes men fell silent, their anticipation to hear what he would do was an almost tangible force.

"Thank you, gentlemen. Your...concern notwithstanding, I believe I've heard all I'm entitled to regarding the disposition of my father's estate." As he rose to his feet the Vice-President of Melville Holdings blocked his path.

"You'll contest the Will, of course."

Griffin spared him a brief glance. "No." He did not trouble to hide his distaste for the man, who smelt of stale whisky and a too-sweet cologne. Those traits were preferable to his taste for under-age girls.

"I don't believe you," said Johnson flatly. "No man turns his back on a fortune!"

"Believe what you wish." Side-stepping the larger man, Griffin strolled from the room, determined that his departure should not be seen for the flight he knew it to be.

The silence broke before he had closed the door. No-one followed him. Melville having broken his empire down into self-contained power bases, each with a new president, there were new alliances to be forged, deals to be struck if market confidence was to be maintained.

Like a wounded animal seeking a bolt hole Griffin went straight to the airport; with no interest in his destination he caught the first available flight. The press were waiting for him by the time his plane landed at Sydney; the airport authorities proving helpful, he managed to avoid the cameras, escaping to the hotel suite reserved for his use fifty-two weeks a year, where he could be certain the head of security would protect his privacy.

Shutting out the world, Griffin leant against the door he had just closed, surveying what he could see of the sitting-room. Immaculate as always, he suddenly recognised how impersonal the room was. It, and suites like it in the other eight hotels he managed, had been his home for more than seventeen years. He could pack in minutes and leave with nothing to show he had ever lived here; he could vanish and there was no one left to care.

The solidity of the door the only thing he could be certain of, it was beyond him to move. Every muscle in his body ached as if he had been beaten, his face feeling stiff and unfamiliar after hours of pretending nothing was wrong.

Whatever the world had assumed he had neither wanted nor expected to inherit control of the Melville empire. Equally, he had not expected to be stripped of everything, including pride. His father had barred him from receiving so much as a photograph from his personal estate; it was that searing rejection which had devastated Griffin. While Melville had never said so, even during their worst moments Griffin had assumed he was loved. Despite their numerous differences of opinion he had thought his father proud of the man he had become. It seemed he had been in error.

He glanced absently at his watch, the significance of the date slow to register. As birthdays went, this one had been more memorable than most. He was not in the habit of celebrating the day, no-one who mattered had ever remembered the date. Exhausted, he pushed himself from the illusory security of the door, stripping off his jacket and unfastening the choking silk of his tie. Rubbing the back of his neck, he walked into the bathroom only to stop when he met his own reflection. Bruised-looking eyes stared back at him from the mirror. It was then that some deep-buried pain broke free, until he shook with the force of it.

Now there was nothing left, not even the comforting fantasy that he had been of any value to the man who had meant so much to him. His knuckles yellow where he gripped the porcelain rim of the sink, Griffin's head bowed as the rigid control he had exercised for the last six weeks finally broke.

Chapter Text

TWO

 

"Josh caught the bus with thirty seconds to spare," announced Charlie as she returned to the patio where Henri Langlois sat. "Was Emma ever this bad in the mornings? Thank you." Picking up the coffee he poured for her, she stood at his side, looking across the harbour.

"Not as I recall. But then Madeleine bore the brunt of those early years. I was too busy commuting around the Far East," Langlois said, a trace of regret in his voice.

"Emma adores you," Charlie told him with a smile.

"This weekend was a great success. She likes you."

"And I her. No, I do. She's going to be beautiful in a couple of years," Charlie added, with the authority which only a beautiful woman would dare to possess.

"Do you think so?" said Langlois doubtfully.

"I'm sure of it." Sitting next to him, her narrow feet propped on the rim of his chair seat, she stole a slice of mango from his plate.

Langlois squinted in the glare of the sun, smiled and fed her another portion of fruit. She sucked gently on his fingers.

"Josh seems to be settling down well, don't you think?" she said.

"I am certain of it. You have no regrets?" he asked abruptly, yet to credit his good fortune in tempting this delicious woman into his life.

"About what?" Her bare toes tickled his thigh.

"Leaving Sam. Living with me."

"Staying with you," she corrected, but she smiled when she said it. "None on that score. These last three weeks have been wonderful. Josh was the only reason I tried to make the relationship with Sam work. It was a mistake to try and regain the past."

Langlois swallowed the impulse to remind her that she had persevered for a scant month. A realist, he accepted that Charlie had needed a man in her life and her ex-lover had been available. Sam was not the real issue and they both knew it.

"Josh needs to get to know his father," she continued. "Sam and I have made our own custody arrangements and they seem to be working. Perhaps I should have given it longer, but after a week with Sam I was so bored I could have screamed. I think I did once."

"You outgrew him, chèrie. I shall endeavour to ensure I am never dull."

"You couldn't be," she replied with a conviction which surprised them both.

"No? I am pleased to hear you say so. You know that I am in love with you, of course."

While Charlie's expression softened, her eyes were wary. "Don't, Henri. Please don't. It's too soon."

"After James Griffin?" They had never spoken of Griffin but Langlois had made it his business to learn what he could about Charlie's first few weeks in Australia.

"That whore." Bitterness thinned her beautiful mouth.

"And yet you love him still," Langlois said mildly.

Charlie stared out across the shimmer of sun-dappled water. "I hate him," she whispered.

"Hatred and love often run in tandem. He hurt you." Langlois' thumb caressed the tender inner skin of her wrist. "It will grow easier. Perhaps one day you will be able to see his photograph in a newspaper and feel nothing."

"You knew!" Her tone was accusing.

Nodding, he kissed her palm. "Do not look so tragic on my account. We French understand these things. But Griffin is not worthy of your heartache."

"I know," she said shakily. "That's what makes it worse. Damn it, he skates over life like a fly on water. Scratch him and he'll bleed aftershave. Nothing touches his heart. Oh, hell." She gave a peculiar grimace and began to cry with the same intensity with which she attacked life.

Relieved that her brittle control had finally broken, Langlois took her in a comforting embrace, crooning softly as he stroked her back and hair.

Slow to calm, Charlie unselfconsciously wiped the tears away with the back of her hand. "I don't know what made me do that," she said crossly.

"No?"

"I hate being made a fool of!" she burst out passionately. "I trusted James. He made it too easy to trust him. Oh, he's so clever. He understands women too well. He made me feel so - so everything - desirable, cosmopolitan, feminine and...brave. While he never made the mistake of trying to take charge of my life, he was always there when I needed him. You don't know how wonderful and rare that is." There was a dreamy, distant look to her face. "I'd never met a man like him. He blinded me. I'm sorry," she whispered, contrite when she saw Langlois wince. "I didn't mean to...this isn't fair to you."

"You may let me be the judge of that," he murmured, paying her homage with his eyes. Her courage, her femininity and her pride had been badly bruised, first by Griffin's skilled manipulation of her emotions when she was already vulnerable, and then by that clod Sam, who would never appreciate what a treasure he could have had in Charlie. "But I don't believe Griffin's days have been as comfortable as you imagine."

"Oh. Why?"

She could not, he noticed bitterly, stop herself from asking. "You should start reading the newspapers again. Marius Melville's Will was read a couple of weeks ago. He disinherited Griffin. Publicly humiliated him. No-one has seen Griffin since he flew out of Sydney."

"Disinherited?" Charlie's eyes widened. "That would have hurt him," she said positively. "He has the arrogance which only the truly rich possess. But he'll survive. He'll make sure he never gets his hands dirty while he plays at working. His kind always prosper."

Langlois thought she had never looked more like her father. "From what little I have heard, the last few weeks cannot have been a pleasant time for him."

She shrugged, then looked up, but he knew it was not him she saw but Griffin's damnably attractive face. Langlois experienced a surge of hatred which shook him with its intensity for the man he felt shared their bed. To cover the fact he poured himself a cup of cold coffee.

"I hope they've been the worst months of his life," Charlie hissed vindictively. "Now he's lost his power, the prestige he took for granted, I hope some calculating bitch comes along and uses him the way he used and humiliated me."

Langlois smothered his impulse to smile. Charlie hated to lose almost as much as he did. They were well suited. "Such an opportunity could probably be arranged, if it means that much to you." He chose his words with care.

A Cassidy never forgot and rarely forgave. "It does. He used me."

"Then consider it done." Langlois' expression was bland as he gazed into the middle distance. "From what I have heard of Griffin's eclectic tastes, it does not necessarily have to be a woman who breaks his heart."

"What!" Charlie straightened in her chair. "Are you telling me James Griffin is gay? I don't believe it," she said positively. "No man that experienced with women could be."

Langlois was too wise to smile at her naivety. "Not gay, bisexual. He has been actively so since adolescence, I understand. You did not know?" With well-concealed satisfaction he watched her lose another illusion. While Charlie would never admit it, she shared some of her famous father's prejudices as well as his temper.

"No. Break him for me, Henri," she demanded, waiting only for his nod before stalking into the house.

Hearing the sound of breaking glass soon after her retreat, Langlois smiled and picked up the telephone at his side. He was given to acting quickly when he wanted something - and he wanted Charlie’s full attention. Possessing varied contacts, he ordered an in-depth investigation into every facet of James Griffin's life.

oOo

Ten days later a report six inches thick arrived; it contained both more and less information than he had expected. Griffin guarded his privacy with a care which bordered on the obsessive, but when one employed servants and lived in a hotel one's privacy was vulnerable. The report told Langlois a substantial amount about the external man, from which Italian designers Griffin favoured, to the aftershave and brand of condom he preferred. His taste in music, literature and food was documented, as was his passion for astronomy. A cold science for a cold man.

These details, allied with a host of others, were those which interested Langlois the least. When it came to the internal man facts were so thin that even supposition was difficult. Everything suggested it would be easier to arrange Griffin's death than to steal his closely-guarded heart. The former was not an option which Langlois considered for long, despite the temptation to rid himself of his rival once and for all, and so he considered his second choice in the light of the information to hand.

It was unusual to find a man with Griffin's advantages in life - wealth, power, looks, intelligence and charm - who was so alone. The investigation had spanned continents; over one hundred and fifty people had been discreetly pumped or openly bribed, including servants, business colleagues and fellow gamblers. Only a couple of lovers had been identified; Griffin had chosen his partners wisely, they as discreet as he. Whatever the gender or nationality of those questioned, a common phrase reoccurred: 'I never felt I really knew him.' A few had seemed puzzled by the realisation, Griffin obviously adept at concealing the fact he kept people at an emotional arm's length.

Everyone except Charlie.

She had told Langlois more of the inner man than anyone, even if she did not seem to appreciate how much of himself Griffin had revealed to her in a few telling sentences. Where Charlie saw only a ruthless manipulator, Langlois began to glimpse a man torn by conflicting emotions. It could have been no easy matter to be Marius Melville's son. If Griffin had loved Charlie, losing her would have hurt him; add that to his other losses and you had a man vulnerable and alone.

Langlois sat back to consider the matter further.

oOo

Left without a job or family ties, Griffin had never known such freedom, but what should have been a rebirth as he emerged from the shadow his father had cast over his life seemed only a terrifying void. He had spent too many years trying to become what was expected of him to be certain what or who he was. Once he had known, but even the most stubbornly held dream could be worn away by the grinding weight of Marius Melville's formidable will.

Griffin landed at Schipol airport and froze, the unstructured hours in front of him seeming an enemy to be fought. Numb with fatigue, but unable to face another empty hotel room, he hired the fastest car available and tried to lose in motion his sense of alienation.

oOo

Langlois read reports of Griffin's progress as he criss-crossed Europe, driving like a man with the Furies crouched at his shoulder and waited for exhaustion to force Griffin to stop somewhere for longer than one night.

Some impulse made Langlois telephone his nephew. A flamboyant twenty-three-year-old, Raoul was a popular figure in London society.

"I need your help," announced Langlois, cutting short his voluble relative.

"Then you have it, of course," said Raoul, sobering. "You are in some difficulty?"

"Not me. A friend." Outlining the nature of his problem, Langlois added, "Can you recommend someone for the job? Preferably male. I know it may take some time to achieve the desired result. I am willing to pay whatever it costs."

"It could take for ever. It may never happen."

Langlois was more sanguine. "The target has lost all he cherished most. He is friendless and alone. Vulnerable."

"Have you considered hiring...a whore to all intents and purposes? I can suggest a few names from the London circuit."

"Griffin, the target, is a sophisticated and wealthy businessman of forty. He is personable enough not to need to buy sex. Besides, his preference seems to be for those of his own kind. I need someone in their late twenties, perhaps even older; sophisticated, discreet, trustworthy, intelligent, ruthless - and gay."

"Is that all?"

"I am serious, Raoul."

"Yes, I can hear you are. Wait, let me consider."

Langlois listened with impatience to the sounds of liquid being poured and a cigarette being lit.

"This job," said Raoul finally. "Is it within the law?"

"More or less."

"How much less?"

"I am not sure," Langlois admitted. "I want someone who can draw the heart from Griffin's body and when it is theirs, destroy it by telling him their services have been hired. I do not know if that is legal or not."

"If it is, it shouldn't be," said Raoul with feeling. "What has this man Griffin done that you should hate him so?"

"Devastated the woman I love. He wanted information and tried to obtain it by stealing her heart. He hurt her and she cannot forget him. I want him to know what it feels like to be so humiliated. I want him to remember that feeling for a very long time."

Pulling a face at his uncle's grim tone, Raoul began to take him seriously. "Griffin may be incapable of forming a deep attachment to anyone. To be alone at his age with all the advantages you say he possesses is not usual."

"Unless he fears commitment. Will you help?"

"Far be it for me to interfere with the course of true love. London is dull. Is Griffin here in England?"

"Not yet but I expect him to arrive soon. I want him to be tempted to stay, partly because I know you will keep an eye on him but mainly so that the entrapment can begin. He holds a British passport but, apart from his years at school, university and a few business trips he has spent no time there. Will you help?" Langlois repeated.

"Of course. Would I do for this sinister Mr Griffin?"

"No," said Langlois with restraint.

"You always contrive to sound more like a disapproving father than Papa," complained Raoul. "Am I so bad?"

"If you were I would hardly be talking to you now. Can you suggest someone who could - and would - undertake the task?"

"Perhaps," said Raoul with reluctance. "But I would not recommend trying to buy the man I have in mind. He will need to be convinced as to the justice of your cause. He runs a highly successful and discreet security agency. When the gallery had that problem with the forged Klee he worked on the case personally. More, we got our money back without a whisper of scandal reaching the press."

"Tell me more. Everything you know about him."

"Everything?" asked Raoul mischievously.

"You are impossible," sighed his uncle. "And completely without shame. Is he an ex-lover?"

"No, to my sorrow. Kilroy is somewhere in his mid-thirties and is very English. He loves their unappetising food, their sport and drinks Californian wine from choice."

"Raoul..."

"Sorry. Kit joined the Lessingham Agency about eight years ago, I believe. Since he became the senior partner the agency has increased its reputation and nearly doubled in size."

"What is his background?"

"Army. And, I think, Special Air Services. That is not, you understand, something that is openly spoken of over here. Kit's reputation is formidable, his integrity beyond reproach."

Langlois made a sound of disbelief.

"No, truly. Kit is an honest man, although I suspect he would bend the law for what he considers to be a just cause."

"An idealist!"

"I am afraid so. Although he would deny it hotly, I think he is the original cynic with a heart of gold. I have heard that he sometimes offers the agency's services free of charge."

"A sound business practice," agreed Langlois dryly.

"Don't mock. For all that he despises the idle rich, he is on the way to achieving a respectable income."

"You seem to know him well."

Raoul gave an audible sigh. "Not as well as I should like. He is single, and when last I met him, unattached."

"Is he personable?"

"He is beautiful. More, he does not seem to know it."

"You like him."

"I wanted him. Unfortunately, Kit did not want me. He was kind but he made it plain I did not interest him sexually. He said I was too young. Kindness is rare, particularly in beautiful men."

Hearing the change in his nephew's voice, Langlois frowned. "He sounds ideal. But will it be difficult for you?"

"Me? No. After all, one cannot always have what one wants. Besides, Kit is not perfect. I suspect he is the type to demand fidelity and me, I love variety."

"It is time you thought of settling down," scolded Langlois, although he could not hide the amusement in his voice.

"I do think of it," protested Raoul in a hurt tone. "Then I decide to wait."

Langlois gave a repressive sigh. "I will have the report on Griffin delivered to you. Read it, and consider what lever we can invent to persuade Mr Kilroy to take the job."

oOo

Taking a wicked delight in the mischievous manipulation of the life of a man he had never met, Raoul spent a day reading the dossier sent to him before he telephoned Langlois.

"Your Mr Griffin looks deliciously unlike the businessmen of my acquaintance. When Kit has finished with him I am tempted to offer myself as a consolation prize."

"Resist," Langlois advised him dryly. "Griffin would make a dangerous enemy."

"Perhaps. That makes him all the more exciting. Oh, Papa is here. I am afraid he saw the dossier on Griffin."

"Merde," said his uncle.

"Quite. It could be worse. He does not know what is planned. It transpires that he knows Griffin - or at least he did. They first met over twenty years ago."

"And what does Leon have to say about him?" asked Langlois, his misgivings apparent in his voice.

"That a sweet boy had become a formidable man. But still fuckable."

Langlois sighed, having long since despaired of his elder brother's lifestyle and lamentable frankness. "Is that all?"

"Only that he would be happy to see Griffin working at the bank, were it not for the risk that he would seek to take it over. And a few unsavoury reminiscences. They were lovers when Griffin was at Cambridge. Relax, Papa flies back to Paris tomorrow. He will not interfere. The family cannot afford another scandal at present. Maman has found herself a poet."

"Not another anarchist?"

"That might be preferable. This one is the wife of the Minister of the Interior."

Langlois gave a resigned sigh. "I suppose it was inevitable. Your parents' complicated lifestyles are beyond me."

"Them too, on occasion, I suspect," said Raoul, with a lack of concern which was only partially feigned.

Nevertheless, Langlois smoothly changed the subject. "Now you have read Griffin's dossier do you think it is possible for Mr Kilroy to attract him?"

"Kilroy," said Raoul fervently, "would raise the dead."

"Concentrate. How do I persuade this man of integrity to take the job?"

"Show him Griffin's picture."

"Raoul..."

"That is more difficult," his nephew admitted. "You will need to fabricate evidence to suggest Griffin is involved in something Kit finds abhorrent. At the same time it must be believable, given Griffin's background."

There was a thoughtful silence before Raoul exclaimed: "I have it! What about physical intimidation of Charlie and her son? Threats of violence to those unable to defend themselves angers Kit, as does any situation where the strong seek to prey on the weak. I allowed him to believe I was being persecuted because I am gay. He was very supportive - until he discovered the truth," he added demurely.

"You are impossible," said Langlois, laughing despite himself at the thought of anyone successfully persecuting his all too competent nephew. "You require more stimulation than your gallery can provide. The family business perhaps."

"Banking," sighed Raoul plaintively.

"Would you rather see it pass out of the family?"

"Never! That," Raoul added ruefully a moment later, "was very devious. I shall become respectable, I promise. One day."

"If you cannot contemplate the thought of working with your father in Paris, come to Sydney to gain some experience. There will be a vacancy in our Hong Kong branch within the year."

"Do you mean that?" asked Raoul with undisguised eagerness.

"With all my heart. You have a good brain, it is time you applied it to some purpose. We will discuss the idea further when I fly over later this week. I want to meet with your Mr Kilroy, by which time I hope to have fabricated convincing proof of Griffin's guilt."

oOo

Griffin continued to drive through Europe faster than tourists on a ten-day tour; he took so little interest in his surroundings that only a customs post drew a new country to his notice, but no matter how fast he drove the memories and doubts remained crouched at his shoulder, goading him on. Finally exhaustion forced him to admit he needed more than a few hours' snatched sleep and he abandoned his car to cross the lagoon to book into the most comfortable hotel he could find.

Waking just before dawn to unfamiliar surroundings, it was the quality of the light which drew him to the window, allied to the fact he couldn't remember where he was. A smile of sheer pleasure crossed his face when he saw the view, Venice all soft umbers, greys and blues as the mist rose from the Grand Canal. He stepped onto the balcony, shivering in the chill air, and inhaled unfamiliar scents, watching the city come to life. Succumbing to impulse, Griffin dressed quickly and left to explore the waking city. Hands buried in his pockets and walking quickly because of the cold, within minutes his pace slowed in recognition that Venice was best savoured rather than gulped.

The decaying splendour and shabby grandeur he saw in every quarter touched a chord deep within him. Each stone had a story to tell, every hidden corner likely to offer a piece of crumbling craftsmanship. Disdainful of the tourist haunts choked with guides and tacky souvenirs even this early in the season, by accident he entered the workshop of a picture restorer; he spent the rest of the day there. After that he abandoned sightseeing in favour of searching out those who worked to keep Venice alive: stonemasons, boat builders, glass-blowers and restorers, but above all those who worked with wood. Amongst such artists he found a peace of sorts.

Flattered by the interest of this quiet, well-dressed foreigner with his fluent Italian, the craftsmen made him welcome, delighting in the chance to display their skill to someone who was capable of appreciating it. Smoking his cigarettes, they fed him coffee and bowls of pasta when he gave no sign of needing to eat, and allowed him to take them out to dine at night, where they talked into the early hours, unconscious of how little Griffin said about himself.

Quite what he was searching for Griffin did not know. He made no attempt to question his actions, content to live each day minute by minute, hour by hour. Equally, he stopped thinking about the past. He had spent too much of his life mourning what he could not change. Seduced by the light and the wonderful textures and scents and drunk on colour, senses numbed over the years stirred to life, beginning to melt the icy chill which had helped him to survive the last few months. He even reached the stage where he could spot a slender blonde in the crowd without his heart twisting. Some days he never thought of Charlie at all.

Venice, however, refused to be ignored. His father's dream had been to stamp his vision on a city; but modern skyscrapers offered no lasting monument, many possessing a lifespan of no more than twenty years. With Hong Kong due to be returned to China in nineteen ninety-seven, the brightest and the best, those lucky few with marketable skills, were already fleeing the Colony to make their homes in America, Australia and Canada. Hong Kong as Melville had known it was doomed. It was just one of the topics on which Griffin and his father had disagreed.

A sense of purpose beginning to form, Griffin stayed in Venice until the volume of tourists became unbearable. He hired another car and set off on a more leisurely tour through Europe, taking care to dodge the popular resorts during these holiday months. Soaking up other people's lives, he was content as yet to remain an onlooker.

By the end of August, tanned, relaxed and beginning to tire of his sabbatical from life, he had reached the coast of Brittany. Staring across the Channel, his salt-tangled hair flicking his eyes, he decided to revisit the country of his birth.

Chapter Text

THREE

"Mr Langlois to see you, Kit," announced Annie, poking her head round the door.

While Kilroy glanced up, his automatic smile did not reach his eyes, which still looked bruised twelve hours after his flight from Sicily. By the time he had reached the office Keith had reported on the failure of the operation; the news had been quick to spread. Kilroy found the unspoken sympathy of everyone from the office boy to his fellow partners worse than their condemnation would have been. Emilio Cassavetes had died because his parents, having hired Kilroy for his expertise, had chosen to ignore it. Blaming himself for that breakdown in communication, Kilroy could not forget the dead child he had never met.

"Who?" he asked tiredly, finding it difficult to concentrate on anything but failure at the moment, the taste of it sour in his mouth.

"Henry Langlois, that Frenchman from Sydney. I mentioned him to you when you got back. He's flown over especially to see you. I tried to put him off but..."

"Pushy, is he?" asked Kilroy, flexing his stiff neck before he tried to relax in his chair.

Annie's frizzed blonde hair bounced all of a piece as she shook her head. "Quite the opposite. He's a real smoothie. I think it's important," she added apologetically. "Kev offered to see him but it's you he wants. You should go home and have a good sleep," she added maternally.

"Only if you'll come with me," said Kilroy with the ghost of his usual grin. Something about Annie's urchin face and practical common sense always cheered him up.

"I don't think my John would go for three in a bed, or that you'd be able to do yourself justice tonight. Shall I put Mr Langlois off?"

"No, wheel him in," he sighed, wondering what puzzle this new client would bring. A bloody-minded Frenchman couldn't be any worse than a pig-headed Sicilian. He'd got used to being sucked into the lives of strangers and spat out of the charmed circle when his usefulness to them was over.

"Then make sure you don't work too late. You look like death warmed over," scolded Annie, before she withdrew.

She returned a short time later to introduce a slight, elegant man in his mid-forties. Langlois came to the point the moment the customary civilities were over and Annie had left them alone.

"I have been told this is one of the finest security agencies in London."

Kilroy disguised his prickle of irritation as he reseated himself, the older man's assessing stare making him feel as if he were on the auction block. "It's the best, but you needn't take my word for it."

"I have not. I preferred to listen to those for whom you have acted. I understand you undertake cases personally."

"Sometimes," agreed Kilroy with caution. One of the few perks of being the boss was the fact he could delegate the boring jobs.

"It is your services I wish to hire, not those of your agency. As this is not an easy matter to explain, I have prepared a dossier. It details the man who is to be your target."

Kilroy frowned.

Langlois raised his hand. "I use the word deliberately. Because we have been unable to gain more than circumstantial evidence against him, and because Griffin is a powerful man with influential friends, the security services in Australia abandoned their investigation of him. I have been told you are prepared to use unorthodox methods to complete an assignment, if you are satisfied they are the only means which will suffice."

"How unorthodox?" Sensing a set-up, the glance Kilroy spared the older man was far from friendly: he wasn't in the mood to have his time wasted.

"In order to win Griffin's complete trust I ask that you take him as your lover; that you build a relationship with him and do all in your power to encourage him to fall in love with you. Griffin is bisexual."

"Oh, is that all you want. Goodbye."

"Mr Kilroy, please hear me out. I am quite serious."

"If that's true you're in the wrong office. There are plenty of whores in Shepherd Market or Soho."

"Please allow me to explain before you dismiss me out of hand. I am not accustomed to... This is not easy for me to ask of a complete stranger."

"Particularly not when you seem to imagine he's in need of a pimp." Kilroy's silken tone heightened the menace of his looming presence as he rose to his feet. While of little more than average height, he was all compact muscle, his inimical expression heightening the hint of leashed aggression.

Langlois' level gaze did not flinch. "I expressed myself clumsily. I intended to give you the full background to the matter before broaching more delicate issues but... For Josh's sake I beg you to take me seriously. We cannot guarantee his safety twenty-four hours a day, year in, year out. Griffin is a subtle and clever man who guards his privacy jealously. But like so many of us, he is at his most vulnerable - and verbose - after sex, which is why I believe only a lover could hope to learn his thoughts. Josh is only ten years old."

Kilroy reseated himself. "Who's Josh?" While his manner had undergone a slight thaw, his expression was guarded.

"Please read these." A slim folder and a fat file were placed on Kilroy's desk.

Detesting paperwork of any kind, he gave them an unenthusiastic look.

"I know what I ask is difficult and that you find the idea repugnant. Should you agree to take the case, I must warn you that it could be dangerous. That is why I would not dream of approaching a woman for the job. Griffin is not a man to cross."

"Nor am I," said Kilroy with a matter-of-factness which commanded belief. "Is that all?"

"No. I am also aware that this assignment may take months, and that you cannot guarantee success. I ask only that you try, using whatever means seem most appropriate to you. I will meet whatever fee you care to set, together with all your expenses. In advance, if you require it."

Kilroy eyed his visitor thoughtfully. In his experience, the wealthier the client the more liable they were to complain about the level of the agency's fees, and the longer they took to pay them.

"Money is the least of my concerns," he said coolly. He was unhappy on several counts, not least because this suave Frenchman must know he was gay to make the suggestion he had, and had assumed not only that he was promiscuous, but that he could be bought. When he found out who had led Langlois to believe such a misconception, he'd geld them.

"I expected you to say nothing less," said Langlois calmly. "The reports I have caused to be compiled are lengthy. Before making your final decision you may wish to investigate what is claimed within them, or even to investigate me. You have no knowledge of my probity. I will ensure you receive all the cooperation you require in order to do so. In recognition of the preliminary expenses you may incur, I have here a cheque for ten thousand pounds. It is non-returnable." He placed an expensive-looking envelope on the desktop.

"Why do I feel as if I am being bribed?" murmured Kilroy, ignoring it. While he had never sought to hide his sexual preference, he had not expected a total stranger to be aware of it, let alone to try and hire his services as a stud. He gave the Frenchman another unfriendly stare.

Langlois made a sound of impatience. "I am clumsy at expressing myself because this is so important to me. And to Charlie, the woman I love. Since Griffin entered her life in February of this year she has not known a moment's peace. Especially since he sought revenge by threatening her ten-year-old son."

The muscles of Kilroy's face tightened before they relaxed again. "Tell me about it. From the beginning. I'll read your report later." His voice contained a clear warning that the document had better substantiate the claims the Frenchman made.

 

Kilroy stared into the middle distance for some time after Annie escorted Langlois from the office. Despite Langlois' eloquence, he wasn't sure how much of the man's story he believed. Corruption in high places was nothing new and the facts as Langlois had presented them were too neat. While it was more than possible that Griffin blamed Charlie Cassidy for the fact he had been disinherited, in Kilroy's limited experience with the breed multi-millionaires did not turn into extortioners overnight. More, the solution Langlois had suggested to entrap Griffin was the craziest he'd heard in a profession which was used to hearing odd, not to mention illegal, requests.

Instinct telling him to pass on this case, he picked up the dossier on Griffin which Langlois had left with him. Staring at the yellow cover, Kilroy's indecision was plain, particularly when he began to wonder whether he would be capable of doing what was asked of him. While he had used his sexuality to see a job through in the past, that was a long time ago; he wasn't in the habit of cold-bloodedly seducing someone's emotions. He didn't know if he could do it again - or what the attempt might cost him. The kind of undercover job he was being asked to undertake exacted a price and he found it difficult to maintain his emotional distance from a target. The SAS had taught him that much about himself.

People use people, he reminded himself briskly. It was the way of the world. But not his way. He wasn't going to put himself through that again.

Josh Cassidy was ten years old, Emilio had been eleven when he died.

It was then that Kilroy admitted he didn't want to take responsibility for the safety of another child, not yet. Not ever. The guilt he felt for Emilio's death was bad enough, let someone else worry about Josh. Pushing the file aside, he poured out some coffee but set the beaker down untouched, knowing he couldn't run away from the truth for ever. He'd lost his nerve. The thought of taking another job, any job, terrified him.

He spent the next ten minutes tidying his already tidy office, carefully ignoring one corner of his desk. When he ran out of excuses, he told himself it couldn't hurt to take a look at the file, while wishing he believed it, and slowly drew the folder closer. He had already broken the golden rule by becoming emotionally involved with Emilio, a client he had never even met. Having analysed his own actions during the course of the case, he still couldn't be certain that his emotional involvement hadn't impaired his judgement, whatever others said. He would have to be crazy to put himself through that again so soon after the Cassavetes case. Equally, turning his back on Josh Cassidy would do nothing to remove the sense of responsibility he already felt for the boy.

Frowning, Kilroy unfastened his tie and folded back his shirt cuffs. Setting his feet on the open top drawer of his desk, he sipped his cold coffee and began to flick through Langlois' report. His attention arrested, he slowed, stopped and went back to the beginning to read it properly.

The office was quiet by the time he finished. Launching the paper plane he had constructed, Kilroy knew he would take the job. What was more, he had reluctantly conceded that Langlois seemed to have come up with the only possible plan for getting close to Griffin. From all accounts the man made an oyster look slack-mouthed, sex the only drug he seemed to allow himself, although the evidence was scanty. Kilroy preferred to doze after sex, but Matt had always been talkative. If Griffin shared that trait, all he had to do was stay awake long enough to steer the conversation into the appropriate channels.

Kilroy felt only contempt for those who believed money could buy everything. Griffin had been born with a platinum spoon in his mouth, enjoying as a matter of course all the luxuries money could buy. He'd been sheltered from the real world by the make-believe job of managing his father's chain of hotels. Having lost his cushion from reality when his father disinherited him, instead of making something of himself, he'd tried to make good the deficit by threatening Josh Cassidy. With the weight of Marius Melville's reputation behind him he was probably used to such threats succeeding.

Kilroy watched his second paper plane float down to miss the waste bin by inches and began to make another. It would be a pleasure to take Griffin down a peg or three. If the dossier was correct he liked equality in his bedmates, going bottom or top as the fancy took him; to Kilroy's relief there were no hints of kinks or fetishes.

Fishing in the wallet at the back of the dossier, he studied a black and white photograph of Griffin for clues. While he was as sleek and groomed as a pampered pedigree cat, Griffin had the look of a man who knew exactly what he wanted - and how to get it. Unsmiling, his cold, predator's gaze seemed to challenge the camera lens.

Pouring himself another beaker of coffee, Kilroy slipped the other photographs from the back of the dossier: Charlie and Josh Cassidy laughed up at him. Studying their faces, his resolve hardened. They would be no match for the son of Marius Melville.

His decision made, Kilroy telephoned Henri Langlois to confirm his acceptance of the assignment. Cutting short the Frenchman's voluble thanks in case his mistrust of Langlois made him change his mind, he asked the night-duty officer to organise a round-the-clock surveillance of Griffin who, according to Langlois' dossier, had booked into a nearby hotel the day before yesterday.

oOo

As the dossier on Griffin made it obvious he never stayed anywhere for long, Kilroy knew he could not afford any delay in effecting an introduction.

By the following afternoon he had Dave Randall's first report. Griffin had jogged at six-thirty, breakfasted at seven-thirty, before driving to Coventry to visit two tool-producing factories. On his return to London he had attended the opening of a furniture exhibition at the Design Centre. Kilroy frowned. They seemed odd destinations for an ex-multimillionaire supposedly on holiday, even more unusual for one supposedly planning to kidnap Josh Cassidy. He wondered how much money Griffin had left. The Mayfair Hotel wasn't cheap, and Griffin had bought outright the Jaguar Sovereign he was driving.

Reaching the end of the report, Kilroy grimaced when he realised he would need to get his evening clothes out of mothballs. Griffin had rounded off his day at a casino in Berkshire, where he had lost four thousand pounds at roulette. Hoping Langlois would prove understanding about his expenses if he had to gamble, Kilroy braced himself for a dull evening. Gamblers, like drunks, were too preoccupied with themselves to make entertaining company.

Fumbling amongst the papers littering the desktop Kilroy hooked out Griffin's photograph again, propping it against the telephone. He sensed that this man wouldn't be an easy pick-up. Easy or not, he was going to stop this urban predator from preying on those unable to protect themselves against him.

Resigned to the necessity of familiarising himself with Griffin until he knew his habits and preferences as well as his own, Kilroy's homework was interrupted by a telephone call. Dave Randall reported that Griffin, having visited three timber merchants in the Black Country before driving down to Rye to see a man about an oak forest, had returned to his hotel suite with a stack of books. Dining in his room, he seemed settled for the night.

Relieved that he had another twelve hours' reprieve before he had to start work, Kilroy went home and ensured that he went to bed early. If he was going to work all day and club-hop at night he would need all the backlog of sleep he could get.

oOo

Because Griffin had jogged in Green Park the previous two mornings, Kilroy hoped for the best and chose one of the crisscrossing paths at random, wanting the chance of a sneak preview of his target. While not usually prone to self-doubt, he had woken at three in the morning, sweating. What if he couldn't perform? He wasn't a trained seal. The familiar attentions of his right hand had offered some reassurance, but not enough. Eventually he got up and spent the rest of the night rereading Griffin's dossier.

There were a surprising number of dark-haired men of medium height and build out jogging this morning, and a couple of tempting blonds. Reminding himself he was here to work, Kilroy resolutely ignored the muscular brown thighs and tight buttocks of the man in front of him and began to search for Griffin in earnest.

Five minutes later, cresting the rise of the path which bisected the centre of the park, he realised that the attractive man jogging towards him at a steady pace was Griffin. The likeness to the photograph of the cold-eyed businessman he had studied wasn't immediately apparent. This tanned man with unruly hair flecked with grey above the ears bore little initial resemblance to the elegant predator Kilroy had steeled himself to seduce. It required some effort not to stare openly. Griffin looked gorgeous, possessing the mouth of a corrupt angel and a firm, compact body which the workmanlike pale grey tracksuit, clinging in all the right places, set off to perfection. The faded lynx's head on the chest was soaked with sweat, Griffin's face bearing the blank introspection common to serious joggers. As they passed one another Kilroy allowed himself to stop under the pretext of a stitch in his side and turned to stare after Griffin. Moving with an easy action, he looked good for another couple of laps of the park, but it wasn't his physical fitness which held the attention, the sweet definition of his hard-muscled rump was all a man could ask for.

Kilroy was disconcerted to realise that bedding Griffin wasn't going to be the penance he'd assumed; worse, he would be in grave danger of enjoying himself. Sternly reminding himself that business and pleasure did not mix, he made himself do another circuit of the park as a reminder. To his chagrin he did not pass Griffin again.

oOo

More tired than he cared to admit after three days of driving the length and breadth of Britain, Griffin dined sparingly in his room while reading through the particulars various estate agents had provided. None bore any resemblance to the specifications he had given them.

Lighting a cigarette, he winced as a fresh wave of noise penetrated the hotel's double glazing. It came from the horde of screaming girls who had surrounded the hotel all day, awaiting the arrival of New Kids on the Block. Everyone within a quarter mile vicinity of the hotel must know that, the girls had been shrieking the name non-stop.

Debating whether to move out tonight, he stood at the window staring at the offices on the opposite side of the road, wondering how many times he had stared out of hotel windows and in how many cities. It would be strange to have a home, it felt odd to be considering the prospect, but he felt the need for some kind of permanence in his life, even if it came only from bricks and mortar. Perhaps in Britain, where the names Melville and Griffin meant nothing, he could start afresh in every way. One day he might even be able to confront the sterility of his existence and come to terms with his emotional cowardice.

With nothing to do but to think, the loneliness of the room seeped into him, highlighting every doubt and insecurity. Impatient with himself for wallowing in self-pity, Griffin decided to visit the jazz club he had noticed whilst returning to the hotel the previous morning; anything was preferable to listening to hysterical, pre-pubescent girls.

Chapter Text

FOUR

Casually dressed in a cream-coloured Versace suit and a khaki silk shirt, Griffin selected an unoccupied table in the corner farthest from the jazz quartet. The club was no more than half full as yet, the atmosphere already as cheerful as the string of Louis Jordan numbers being played. Griffin hardly noticed. Seeking oblivion from the emptiness within himself, he drank more heavily than was his habit: the champagne failed to dispel his melancholy.

He began to think his decision to stay in London was a mistake. The city stirred too many memories of Charlie, which was odd because they had been forty thousand feet above ground when he had effected their first meeting, having arrived in Britain only so he could board the flight she was taking to Sydney. What did he know of England? He'd lost touch with friends from school and university long ago, with only youthful memories insisting this was where he wanted to be.

He must be mad to think he would ever be able to create anything again. A schoolboy talent wasn't enough. The asylums were full of men of vision Beset by self-doubt, he began to doodle idly on a coaster until the image in his mind clarified. Discovering he had allowed his last cigarette to burn away, he summoned a waiter and placed his order before sitting back to study what he had drawn.

A child of six could have done better, he decided irritably, his pen automatically moving to correct a line here and change a dimension there as the piece came to three-dimensional life in his mind's eye. He had never needed a scaled plan to work from; that much at least didn't seem to have changed. The coffee table would be a test piece, its octagonal top displaying a variety of British woods: ash, chestnut, holly, oak, cherry, sycamore, yew, laburnum - and elm, if he could get any. While laburnum was a bitch to work with, it would be a good test of his skills.

Nodding his thanks as the waiter returned with two packets of cigarettes, Griffin idly scanned the dimly lit club, in the mood to socialise now. The atmosphere was smoky, the tables packed. There were several beautiful women present, all with escorts in tow, and two very attractive men who caught his attention. As a laughing group seated themselves, Griffin's eyes widened in appreciation when he glimpsed a third man, one who had the merit of being unaccompanied.

The subject of his interest sat at the end of the bar, his face warm with amusement as the barman serving him came to the end of a joke. The man had a ravishing smile; it had yet to fade when he glanced across the tables and saw Griffin watching him. A look of interest, instantly masked, replaced the smile.

Returning it, Griffin's lips twitched before he forced himself to look elsewhere. Exquisite, he thought, remembering the beautiful profile and the man's powerful shoulders and thighs. Just what he needed. Except for the fact he was twenty years too old to attract the man's interest. Lucky barman, he mused, lanced by a sharp pang of lust as he imagined taking the beautiful stranger into his bed. Giving a faint sigh of regret that the man had already made his choice, Griffin picked up his pen again. His erection subsiding, he lost himself to the list of supplies and tools he knew he would need for his workshop.

 

Having hoped his obvious interest would be enough to tempt Griffin from his corner table, Kilroy felt piqued that after his initial show of interest Griffin did not glance in his direction again.

Gently turning down an offer from the barman which he had been too preoccupied to see coming, Kilroy had another drink, irritated to realise he was nervous; he'd lost the patter which had stood him in such good stead during his youth. Worse, the elegant figure sitting at a corner table, oblivious to him, bore little resemblance to the rumpled jogger of the other morning. Resigned to the necessity of making the first move, something he had optimistically hoped to avoid, he left the bar and wound his way through the crowd to where Griffin sat.

"Good evening. If you're not expecting a guest may I buy you a drink?"

Drawn from his abstraction Griffin looked up, surprise, then open pleasure on his face when he saw who stood in front of him. "I'm alone. Won't you join me for a glass of champagne?" He glanced at a waiter. Before Kilroy had seated himself another champagne glass was set down.

"How did you manage to get served so quickly?" Kilroy asked, his tone light and admiring.

"Luck," said Griffin, but there was a wry twist to his beautiful mouth.

"Am I interrupting a private celebration?" Kilroy had never seen a man who looked less festive.

"Not exactly. Griffin. James Griffin."

Taking the long-fingered hand, Kilroy enjoyed the brief, firm clasp. "Kilroy."

"Just Kilroy?" Amusement quirked Griffin's mouth.

"Christopher. Preferably Kit."

"Kit. Yes, it suits you." Lighting a cigarette after Kilroy had shaken his head when offered one, Griffin relaxed back in his chair.

"If you say so. Are you in London on business, Mr Griffin?"

"James. Perhaps. And for a holiday. Apart from fleeting business trips this is my first visit to Britain since my days at university."

Kilroy watched Griffin flick ash from his cigarette with an economy of movement which suggested he was not a man given to nervous mannerisms; equally, it could indicate an excess of control. Kilroy made up his mind to discover what lay behind it and make use of it if he could.

"No more beautiful people parading the streets?" he joked, as if trying to gauge Griffins age.

"Oh, there are still one or two of those, surely."

Their eyes met and held, conducting a totally different communication, desire sharp and bright flowing between them.

Acknowledging the contract they had just made, Kilroy saluted his host with his glass. "You're right about London, of course. I've watched it change in the nine years I've been working here."

"Where were you based before?"

"A number of places. Wherever the Army sent me." Kilroy allowed his expression to become more distant.

"You're a civilian now?"

"So they tell me." Kilroy knew it would not take Griffin long to realise there were two reasons to cut short a career in the army in your twenties; injury or disgrace. He was interested to see how Griffin would deal with the point.

"Then I wasn't so far out. You would find life dull behind a desk."

Kilroy's eyes widened with genuine surprise. "That's astute of you on such a short acquaintance."

"Oh, I'm a very astute man. The perfect judge of character." There was naked self-derision in the attractive voice, before Griffin gave an apologetic grimace. "Champagne makes me maudlin." He lit another cigarette; for someone who appeared relaxed, he smoked heavily.

"Then perhaps we should drink something else. What would you like? No, let me try and guess." Kilroy allowed himself the luxury of studying Griffin in lingering detail. Sleek and groomed Griffin might be, what the photograph had failed to capture was the innate sensuality of the man. It would be exciting to shatter that controlled grace in an orgy of sex; to make him writhe and sweat and moan with pleasure before he came. Fiercely aroused, Kilroy's voice was a husky caress when he made his choice, knowing from the dossier that it was the right one. "For you, a fine brandy."

Griffin's smile revealed a chipped front tooth; he had the knack of turning flaws into assets. "Usually, yes. But I would prefer mineral water tonight. Brandy on top of the best part of a bottle of champagne..." He shrugged. "I should prefer to do both myself, and you, justice."

Acutely conscious of Griffin's sultry-eyed appraisal while trying to concentrate on anything but the ache in his groin, Kilroy tried to catch the waiter's eye. It took him almost ten minutes to be served.

"I wouldn't think anything of it but for your success earlier. I obviously lack your knack." He felt rather than saw Griffin study him again.

"I'm sure you have other skills."

"Oh, I do. But none I can demonstrate here."

"Later, then," said Griffin, anticipation in his voice.

"Nothing would give me greater pleasure," said Kilroy with perfect truth, unable to believe his luck. Langlois didn't know the half of it. Griffin was ripe for the plucking, all right and he would pluck and fuck him into the middle of next week, he promised himself, fierce because it was an eerie experience to set out to seduce a man he would have tried to woo on his own account.

"I may disappoint you," Griffin pointed out, but the lazy confidence in his voice begged to differ.

The waiter's reappearance at their table caused Kilroy to restrict his reply to a grin. "What would you say was my line of work?" he asked innocuously.

"It would be easier to say what you are not." Griffin cocked his head.

There was a small pause, during which Kilroy felt as if Griffin's gaze was stripping him to the bone.

"You're accustomed to making quick assessments and you trust your judgement sufficiently to act on them, but there's a watchful quality about you which is rarely seen," said Griffin finally. "I presume that if you worked for the Intelligence Services you wouldn't be inviting me to guess. But that's what I would say."

"You're a warlock," exclaimed Kilroy, both impressed and wary, having realised he would have to be extremely careful with this man. "I'm a partner in a security agency. We specialise in investigating industrial espionage and the giving of advice on all aspects of personal security."

"I should have thought of that," said Griffin with chagrin. "Business must be booming at the moment. What does 'personal security' encompass?"

Kilroy told him, having decided it was essential to stick to the truth. If they became lovers, inevitably Griffin would learn something about his work and it wouldn't do to arouse his suspicions. Griffin was obviously no slouch at the observation stakes; the challenge to breach his defences was irresistible.

"At what stage do you become involved in kidnap cases? Surely they are a matter for the police. Although I suppose that in some countries the police will have been bribed," mused Griffin.

"If not actively involved," confirmed Kilroy. "I refuse to send staff out to Colombia any more. They aren't equipped to survive that kind of madness. That said, a number of multinational companies hire us to brief their senior management before they're sent to trouble spots."

"How do you train your staff?"

Half an hour later Kilroy realised he had been monopolising the conversation. Griffin was too good a listener, while giving away nothing. Ruffled, Kilroy mentally scored the first round to Griffin even as he admitted that Griffin's interest seemed genuine, his questions those one would expect from an intelligent man. He appeared to take for granted the rudimentary precautions Kilroy and his staff tried to drum into their clients. But then as Melville's heir he had probably been a target for kidnappers himself, which made it odd that he would consider using the threat against others. Shrugging the thought aside, Kilroy pulled a face.

"I must have bored you to death."

"No. Anyone who enjoys their work is worth listening to, but not everyone has your talent for being entertaining at the same time. It's a job which must make heavy emotional demands of you, particularly when something beyond your control goes wrong."

"Yes," said Kilroy with a telling shortness.

"I'm sorry, I didn't intend to hit a nerve." Leaning into the light, there was a trace of concern on Griffin's face.

"You couldn't know," dismissed Kilroy, reluctant to continue the conversation but aware that he must. "Earlier this week a young boy died because his father was more interested in getting publicity for his company than on keeping quiet to ensure the safety of his kidnapped son. He got his publicity when the boy was killed before the ransom could be delivered."

His tone strictly practical, Griffin made none of the commonplace protestations of horror. "Would you change any of the actions you took if you could?"

"Yes, I'd lock the self-centred bastard away so he could concentrate on his precious business and leave me to do my job. If it hadn't been for his greed and stupidity... Forget it," growled Kilroy, when his brain caught up with his tongue.

"It's a waste of time to blame yourself for the failings of others. You'll need your energy for your next case."

That's you, thought Kilroy, his mouth hardening. "Forget it happened, you mean? Is that your philosophy in life?" There was a contemptuous edge to his voice.

While Griffin's mouth thinned, his temper held. "I didn't say it was easy. I understand your anger. Crimes against children are the ugliest of all."

Kilroy gave him a puzzled glance.

"Why are you looking at me like that? Or do you tar all businessmen with the same brush?"

Aware that the exchange had ceased to be the norm for a one-night stand, Kilroy blinked and set about making up the ground he had lost. "Of course not. I'm sorry I snapped your head off. I'm not used to... You're too good a listener."

"Too good?" Griffin's eyebrows rose.

"You encourage people to confide in you where it wouldn't usually occur to them to do so. I wish more of my staff had your skill. It's invaluable."

"It's as good a self-defence as any other," shrugged Griffin in dismissal. He lit another cigarette, as if fearing what else he might say.

"I must remember that. We've established that you're a businessman. What's your specialty?" As Kilroy watched, all trace of expression left Griffin's face.

"I was a hotelier."

"And now?"

"And now I'm not."

Kilroy took the hint. "I don't think you mentioned where you're from." He was determined to keep the conversation steered away from himself.

"Like you, a number of places. The chain I managed has hotels across the Far East: Manila, Macao, Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia. I travelled between them."

"That's a lot of travelling. Didn't you get tired of it?"

Griffin gave a faint smile. "Very. Most people think travel is glamorous."

"It can be, I suppose. You didn't find it so?"

"No, but then I've been flying long distance since I was at prep. school. Despite the nature of my work I'm not a social animal, or not with people en masse. I prefer to take my pleasures less publicly. Would you care for another drink?" The unspoken alternative beckoned.

Smooth as satin sheets, thought Kilroy with approval, as he shook his head. "Are you living nearby?"

"Yes, at the Mayfair."

"That must be something of a busman's holiday. How do British hotels compare with those you managed?"

Griffin's nose wrinkled expressively before he grimaced. "No, I'm not being fair. It's just that my hotel has been invaded by a horde of hysterical children seeking their latest icon. I should have found somewhere quieter straight away but I underestimated their staying-power and lung capacity."

"Oh, is that what the screaming was about? I could hear it from my office in Albermarle Street."

"I should think it's audible in Piccadilly. The young have amazing stamina, if little discrimination."

"An appreciation of the finer things in life comes later." Entranced, Kilroy watched a wry smile warm Griffin's entire face. "May I extend some British hospitality? My flat in Dover Street is approximately five minutes from your hotel. I can offer you a drink, or anything else you might care for." He revelled in the flare of naked hunger he saw on Griffin's face before he rose to his feet.

"Anything?" murmured Griffin. Settling the bill, he wound his way through the tables and out of the club. It seemed quiet on the street, the air cool and comparatively sweet; somewhere close at hand a clock struck the half hour.

"Anything," confirmed Kilroy.

Griffin shivered.

"I hope that's from anticipation. Or are you cold?" asked Kilroy, as they strolled across the road.

"A little of both," Griffin admitted with a soft chuckle. "I'd forgotten how cold British summers are. I haven't made time to buy warmer clothing yet."

Kilroy studied the understated elegance of the man at his side. "You look fine to me."

"I'm dressed for the humidity of Hong Kong, or the heat of Italy, Spain and France. Here I need at least two more layers of clothing."

"Will you be in London for a while?" Kilroy allowed a note of eagerness to enter his voice.

Hands in his trouser pockets, Griffin was studying the passage of his feet. "I'm thinking about making my home in England."

"Good."

Griffin looked up, his unblinking gaze disconcertingly direct. "How can you know that?"

"Instinct," said Kilroy promptly, leading the way through a Dickensian passageway.

"Bullshit. In any other city in the world an alleyway like this would be a mugger's paradise," added Griffin. If the thought troubled him, he gave no sign of it.

"Mayfair has too many police patrolling it for that. My flat's through that red door there. I'll have to see what I can do to warm you during your stay," Kilroy added, refastening the security locks and following Griffin up the narrow staircase.

"I doubt if you'll have much problem," allowed Griffin as a hand slipped under his jacket to explore his buttocks, the touch assured and infinitely pleasurable.

"The sitting-room's to your right, the bathroom to your left," said Kilroy, giving Griffin's rump a farewell caress.

"And the bedroom? I've learnt to appreciate my creature comforts."

"A man after my own heart. It's the second door on your left. The light switch is - "

" - here, surely," said Griffin, stroking Kilroy's swollen cock through the fabric of his black trousers. "You feel wonderful, but you're wearing far too many clothes." His hands moved upwards as the light flicked on.

"What are you doing?"

"Preparing to strangle you, what else?" Dropping to the floor the tie he had just unfastened, Griffin eased Kilroy's jacket from his shoulders before slipping shirt buttons open with a deftness which told of long practice.

"What am I supposed to do?" asked Kilroy, his elbows pinned by his jacket.

Griffin palmed Kilroy's pink nipples and powerful pectoral muscles. "Enjoy it," he said huskily, bending to draw first one, then the other tiny nub erect with his teeth. He refrained from commenting on the silvery traces of long-healed scars on the muscular torso, or the betraying signs of skin grafts, simply gentling his touch over those areas.

Kilroy gave a soft groan and remembered to shrug out of his jacket. Griffin's was easily removed, but Kilroy frowned when he saw that Griffin was wearing braces. He pinged one gently, before drawing them down over Griffin's shoulders rather than wasting time fiddling with the catches at the waist. Unfastening the silk shirt, his fingertips sifted through Griffin's body hair as his own trousers sank to his ankles. Warm hands dealt with his briefs before cupping his buttocks.

"I knew you would be beautiful," said Griffin with satisfaction, as he stepped out of his unfastened trousers; the small change in his pocket jingled as it settled on the carpet.

"Silk boxer shorts? You hedonist," murmured Kilroy, virtually stroking them down until Griffin was naked. Standing in a puddle of discarded clothing, his hands roamed as he nibbled Griffin's ear lobe. "I like your aftershave." He approved of everything, from the demarcation between tanned skin and the areas which had not been on public display, to the long, elegant feet, one of which was stroking the back of his calf.

"So do I."

Making a soft sound of hunger as his urgency peaked when their naked cocks brushed, Kilroy wrapped himself around Griffin, his hands eager to learn the planes and curves of the beautiful back, even as the muscles of his buttocks bunched. They found a fast, hard-driving rhythm, creating enough friction to finish what had been building between them all evening and came seconds apart, semen cooling stickily on their bellies as they stood plastered together.

Propped against the wall, Kilroy gave a wry chuckle, his hands dangling over Griffin's shoulders as Griffin's breathing slowed against his neck. "Damn! I meant to take my time savouring you." Smiling into eyes which Griffin's tan only lightened, Kilroy noticed with pleasure that they were a true green.

"Savour me later," suggested Griffin, running his palms up and down Kilroy's flanks before he drew back a little.

"My pleasure." One hand remaining on Griffin's shoulder, Kilroy peeled off a sock which had been forgotten in the final rush to strip.

Cradling Kilroy's testicles, Griffin stroked the warm laxness with the side of his thumb, shivering as the heat of arousal dissipated.

"Your blood must be as thin as water. Get into bed before you freeze. Shall I put the heating on for you?" Kilroy felt obliged to add.

"I'm tempted to say yes just to see your look of horror. I'll survive," said Griffin, before he strolled into the bathroom.

"There's a robe on the back of the door. Coffee, brandy or both?" called Kilroy.

"Coffee, please. Black, two sugars," said Griffin through the half-open door.

Hoping Griffin would not want to wash the evidence of their lovemaking away just yet, Kilroy went into the kitchen. Listening to the comfortable burp of the percolator, he glanced up to find Griffin fastening the ties of a thick, white towelling robe while he stood propped in the doorway.

"That coffee smells good. Do you mind if I smoke?" Griffin produced cigarettes and a lighter from a pocket.

"Not enough to ask you not to. I might even be able to find you an ashtray. Are you hungry?"

"Not for food." Griffin took the saucer handed to him in lieu of an ashtray.

"That sounds promising. Feel free to have a look round. Not that there's much to see."

Nodding, Griffin wandered away. It was only when Kilroy heard the unobtrusive sounds of occupation in the sitting-room that he realised how much he had enjoyed living with someone. While it had been almost a year since Matthew had left, the relationship fading with their lust, he still wasn't reconciled to living alone. Reminding himself that this was a job, he picked up the mugs of coffee.

"Bed or here? The bed's more comfortable and the night's still young," he added.

"So it is," said Griffin. Setting down the anthology of poetry he had been glancing through, he strolled across the hall into the bedroom, already looking at home. Having made himself comfortable against the pillows, he smoked a cigarette with slow luxury, the forearm of his free hand propped on Kilroy's upraised knees.

"I've always admired optimists," Griffin remarked when his penis was cradled. But he was stirring to life even as he sipped his coffee, his hand caressing Kilroy's thigh by now.

"I like to anticipate the pleasures ahead of me," returned Kilroy with lazy well-being.

"What do you have you in mind?" Relaxed and at ease, Griffin studied Kilroy speculatively.

"Anything. Everything."

"The options of those who meet as strangers can be limited in the 'nineties."

Recognising the guarded warning, Kilroy nodded his agreement. "Unless they've been careful. I'm a cautious man."

Griffin raised an elegant eyebrow.

"I'm serious," said Kilroy. "I wear a condom and test every three months. My last test, a month ago, was negative. Not that it offers any guarantees."

"Except that you weren't HIV positive on the day you were tested," agreed Griffin. "We behaved irresponsibly, frotting unprotected like boys."

Sombre now, Kilroy nodded. "I know. I'm not usually that stupid. My only excuse is that it's been...a while for me. Despite appearances to the contrary I don't indulge in one-night stands. Nor do I have unprotected sex - not even frotting. I usually use two condoms."

Griffin's mouth twitched. "I wouldn't have taken you for a belt and braces man."

"Apart from a desire to live until I'm at least one hundred and ten, I have a responsibility to my sexual partners. Condoms aren't one hundred per cent reliable - and I love anal sex."

"Oh good, so do I. And I wasn't sneering at you, just the irony that so much forward planning has to take place before we can indulge in activities which I've always preferred to be spontaneous. I'm a belt and braces man myself," added Griffin wryly, inviting Kilroy to share the joke.

Instead, he was glaring into space. "I hate having this kind of conversation," he announced with unfeigned frustration.

"I've never met anyone who enjoys it, but it's become an unpleasant necessity in the last decade. I've tested since nineteen eighty-three, mostly recently last month. It was negative. I stopped finding one-night stands satisfying a long time ago."

Kilroy sat up. "Then you already have a lover." His puzzlement was well-hidden. Griffin's voice had held the ring of truth, but his statement did not match the playboy image the dossier had presented.

Griffin's expression hardened. "And if I have?"

Kilroy ignored the warning signs. "I don't poach," he said simply. "It's too much grief for all concerned."

"I have no lover," said Griffin quietly, but his expression was distant.

Cradling his mug between his hands, Kilroy stared into it. "Nor do I. It's hardly surprising given my chat-up technique. Talking safe sex has a way of taking the edge off the appetite. Would you like some more coffee?"

"Not at the moment, but I should enjoy having sex with you again," said Griffin, his manner direct.

Brightening, Kilroy set his mug down and removed the unlit cigarette from Griffin's fingers. "That can be arranged. What would you like?"

"Apart from the stamina of a seventeen-year-old? I'd prefer you to join in. And if you don't use your initiative, you're not the man I give you credit for."

"A challenge?" asked Kilroy, his eyes sparkling.

Griffin shook his head as if despairing of him but he made no attempt to fend off the hands which stripped him of the robe he wore.

Sinking back on his heels, Kilroy studied the half-erect sprawl that was Griffin. "I know this sounds ridiculous," he said at last, "but I'd forgotten how beautiful a man's body can be." He traced the curve of the arching rib cage with a fingertip, drifting down to circle the bud of the navel.

"Abstinence has some merit, if not much. For my own part, it's been worth the wait, I think."

"Think?" With mock-aggression, Kilroy leant forward to nuzzle a rose-brown nipple, the edge of his teeth making it stand proud.

The muscles of Griffin's abdomen began to twitch, his cock thickening. "I could be convinced," he allowed. Drawing Kilroy over him, his flat-palmed hands began to move in great swathes down the muscular back, noticing that Kilroy bore all his scars on his front. "You have such delicate skin," he added inconsequentially, his spread hands sliding up the inside of Kilroy's thighs to stroke the vulnerable testicles with the sides of his thumbs.

"Delicate!" All outraged machismo, Kilroy tried to keep his face straight.

"In places," said Griffin, who was now exploring the cleft of the buttocks balanced so lightly over him.

A ripple of anticipation shivered through Kilroy as the pad of Griffin's finger pressed knowingly against his beginning-to-twitch anus.

"Yes?" checked Griffin, rubbing in a circular movement.

"Oh yes," agreed Kilroy, without being certain to what he was agreeing.

"Do you...?" Griffin saw the unopened tube of KY. "Yes, you do."

"Of course." Reaching out, Kilroy retrieved and opened the blue and white box, handing the tube over before rolling on the first condom for Griffin.

Griffin rubbed the colourless gel between his fingers. "To warm it for you," he explained with a wicked grin, before he pressed the first slick digit into Kilroy's body, his eyes never leaving Kilroy's face.

His head drooping, Kilroy's cock rose as clever fingers opened him, tender as with the most fragile of prizes, before they sank deeper. Giving a soft sigh, Kilroy lightly bit Griffin's beginning-to-roughen chin as sensation streamed from his nerve-rich centre. Burgeoning pleasure more than repaid the discomfort as his body readjusted. He made a lush, incoherent sound, seconds before his softened mouth parted on a noiseless cry. Too knowledgeable by half, Griffin's clever fingers rolled across his prostate again. Turning and pressing, they submerged him in wave after wave of sensation as Griffin's other hand pulled on his cock.

"Yesss..." Like an untutored boy, Kilroy came almost immediately. It was some time before he recovered enough to care that he had left his partner behind. His embarrassment was short-lived, Griffin's face displaying an amused satisfaction untouched by mockery.

Taking Kilroy's hands in his own, Griffin shook them gently. "Don't look so tragic," he teased huskily.

"You did that on purpose," Kilroy accused, sifting through Griffin's mahogany-coloured hair; thick, springy and shining with health, it felt like silk between his fingers. Slowly he traced the contours of Griffin's face, delicately avoiding the obviously damaged cheekbone because it was too early in their relationship for such an intimacy.

"It was hardly an accident. You were looking far too smug."

"And you're strung out. No, don't move. It's time I did a little work." Sliding round, Kilroy's tongue flicked out, teasing from the base to the tip of Griffin's cock. Swirling around the straining head, he dipped his tongue to the latex-covered eye while his hand encircled the base.

Griffin bucked, muttering something staccato.

"What did you say?" All innocence, Kilroy brushed the tight-drawn testicles.

"It wasn't complimentary," gasped Griffin, his fingers clenching in the sheet. The gold stud in his ear winked in the light, sweat gleaming on his temples.

"I gathered that much. Chinese?"

"Cantonese," panted Griffin, his thigh muscles bunching as Kilroy rubbed his balls again, taking him to the edge of pain.

"Should I learn?" Kilroy mused, stilling.

"If you carry on like this, very probably. Christ!" Griffin's voice broke, his face twisting as he bucked again.

Realising he had teased for too long, Kilroy settled one arm across the narrow hips to hold Griffin down. "Time to practise your Cantonese," he said huskily, anticipating the act which he loved to perform, finding it both a power trip and a giving. Bending his head, his eyes narrowed to navy slits of concentration, he began to suck in earnest, his throat muscles rippling as he accommodated what he could of Griffin.

Griffin came fast and hard, with the silence of desperation. His expression dazed by the time he slumped, his fingers relaxed where previously they had gripped Kilroy.

"I've bruised you," he said eventually. "I'm sorry." He stroked the reddening flesh with his fingertips.

"I didn't even feel it," shrugged Kilroy. Straightening to sit beside Griffin, his thumb explored the hollows at the base of Griffin's throat. "I didn't intend to tease to the point of pain."

"You're looking smug again," noticed Griffin without rancour. His relaxed face all heavy-lidded eyes, the light turned his body hair to copper, chestnut and silver.

Taking a handful of tissues, Kilroy disposed of Griffin's protection, then his own. Seeing him shudder, he pulled the bedclothes over Griffin. "This time I know it can't be passion making you shiver."

The satisfaction in his voice caused Griffin to give a throaty chuckle as he sank under the blissful warmth of the duvet. "Unbearably smug." While he smiled, his light eyes searched Kilroy's face as if trying to memorize him.

"I made you laugh."

"Amongst other things." There was a hint of puzzlement on Griffin's face now.

"There's no great trick to the other things," dismissed Kilroy, giving a sleek stretch of physical satiation. "But to make someone, particularly you, laugh, now that's a challenge."

"Why me in particular?"

The wariness in the eyes which slid away from him hurt Kilroy, although he could not have said why. Reminding himself of his current role, he touched Griffin's right cheek. "Because for a man with such a delicious laughter crease, you're not happy."

"Not many people are," dismissed Griffin. "Do you take them all to your bed?"

"That's an ugly thing to say."

"It wasn't accidental. But I'm... You're crazy," Griffin amended, an edgy note to his voice.

"I think I must be," Kilroy conceded. "I'm not in the habit of... Never mind."

Griffin rolled onto his side, eyeing Kilroy thoughtfully. "Are you happy?" he asked unexpectedly.

"I am at the moment." Kilroy gave a slanting grin.

No more immune to that charm than when Kilroy had first unleashed it, Griffin shook his head. But he made Kilroy shudder with pleasure when he closed his teeth over the mound at the base of Kilroy's thumb before sucking on the fleshy pad.

Outside, London began to stir with pre-dawn sounds of life, intruding on the sensual web they had woven.

"It's half-past three," discovered Griffin, glancing at his wristwatch.

"Time flies when you're having fun. I'd like to do this again."

"Good," said Griffin, equally direct. "So would I. My time's my own. When are you free?"

"Tomorrow?" Some of the joy within Kilroy died when he remembered that Griffin was his target, and why.

"Fine. Is there some kind of problem? Am I encroaching on family responsibilities?"

Wondering if the man ever missed a thing, Kilroy concealed a prickle of irritation. "I have parents, four sisters, one brother and innumerable nieces and nephews. Fortunately they're spread around the British Isles. We live our own lives. And you?"

"I have no-one." Griffin's hand shook as he lit a cigarette, a shocking despair bleeding from his eyes.

Rolling onto his stomach, Kilroy pillowed his cheek on his folded arms, the expression he had glimpsed on Griffin's face telling him he had hit a nerve. "No family at all?"

"That's right."

"I didn't mean to pry," lied Kilroy stiffly.

"Didn't you? I'm sorry," added Griffin immediately, in a different tone. "It's just..." he took an audible breath and added quickly, "my father was murdered earlier this year and - "

"What?" Kilroy sat up. "God, I'm sorry. What a terrible thing to happen. Where?"

"Hong Kong. He was hacked to death on the orders of the head of a Triad," added Griffin colourlessly.

"Then the man responsible was caught?" probed Kilroy, unable to remember any details from the dossier Langlois had provided.

"No. While it wasn't a secret, proving who was responsible for a court of law is another matter. I have only circumstantial evidence at best."

"Did you try to get more?" Kilroy hated himself when Griffin flinched, the point obviously a raw wound.

"No."

"Oh."

"It's time I left." Sitting on the edge of the mattress, the set of Griffin's shoulders was achingly straight.

"Why?"

"Because you won't want to share your bed with a coward."

Slithering off the bed, Kilroy crouched in front of him, his hands on Griffin's thighs. Silent for a moment, he sensed that compassion would break what contempt would have hardened.

"You poor bastard," he breathed.

Griffin's eyes closed for a moment. "Don't!"

"Can I help? You sound as if you could use some. Or there's always the agency. A good two-thirds of our work is done abroad, although we haven't ever worked in Hong Kong."

There was a wry twist to Griffin's mouth. "Do you have any idea what you'd be getting into?"

"No," Kilroy admitted, resolved to do some investigating on his own account. The dossier had skated over Melville's death, as he suspected Griffin had. From the little he knew on the subject, Triad killings always had a point to them: a warning.

"That's what I thought. No, let the dead rest in peace. There's been enough blood spilled already." Shivering, Griffin unconsciously hugged himself as he got to his feet. Sidestepping Kilroy, he collected his discarded clothes.

"What about you? Are you in any danger?" asked Kilroy, padding after him. He saw the question surprise Griffin.

"Don't worry, you won't be involved."

"I wasn't thinking of that. Are you?"

"No."

Sorely tempted to pursue the matter, Kilroy let wisdom prevail. "You're more than welcome to stay the night."

"No. Thank you." The courtesy was obviously an afterthought. As if aware of how ungracious he had sounded Griffin paused at the bedroom door and gave an apologetic grimace.

"You'd prefer to brave the hordes of screaming girls rather than stay here?" mocked Kilroy, annoyed with himself for ignoring the warning signs and pushing Griffin too far.

"They'll have gone by this time of the morning. May I use your shower?"

"Of course." Pulling on a dressing-gown, Kilroy made some more coffee. He gestured to the mugs on the table when Griffin emerged from the bathroom fully dressed, his hair slicked back where he had not bothered to dry it.

"Not for me, thanks," said Griffin, but the pinched control had left his face, his voice more relaxed but cool.

"I'll ring you at the Mayfair tomorrow," said Kilroy easily, as if unaware of Griffin's withdrawal.

"No, I'll ring you." Griffin's tone was that of a man accustomed to his wishes being complied with.

His hackles rising, Kilroy tried to cover the fact with a bland smile.

Griffin's hands parted. "Sorry. I didn't intend to sound so autocratic."

"Didn't you?"

"Perhaps," Griffin admitted. "Ring me whenever you want."

"Is there any point?" asked Kilroy; he sounded amused rather than aggressive.

Inhaling, Griffin slowly relaxed. "Probably not," he conceded. "But I hope that won't stop you."

Even while he could sense what Griffin was doing, Kilroy was not immune to the pull of Griffin's personality. His grin held an unfeigned warmth. "It won't," he said cheerfully. "Unless you'd like to save me the cost of a phone call and agree to have dinner with me." He found the surprise Griffin was slow to hide odd, given the man's assurance.

"Kit, I..."

"Eight o'clock. I'll meet you by the reception desk at the Mayfair?"

"OK."

"Don't sound too enthusiastic," teased Kilroy, leading the way down to the front door.

"I'll fight against it," Griffin promised, an answering gleam in his own eyes by this time. "Ciao." Brushing Kilroy's mouth briefly with the side of his thumb, he let himself out, walking quickly down the road.

"Arrogant bastard," breathed Kilroy. He was looking forward to their next meeting already.

Chapter Text

FIVE

Half-deafened by the time he and Griffin left the foyer of the Mayfair, Kilroy delayed any attempts at conversation until they were a good hundred yards from the crowd of young girls.

"I told you my flat would be quieter," he said smugly, hailing a taxi.

"While I loathe people who say 'I told you so', the thought did occur to me some time around dawn," admitted Griffin, giving the driver the name of the restaurant he had selected. "I've moved to Brown's Hotel."

"So you could watch me from your window?"

"No, so you could watch me."

Kilroy froze, then gave a weak grin when he realised Griffin was joking. Guilty conscience, he mocked himself, but there was bitterness in the knowledge. Thrusting it aside, he concentrated on Griffin to such good effect that they were amongst the last to leave the restaurant, their conversation having ranged far and wide during the evening. It disconcerted Kilroy to realise how much he enjoyed Griffin's company; they had more in common than he had supposed. While it wasn't necessarily a comfortable discovery, that remained true when he invited Griffin back to his bed. This time there was little speech between them and no fireworks, only the glide of skin on skin and the touch of a hand until inevitably their languor gave way to urgency.

Sated, and feeling strangely attuned to the enigmatic stranger in his bed, Kilroy's contentment soured when he noticed Griffin's remote expression, as if he wished to distance himself from what had taken place. Reminding himself that he was supposed to be working, Kilroy quelled his prickle of irritation at Griffin's moodiness; but it didn't stop him plotting how he could make Griffin lose that formidable control.

As silent in the aftermath as he had been in climax, Griffin's replies to attempts at conversation were monosyllabic. Unsurprised, Kilroy watched him leave thirty minutes later.

oOo

Because in the real world it was no easy matter to gain access to someone's hotel suite to plant audio surveillance equipment, Kilroy had to content himself with ordering a couple of his men to keep Griffin under surveillance until they could obtain it. He could make little of Griffin's activities. Griffin met an acquaintance who, research established, had been a fellow pupil at Bedales school and then spent several days inspecting houses in the Home Counties. Their price range gave Kilroy pause for thought. Either Griffin wasn't as poor as the dossier suggested, or he had a more ambitious plan than kidnapping Josh Cassidy for a mere three million dollars.

oOo

"I wish I had your facility for languages. Fluent Italian would have come in handy a few weeks ago," remarked Kilroy idly.

"My father insisted that I grew up trilingual," said Griffin absently, his brandy glass cradled between his palms. "It developed from there."

"How many languages do you speak?"

"Um..." Griffin began to count, "six fluently. Living in the Far East one needs both Cantonese and Mandarin. And Portuguese is handy for some sections of society in Macao, of course."

"Of course," echoed Kilroy. "With such a choice at your disposal, what language do you make love in? I know you swear in Cantonese."

A reminiscent smile warmed Griffin's face. "Given similar provocation, I'd swear in any language." A glance summoned the bill.

Kilroy beat him to it. "When I invite someone out to dinner, I pay. And you can stop sulking. If it bothers you that much you can make it up to me later. In kind."

Griffin's lazy gaze travelled over him, amusement in his eyes. "I never sulk, and I'm feeling very...kind. What if I don't insist?"

"I'll have to think of a form of bribery to tempt you into my bed."

"Just allow me to follow you out of the restaurant," said Griffin blandly, his gaze lingering on Kilroy's tailored cream slacks as Kilroy rose from his chair.

oOo

"Well, that was an improvement on our first night," said Kilroy, his voice rich with repletion as they lay sprawled in the wrecked bed.

"And on our second," said Griffin, stirring to deposit in a bundle of tissues the condom he wore. Taking another handful from the box by the bedside, he freed Kilroy, cradling his laxness for a moment, regret on his face. "Bloody AIDS," he muttered abruptly.

Taking the wad of tissues from him, Kilroy lobbed them into the wicker waste bin. "At least our generation can remember the joys of sex without latex."

Sinking back on his heels, Griffin gave a lazy stretch, before tossing Kilroy a damp towel with which to clean himself. "You think safe sex is the first thing kids think of?"

"Hardly. I'll get rid of these. Brandy?"

"Please." Griffin stepped through the piles of their clothing to retrieve his cigarettes, shivered, shrugged into a dressing-gown and strolled into the sitting-room.

Even at this early stage in their relationship Kilroy was not surprised to see him crouched in front of the bookshelves. "Every time I find you in here you're going through the poetry books."

"Aren't businessmen supposed to read poetry?" Griffin snapped shut the volume he had been looking at.

"Those I've met don't," replied Kilroy mildly. The dossier on Griffin had made no mention of poetry, either. He wondered how much more it had left out.

"What's that look for?" enquired Griffin, slipping the book back onto the shelves and leaning against the wall.

Cocking his head, Kilroy eyed him solemnly.

"You recline that magnificent pair of buttocks/Against the wall...why tempt / The stone, which is incapable?"

Caught mid-inhalation, Griffin gave a soft choke before, his face alight with amusement, he replied:

"Don't squash your arse against the wall/Them stones are good for bugger all."

"I hadn't heard that one before. Strato?"

Griffin nodded. "Who else? Not that I've ever tried to use it as a chat-up line."

"It's just as well. Besides, I should think you do OK without the dubious help of the poets." Kilroy handed him a balloon glass.

"I prefer the direct approach," Griffin allowed, before he gestured to the shelves. "You've a catholic selection - and space for more."

"I'm in the process of packing most of my belongings. This flat's convenient for the office, but it's never felt like home. Not since I got the house. I'll need the money I'll make from selling this place to help pay for the renovations."

"Is the house a recent acquisition?" The body of the glass cupped in his hand, Griffin inhaled his brandy appreciatively as he allowed the alcohol to warm.

"In a manner of speaking. A great-uncle I'd never even heard of, never mind met, left it to me when he died. I'd never considered living outside London until I saw the place. Nineteen acres, with a view that has to be seen to be believed - a bit like the state of the house."

"It's run down?"

"More like falling down," said Kilroy frankly, switching on the gas fire when he saw Griffin shiver. "But it has character, which is more than I can say for this place. Come and get warm. Thin-blooded colonial."

"Imperialist lackey," retorted Griffin amicably. Hooking a large cushion onto the floor, he sank bonelessly in front of the fire, as if to leach as much warmth from it as possible. Its glow cast intriguing shadows over his face, highlighting the profile that Kilroy had yet to tire of watching.

"I'd probably be offended if I knew what it meant," he said lazily. "How are you enjoying your stay in Britain so far?"

"It's had its moments."

"I'm delighted to hear it. Are you free tomorrow evening?"

"I doubt it. I'll probably be driving down from Cheshire, unless I decide to stay the night," replied Griffin absently.

Hugging his knees to his chest, Griffin propped his chin on the support they offered while he stared at the artificial flames. It would be wiser to make the break with Kilroy now. He wasn't ready for involvement with anyone, least of all a man whose physical allure was like a magnet and in whose company he found it disconcertingly easy to relax. Quite why that should be so was a mystery: Kit wasn't the most skilled or inventive lover he had enjoyed over the years, or the most witty or stimulating companion. But he was dangerously addictive and instinct warned that he wouldn't have the sense to keep things light. Griffin didn't want to hurt him, or to make promises he couldn't keep.

"I should leave. I've got an early start tomorrow," he announced, making no attempt to move.

"If you change your mind you're welcome to drop in."

Griffin glanced up, his resistance dissolving when he saw the droop to the gorgeous mouth he had resisted tasting because he was unwilling to experience that intimacy with a casual partner.

"On the other hand, if my host was kind enough to offer me a bed for the night..." he heard himself say.

Kilroy joined him on the rug. "Traditionalist. When was the last time you made love in front of a fire?"

"With or without draughts whistling under the door?" asked Griffin, but he hooked an arm around Kilroy's strong neck, drawing Kilroy down to him. "Optimism triumphing over experience again," he murmured as they lay together, exchanging languid caresses for no better reason than the pleasure of touch.

"James?" Gaining no immediate reply, Kilroy added, "Jim?"

Griffin opened one eye. "Try again," he invited. "On second thoughts, don't. What do you want?"

Leaning over him, Kilroy searched the relaxed face, his mouth hovering above Griffin's. Taking silence for consent, he bent his head. Slowly, and with all his considerable expertise, he kissed that delectable mouth, his tongue coaxing the lips apart. For a moment Griffin tensed; then, as if unable to resist, his mouth relaxed, lips responding of their own volition. Their tongues began to flirt, then explore, unhurried in the aftermath of sex.

Eventually Kilroy wriggled, winced and withdrew from the embrace he had initiated. "The fire's burning me," he exclaimed, rubbing his reddened flank.

"Only the fire?" teased Griffin, his hand covering that which Kilroy had rested on his belly. "Will you fuck me tomorrow?" he added, his eyes on the ceiling.

That the last thing he had expected to hear, Kilroy's jaw dropped. "I..." He made a fast recovery, instinct answering for him. "Yes. Now, if you like."

Amusement banished the drugged repletion on Griffin's face. "You English. You brag so beautifully. I'm tempted to give you a challenge you can't rise to." He stroked Kilroy's lax penis.

"But think of the damage you might do to my confidence. Tomorrow would be better," Kilroy allowed.

"I'm sure it would."

"What's with this 'you English'? Aren't you?"

"Only half, and not by inclination."

"What's wrong with the English?"

"Virtually everything. Their most infuriating trait is the fact that beneath an Englishman's self-deprecating manner lies a conviction of superiority, if not actual perfection."

"I've never been accused of self-deprecation before," mused Kilroy.

"That I can believe," said Griffin with feeling.

"Are you suggesting I'm less than perfect?"

Catching the light, Kilroy's eyes were of a blue so deep a man could drown in them. Griffin found himself in the rare position of having to struggle to concentrate. "Time will tell," he said weakly.

Abruptly remembering what he was supposed to be here for, Kilroy obliquely slid the conversation back to Griffin. "From what you've said you're more English than I am. I've got healthy mongrel blood fizzing through my veins. Or a mixture, anyway - Irish, Scottish, English and Polish. Granny was nippy on a bike."

"Good for your granny."

"So what do you regard yourself as, if not English?"

Griffin gave him a look of surprise. "I've never thought about it. While I'm half-Italian, I hold a British passport. So much of my life has been spent travelling that the question's never seemed important."

Kilroy's expression soured.

"You disapprove," noted Griffin.

Kilroy did not try to deny the obvious. "Not everyone can afford to be so blasé about their nationality. For some it's literally a matter of life and death."

"Given the position ninety-five per cent of the Chinese community in Hong Kong are going to find themselves by nineteen ninety-seven, courtesy of the British Government, I hardly need reminding," said Griffin, acidly unamused.

"Why should you care?" asked Kilroy with deliberate provocation.

"Why shouldn't I?" countered Griffin. Getting to his feet, his hands dug into the pockets of the dressing-gown, drawing the fabric tight against his rump.

"I don't know."

"It's a strange time to choose for a conversation about expediency."

"Expediency?" Kilroy sat up. "Are we still talking about Hong Kong?"

"What else is there?" His voice clipped, Griffin's expression was guarded as he turned.

"You. Me. The fact you've lived and worked in the Colony. I haven't. How big a bogeyman is communist China?"

"After Tiananmen Square? There weren't any problems with costiveness in the Chinese business community once the news broke."

They talked for more than two hours.

"You should have been a politician," said Kilroy, disconcerted by Griffin's passionate involvement with the Colony. Griffin was more than well-informed but then he moved in circles frequented by the power-makers. Money talks, he reminded himself, but his cynicism was tempered now.

"That can't be intended for a compliment."

"Oddly enough, it was. More politicians with your commitment to principle rather than party line and I might start voting again. You care deeply about the future of Hong Kong."

"The people more than the place. What might suit China wouldn't suit the capitalist paradise on earth, or her people. But that's no excuse for lecturing you. You must have been bored to death."

Experienced in reading people, Kilroy was learning that he needed to watch Griffin's eyes if he wanted to gauge his true feelings. "I don't think you could bore me."

Disarmed, Griffin stared at him. "Kit, you're - "

" - keeping you awake," Kilroy interrupted quickly. "I'll put the alarm on as you have to make an early start."

Griffin got to his feet. "Not on my account. As I'll need to change before I set off, it makes sense for me to spend the rest of the night at Brown's. I won't be long." There was open relief in his voice at the thought of escaping an intimacy he had not sought. As good as his word, he showered and dressed in under ten minutes.

"This is ridiculous," said Kilroy with frustration as he followed Griffin down the stairs.

"The hotel's two minutes away. Hardly an excessive distance to travel," Griffin pointed out, disconcerted to realise he did not want to leave.

"No. Have a good trip to wherever it is," mumbled Kilroy, swallowing a yawn.

Griffin looked apologetic. "I keep forgetting you're not a man of leisure like myself."

"No problem," said Kilroy easily but another yawn betrayed him.

Griffin gave him a quick kiss. While no more than a brush of lip against lip, it was more than Kilroy had expected given Griffin's retreat.

"I'll give you a ring when I get back," Griffin announced, turning away.

"No," said Kilroy wickedly, "I'll ring you."

It took Griffin a moment to place the reference. "Fine. Only how will you know when that will be?" he asked, his eyes wide and innocent.

"Smart-arse. OK, you ring me." Kilroy took encouragement from the fact that Griffin's hand continued to hover on the door handle.

"I...never mind. Take care," added Griffin with a trace of awkwardness, and then he was gone.

Staring after the retreating figure, Griffin's footsteps echoing on the pavement in the silence, Kilroy decided that an investigation of Henri Langlois and Charlie Cassidy would not go amiss. While not naive enough to be converted overnight, he was finding it increasingly difficult to reconcile the complexity of James Griffin with the profile of the callous dilettante presented in Langlois' report.

Chapter Text

SIX

To Kilroy's surprise, Griffin rang him within ten minutes of returning to his hotel after his trip north. Having juggled assignments to ensure he remained in London, Kilroy was free. At his suggestion they dined in, on spaghetti and everything he could find to throw in the sauce. While Griffin proved dexterous enough at chopping vegetables, that was obviously the sum of his domestic expertise, even peeling them first an unfamiliar concept.

"Thinking about it, the last thing I should feed you is shop-bought pasta," Kilroy remarked, as he poured them both another glass of the full-bodied wine.

"Why?" mumbled Griffin, his mouth full. "This is fine." He twirled his fork expertly.

"You're half-Italian. Coals to Newcastle."

"Given that I've visited Italy exactly three times, no. Though there are plenty of egg or rice based pastas in Chinese cooking. Do you often cook for yourself?"

"It's that or eat out. Mainly ready-prepared stuff though. Or steaks. Pasta. Nothing complicated."

Having contrived to grate a quantity of his thumb along with the lump of cheese he had been handed, Griffin gave him a look of respect, but forbore to comment.

"How was your business trip?" asked Kilroy, wondering if there was any sinister reason why Griffin never shared the details of his activities while they were apart.

"Oh, that. A complete waste of time. God, I've eaten too much," sighed Griffin, as he sat back in his chair.

"It's the first time I've seen you display a hearty appetite."

Griffin's eyebrows rose. "I seem to remember a couple of occasions."

"I was talking about food," said Kilroy, acknowledging Griffin's sultry appraisal with a grin. "We'll finish this bottle before we explore your other appetites. After we've tossed to see who does the washing-up," he added, having decided he had waited on Griffin for long enough.

"Washing-up?" Griffin looked disillusioned.

"That right. Heads or tails?"

"Er, tails," said Griffin, trying to remember how many years it had been. A half-term holiday in Devon came to mind, his eleven-year-old self worrying that he would reveal his lack of experience, which inevitably he had.

"It's heads. Tough luck. The sink's behind you."

"Are you just going to sit there and watch?" asked Griffin indignantly, suspecting that criticism of his technique would swiftly follow.

"That's right. The washing-up liquid's in the cupboard under the sink. The view's great from here," Kilroy added, as Griffin bent to investigate.

"But I'll have my back to - I must be slowing down."

"It's probably all the food you ate," said Kilroy unkindly, careful not to comment when bubbles frothed after Griffin's over-generous application of washing-up liquid.

Contenting himself with giving Kilroy a dark look, Griffin inexpertly started to clear away. Talking about the repairs to Kilroy's car and the sports club Griffin had joined, they spent the rest of the evening playing backgammon.

"You like to win, don't you," remarked Kilroy, when Griffin emerged from the bathroom.

"There's no point in coming second." Griffin blinked, then gave a wry grin of some charm. "I sound just like my father."

"Is it a philosophy you share?" asked Kilroy curiously.

Griffin thought about it as he drained the glass of wine he had brought into the bedroom earlier. "That tastes disgusting. I should have known better after cleaning my teeth."

Kilroy gave him a shrewd look. "You avoided the question very neatly."

"Obviously not neatly enough. Yes, I suppose I do. I'd rather lead than follow and I'm certainly competitive. I like to win."

"By fair means or foul?" Kilroy made a joke of it.

"Whatever it takes," responded Griffin instantly, before he shook his head. "No. Though it depends on your definition of what's 'fair'. There's no point in cheating yourself, it defeats the object. I usually win."

"You're an arrogant bastard, aren't you," smiled Kilroy, tugging him down onto the bed.

"Sometimes. But there are times when I've found it a positive pleasure to come second."

"Planning to test the theory, are you?"

"That's right. On you," added Griffin, leaning across to kiss him.

Kilroy ducked and the mock battle commenced. It culminated in the ruin of the bed, Kilroy face down in the pillows, the hard probe of Griffin's erection pressing against the cleft of his buttocks.

"Trust me," Griffin murmured, reaching for a condom.

Knowing he wasn't ready for this, Kilroy's rump was taut with tension. "To do what?" he muttered almost inaudibly, his jaw clenched against the urge to free himself by whatever amount of force it took.

Strong thumbs began to massage the nape of his neck. "I never come where I'm not invited. Relax." His weight taken on his knees as he balanced over the prone man, Griffin nuzzled Kilroy's ear before his hands began to knead tight shoulder muscles.

Kilroy's head turned as he caught an unfamiliar fragrance and felt the slickness of oil on his skin. "That smells expensive."

"More to the point, do you like it?"

"You know bloody well I do. Yeah, a bit lower," Kilroy encouraged, almost purring as Griffin's hands continued to work their magic.

By the time Griffin settled over him again, Kilroy understood what Griffin intended. All he had to do was enjoy the takeover as Griffin began fucking his cleft while manipulating first his testicles, then his cock. It had been a long time since Kilroy had been made so aware of another's strength, and his own vulnerability. The illusion of helplessness was delicious, the necessity of choice taken from him.

"How did you know what I needed?" Kilroy asked lethargically, making no attempt to move.

"Instinct," murmured Griffin, nuzzling his ear lobe. "And experience. Sometimes it's a pleasure to control, at others I prefer to be controlled. I presumed you'd voice any objections. I've always thought men have the best of both worlds."

"But you're bisexual," said Kilroy unguardedly.

"As it happens, I am. But how did you know?" asked Griffin, releasing him.

Half-turning, Kilroy flicked the tip of Griffin's nose with his finger and grinned to cover the fact he had come close to betraying himself. "By the expression in your eyes when something gorgeous and female goes by. The mental note that says 'later'."

Griffin's expression hardened. "I don't juggle bedmates."

"I'm not accusing you of that. We've both eyed attractive blokes when we've been out, consciously or not. Where's the harm - so long as it goes no further." Kilroy began to put the bed to rights.

Obviously unaware of what he was doing, Griffin slid under the covers, punching a pillow into shape before leaning back and lighting a cigarette. "Was that a warning?"

"You're in a prickly mood. No. When we first met you said you didn't fuck around. Until the contrary is proved, I believe you."

Griffin gave him a sceptical look. "Really?"

Kilroy gave an upraised knee a gentle shove. "Yes, really. Stop looking at me like that, you'll give me a complex."

Griffin gave an eloquent snort but relaxed as he watched Kilroy get into bed.

"If you're staying the night, could you bear it if I open the window?" asked Kilroy, who shut them as a matter of course when Griffin was with him. Evenings he regarded as pleasantly warm left Griffin with chattering teeth and it would have taken a harder heart than he possessed to ignore the fact.

"Of course," said Griffin. Stubbing out his cigarette, he got out of bed to open the window. Hesitating at the side of the bed, he shivered as a thin breeze eddied through the room.

"Get back under the covers and stop looking pathetic," commanded Kilroy, raising the duvet. "I'll have to buy you some longjohns."

"What are they?" asked Griffin with suspicion, plastering himself against Kilroy's back.

Kilroy flinched as icy hands burrowed between his thighs for warmth. "Why not use your own balls for a hot-water bottle?" he asked plaintively.

"It's more fun to tickle yours. What are longjohns?"

"Ankle-length woollen underpants."

There was an appalled silence. "I'd rather freeze," said Griffin with conviction.

oOo

Waking, it was a moment before Griffin placed his surroundings, or who it was pressed against him. Peering at the muscular forearm resting on his stomach, the curled fingers lax in sleep, he gave a faint sigh, then a resigned smile. Sunlight seeped through the slats of the blinds and he glanced casually at his watch, then checked the time again. Seven hours undisturbed sleep was an unheard of luxury. Gently sliding out of bed, reluctant to disturb Kilroy, he wandered into the bathroom. Returning for his cigarettes some time later, he saw Kilroy stir, still dazed from sleep.

"James?" Kilroy's short hair was sticking up in unruly tufts, his chin blue-shadowed.

Griffin subdued the impulse to kiss him. "Sorry if I woke you. May I use your phone? My plane's gone without me and I should notify the company I was supposed to be visiting in Newcastle."

"You overslept?"

"We both did. Given that we didn't leave Ronnie Scott's until god knows when, it's hardly surprising."

"There are phones in the study or sitting-room." Kilroy gestured vaguely and subsided again.

Grinning with all the superiority of one who had a five minute head start on consciousness, Griffin left him to meet the new day in whatever manner suited him best. His phone call made, his craving for caffeine was such that he braved the small, neat kitchen. Unaccustomed to domesticity even on a minor scale, the room looked like a disaster area by the time he returned, mugs in hand.

"You're a mind-reader." Drinking with gratitude the coffee made for him, Kilroy began to look more awake. "Will missing that meeting cause you any problems?"

"None," said Griffin with cheerful unconcern.

"Then we could spend the day together. Did you see any signs of food in the kitchen?"

"Not even milk, which is why your coffee's black." Making himself comfortable on the window-seat, his knees propped under his chin, Griffin lit a cigarette. Slit-eyed as he raised his face to the warmth of the September sun, he watched contentedly as Kilroy wandered over to join him.

"It's lucky we can't be overlooked," remarked Kilroy, perching on a corner of the window-seat.

"At least I'm dressed."

"That's easily remedied," said Kilroy, unfastening the ties at Griffin's waist. "How would you feel about a late lunch?"

Opening a side window to flick his cigarette out, Griffin quickly closed it and gave the proposition a couple of seconds' thought. "If I'm allowed to finish my coffee first I could probably be talked into it," he allowed.

 

The ringing telephone woke them in time to realise that the majority of restaurants would have finished serving lunch. Tripping over the sheet, Kilroy hurried from the room while Griffin disappeared to take a much-needed shower.

"Is there a problem at the agency?" he asked on his return, finding Kilroy staring pensively out of the window.

"There could be. I'm waiting for a call from Bruges." Kilroy rubbed his stubble-darkened jaw. "Would you mind if I took it in the other room? Given the nature of our work we have to ensure client confidentiality. It isn't a reflection on you. I'm sorry."

"For what?" said Griffin easily. The relief on Kilroy's face made him wonder about Kit's previous lovers. "Don't forget, hoteliers are accustomed to keeping secrets."

"Musical beds?" asked Kilroy, his expression lightening.

"More unsavoury habits than that. Thankfully they were the managers' problem, not mine. I don't have the patience to handle them," said Griffin, fully dressed by this time. Despite the fact his clothes had lain strewn over the floor all night, he displayed none of the crumpled morning-after-the-night-before look which was always Kilroy's fate.

"You're leaving?"

"You need privacy and I could do with a shave and change of clothes. I should make some calls myself. I'll be gone in a couple of minutes."

"That's what worries me."

Slicking back his wet hair and looking as elegant as if he had spent an hour readying himself, Griffin gave him a look of surprise.

"That you won't be back," explained Kilroy. "Take this."

Reacting on instinct, Griffin caught the solid Chubb key tossed at him. Turning it between his fingers, he gazed at Kilroy.

"I'd like you to have it," said Kilroy into the silence.

It disconcerted Griffin to realise how much he wanted to keep the key of a stranger. "You don't know the first thing about me," he protested, uneasy that Kilroy was fast becoming an accepted part of his life.

"You'd be surprised. You're hardly likely to walk off with the silver, are you," added Kilroy flippantly. "You're welcome to stay here rather than at your hotel. Either this business will be settled in an hour or so, or I'll be flying out to Belgium. Whatever happens, I'd like to see you again. The only thing is, I can never predict how long a case will take. Also, I can be called away at a moment's notice. Not an ideal arrangement, I know. Would you be able to put up with it?"

"Of course. But you're going too fast. I'm not sure - "

"You don't want to see me again."

"I didn't say that. Damn it, where's the rush? We hardly know each other."

Half-turning, Kilroy eyed him steadily, then raised one eyebrow. "I wouldn't say that. Would you?"

"Sex isn't knowledge."

"I didn't suggest it was," said Kilroy, waiting Griffin out with ease.

"Oh, fuck it," muttered Griffin, stuffing the key in his pocket. "Satisfied? But I'm staying at Brown's."

Kilroy's mouth began to twitch. "That sounded like a declaration of war."

Feeling cornered, Griffin gave him an irritable look. "You're impossible."

"No, I just don't want us to be ships who pass in the night. I might not know you very well, but what I know, I like."

"Yeah." Griffin ran a hand through his hair, rubbed his nose and gave Kilroy an oddly helpless look. "Me, too," he muttered, feeling gauche and off-balance. "I thought the British were supposed to be reserved."

"Don't you mean tight-arsed?"

"That remains to be seen. We never did get round to finding out." Griffin eyed Kilroy with unmistakable speculation.

"Dinner tonight?"

Griffin pursed his lips. "After dinner might be a more appropriate time."

Kilroy grinned. "Believe it. I'll - " The ringing phone interrupted him.

"I hope it's good news. I'll let myself out. I have a key," Griffin reminded him.

"So you do."

"Smug bastard," said Griffin amicably, before he ran down the steep stairs, closing the front door behind him.

Chapter Text

SEVEN

Kilroy turned away from reception, knowing he had no right to feel disappointed because Griffin had gone out for the evening, only to see his quarry entering the hotel. A smile of pleasure lit his face.

"I see you've finally got round to buying some warmer clothes," he remarked. Taking three of the bags from the porter, he handed them to Griffin, carrying the rest himself.

"Thank you," said Griffin acidly, but heading for the stairs, he mellowed enough to give Kilroy a warm smile. "Coming up?" It was clearly a rhetorical question as he was already climbing the stairs.

"To see your etchings?"

"You can see anything you like," said Griffin generously. "I wasn't expecting you back from Bruges until the end of the week."

"Annie rang you?"

"She did more than that," said Griffin, looking amused. "She called in to give me the message personally. Don't panic, she was very discreet when she checked me out."

"It was you I was worrying about," retorted Kilroy smartly.

"You're a rotten liar. As it happens, we had lunch together. Don't look so suspicious, she told me what a wonderful man you are, and I wondered about her sanity. Things went well, didn't they?" Griffin added, still taking the stairs two at a time by the third floor.

"Very. Case solved."

"Due to natural genius on your part, or luck?" enquired Griffin, handing Kilroy his bags while he fished for his key card.

"Cynic. The Sherlock Holmes of industrial espionage, that's me."

"Yes?"

"Well, no, as it happens. Given that the chief suspect did a runner yesterday, even I couldn't get it wrong," Kilroy admitted cheerfully. "But the client's happy and I've taken the rest of the week off."

"Good, then you can come house-hunting with me. I haven't got to grips with damp courses and cesspits yet."

Shedding carrier bags with a fine disregard for the possible fragility of the contents, Kilroy began to stalk Griffin. "Has anyone ever told you that your chat-up line leaves a lot to be desired?" He nudged Griffin in the direction of an open door.

"You'll find the bed more comfortable than the bath," said Griffin, pushing him gently in the opposite direction.

"You know we'll be committing an illegal act in a public place?" said Kilroy, as they began to undress one another.

"It's all right," Griffin reassured him, "I won't inform on you."

"I just thought I'd mention it," said Kilroy with a dignity which was marred by the fact he was wearing only his socks by this time.

Griffin gave a patient sigh. "And you complained about my chat-up line. In case you've forgotten, I was in the hotel business for seventeen years. While in Hong Kong sex between males used to be punishable by a prison sentence ranging from two years to life, hoteliers have always been more preoccupied with payment of their bills than the sex lives of their guests."

Balanced on one leg as he pulled off his second sock, Kilroy made a less than heroic figure. "Prison?"

"We can save the discussion on the laws regarding homosexuality for later," said Griffin firmly, toppling an off-balance Kilroy onto the bed and following him down.

Palming Griffin's buttocks as Griffin straddled him, Kilroy gave a sigh of sheer contentment. "Come on then, let's see what you've got," he encouraged.

 

"I like your etchings," murmured Kilroy, threading his fingers through the luxuriance of hair at Griffin's groin.

One leg bent, his forearm resting on his knee, Griffin savoured a mouthful of brandy. "You're impossible. Particularly if you're hoping I'm going to achieve another erection tonight. I'm forty, not fourteen." His eyes darkened in a rapid change of mood. "I'm too old for you."

"Given that you're four years older than me, you're hardly Methuselah."

Griffin's impatient expression made it plain he had not been seeking any glib reassurance. "Why did you pick me up that first night?" he asked, reaching for a cigarette.

Kilroy lit it for him. Propped on one elbow, he openly studied Griffin, as if trying to learn him pore by pore. "Apart from the fact I find you one of the most attractive men I've met?"

"I'm forty," Griffin repeated irritably.

"And as sexy as hell. Don't pretend you don't know it either. I might ask you the same question, except that common sense tells me you probably fancied me as much as I fancied you. At least I hope that's why."

"Of course I did."

"Well, then."

"You don't enjoy younger flesh?"

Kilroy kissed his shoulder. "There are far better things to do than have a mid-life crisis. Besides, you're not old enough."

"I'm serious," said Griffin with asperity. "Why me and not the barman at the club?"

"Who?" Kilroy's puzzlement was unfeigned until he traced the reference. "Oh, him. He must have been all of nineteen. And yes, now that you mention it, he was attractive - and available. Of course I like young flesh. Who doesn't? But at thirty-six I'm tired of one-night stands. I prefer men to boys. Fortunately I still have the luxury of choice. And don't try and tell me you don't," he added with asperity.

"Perhaps," Griffin allowed with a small smile, the receipt of compliments obviously no novelty. Stubbing out his half-smoked cigarette, with a careful finger he traced the scars which ran down Kilroy's chest. "Why men in favour of boys?"

"Because I prefer quality to quantity in my sex. Though both would be best," Kilroy admitted, a wry quirk to his mouth. "My last lover was twenty. Lust apart, would you care to guess how much we had in common? My job was one of the many things he couldn't understand about me. Much as it pains me to admit it, there's more to life than fucking, even if it's not all as much fun. Call me unrealistic, but I haven't given up hope of meeting someone who wants what I want. And if I'd known I was going to be cross-examined, I'd've left you in that bloody club," he added, rolling away from those assessing eyes.

Griffin rubbed the back of Kilroy's neck. "It was a stupid question on my part. I always talk too much after love."

"Not to me you don't," snapped Kilroy, hunching his shoulders.

This time Griffin kissed his neck. Gaining no response, he sighed, withdrew and said, "What do you want to know?"

Kilroy rolled onto his back. "Don't sound so resigned. Virtually everything. The most important thing at the moment is, do you snore?"

"Certainly not," said Griffin indignantly. "Anyway, you already know that."

"I might have fallen asleep before you started."

"You're infuriating."

"Don't you mean irresistible?"

"I know exactly what I meant. Irrepressible might have been a better choice of word."

"Not always." Kilroy began to wonder what image Griffin had of him. "Who'd want to be nothing but a court jester?"

His smile curiously gentle, Griffin began to trace with his mouth the scars which covered Kilroy's torso.

Embarrassed, Kilroy tensed and tried to ease away from the contact. "That isn't what I meant."

"I know. But I didn't want to be accused of cross-examining you again," said Griffin with a spurious meekness.

"Pull the other one. I was caught on the edge of an explosion while I was working undercover in Belfast," said Kilroy shortly.

"For the Army?"

"In a manner of speaking. I resigned four months later. It was that or be transferred to a new regiment and a desk job until I could be trusted not to crack up on the job." Kilroy was visibly erecting fences around himself, this not the course he had envisaged the conversation taking.

Seemingly oblivious to warning signals, Griffin not only remained in close contact, but renewed his caresses, his fingertips drifting from one silvery track to another, skimming over the clear sign of skin grafts until his hand came to rest over Kilroy's heart.

"Scars turn you on, do they?" said Kilroy in harsh rejection, sitting up.

Griffin didn't even blink. "They're preferable to dead," he said matter-of-factly. "Did you receive any counselling before you left the Army?"

If he had made the mistake of displaying any sympathy Kilroy would have walked out; as it was, his tone was scathing. "From the Army? That's classified information."

"No, it's bollocks. Did you?"

"Christ, don't you ever give up!" Kilroy left the bed, unconsciously rubbing his torso.

Sinking back onto his heels, Griffin said nothing. It was the inexorable silence which defeated Kilroy.

"I was debriefed in depth. It was a long time ago."

"Not that long. From the look of you I'd say about seven years."

"I was right, scars do turn you on." Kilroy shrugged into Griffin's bathrobe, but there was more resignation than anger in his voice. "Just over nine years," he added.

"Counselling might have helped. Did you ever consider it?"

"No I bloody didn't! Christ, that was the last thing I wanted. The only thing which helps is time. It was sheer fluke that I survived. By rights I shouldn't have, but Mark went in first. There was a trembler device on the door. He took the full force of the blast. Fuck, you're doing it to me again. And will you say something instead of kneeling there looking like the bloody Sphinx!"

"Mark was unlucky. It's pointless to feel guilt for something that wasn't your fault."

"Thank you, Dr Freud. I don't believe in luck," Kilroy added, needing to soften his response, without quite knowing why.

"Really?" Griffin looked no more than curious.

"Well, maybe. Sometimes. But if I thought everything was foreordained I'd cut my throat. What would be the point in living? How do you do this to me?" Kilroy added in a goaded tone as he sank onto the edge of the bed. "I'm not in the habit of running off at the mouth and yet you have me... I hadn't thought about this," he gestured to himself, "for years. And if it's all the same to you I'd like to keep it - "

" - that way," completed Griffin without rancour.

"You know too bloody much by half," muttered Kilroy, feeling naked after his revelations.

"No, but I understand guilt."

Shooting him a quick glance, Kilroy's self-protective belligerence faded. "Yeah. It's a bugger, isn't it."

"There are feelings I enjoy more," Griffin conceded, rising from the bed to pull on another bathrobe. Catching Kilroy's eye, he gave a wry grimace. "You've got to give credit where it's due, I'm hell on wheels when it comes to the afterglow."

Taken by surprise, Kilroy began to laugh. "It's been different. But I don't see why you should claim all the credit. Are you hungry?" he added, surprised to realise he was starving.

"Very. And that's easily rectified. Sandwiches or the full works? Room service can do either if I order before ten."

"The full works. If you don't want me to leave."

Having moved to the phone, Griffin turned to look at him. "If I did, you'd be the first one I'd tell."

The bewitching smile which accompanied Griffin's promise caused Kilroy's breath to catch, the warmth of the man was as palpable as the sun on a golden day in June. Kilroy could understand why Griffin didn't smile like that often; he'd be fighting them off in droves. But it was disconcerting to realise how much he liked this man.

Feeling uneasy the following morning and telling himself it was because of his lack of progress in the investigation, Kilroy stepped up surveillance on Griffin.

 

By the end of the week the suite was bugged, the plugs the hotel used replaced by those containing voice-sensitive microphones.

A complication arising from the audio surveillance occurred to Kilroy - fortunately in time to preserve his sanity - when he realised he was likely to star in the recordings. Glad he had allocated what he called the Langlois case to the two least curious men in the agency, he ensured that he alone had the chore of listening to the tapes. He had never cared for public performances in club land and he wasn't about to make an exception for the agency, Henri Langlois or anyone else.

His first stay in Griffin's suite at Brown's after it had been bugged was uneasy, Kilroy severely inhibited by the fact he knew he would have to listen to his own performance the following morning. Worse, the voice-sensitive microphones could not discriminate between coherent speech and the barely audible sounds made at climax, never mind the basic inanities which could ensue on the way to the peak. What might have seemed witty or even coherent in lust could make acutely embarrassing listening in the cold light of satiation.

Too experienced not to sense something wrong, Griffin set his brandy glass down. "Thanks for dinner. But it's getting late and we both have a full day ahead of us."

"You don't want to...?" Miserably self-conscious, and unaccustomed to the feeling, Kilroy trailed off into silence.

"Not tonight. You look as if you've developed a headache." There was a distinct edge to Griffin's voice by now. Given the expectations Kilroy had raised up to the moment they entered the hotel suite, it was understandable.

Kilroy straightened in his seat. "You think I'm trying to give you the brush-off?"

"I don't know. Are you?" Griffin's face gave nothing away.

"Would you care?" retorted Kilroy unguardedly, frustration on several levels getting the better of him. "I've been wearing myself out in a non-existent race, haven't I. You're not interested in anything more than a few fucks and forgets."

Griffin's eyes narrowed in warning.

"Oh, forget it," snapped Kilroy angrily. "Let's call it a day. I know when I'm beaten. You were too subtle for me, you see. I'm a simple soul, I need things explained in words of one syllable. You're not ready for a relationship."

Griffin remained propped against the wall, one hand in the pocket of his cashmere slacks as he regarded Kilroy thoughtfully. "Maybe I'm not," he said at last, "but I don't see why I should allow myself to be manipulated into feeling I should apologise for the fact."

"You can't hide for ever. I won't be the only person to realise you can't hack a real relationship. Sex only gives the illusion of intimacy, a bit like you."

"Oh god, you've been reading the problem pages again." The resignation in Griffin's voice dragged an involuntary choke of laughter from Kilroy, who had expected fireworks.

"Maybe so, but I'm not going to let you change the subject," he said doggedly.

"I'll be interested to hear how you think you can stop me," said Griffin, abruptly unamused.

They glared impotently at each other before Griffin shrugged. "I'd be sorry if it ended here," he admitted.

Kilroy blinked, wondering if he had heard correctly. "You would?" he said weakly, unconscious of the pleased smile he was wearing.

"Damn," sighed Griffin, recognising his mistake.

"So it's not a one-horse race."

"It's not a race at all," snapped Griffin, irritable because he had committed himself more than he had intended.

"No," agreed Kilroy, looking appallingly smug.

Griffin stalked over to where he sat. "Are you trying to wind me up on purpose, or does it come naturally? The moment we arrived here you started behaving like a Victorian maiden waiting to shriek 'rape' at the first opportunity."

"I know," admitted Kilroy sheepishly. "Could you stop looming over me, you'll give me a complex."

"I know what I'd like to give you," muttered Griffin, sorely tried. His tumescence was clearly outlined beneath his slacks.

"Yeah?" Kilroy's expression brightened. "OK, you've talked me into it." Inhibitions forgotten, he settled his palm where he judged it might be appreciated most.

Griffin's breath hissed inward before he took hold of Kilroy's wrist and hauled him upright. "Are you in any hurry?"

"None at all," said Kilroy cheerfully, revelling in the effect he was having, Griffin's breathing was audibly disorganised.

"You will be," Griffin promised him. "Bed."

Kilroy went without a murmur. Pinned by Griffin's weight, his head clamped in position by a two-handed grasp, he made no attempt to match or resist the assertive aggression in the bruising kiss. Closing his eyes, he tensed as he fought his instinctive reaction to the violent assault, prepared, for now, to give Griffin the benefit of the doubt.

"Damn!" muttered Griffin, straightening. "I didn't intend that."

"What?" asked Kilroy, his lips throbbing from the savagery of Griffin's kiss.

"There's a difference between sport and violence," said Griffin flatly, his gesture of negation making his preference clear.

"I know." Kilroy resisted the urge to touch a sore spot at the corner of his mouth.

"From experience?" asked Griffin, in a gentler tone.

"Only the once."

Griffin nodded. "Me, too." Leaning down, he licked apologetically at the corner of Kilroy's mouth, murmuring when Kilroy locked his arms around him, drawing their lower bodies together.

"That the best you can do, is it?" teased Kilroy.

Griffin's mouth hovered, their breath mingling, before he kissed Kilroy again, the fingers of one hand curling around the top of Kilroy's skull. Kilroy gave himself up to the embrace without thought or qualm.

That night, while they forgot restraint, battling as if to achieve the impossible and climb inside each other's skin, the passion was mutual.

 

"Don't panic, my face isn't going to fall apart," Griffin promised.

While he sounded more amused than offended, Kilroy gave him a wary look. His flinching withdrawal on discovering that a portion of Griffin's cheekbone moved and felt inhumanely cool, was hardly tactful.

"I just wasn't expecting... You must have taken one hell of a knock," he added, touching the centre of the implant with a gentle finger.

"The surgeons did the best they could. Fortunately I don't remember much about it."

"I bet you did afterwards. That would have been bloody painful. But it suits you."

"I suppose that's a compliment," Griffin murmured, earning himself a light slap on the rump. "You're an idiot," he told Kilroy. "I'm long past the age of having any false vanity."

"Oh, so you just accept the fact you're gorgeous and go from there."

Disconcerted by the expression in Kilroy's smiling eyes, Griffin gave him a gentle push. "I thought you were supposed to be making us some coffee."

"And I thought Italians were supposed to be subtle," mused Kilroy as he reluctantly crawled out of bed.

"I'm a half-breed," Griffin reminded him. "You look worse than I feel. Get back into bed. I'll see to coffee," he added in a long-suffering tone, before he went into the sitting-room.

Making no attempt to dissuade him, Kilroy smiled as he remembered the depredations Griffin had caused to his kitchen and wondered if he could charge Langlois for the broken crockery and burnt out percolator. Duly reminded that Griffin was supposed to be a job, his smile faded.

Chapter Text

EIGHT

Kilroy became adept at skipping long portions of audio tape. The rest told him little more than the surveillance; Griffin was visiting what seemed like every timber merchant and toolmaker in Britain, in between house- hunting and meeting acquaintances from his days at Cambridge and Bedales.

It was, Kilroy supposed sourly, inevitable that public schoolboys would move in the same social circle. They were a diverse bunch of men, whom he disapproved of on principle but whose reputations were no worse than any other random sampling of men. If Griffin had any Machiavellian plans for Josh Cassidy he was taking a long time to get round to them.

Lacking contacts in the Far East, Kilroy hired the services of a detective agency in Hong Kong, seeking information about Melville's death and Griffin's life, together with all press cuttings on the two subjects. His investigation of Henri Langlois, as he had suspected would be the case, did nothing to confirm or deny the Frenchman's allegations against Griffin.

While Kilroy was not convinced Griffin had any plans to kidnap Josh Cassidy, he was certain he was up to something; the only problem lay in establishing what that might be. There was steel beneath the silken sophistication; Kilroy suspected he would make a dangerous enemy. A more pertinent question was how far Griffin might take a grudge against an ex-lover who had spurned him.

oOo

"So much for my plans for an early start," remarked Kilroy as he strolled into the sitting-room, pulling on the jacket to his suit.

"Not guilty," retorted Griffin, glancing round the side of The Guardian. "It was your fault we had a lie-in."

"Point taken," grinned Kilroy, before his nose wrinkled. "What's that funny smell?"

"Drains?" suggested Griffin, pulling a face now it had been drawn to his attention.

"No, it's coming from the kitchen." Directing a look of the darkest suspicion at Griffin, who disappeared back behind his newspaper with a self-conscious twitch, Kilroy braved the other room. The stench increased tenfold when he opened the door.

"The eggs have boiled dry," he announced accusingly when Griffin deigned to appear. Switching off the cooker, Kilroy opened the window and gave his theatrically-shivering companion an unsympathetic look. "It's a wonderful autumn day outside, so pack it in. Fresh air wouldn't be necessary if someone not four feet away from me hadn't burnt breakfast. We were aiming to achieve lightly boiled eggs, not golf balls. What time did you put them on?"

Griffin wore a faintly harassed look. "About half an hour ago, I think. I made sure the water was boiling."

"That's a bit long for four-minute eggs," pointed out Kilroy with restraint.

"So that's what the phra - smell was," amended Griffin, feeling about two inches high. It wasn't easy to cover gaps in your education when you didn't always know what they were; he was reluctant to admit his ignorance. It was impossible to spend any time in Kilroy's company without realising he had a knee-jerk reflex against what he obviously regarded as wealthy parasites. While Griffin intended to work on that, he preferred to act from a position of strength rather than one of total ineptitude.

Busy investigating what else was edible, Kilroy had missed that betrayal. "Not to worry, we didn't have anything to go with them anyway. Put some clothes on and I'll buy you breakfast on the way to work. There's no need to shave."

"The days of designer stubble are over."

"So start a new fashion. You look bloody gorgeous," Kilroy added frankly. "Very après-sex."

"It's hardly surprising in the circumstances." Griffin looked without enthusiasm at his crumpled clothes, which had been discarded in haste the previous evening.

"Here: socks, briefs and a shirt," offered Kilroy, perching on the edge of the bed while Griffin began to dress.

"You wouldn't like a closer view, would you?" asked Griffin acidly, aware he was providing the floor show.

"It's perfect from where I am, thank you. Hurry up. I'm hungry. We're only going round the corner, not the Ritz."

"The Ritz is only round the corner," Griffin pointed out, combing his tangled hair and making a mental note to get it cut.

"You're coming slumming with me instead."

"What's new?"

Uncowed, Kilroy encouraged Griffin down the stairs and out into the sunshine.

Still pulling on his Missoni knitted jacket, Griffin sniffed the air. "It's comparatively warm."

"Don't sound so amazed. You're getting acclimatized, that's all."

"Probably just my arteries clogging up," returned Griffin but he ate almost as much as Kilroy when they sat at a Formica-topped table at the back of a small Italian sandwich bar.

"What are your plans for today?" asked Kilroy idly, over his second mug of coffee.

Griffin wrinkled his nose. "Very dull. Lawyers and bankers all day and a game of squash in the early evening."

Kilroy resigned himself to the fact that the contents of the two meetings would remain a secret; both professions took seriously the philosophy of client confidentiality. "I didn't think you knew many people in London," he said casually, mentally reviewing the names the agency had checked.

"Nor did I until I bumped into Tom in South Molton Street, since when old acquaintances have been crawling out of the woodwork. I've even been pleased to see some of them again. I thought I'd go to see the new Redgrave play tonight. Does it appeal?"

"Is it a comedy?"

"Not so's you'd notice. It's about Isadora Duncan. The dancer," Griffin prompted.

"Ah." Kilroy tried to pin on a look of enthusiasm. From Griffin's grin, he realised it hadn't been a success.

"Point taken. I'll go alone. You were supposed to be rushing to the office to catch up on paperwork," Griffin reminded him dutifully.

"I know. Why do you think I'm still sitting here? Anything's preferable. Do you fancy a drink after the play?"

"Let's make it a meal. Meet me outside the Queen's Theatre at ten-thirty - if that's not too late for you?"

Kilroy directed what was intended to be a crushing look in his direction before agreeing with an eagerness which might have worried him had he paused to register it.

oOo

The following week Kilroy concentrated on reviewing the facts he had collected on Griffin, looking for anything suspicious. Financial and police checks on his contacts were clear and the more he reread Langlois' dossier, the more convinced he became that the most damning elements had been fabricated. The information didn't tie in with the man he was coming to know, or the results of his own enquiries.

If the stakes hadn't been so high he knew he would have already returned the dossier and fee to the Frenchman. Because the safety of a child could rest on his decision, Kilroy transferred the fees due from Langlois to an account in his own name and tried not to wonder how he would pay them. Feeling increasingly uncomfortable with his role as a spy, he decided to wait for the Hong Kong agency's report on Griffin before he made a final decision.

oOo

Kilroy spent Saturday night at Brown's because it was less conspicuous than trying to sneak out in the middle of the night with a guilty look on his face. While the hotel wouldn't care, he did.

"It's only dawning on me slowly that you're a night owl," he remarked, watching Griffin return from the bathroom.

Glancing at the face that was heavy-eyed from lack of sleep, Griffin grimaced. "Unlike you. I must be playing havoc with your work schedule."

"Things are quietish at the moment so I can get away with it. But I function best on about six hours a night."

"I've got used to making do with less. I'll kick you out early next time."

"That wasn't quite what I had in mind," sighed Kilroy. "Can I ask you something?"

"As you'll do it anyway, I may as well be gracious about it."

"Great, when does that act start?"

Griffin tossed his dressing-gown over Kilroy's head.

"Nice. It smells of you," noted Kilroy, rubbing his face against the warm silk before dropping it on the floor.

"That's amazing," said Griffin, getting into bed. "Very profound. What did you want to know?" he added, having learnt that Kilroy never asked the predictable or even the rational questions.

"I was just wondering if I'm pushing you faster than you want to go. Be honest."

Rubbing his nose, Griffin propped himself against a pillow; out of consideration for his non-smoking companion he refrained from lighting up. "I'm used to having more space in my life but I'm not complaining so far. What made you ask?" he added curiously.

"The fact that sometimes you get a hunted look."

"You think so?" Griffin gave him a quizzical grin. "Well, if I get a panic attack, you'll be the first to hear about it. Relax. Oh god, what great thought's struggling to surface now?"

"Will you spend next weekend with me at the house? It's only sixty or so miles away." It had occurred to Kilroy that if this relationship was to work he must let Griffin into all areas of his life - that included his real home. He was reluctant to admit how much he wanted to see Griffin at Whitehaven.

"Yes. That is..."

"Uh huh, it's too late to back out now. Right, that's settled." A scowling face appeared in Kilroy's line of vision.

"You hardly know me."

Kilroy tweaked a rose-brown nipple. "That's what I'm trying to rectify, even if I'm not getting much help from you. Speaking of getting to know you better..." Barely subduing a grin, he fell silent.

"Yes?" said Griffin in wary encouragement, having learnt to mistrust Kilroy's sense of humour.

"It's not very tactful," Kilroy admitted.

"Tact isn't your forte. Why are you looking at me like that?"

"Like what?" asked Kilroy, all innocence. "No, you can't tickle me. James! All right! I'll talk!"

"I know you will," said Griffin, poised to continue his assault if necessary.

"I was just wondering if you'd still like me to fuck you," said Kilroy with spurious meekness. "We never did get round to it."

"Yes," said Griffin without evasion or hesitation. "And I had noticed."

"I'm glad to hear it. In that case, we should get some sleep. Do you want me?"

Griffin's expression answered for him.

Kilroy settled himself more comfortably. "I thought as much. Why didn't you say anything before?"

"I would have got round to it. When the time was right." Griffin switched off the light.

Kilroy gave a snort. "I bet I can imagine at which point. Would I have been in any state to hear you?"

"Only if I've lost my touch," Griffin conceded.

"About tomorrow morning. I reckon we should toss for who has the pleasure of going first. What do you think?"

"First come, first served," said Griffin after a moment's thought.

Groaning, Kilroy rolled onto his stomach. "May the best man win, then." His buttocks received a fleeting caress.

"I will," promised Griffin.

 

 

His face half-obscured by the pillow, Griffin mumbled a sleepy complaint and gave a protesting wriggle before his eyes opened. "Oh god," he groaned with mock horror as he felt Kilroy's erection prod his flank. "You're up so it must be morning. Don't I even get a cigarette first?"

"Not even one last wish," said Kilroy cheerfully. "Though if you need the bathroom..."

"I don't," said Griffin, unwillingly amused.

Kilroy leant across him to reach for the packet of condoms. "This is much healthier than smoking. Environmentally friendly, too."

Griffin's nose wrinkled. "We should have unwrapped them last night. I hate the smell of rubber."

"Pure machine-tested latex, these are. I wish I'd gone for the raspberry-flavoured ones though."

"With spikes on?"

"One horn at a time." Flat-palmed, Kilroy rubbed the tightening muscles visible down Griffin's back. "Hey, I won't deny the obvious but if you don't want this, just say so." His hands rested wistfully over the rise of Griffin's buttocks while he stroked the downy object of his desire with his thumbs.

His cheek on his folded arms, Griffin's head turned. "That isn't the problem. But as it's been over a year since I've been fucked, I'd appreciate your forbearance. How would you like me?"

"Now there's a leading question." Nuzzling the hollow of Griffin's spine, Kilroy parted the small buttocks to expose the clenching muscle. "Let's get you lubed up first."

"Lubed up?" repeated Griffin with disbelief before he began, incongruously, to giggle. "Wonderful expression. This is a delicate mechanism you have here, not a rusting engine. I'll see to it."

"Not likely. It's half the fun."

"True." Relaxing, Griffin curved one leg to ease the pressure on his stirring sex.

Kilroy explored him with his mouth, tasting the sharp bitterness of sleep-slick skin. His tongue made Griffin squirm, the edge of tooth-enamel drawing a soft sound from deep in Griffin's throat as his cock filled. He gasped when a moist tongue stabbed his anus. Exhaling, he offered himself up, his fingers opening and closing over the pillow as the sweet torment continued.

Finding Griffin impossibly tight, Kilroy was careful with him. While he took two fingers with only mild discomfort, the third made him quiver, his clenching hands betraying him.

"James?"

Griffin muttered something succinct into the pillow.

Kilroy's lack of Cantonese notwithstanding, he had no difficulty in understanding the gist of the message. "That's enough for today," he announced, easing his fingers from Griffin's cramping body to massage the small of his spine.

"The fuck it is," said Griffin, turning onto his back. "I'm not a prick-tease."

"I never thought you were."

"No? Well, I doubt if he'd agree with you." Griffin touched Kilroy lightly before he knelt up to enjoy the view. "Extra strong, superfine and an excellent fit. But I'm glad you passed on the spikes. Ribbing, too. It'll give us something to look forward to," he added, reaching for some more lubricant. "I'm ready, he's eager, so let's fuck."

Settling against the mattress, he gave a long stretch before reaching for his own penis. Hand curling around himself, he began a languorous rhythm. Looking up, he gave Kilroy a glance of slanting mischief, wicked as any boy's, but with a man's knowledge besides. A dead man would have responded to that mixture of appraisal and invitation; Kilroy surrendered without a qualm.

"Let me," he said hoarsely.

"Hang on. It's just occurred to me." Griffin sat up in one smooth movement. "Who decided you should go first?" He was so close that his knees brushed Kilroy's inner thighs.

"First come, first served," Kilroy reminded him. His eyes widened when his balls were taken in a firm grasp, the pressure of those skilled fingers threatening rather than delivering pain as yet. "That's not the hold of a gentleman," he said apprehensively, hoping he wouldn't sneeze. This was a street-fighter's hold.

Green eyes laughed at him but there was a fleeting menace behind the warmth. "What makes you suppose I'm a gentleman?"

"Fear of castration," replied Kilroy promptly.

Supple as an eel, Griffin nuzzled what he held before releasing Kilroy and flopping onto his back. "OK, take me," he declaimed. Flinging his arms and legs wide, his beautiful cock thrust toward his belly. "No?" he added, when Kilroy did not move.

"How could anyone not want you," said Kilroy helplessly, tracing the underside of Griffin's cock with the side of his thumb.

Griffin's breath caught. "I frequently ask myself the same question, particularly when teased by handsome blue-eyed men." Grasping his wide-spread knees, he drew them back until he was bent virtually double.

Kilroy couldn't have resisted him to save his life. Running his hands up and down Griffin's inner thighs, he positioned himself, easing home an inch at a time so that Griffin's body had time to accustom itself to him, while he pulled encouragingly on Griffin's cock. By the time his pubic hair brushed Griffin's buttocks, his balls were in knots, Griffin's body like a satin-gloved hand squeezing his length.

"Home free," sighed Griffin. Unwinding his legs, he locked one high around Kilroy's ribs, the other hooking over his flanks; the sole of his foot rubbed the clenched buttocks. "Now," he commanded, just before he surged upward, dragging Kilroy impossibly deeper.

Revelling in the freedom given to him, Kilroy unleashed his strength as he withdrew almost completely, only to thrust home to the hilt. Griffin met him strength for strength, demanding all Kilroy had to give. Their bodies meshing, pace and rhythm matched, Kilroy knew to the second when Griffin was going to come. As always, Griffin was silent, but the sensations racking him stripped away his controls, his face betraying him. Only when he had calmed did Kilroy finish, his head thrown back as he arched strongly and came with a shout. His arms failing him, he sank over Griffin with a sigh of contentment.

When he stirred some time later their bodies made small wet sounds as they parted. Sinking back on his heels, feeling very pleased with himself, Griffin and life in general, Kilroy exhaled noisily.

Sprawled wide, Griffin's eyes slowly refocused. Realising he was under surveillance, his face lost all trace of drowsy contentment. "Thank you," he said lightly. Sitting up, he slipped from the bed, stretched and left the room with a steadiness Kilroy could only envy.

Peeling off the condoms he wore, Kilroy rolled them in a bundle of tissues, frowning when he heard Griffin's voice from the other room and realised he must be using the telephone.

When Griffin reappeared a few moments later, Kilroy eyed his cigarette with resignation. "I suppose I should be grateful you waited to light up until I'd finished."

"I'm not so sure I did. While I've ordered coffee, it may take some time to arrive. Do you know what time it is?" Griffin pulled on a dressing-gown, obviously finding the room cooler than did Kilroy.

"Early?" hazarded Kilroy, experiencing a faint twinge of guilt.

"Five-thirty. But I forgive you, in the circumstances."

"That's lucky. Did you think to order any food? I'm starving."

"Somehow I knew you would be. I told them anything would do."

"Where are you going?"

Griffin turned, surprise on his face. "Back to bed, of course. It's Sunday. Day of rest."

"But what about room service?"

"You're the one who's hungry, you let them in."

"I'll be in the bathroom."

"How can you be so certain?" Light dawning, Griffin gave a delighted chuckle. "You're...no, you can't be bashful. Not you."

"Bastard," said Kilroy amicably. "You know bloody well I am. It's my shy and retiring nature."

Griffin snorted and slapped him lightly on the backside. "So that's why you were so coy the other week. How sweet."

"I'll give you sweet," threatened Kilroy, outraged.

"Save it till we have the energy to enjoy it," Griffin advised him. "What's that you're holding so tenderly? Oh. They looked more impressive when they were full." He pushed Kilroy and his unsavoury package in the direction of the bathroom. "I'll see to room service," he sighed.

"Food," said Kilroy ecstatically, on his return to the sitting-room.

With a horrified fascination Griffin watched him devour the breakfast of two men before inspecting the trolley in the hope of finding more. "Your food bills must be horrendous," he remarked idly.

"We can't all live on caffeine and cigarettes. Instead of going back to bed, why don't we go for a run. You do jog?" Kilroy remembered to ask.

"When I have to. I don't have to this morning. It's pitch black outside, and from what the waiter said, cold and pouring with rain. But don't let me stop you." Griffin took his second cup of coffee into the bedroom.

Propped in the doorway, Kilroy's eyes darkened. "Would you rather I left?"

"Only if you're going to keep talking." As if realising what lay behind the question, Griffin sobered. "Of course I wouldn't. I'm just a bit short on sleep," he added pointedly, making himself comfortable on the bed. Rolling onto his stomach after he finished his coffee, he felt a proprietorial hand settle over his rump; brushing away his robe, it bared him to the cold air.

"Am I tickling you?" Kilroy asked, watching Griffin's gluteal muscles twitch.

"Yes, but I don't suppose that will stop you. You approve of my ass, I take it."

"Arse. You're in England."

"I hadn't forgotten. An American would have cleaned his teeth by now, and a Chinese bathed."

"Is that a subtle hint?"

"A shave might have been a good idea," said Griffin, wincing as a stubble-roughened jaw scraped his buttocks.

"Sorry. What would an Australian do?" asked Kilroy, his stomach giving a jolt when he remembered Charlie Cassidy and the job he was supposed to be doing.

Wide-eyed, Griffin turned his head. "There's no such thing as a bent Australian male, didn't you know?"

"Pull the other one."

"Come to that, according to the Chinese authorities, there's no such thing as homosexual behaviour amongst their population."

"Eh?" Kilroy's jaw dropped.

"True," Griffin promised. "It's not mentioned in their penal code. They claim it's a purely foreign phenomenon."

"More like phenomenal," judged Kilroy.

"Ah, but we're part of the decadent West. Earlier this year the Bill bringing Hong Kong's laws on homosexuality in line with Britain's was brought before the Executive Committee of the Legislative Council."

"That's good news?"

"They've finally decriminalised homosexuality, despite the Opposition's insistence that homosexuality is totally alien to the Chinese character."

"Is it?" asked Kilroy, sidetracked.

"Give me patience. Not in my experience. Haven't you ever heard of the people of the torn-sleeve?"

"No. Tell me."

"Once upon a time," began Griffin, relying on an approved formula, "about two thousand years ago in the final years of the Han Dynasty - "

Kilroy gave a theatrical snore.

"Do you want to hear this or not?" enquired Griffin.

"I'd love to, only without the history lesson."

"I just thought I'd check if you were awake."

"Not only awake but seriously considering strangling you. I'm hooked, ready and waiting, OK?"

"I love it when you're masterful," breathed Griffin. When a capable hand tangled in his hair he obligingly looked up, returning Kilroy's kiss with an unhurried pleasure. "Mmn, where was I?"

"Han Dynasty," prompted Kilroy in a long-suffering tone.

"Right. Well, this emperor fell in love with a male courtier who was celebrated for his beauty and the simplicity of his dress, in stark contrast to everyone else. It was from their love that the name the torn-sleeve people comes."

Kilroy's caressing hands stilled. "Because they were beaten up so often?" The mixture of resignation, anger and sadness in his voice spoke volumes.

"This is a romance, not a tragedy. Just for once, true love won through. Who's telling this story?" Griffin added with mock-indignation.

"You. Very slowly. Tell me." Massaging Griffin's rump, Kilroy half-expected to hear Griffin purr with contentment.

"Well, as you ask so nicely. Beset by the cares of court, this emperor - Ai, I think his name was - spent a delicious night with his lover. But when he tried to leave the bed the following morning his lover's head was pillowed on the sleeve of his robe, trapping him. Rather than break into his lover's rest, Ai cut the sleeve from the robe. Since that period, Chinese homosexuals have been known as the people of the torn-sleeve."

"It's better than shirt-lifter, I suppose. What happened next?" asked Kilroy, whose mouth had softened.

Griffin's head turned on the pillow. "How should I...? I don't know," he amended, gentle when he noticed Kilroy's expression, "but I've always thought they lived happily ever after, making love by the light cast by fireflies dancing in their wicker cages. I like the story too, so you needn't look so defensive. Although, given a choice, I'd rather be woken up early than sleep with a guy who just happens to keep a knife by the bedside."

"Pragmatist. Where's your sense of romance?" chided Kilroy, snuffling Griffin's scent.

"Not there for a start." Griffin twitched as the sensation on his buttocks changed. "If you're wondering if I'll be able to take you in, don't bother. You've already proved it to our mutual satisfaction."

"You might have said the earth moved," protested Kilroy, his tongue tip tracing the taut curve of the undercheek. It twitched.

"I might," Griffin teased. He gave a sigh of sheer bliss when the aching small of his back was rubbed with exactly the right amount of pressure. Then the touch changed. "What are you doing now?" he asked curiously, the brush of fingers tickling him.

"I was just thinking. If your arse - ass, if you insist - wasn't too gorgeous to mark, I'd like to see it wearing a tattoo. From cheek to cheek. Just about here." Kilroy's fingers spanned the area in question.

"A tattoo?" repeated Griffin blankly. "Of what?"

"There's only one thing it could be." Kilroy waited until Griffin half-turned, intrigued despite himself. "'Kilroy was here', of course." He gained more reaction than he bargained for.

"You arrogant son-of-a-bitch!"

A moment later Kilroy found himself flattened against the mattress, his arms pinned above his head, Griffin's knee threatening what he treasured most. Intrigued by Griffin's reaction time, Kilroy made no attempt to resist. Griffin was faster than any man that graceful had the right to be. Almost as if he had been trained The thought was unwelcome in its implications and Kilroy did his best to shrug it away.

"I surrender," he said meekly, going limp.

The ferocity faded from the narrowed eyes as Griffin relaxed, although he remained balanced over Kilroy, his thigh muscles and knees supporting his weight as he released Kilroy's wrists. "For a moment I thought you were serious."

"I think I was," admitted Kilroy ruefully.

Griffin leant forward so that his forearms banded Kilroy's face. "You're possessive."

Under that unblinking, disconcerting gaze, Kilroy told the unvarnished truth. "A bit. I'm not obsessively jealous, and I don't insist on being joined at the hip, but I guard what's mine. That's possessive, isn't it," he realised with an endearing surprise.

"You're a bastard," sighed Griffin, bending to kiss him.

When they finally drew apart Kilroy gave a contented sigh. "You're very good at that."

"Years of practice. I should get up. There are some calls I need to make."

By this time Kilroy expected the signs of withdrawal. "I'll leave you in peace."

"It doesn't seem very likely. You're not a peaceful person."

"While you're all tranquillity, I suppose?"

"No," admitted Griffin wryly. "I've not had much experience of promulgating domestic harmony, and not just because I've lived in hotels for so many years."

It took Kilroy a moment to absorb what he was being told. "You mean you've never lived with anyone full time?"

"No," said Griffin warily. "Long-term relationships but not live-in."

"You never met anyone you wanted to live with?"

"Twice. One man, one woman." Griffin sat up.

Kilroy leant forward to rest his palm on Griffin's tensing back, rubbing it gently. "What went wrong?" Griffin was silent for so long that he was surprised when his question was answered.

"Robert was murdered and she...didn't want me. I can't say I blame her. There are times when honesty isn't the best policy."

"In what way?" Suddenly Kilroy realised whom Griffin must be talking about. He wondered cynically how Griffin's account would tally with Charlie Cassidy's.

Leaving the bed, Griffin lit a cigarette and propped himself against the wall. "I meant that if you've been living a lie, as I was, don't expect a reward when you finally tell the truth." While his tone was flippant, his eyes were sad.

"Is that why she left you?"

"That and the fact her passion was largely spent. It's strange I should have made such a mistake, I'm not usually so naive. But because I'd fallen in love beyond the point of prudence, I thought she would love me enough to understand and forgive me. She did neither. In fact she hates me for betraying her. Ironic, isn't it. The seducer seduced."

"Do you still want her?" Kilroy asked abruptly.

Griffin stared first at him, then at his cigarette.

"Stupid question on my part," muttered Kilroy, feeling an unreasonable surge of resentment.

"Not necessarily. Why should you think I would?"

Guilt for what he was doing sharpened Kilroy's tone. "The fact that I sometimes wonder where you are - it's certainly not with me. I don't need to see blood to sense a raw wound."

Shooting him an intent glance, Griffin's inimical expression eased. "I'm not sure," he said honestly, before he added, "but what about your wounds?"

"Me? I don't know what you're talking about," Kilroy denied quickly; too quickly.

"If you say so. It's time I had a shower." All brisk practicality in answer to that rebuff, Griffin's mask was firmly back in place as he left the room.

Kilroy exhaled, impatient with himself. He should have fed him some sob story instead of clamming up But he understood why Griffin had retreated so fast. He increasingly had the sound of a man who had dammed up his emotions for so long that his control was stretched wafer-thin. More, he seemed to know it, wary of spilling out every secret. What he didn't sound like was an extortioner. There again, by his own admission he'd set out to cold-bloodedly seduce Charlie Cassidy. It wouldn't do to take at face value crocodile tears because the hunter had been caught in his own trap, Kilroy reminded himself, angered by the confusion of his emotions. It was time to storm those barricades. They were there for a purpose, so break them down. He'd done it to better men than James Griffin. But it was repairs which kept coming to mind while he used the other bathroom to shower and change.

He was drinking fresh coffee by the time Griffin returned. "You mentioned something about wanting to go house-hunting today," Kilroy said encouragingly, as if unaware that he had outstayed his welcome.

"Perhaps later this week." While he would not lie, Griffin desperately wanted time to himself, appalled by the ease with which he had begun to open his heart to a stranger, albeit one who fucked like a cross between an angel and a trucker. Yet sometimes, when Kilroy thought himself unobserved, the sadness behind the flippant facade became visible. Bad enough to want to understand its cause, even worse to want to alleviate it. Maudlin sentimentality, he castigated himself.

"Fair enough," said Kilroy equably, knowing better than to push. "I hope your wallet's in a healthy state."

Caught off-guard, Griffin froze, a sick disappointment spreading outward. Opportunists were an occupational hazard for wealthy bisexuals.

"Because I thought you might like to take me out to dinner tonight - if you're free - and I have very expensive tastes. Do you have a preference: Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonalds or the Pizza Hut?"

Relaxing, a reluctant amusement tugged Griffin's mouth. "French. Nouvelle cuisine I don't enjoy it particularly, but you can't afford to eat a heavy meal."

"I'm not fat," said Kilroy indignantly.

"Indeed you're not, but sex is better after a light meal than a heavy one."

"Get out of here, you're just a cheapskate. So I'm to pay for my supper, am I? That was a joke," Kilroy added gently when Griffin's eyes flickered again. "Tell you what, I'll eat a huge lunch and just inhale tonight."

Griffin's hands parted in a gesture of surrender. "We'll eat where and what you choose - except fast food."

"I'll book a table. Eight-thirty. Should I meet you here?"

The diffidence in Kilroy's voice was Griffin's undoing. "No. In fact if you don't have anything else planned for today, come to the sports club with me. We could drive out of town for lunch, you seem to know everywhere that serves edible food."

"Anyone would think I did nothing but eat. But as it happens, I know just the pub," said Kilroy, satisfied with his progress so far.

Trying to ignore the persistent feeling that he was betraying a trust, Kilroy occupied his time while Griffin was changing by studying the papers spread across the desk in the sitting-room. He could make little sense of the sketches or cryptic notes; either Griffin was using a sophisticated code, or he was planning to run a small timber yard, neither of which seemed particularly criminal - or explicable. Hearing sounds of movement from the other room, Kilroy quickly moved away from the desk. Guilt for what he had been doing made him talk too much and too brightly. Conscious of it, he grimaced when he glimpsed the glance Griffin shot at him and fell into an unnatural silence as they went to collect Griffin's car.

 

 

Given Kilroy's confident manner, it had not occurred to Griffin that he might feel self-conscious about his scarred body, until Kilroy showed little enthusiasm for any of the activities on offer at the sports club.

"What about a swim?" he asked, pulling on a pair of black swimming briefs.

"I haven't swum for a while. I'll have a workout in the gym," Kilroy added without enthusiasm, feeling uncomfortable about his spying activities and wanting some time away from Griffin, particularly while Griffin looked so fuckable.

While Griffin nodded, his expression was thoughtful. "OK. I'll see you later."

The exclusive club catered for every whim of their guests. Having swum his fifty laps, this the only form of exercise he could honestly say he enjoyed, Griffin showered, dressed, and went to find the Club Secretary about the possibility of hiring the pool for his private use.

Having waited in vain for Griffin, Kilroy went in search of him, arriving in time to hear the Secretary's plummily regretful tones as he told Griffin that the pool was too popular with the members for private hire to be possible.

Deaf to Griffin's conversational overtures as they went down to the car park, Kilroy waited until they were in the privacy of Griffin's Jaguar before he let rip.

"Was that for my benefit?" he demanded, coldly angry when he realised the extent to which his behaviour had been misinterpreted.

"It didn't hurt to ask," said Griffin mildly, turning the Jaguar into the Sunday traffic.

"It didn't occur to you to check with me first?"

Ruffled by Kilroy's tone, Griffin's tone was equally sharp. "Should it have done? Where shall we have lunch?"

"I'm going home. To my flat. You can drop me off here if you have other plans."

While Griffin had, they all included the man at his side. Seeing a sign for a multi-storey car park, he turned into it.

"Where are we going now?" demanded Kilroy.

"Nowhere. I just thought that if you're spoiling for a fight, it might be a good idea if I parked the car. What have I done to piss you off now?"

"Taken it for granted that I'm incapable of making my own choices. If I was paranoid I'd hardly enjoy you pointing it out to all and sundry. I can't say I got much of a charge out of watching you try to buy everything in sight either," added Kilroy, opening the passenger door the moment the car drew to a halt in a parking space.

"Now hang on just one fucking minute. All I..." Releasing the forearm he had grabbed to reinforce his point, Griffin stared through the windscreen. "I'm sorry," he muttered ungraciously. "It was a spur of the moment decision. I didn't think."

"No," said Kilroy unforgivingly, slamming shut the door.

Griffin lit a cigarette as he watched Kilroy stalk off. Flicking on the compact disc player in the dashboard, he frowned as he listened to Paul Simon begin his recital of the Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover. Silencing the CD before the song ended, he muttered an angry, "Fuck it," and turned the key in the ignition.

As the car glided down the ramp to the exit, a figure huddled out of the rain under the overhang of the roof caught Griffin's eye. Griffin slowed the car to a stop and opened the passenger door, waiting until Kilroy slid in and fastened his seat-belt before setting the car in motion again.

"I hoped you hadn't gone," Kilroy said into the silence, which was more comfortable than he had expected. "Discovered I hadn't got enough money on me for a taxi home. Sorry," he added, surprised to realise he meant it.

Griffin shrugged the apology away. "Don't be. Quite apart from the fact it isn't any of my business, you were right. I was showing off. You must bring out the worst in me."

Stretching out his legs, Kilroy looked relieved. "I might have known it would be my fault."

"It must be. I am never wrong," intoned Griffin but his flippancy was forced.

"Do you often get these protective urges?"

"I thought you were convinced it was yet another indication of the vulgarity of the newly rich," retorted Griffin, evading the question because it was loaded with implications he wasn't prepared to consider.

"You're not new rich," said Kilroy with decision. "You're far too used to getting your own way. I'll have to train you out of the habit."

Drawing to a halt at the traffic lights, Griffin's eyebrows rose. "Really?"

"You said you admired optimists."

"When?"

Kilroy looked vague. "I can't remember. The lights have changed," he added helpfully.

Shaking his head, Griffin resisted the temptation to make a racing start. "I need a drink," he announced in a heartfelt tone.

"D'you feel forgiving enough to buy me one, preferably with lunch as well?"

"Probably. Where did you have in mind?"

"Wherever's closest. Then we could go back to the flat to sleep it off over the Sunday papers."

"How big a lunch are you planning to eat?"

"Don't be dense," begged Kilroy. "What we'll be sleeping off is illegal in public."

"Oh that." Griffin slowed to turn right into Stratton Street and parked outside Langham's Restaurant, hoping the clamping units did not operate on a Sunday.

"You might underwhelm me with a bit more enthusiasm," Kilroy complained.

"Don't sulk," Griffin advised him, smiling as he unfastened his seat-belt, "it doesn't become you. I expect I'll manage to rise to the occasion."

"So do I," said Kilroy confidently.

 

Some of Kilroy's satisfaction dissipated at eleven-thirty that evening when Griffin glanced at his watch and announced that he must be going.

"It's a bit late to visit someone, isn't it?"

"I'm going back to Brown's. I promised you an early night."

"You don't need to leave for that. We don't have to screw like minks every time we sleep together."

"It hasn't stopped us so far. Besides, there are some figures I need to work on before tomorrow afternoon and my laptop's back in my room."

"Suit yourself," shrugged Kilroy sulkily. His ploy backfired.

"I intend to. Good night. I can see myself out."

When Kilroy tried to ring Griffin twenty minutes later he found the line engaged. Giving up at one o'clock, he got ready for bed. Still awake an hour later, he gave the pillow he was cuddling an irritable punch and inhaled another faint trace of Griffin's scent.

Chapter Text

NINE

Emerging from the bathroom the following morning with a towel tucked round his hips, Kilroy paused when he heard footsteps on the stairs.

"It's only me," called Griffin, just before he came into view.

"Hello. I wasn't expecting to see you so soon. Did you manage to get the work done?"

Griffin shook his head and headed for the kitchen, his hands full of paper bags. "I didn't get the chance to start. Having spent the night on the phone, I need a break. This is it."

It was then that Kilroy realised Griffin was wearing the clothes he had left in the night before; unshaved, his eyes looked bloodshot and heavy, and he reeked of cigarette smoke. "Is anything wrong?"

Slumping onto a chair, Griffin shook his head. "Nothing drastic, just a royal cock-up, possibly by a fellow trustee back in Hong Kong. The others are busy panicking. I'm trying to sort things out from this end rather than having to fly out there. Do you have any orange juice? I've brought coffee and warm croissants."

"Great. There's juice in the fridge. I'll go and get dressed."

"Not on my account, the towel suits you."

"Only because I haven't turned blue yet. It's cold in here."

Griffin looked smug. "I keep telling you that you don't have the heating high enough."

"Up yours," retorted Kilroy amicably. His exit lost dignity when the towel he was wearing unravelled.

"Nice," remarked Griffin, enjoying the view.

Kilroy pretended not to hear him.

"You don't sound very enthusiastic about the idea of going back to Hong Kong. Don't you miss it at all?" he asked when he came back, tying the belt on the bathrobe he had pulled on.

The question taking him by surprise, Griffin told the unconsidered truth. "Given that my last memories of the place are of my father's murder, followed by learning he'd disinherited me - " He stopped, obviously regretting that disclosure.

"No, I can see it wouldn't be top of your list of favourite destinations," conceded Kilroy, sitting opposite him. "Is this my coffee?" He helped himself to a beaker before unfastening the bags Griffin had left on the table. "Croissants and Apple Danish. You're a man after my own heart."

"No, but I'm learning what you like."

"True." While Kilroy smiled, the effort of not asking all the questions hovering on the tip of his tongue was almost choking him. "Here, you must be starving if you were up all night."

"I am," Griffin admitted, his spirits lifting in Kilroy's company. "I've just thought...if I can't sort things out this end, how about flying over with me? I won't be tied up for more than a day or two and there's plenty for you to do."

His mouth full, Kilroy gave an enthusiastic nod and began to chew vigorously. "Love to," he confirmed, when he could speak. "More to the point, I might be able to sort out some leave."

Griffin picked up a croissant and tore off a piece. "Good," he said with satisfaction. "What time is it? Hell, I must get back once I've finished this. I'm liable to be on the phone and fax most of the day."

Realising that Griffin, whether he knew it or not, had come to him for comfort if not moral support, a pleased smile spread across Kilroy's face. "I've never been to the Far East," he offered, when Griffin gave him a questioning glance.

"Then you've no preconceptions to lose. I'll enjoy showing you round - give you an idea of the diversity the area has to offer. Though Hong Kong isn't typical. Nor is Manila. There's a beach in Malaya that has to be seen to be believed. The developers haven't discovered it yet. The trip might be better in two or three months' time though, some visitors find the humidity at this time of year hard to take, especially in Hong Kong and Macao."

"Whenever you like," said Kilroy, licking sticky icing from his fingers with gusto, his gaze never leaving Griffin.

Griffin's eyes narrowed with suspicion before comprehension dawned. "You're a smug son-of-a-bitch. I'm not moving in with you."

"I didn't invite you to," returned Kilroy happily. "But you wait and see, I'll creep up on you in slow stages."

"Yeah?" Draining his coffee, Griffin replaced the lid and tossed the beaker accurately into the waste bin behind him. "Sounds more like woodworm to me." Affection counteracted the asperity in his voice.

"I don't have to sit here to be insulted, I can have that pleasure at work."

"Speaking of which, I should get on with some." Getting to his feet, Griffin leant across the table and kissed him briefly. "Would you like to go to the movies tonight?"

"Cinema," corrected Kilroy. "Sure. I'll come round to Brown's about sevenish and we can decide what and where."

"So long as it's not the fifth sequel to something, I'm easy," said Griffin from the doorway.

"Not Rambo?"

"Or the Teutonic body-builder with sharp canines who grunts."

A look of mistrust crossed Kilroy's face. "You don't go in for those subtitled films in grainy black and white, do you?"

"Damn, you guessed. Kit, I must go."

"So go."

"You're not making it easy, flaunting your assets like that."

Kilroy gave an unrepentant grin.

Sighing, Griffin re-entered the room. "Anyone would think you're irresistible."

"So resist me."

"I'm trying."

"True," said Kilroy who never ignored the predictable response when it happened to be true.

Shaking his head, Griffin laughed and then, his eyes darkening, bent to kiss Kilroy. It was forty-five minutes before they went their separate ways.

oOo

Because he knew Griffin was up to his eyes in work, Kilroy accepted the breaking of their date with resignation and when two more days went by without hearing from him, resisted the temptation to go round to Brown's. For reasons he preferred not to analyse, he ignored the tapes awaiting his attention in the office. About to go to bed late on Thursday evening, he almost leapt on the ringing telephone.

"Kit, sorry to disturb you at this time of night. I'm flying to Hong Kong tomorrow." Griffin's voice sounded flat. Initially Kilroy put it down to fatigue.

"More problems over that business with the Trust?"

"In a manner of speaking. Mike - the guy involved - shot his wife, then himself earlier today. I got the news a couple of hours ago."

"Did you know him well?" asked Kilroy gently.

"Obviously not as well as I thought. I haven't seen as much of him recently as I ought to have done. May I ring you when I get back?"

Kilroy was already shrugging out of his dressing-gown, fishing for the nearest clothes. "Now I know you must be tired. When's your flight?"

"Uh, hang on while I check. Just before midday."

"OK. Fine."

"Right," said Griffin, obviously taking Kilroy's abstraction for a lack of interest. "I'll see you in a week or so. Don't work too hard."

Hearing the dialling tone, Kilroy stared at the telephone in disbelief. "You dumb fuck," he muttered, returning the receiver to its cradle. Pulling on a sweater, he shoved his feet into a pair of slip-on shoes and grabbing a jacket, quickly left.

Greeted by the night porter of Brown's like an old friend, a fact Kilroy was too preoccupied to notice, let alone feel self-conscious about, he arranged for champagne, tea and food to be taken to Griffin's suite before hurrying up the stairs. The door opened to his knock almost immediately, Griffin staring at him in astonishment.

"What are you doing here? I thought - "

"No you didn't, you're too wound up. Have you had any sleep since I saw you last?" Kilroy added, closing the door.

"There hasn't been much time. I'm fine."

"No you're not. You've just lost a friend. I thought you might be glad of some company."

"Yes. I...yes. Thank you." Griffin brushed a hand through his lank mane of hair, then across his chin, causing a rasp of stubble. "I'm a mess. D'you mind if I freshen up?"

"Take your time. It'll give me a chance to do something about this room."

Still staring at Kilroy, as if unable to believe he was here, Griffin gave an oddly helpless-looking shrug. "I'm not going to be much company," he warned, his voice roughened by hours of talking, lack of sleep and too many cigarettes.

Kilroy gave him a look of exasperation. "We're past the stage of having to worry about crap like that."

Too tired and disorientated by shock to possess his usual control, Griffin stared at him. "Yes, I suppose we are. Thanks for coming round. I'll be with you in a minute," he added vaguely, as he headed for the bathroom.

Kilroy used his lengthy absence to good effect, grateful that Brown's were traditional enough to have windows which opened as well as air-conditioning; the air was thick with stale smoke, the floor and every piece of furniture littered with crumpled waste paper, computer printouts, overflowing ashtrays and stained coffee cups. The staff at Brown's inured to surprise and genuinely helpful, he soon had the room looking more welcoming. Setting to one side the trolley bearing the food, he had just sat down when Griffin emerged.

As pale as the bathrobe he wore, his newly shaved face increasing his look of vulnerability, Griffin shivered while he studied the improvements Kilroy had made, the billowing curtains betraying the fresh air which had been bombarding the room.

"Was it very bad?"

"Worse." Kilroy closed the windows before pouring Griffin some Earl Grey tea. "The tobacco industry needn't worry while you're around. Here, drink this. Not that you need any more caffeine from the look of you. You'd better eat something."

"I couldn't," said Griffin with revulsion. His mouth twisted when he saw the champagne. "Are we celebrating something?"

"If there's to be a wake, the least you can do is see your friend out in style," said Kilroy, perching on the sturdy coffee table in front of him. "How long had you known him?"

"Years, at least twelve," said Griffin, beginning to sip his tea. "I was his best man. He and Cathy... I can't believe he killed her. I didn't even know he was going through a rough patch financially. And I should have done. But I let old friends slip away during the last year or so."

"That happens sometimes. He could have contacted you."

"Not if he was in trouble. Mike is - was - a great believer in sorting out his own problems. There's no way he was milking the Trust. He's been set up. It would take at least two, probably three, people." Unblinking, Griffin stared into the middle distance, his predatory stare familiar from the photograph Kilroy had first seen.

"Is that why you're going out there?" he asked with caution.

"Of course." Griffin took an absent mouthful of smoked salmon sandwich.

"Can I help at all - the agency?"

Griffin grimaced. "I doubt it. Bankers are notoriously reluctant to part with information. But I've got a few contacts, people who owe me favours." The thought of taking some positive action was visibly bringing him to life. Encouraged by Kilroy, he sketched the complexity of the fraud he suspected had been perpetrated, seemingly unaware of the fact he was eating hungrily. Suddenly he stopped, setting the plate down. "I cried off the last two meetings with the trustees. I couldn't face the memories it would stir if I went back to Hong Kong. If I had...I know it's self-indulgent, but I keep wondering if I'd been around whether I would have been able to stop it happening."

"You know better than that."

Griffin grimaced. "Yes, I do. And guilt is cheap." Pouring himself more tea, he sat back, but now one hand rested on Kilroy's corduroy-clad thigh, rubbing it absently.

"What do your fellow trustees make of it all?" asked Kilroy shrewdly.

"I'll give you three guesses. Relief mainly, I think, at having such a handy scapegoat."

"Listen, you watch your back. If any of them are in on it... You think they are, don't you?" Kilroy realised.

Griffin shrugged. "It's possible, but not probable. There are other candidates. I intend to find whoever was responsible." There was a flat certainty in his voice now.

Kilroy gave him a worried look. "Well be careful. There's big money involved. If they've killed once, they won't think twice about doing it again."

"Believe it or not, I have had some practice in the art of survival. It feels odd to have someone worry over me," added Griffin absently.

"Get used to it. Strawberries?" Kilroy held out a frosted dish.

"No thanks. I've eaten your sandwiches as well as mine as it is," Griffin realised, giving Kilroy a shamefaced look.

"I've already eaten. But I can cope with these." Ignoring the cream and sugar, Kilroy began to eat the luscious out-of-season fruit with his fingers. "Shall I fly out with you? For business, not pleasure."

"Better not. It could get messy. I got used to publicity after... I'm used to it. And I've no reputation left to lose." Griffin's face scrunched as he gave an uncontrollable yawn.

"Come to bed," coaxed Kilroy, extending a hand to help him up. He knew Griffin must be exhausted when he took it without a murmur.

Having acted on instinct alone, it wasn't until Kilroy was driving back from Heathrow airport the following day that he realised he had lost any pretence of objectivity where Griffin was concerned. Loathing himself, he waited three hours before telephoning Pius Cheong in Hong Kong to request an immediate report on Griffin's activities when he arrived in the Colony.

oOo

 

Familiarity having bred contempt years ago, Griffin absently watched as the plane seemed to aim itself at the rooftops of the skyscrapers which surrounded Kai Tak airport, his casual manner in stark contrast to that of his neighbour, who had turned green.

Having avoided any delay at customs by the simple expedient of travelling without luggage, knowing he could buy all he needed, Griffin tried to relax when he got into the stretch limousine. Even at the airport familiar scents and sounds engulfed him, memories jostling for attention in their wake. Lighting a cigarette, he took the first step towards facing his ghosts when he leant forward to change their destination, the hotel at which he would be staying.

oOo

"James! Where are you?" exclaimed Kilroy with obvious pleasure.

"The Malmont Marquis in Hong Kong, much to the embarrassment of my successor. Is this a good time for you, or am I interrupting anything?"

"It's perfect," said Kilroy, and Griffin found himself smiling at the tip of his cigarette, a knot of tension easing. "How's it going?"

"OK."

"Well that tells me a lot."

"Things could be better," conceded Griffin.

"I should have come with you. How's your investigation going?" added Kilroy, with an audible trace of anxiety. "I hope you aren't making too many waves."

"Not so much as a ripple. I could have saved myself a journey."

"How d'you mean?"

"There's no need to get excited," said Griffin, reaching forward to pour himself some more coffee. "I should have given the authorities more credit. The papers are having a field day, news of the arrests and financial scandal broke this morning. Mike had got wind of what was going on. That's why he and Cathy were killed. Their supposed murder and suicide was a clumsy attempt to make it look as if he was the guilty party. What they didn't know was that he'd already gone to the police. They killed him for nothing." Bitterness coloured his voice.

"That's a bastard. Have the police got all the people concerned?"

"It certainly looks that way."

"Are you all right?"

"Of course."

"James..."

"No, really, I'm fine. Just tired and a bit flat, I suppose. It's probably anticlimax. My skills, such as they are, weren't needed."

"Then come back where they are."

"Kit..."

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

Griffin gave an unwilling smile. "If there's any justice, you're sitting in a blizzard."

"Blue skies and sunshine. Don't tell me, you're basking in a heat-wave. And just when I was getting you acclimatized, too."

"As a matter of fact, there's a hundred per cent humidity and it's pouring with rain."

Kilroy chuckled unsympathetically before saying, "Not a fun few days."

"Not noticeably," Griffin agreed, knowing they weren't discussing the weather. "I'd forgotten how claustrophobic this place can be. Or maybe there are just too many memories lying around waiting for me to trip over them. How are things with you?" As he had hoped, Kilroy took the hint. They chatted comfortably about trivia for the next hour.

"When are you coming home?" asked Kilroy abruptly.

"The funeral's tomorrow, but I couldn't get a flight until the day after. I should be back sometime Thursday evening."

"I'll keep the home-fires burning for you. This call must be costing you a fortune," Kilroy added, some time later.

"It's OK," teased Griffin, "I reversed the charges."

"You didn't! Well, it doesn't matter if you did," Kilroy added in a different tone.

"Good god, I believe you mean it."

"Get out of here," growled Kilroy gruffly. "While you're at it, get some sleep. You sound knackered. Oh no, Paul's come back and this time I don't think I'll be able to get rid of him."

"Life's hell," said Griffin, sounding far more cheerful than when they had started the conversation. "I shouldn't have kept you," he added, accepting there had been no reason to ring Kilroy save for the fact he wanted to hear his voice.

"Bollocks," said Kilroy amicably. "Take care, I'll see you Thursday."

Replacing the receiver with a smile, it occurred to Griffin that he didn't want to be away from home any longer than he had to be.

oOo

"Yes?" snapped Kilroy, irritable at this the third interruption in ten minutes.

"I'll come back later," said an amused voice.

"James!" Staring into the smiling face, Kilroy leapt to his feet, then swore as he knocked an unsteady stack of thin files to the floor. "Never mind. Come in. This is great! I wasn't expecting you till tomorrow."

"I managed to get a seat on an earlier flight after all. Having fun?" Griffin added, his eyes on the paper-strewn desk.

"Ha bloody ha. It's staff evaluation time, ready for the Christmas bonuses, such as they'll be this year."

"Cash flow problems?" Griffin sat down, stretched out his legs and lit a cigarette.

"Only one way. It floods out with no problem at all. It would help if our bills were paid on time." Collecting up the files, Kilroy locked them in his desk drawer. "These can wait, the review meeting isn't until November. I just thought it would be a novelty if I got myself organised ahead of the game for once. What would you like to do to celebrate your return?"

Exhaling smoke with slow luxury, Griffin eyed him up and down, amusement and something more in his expression. "Several things."

"Sold. I'll sneak off early."

"Ah, Kit." A mellifluous voice met them as they reached the reception desk. "Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't realise you were in conference with a client."

Turning, Griffin studied the newcomer with bland interest, aware within seconds of the antipathy between Kilroy and Paul Douglas. Giving absolutely nothing away, Kilroy escaped with Griffin after only five minutes in Douglas' company.

"That was Paul," he said unnecessarily, as he and Griffin walked back to his flat, "our Finance Director."

"And the possessor of a vaulting ambition to go higher."

"I see you sussed him out. He suits some of our clients."

"He wouldn't suit me," said Griffin positively. "Do you always give your clients such personal attention?"

"Only the ones wearing gold ear studs. Welcome home."

oOo

Trying not to salivate too obviously when he glimpsed the food being served to other diners, subtle aromas tantalising his taste buds, Griffin lit another cigarette and glanced at his watch, hoping Kilroy would arrive before he fainted from hunger. The fact he hadn't eaten today had not occurred to him until he entered the restaurant, since when his gastric juices had been clamouring for material on which to work.

Having set off early that morning, intent after a frustrating week of house-hunting on finding a workshop, even if he couldn't find a home, Griffin had got lost in a maze of back streets and so had seen the sign advertising workshops to let under the railway arches just outside Peckham. Ten minutes there had been enough to convince him that the vibration and thunder as trains passed overhead at three minute intervals made the place unthinkable as a long-term location. But desperate for somewhere he could begin work, he had struck a deal with the cabinet-maker occupying the unit next door. An extortionate sum ensured he had immediate occupation and use of the tools and materials for the next week; he had paid it without blinking.

The first few moments alone, facing a familiar workbench, had been horrendous, every doubt resurfacing to haunt him. Then he had taken up a length of cheap pine, the soft wood all that was immediately available. While turnery was one of the most basic of skills, Griffin was still high on the rush of euphoria he'd felt when he realised his hands remembered what his brain had thought forgotten. Hesitant at first, he had set himself other simple tests, then telephoned a timber merchant to order a supply of cherry or oak to be sent by express delivery. His confidence sky-high, he now sat radiating an almost palpable aura of contentment.

It was going to work.

He had never needed to agonise over a drawing board or scaled plan - indeed, he found the latter impossible to work from - but it seemed uncanny that eye, brain and heart should have united so completely after all these years. Today the floodgates had opened, releasing a creativity repressed since his dream had been stifled under the inexorable weight of Marius Melville's will.

Because his father had chosen to study architecture, as well as structural engineering and business administration, Griffin had assumed Melville would understand his own passion. To a degree Melville had, considering it to be a suitable hobby when allied to the business career he had mapped out for his clever son. So Griffin had walked the wire, caught between the force of Melville's personality and sphere of influence on one side, and the need to be his own man on the other. As was so often the case, his attempts at a compromise had satisfied no-one. While the years hadn't been bleakly miserable, there had been few consciously happy days.

Until today, Griffin reminded himself, raising the hopes of the bored wife of a diplomat when she caught the fallout from his smile. Staring at his interlinked fingers as if seeing them for the first time, it was an effort to keep them still. His hands itched to take up their proper work - to feel a piece come to life. Lost in blissful contemplation of the future, in which a certain blue-eyed man persisted in hovering, another fifteen minutes went by. His stomach growling, he was on the point of caving in and ordering when he saw Kilroy stride toward him, oblivious to the maitre d' dragging behind in his wake.

"Sorry I'm late," said Kilroy tersely.

"You're here now. You look as if you could do with a large drink," noted Griffin as he reseated himself.

"Make it two. Vodka and fresh lime, no ice. Anything," Kilroy added, when a second waiter presented him with the menu. Shooting him an all-encompassing glance, Griffin ordered for them both.

"You're looking pleased with yourself," noticed Kilroy, mellowing after the speedy despatch of his first drink.

"I feel it. I've had a good day. The best."

"Doing what?"

Griffin ignored the question. "Can you talk about what's bothering you?"

"No."

Kilroy had spent the day reading a box of newspaper cuttings, which together with Cheong's report had arrived from Hong Kong that morning. While the bulk of the cuttings had concerned Marius Melville, the remainder were about the illegitimate son no-one had known he possessed until his death. Griffin had attracted a lot of media speculation; it wasn't difficult to imagine the pressure he must have been under at that time. Every facet of his life had been placed under the public microscope. But it was the reports from the financial press which had added a new dimension to the man opposite him. Allied to the charitable Trust Kilroy already knew about, Griffin held various directorships, none of which were connected with the Melville group of companies. He had a reputation for being a tough negotiator, with a steady nerve and an appetite for work which suggested he tried to occupy every waking moment. While the tabloid press had had a field day when he was disinherited, the stories had tapered away after he vanished; his recent visit to Hong Kong had escaped media attention. Gossip apart, either Griffin had got off extremely lightly, or there was no real dirt to be found. Cheong had found none, beyond the directorship Griffin had resigned from with the Melville Leisure Corporation, which owned the chain of hotels he had managed.

Kilroy ignored the baby lobster placed in front of him. Griffin must have known that Melville's companies laundered money for the Mafia and Triads - an unholy alliance if ever there was one - but for the life of him, he couldn't imagine Griffin playing power politics in that world. He didn't try to tax his imagination, wanting to believe in Griffin's innocence with an intensity which might have worried him had he stopped to think about it. His own investigation into Griffin in Britain had drawn an equal blank, revealing little beyond a wealthy man frittering away his time - except for his puzzling obsession with wood. The arrival of the main course roused Kilroy from his abstraction as his first course was removed untouched.

"I'm not going to be very good company tonight," he volunteered, rimming his glass with the tip of his finger.

"That assumes you are on others. Have you eaten today?"

Kilroy's vacant look answered for him.

"Then try, if only to soak up the effects of the vodka. It'll top up your blood sugar, too."

Picking up his fork, Kilroy managed to destroy the artistic arrangement of vegetables without eating a thing.

"What's wrong?" Griffin finally asked, point-blank.

"Nothing."

"OK," said Griffin, equably accepting the snub he had expected.

Kilroy found the ensuing silence remarkably comfortable. Sitting back in his chair, he watched Griffin dispose of his meal. "What have you been doing today?"

Aware of the trace of condescension in Kilroy's voice - the unconscious superiority of one who worked for his living - Griffin let it pass. "I've hired a workshop for the next week, and spent some time familiarising myself with the tools."

"Workshop! For what?"

"I - er - make furniture," mumbled Griffin, with a diffidence which would have attracted Kilroy's attention at another time.

At a loss to understand why that should have lit Griffin with a visible glow of contentment, Kilroy made polite noises of interest.

Undeceived, Griffin grinned. "It's all right, you can stop trying to be tactful. It isn't at all in character."

Kilroy absently ate a mouthful of cooling creamed spinach, pulled a face and abandoned any pretence of eating. "Probably not. I've spent the last few weeks trying to ferret out grubby secrets best left hidden - always presuming there's a skeleton to find. Poking, prying, bugging private telephone lines. I feel like a Peeping Tom!" he burst out, self-disgust harshening his voice because he knew he would read reports about Griffin's day, unless he closed the case.

"Is phone tapping legal in Britain?"

"Not without the permission of the Home Secretary, and that's only given to the police and security services. Which is why shops specialising in state-of-the-art audio systems are enjoying a booming trade. Boardroom bugging is big business."

"I know. I've experienced it first hand. Ordered it to be done, too. It's a grubby world we live in. There's no such thing as privacy nowadays."

"Why do it if you disapprove?"

"Sometimes it's necessary," replied Griffin, pointedly not asking Kilroy the same question.

"Yes. Sometimes. Only in this instance... I'm not sure why I took the job in the first place," muttered Kilroy, his conscience goading him into telling the unvarnished truth.

"I'd hazard a guess. Even if you are a different white knight from those I'm accustomed to meeting in my world. Kilroy, the caped crusader."

Slumping in his chair, Kilroy's expression relaxed. "Not Batman, I don't have the legs for tights." He stared moodily at the art nouveau table decorations.

"Is this disenchantment with the agency in general, or one job in particular?"

"The job. I should have known better than to take the case." Feeling trapped, Kilroy tossed his scrunched napkin on the table. "Do you want the next course?"

"No," lied Griffin with heroic sacrifice, paying for their meal with a haste which earned him a frosty look of suspicion.

Already heading for the door, Kilroy was oblivious to subtle undercurrents. "I'm going for a walk. D'you want to come?"

"Sure," lied Griffin, but with less conviction; the breeze was cool, the drizzle pervasive.

Striding out at Kilroy's shoulder, he made no attempt to break the silence as they left the bright lights and main roads for seedy side-streets packed with parked cars. Eventually even their fast pace failed to keep him warm, his overcoat insufficient protection against the steady downpour. Giving his disintegrating cigarette a look of disgust, he tossed it into the gutter, shivered, and stopped in his tracks.

"This is ridiculous. Kit!"

Already several yards ahead, Kilroy turned, impatient with any delay. The rain driving into his face roused him; ruefully shaking his head, he walked back to where Griffin stood. "Don't tell me - you're cold, you're wet, you're probably still hungry, and you're wondering why you were crazy enough to get involved with a selfish bastard like me."

"Close," Griffin allowed. Ignoring the downpour, he studied Kilroy's face. "You've decided what you're going to do about that job, haven't you."

Unblinking, Kilroy stared at him and knew that right or wrong he was going to trust his instincts. "Yes."

"You don't look very happy about your decision." Griffin drew Kilroy into the shelter of a doorway.

"I'm not, because it's based on personal preference," said Kilroy, accepting that he lacked the detachment necessary to make an objective decision.

"What are the consequences if you make the wrong choice?"

"Good question. I wish I knew. At worst a child could be kidnapped, injured, killed even." Kilroy stared at the boarded-up shop window, then at the soggy rubbish on the cracked paving stones; they had left Knightsbridge far behind.

"Have the child guarded. For twenty-four hours a day. Not that it guarantees their safety, of course. It's always open season on the rich."

Alerted by Griffin's change of tone, Kilroy swung back to him. "James?"

Griffin shrugged. "Where do you think I got this from?" He gestured to his face. "Contrary to popular belief in some quarters, I wasn't born with a silicone implant in my cheek."

"You were the victim of a kidnap attempt?"

"Actuality. Only their car crashed when they were changing safe houses, injuring them and freeing me. It was a long time ago. Let's go home."

"How long ago? Exactly," asked Kilroy with a quiet insistence.

"Nineteen sixty-nine. The fifteenth of June. I was held for sixteen days - not counting my time in hospital afterwards. Can we go home now?"

Careless of who might be watching, Kilroy lightly touched the cool solidity of Griffin's broken cheek with the side of his thumb before kissing him lightly on the mouth. "We'd better try and find a taxi. The exercise might help warm you up." Tucking his arm in Griffin's, he established a brisk pace.

"If it's exercise you need to drive your troubles away, I can guarantee to wear you out. But only when I'm warm, dry and fed to capacity," Griffin warned. His lightness of tone seemed more genuine this time.

Realising that the odds of a man choosing a method of extortion which had cost him a terrifying two weeks and some painful corrective surgery were in his favour, Kilroy's spirits rocketed. "Wear me out, eh?"

"I guarantee it."

"Is that your teeth I can hear chattering?"

"Probably. It's bloody freezing."

"Don't exaggerate, though it is chilly," conceded Kilroy. "Relax, I've just realised where we are. Turn left at the end of the road, then right and right again and we'll be on Hammersmith Broadway. Civilization. Well, the chance of a bus or taxi."

"Bus?"

"Don't panic," said Kilroy with a grin, "they're a rare breed at night, especially when it's raining. It's only a ten minute walk away. Less if we run. I'll race you," he added, in the tone of one offering a great treat. High as helium with the certainty of Griffin's innocence, he was impossible to resist.

"Give me the directions again first."

"Are you suggesting I'd stoop to cheating?"

"I'm happy to state it categorically. Left, then two rights onto the main road?"

"That's right," teased Kilroy, taking off without further preliminaries.

It was a moment before Griffin thought to follow him. "Call this a run?" he scoffed, as they loped along, shoulder to shoulder.

"It's better than running flat out with cold muscles. I'd rather not spend the rest of the night in Casualty waiting for them to patch you up."

"Me?" Catching hold of Kilroy's arm, Griffin drew him to a halt. "You'll be wanting to escort me across roads next. Or are you afraid I'll beat you?"

"No chance. Not with the number of cigarettes you smoke. OK, you're on. We'll race. On the count of three?"

"Three," said Griffin instantly, sprinting across the road and only just avoiding a cyclist on an unlit bicycle.

Kilroy made no effort to match his speed. Pacing himself, he won by a comfortable margin. Victory was all the sweeter because he flagged a passing taxi as Griffin approached.

Winded, Griffin collapsed on the seat, his wet face flushed and alive with laughter. "We must be mad," he gasped, one hand pressed to the stitch in his side. "But you're right. I am smoking too much. I'll have to start jogging regularly again, too."

"We'll have a rematch in a few weeks' time."

"When I'm in better shape."

"I've no complaints."

"Ah, but you won."

"I hadn't forgotten. I'll claim my prize when we get home," promised Kilroy.

"Oh, you have something in mind?"

"More than one thing."

"Then you'll have to feed me first. I'm still hungry."

Kilroy looked vague.

"Wonderful," sighed Griffin.

Once inside the flat, Kilroy stripped off his leather jacket, finding the heat overpowering. "I hope this is warm enough for you. My gas bill's going to be astronomical, and it's only October."

"Poor Kit. The things you suffer for me. I'll try to make it worth your while. After I've eaten," Griffin added pointedly. He dropped his sodden jacket on top of his coat, his turquoise shirt marked with the damp over his shoulders.

Kilroy unfastened it for him, his hands sliding inside so his thumbs could caress already peaked nipples. "I could eat you," he murmured, finding the nubs of flesh cool to the warmth of his tongue. "You really are cold, aren't you. Go and warm up under the shower. I'll see what there is to eat."

"I like a man who gets his priorities right," said Griffin with approval, undressing as he headed for the bathroom. Waiting outside the shower because bitter experience had taught him the water took time to warm up, he had the grace to look abashed when he saw Kilroy picking up the clothes he had abandoned in his wake. "Sorry. I forgot."

"That you don't have any servants here?" Kilroy joked.

Unfastening his watch, Griffin tossed it to him and stepped under the shower. "Old habits die hard."

Only just catching the Rolex, Kilroy set it down and handed Griffin the soap. "You really had servants?"

"It went with the lifestyle. Don't worry, I'm not totally useless." Griffin's sarcasm went unnoticed.

"Great. In that case you can wash my back." Kilroy stared at the hand raised to prevent his entry under the water.

"It's usual to wash your clothes separately," Griffin pointed out gravely.

"Traditionalist," accused Kilroy. He made the tactical error of bending to unlace his shoes.

Chapter Text

TEN

Griffin gave the alarm clock a look of sour disapproval and his sleepy-eyed companion a prod in the ribs. "Have you got a fetish about waking up at five-thirty?"

Kilroy grunted and tried to co-ordinate glottis, tongue and lips; failing, he settled for a drowsy grin of some sweetness. He sighed with relief when Griffin killed the alarm.

As he snuggled back into the glorious cocoon of warm, man-scented air, Griffin's mood began to mellow. Crooking one leg over Kilroy's, he bit gently on the stubble-darkened chin before seeking out the sleep-softened mouth.

"I was going to... Mmn." Kilroy's hands began to roam.

 

"Meant to get up early," he explained, some time later.

"Bits of you did," Griffin reminded him, stroking slick warmth into his belly.

"There's no need to make more mess than necessary," reproved Kilroy. "This is the last pair of clean sheets till I get to the laundrette. Besides, we should've used rubbers."

"Sheets?" Griffin's head turned on the pillow.

Kilroy gave a patient sigh. "Condoms. You're not awake yet, are you?"

"If it makes you happy to think so," said Griffin kindly, snuggling fully under the duvet again.

"I should get up," remarked Kilroy without enthusiasm. "Get my report done, close the case and return the files to the client. Then I'll take some leave. I'd like to spend it with you. If you're free?"

His newly-leased workshop beckoning seductively, Griffin met hopeful blue eyes and sighed. "I could be," he said weakly.

Kilroy beamed. "Great. Then we can go down to the house. You agreed ages ago," he pointed out, when Griffin opened his mouth to protest, "and we never did get there." He gave Griffin a look of dark suspicion.

"But it was a great weekend," Griffin reminded him.

"True. We're still going to Whitehaven for a few days."

"That sounds like a threat."

"Whatever it takes," replied Kilroy cheerfully.

"Go to work," Griffin groaned. "If I must, I must. You can pick me up here later. A lot later."

"You mean you're not going to see me off?" said Kilroy with reproach.

"You're going across the road, not to Antarctica. I'll be with you in spirit," promised Griffin, rolling into the centre of the bed as Kilroy reluctantly left it.

"It's bloody freezing," Kilroy discovered.

"Serves you right for switching the heating off. Oh, come here then. I'm warm enough for both of us."

"That's a first," said Kilroy, obeying with alacrity.

 

oOo

A phone call to Sydney having established that Henri Langlois was visiting Paris and London on business, it was late afternoon when Kilroy went to meet him, intent on handing back the dossier in person. Too many people had seen it already. He also returned Langlois' fee, which had increasingly come to feel like thirty pieces of silver.

Despite a stormy meeting, Langlois' affable manner slipping when he heard Kilroy's decision, Kilroy felt happier than he had done for weeks when he drove away from the banker's city office. Force of habit took him to the agency rather than his flat. As he had expected at this time of the evening, he had to unlock the front door. Resetting the alarm, he went in search of Kevin, who was night-duty officer for the week.

Approaching the general office, from where he could hear sounds of activity, Kilroy was surprised to see Griffin in conversation with Annie while he operated the photocopier. He felt a moment's panic in case Griffin had met John or Dave and somehow learnt of the existence of the Langlois case. While Kilroy knew he would have to tell Griffin the truth about the circumstances of their meeting one day, he wanted to ensure their strengthening relationship would be able to withstand the strain of his disclosures. He had a five-year plan in mind for the date of his confession.

"Have we taken on a new office boy?" he asked.

"I wish," said Annie. "Kev's got a rush job on. James turned up to see where you'd got to and volunteered to help out."

"'Volunteered' is stretching the truth a bit," interjected Griffin, crouching to refill the paper tray.

"You're welcome to moan all you like just so long as you keep working," returned Annie placidly, her gaze never leaving the file she was checking.

"What's the rush job?" asked Kilroy.

"The Helvetia Foundation's called a beauty parade for tomorrow, to decide which agency gets its business - world-wide."

"Christ," said Kilroy involuntarily. While the Foundation generated a lot of dull and time-consuming work, they paid well and promptly, helping to cover some of the agency's loss-making work. He had used his position as senior partner to insist that, the recession notwithstanding, the agency continue to take cases on the basis of a client's need for their expertise as much as for their ability to pay.

"Quite," said Griffin, before adding to Annie, "I'm working, I'm working."

"Kev's the obvious presenter. He's busy preparing the sales pitch while trying to cost the job. He needs umpteen files. Roger's in Archives rooting them out. He could use some help," Annie added pointedly.

"Consider me gone. You OK?" Kilroy added to Griffin.

"Fine. This is likely to be an all-night job. Kevin's booked on the eight o'clock flight."

"You're a worse slave-driver than Annie," complained Kilroy, taking the hint.

After a frustrating couple of hours, during which he discovered their file retrieval system did not work, Kilroy went to see if Kevin needed help. He found him with Griffin, both men hunched in front of a VDU; Griffin's face bore the expression of a man told to climb Everest while wearing wellington boots.

"Oh good," said Kevin, when he spotted Kilroy. "Look, I know it's irregular, and I should have checked with you first, but I need help fast and James can give it. He's all but persuaded this bloody machine to dance. Can he work on preparing the projections? He can do them standing on his head."

"Sure," said Kilroy without hesitation. "While he can be a perfectionist and a pain-in-the-arse, he's no security risk. You two should get on fine. What can I do?"

Kevin's first suggestion was anatomically impossible.

Teamwork and tight deadlines the norm at the agency, everyone was accustomed to doing whatever was necessary to get a job done. Kilroy spent the night doing everything from making coffee to driving to Kevin's flat to pack for him. On his return, just after five-thirty, he discovered Kevin, Annie and Griffin slumped in chairs, satisfaction helping to obscure the fatigue on every face.

"How's it going?" he asked, setting the luggage down.

"All done. And very smart everything looks too. A courier collected twenty sets of each report ten minutes ago. Can we afford to hire James?" added Kevin, helping himself to a cigarette from the packet Griffin had left on the table.

"You have a fan," Kilroy told Griffin.

"The sandwiches he persuaded Brown's to cough up around midnight didn't hurt," added Annie.

"I might've guessed. There's no need to spoil them, you know," Kilroy told Griffin severely. "Dried crusts have always been adequate in the past."

"I'm serious," said Kevin. "James finished the projections in half the time Paul would've taken, never mind the rest of us. More to the point, he's accurate. You're a bloody marvel," he told Griffin.

"Only when compared to you," Griffin assured him, ignoring Kevin's two-fingered salute.

"Now tell Kit what you think of our system," suggested Annie.

"Inadequate and out of date," said Griffin bluntly. "When was it installed?" Kilroy looked vague, the others amused. "You must waste hours every week."

"They do," chipped in Annie. "And guess who has to sort out the mess. It would help if they'd take time for proper training, never mind installing a system for the nineties."

"Unbelievable. Your IT Department is a joke."

"How would you feel about being a consultant for us?" asked Kilroy.

"Not good."

"We'd pay," added Kevin.

"There isn't money enough. I'd be a basket case in a day."

"Patience isn't his strong point," Kilroy explained.

"I didn't notice a lack," said Kevin.

Griffin eyed him kindly. "You must have selective hearing. I can recommend a consultant if you're really interested."

"Tonight's proved we have to be," said Kevin, turning to Kilroy. "Or did you enjoy your hours file hunting?"

"Don't look so pathetic," murmured Griffin, patting Kilroy's arm. "Kids of five use them. The secret is not to let them intimidate you."

"Sorry to interrupt," said Annie insincerely, turning back from the telephone call she had answered, "but that was Roger. The car's ready and it's time Kev went to clean up. We thought he could use your flat," she added to Kilroy.

"Terrific. OK," he sighed.

As the office emptied in the bustle of seeing Kevin off, Griffin propped his feet on the edge of the desk, lit a cigarette and lazily contemplated the pleasures of sleep. A tap on the shoulder made him jump.

"Don't get too comfortable," Annie told him. "Kit's gone with them. Meanwhile, there's all these files waiting to be put back together." There was an expectant look on her face.

"You're a monster," complained Griffin, getting to his feet.

 

 

Returning to the agency, Kilroy stood listening while a trapped Griffin endured one of Annie's infamous interrogations. While he parted with information unwillingly, Kilroy gained an unexpected insight into the man, who as an eight-year-old had been sent halfway across the world to prep. school.

"Don't you remember your mum at all?"

"She died when I was a baby. Have you got the papers for August eighty-eight? They should have been with this batch."

"I've seen them. Yeah, here you go. You must have missed her though," pursued Annie.

"Sometimes. I was OK."

"You must have a good dad."

"I thought so."

"He's dead?"

About to intervene, Kilroy relaxed when he saw the resignation on Griffin's face as he tried, unsuccessfully for the most part, to parry questions.

After ten minutes or so of receiving increasingly abbreviated replies, Annie sighed. "I'm being pushy, aren't I. My John's always saying I never know when to give it a rest."

Griffin smiled at her and Kilroy drew in his breath, abruptly wanting the man. "He could have a point."

Annie grinned. "I've never been called nosy so politely before. Trouble is, I like listening to people. Will you be staying in England?"

"I'm buying a home here," said Griffin, dropping the last file onto a stacked trolley.

"With Kit?" Annie's hand flew over her mouth. "Oops. Sorry. That just popped out."

"No it didn't. And that isn't any of your business. Your John has my sympathies."

"Save them."

Kilroy saw Griffin shoot her a shrewd glance, obviously sensing something amiss but unwilling to ask a question which might embarrass Annie. Pushing his hair back from his face again, he muttered something about getting it cut.

"Don't cut it, tie it back. A lot of blokes are wearing ponytails. It'd suit you and I'm sure your hair's long enough. I meant to say last time I saw you. Here, sit yourself down and I'll have a go."

While Griffin began a weak protest, Kilroy was not surprised to see him sitting, a mixture of resignation and trepidation on his face when Annie produced a pair of scissors and a comb.

"Don't panic, I'm only tidying up a couple of bits. I like these grey flashes. Are they natural?"

"It's called old age. Shit!"

"Don't be such a baby, I hardly pulled it at all. Stop fidgeting. There! It really suits you."

"Yes, it does," agreed Kilroy, deciding to make his presence known.

"Aging hippies must be all the rage," remarked Griffin, eyeing his mirrored reflection with doubt.

"In two thousand pound suits?" mocked Kilroy.

Griffin gave him the finger, kissed Annie on the cheek and lit a cigarette. "Can we have breakfast now? What takes your fancy, Annie?"

"A bath and a long sleep. I'm off home."

"Book a taxi," ordered Kilroy. "And just for once don't argue." Having seen her into a cab, he and Griffin left the agency as soon as a partner arrived to man the phones, Kilroy pausing to arrange cover for the period of Kevin's absence.

"You're looking a bit pensive. What's up?" Kilroy asked Griffin.

"Can we take a walk round the block?"

"Blocks are for builders. Make it the park.”

Griffin remained silent even after they had dodged across the busy road and entered St. James’s Park.

“How many laps do we have to do before you tell me what the problem is?" Kilroy asked.

Avoiding the main path, which was crowded with commuters hurrying to work, Griffin tucked his hands in his pockets. "Me. At the agency. I shouldn't have butted in uninvited. I knew better."

"Didn't you hear what I told Kevin?"

"In the circumstances you didn't have much choice."

"That's what you think. Besides, Kevin wouldn't have asked for help if he'd thought you were a wrong 'un."

"Basing his faith on an acquaintance of at least ten minutes." Griffin batted away a drifting plane leaf.

"He's got a nose for villains. Straight up." As it began to drizzle, they turned for home and eased into a jog.

"You're full of it," snorted Griffin. "God, now I know the rot's set in. I'm starting to talk like you."

"Another few years and you might even get the hang of it," Kilroy agreed, fumbling for his key. "Of course, you realise you've got out of going down to Whitehaven again. In the rush I forgot to arrange any cover for when I take leave."

"Great. I'll be able to make use of the workshop after all," said Griffin with satisfaction.

Kilroy gave him an exasperated push into the flat. "I sometimes wonder if you've got your priorities right," he said severely.

"Why? You won't be working all night, will you?"

"I bloody well hope not," said Kilroy with feeling. A look of consternation crossing his face, he followed Griffin into the bathroom, where Griffin was relieving himself. "What date is it?"

"Do you mind?"

"Course not," dismissed Kilroy, oblivious to sarcasm. "What's the date?"

Giving up, Griffin told him. "Why's it so important?"

"Because I'm on sodding night-duty from Thursday, that's why. Eight to eight shifts."

"You're joking."

"I wish I was. We - the partners - take it in turns."

"I'll hire the workshop for an extra week," said Griffin, putting on the shower and beginning to strip.

"Don't you ever think of anything else?" asked Kilroy, although after hearing Griffin tell Annie about Bedales school, which was famous for its furniture design and carpentry courses, Griffin's obsession with wood seemed more explicable.

Pausing, Griffin looked him over, lingering a little. "Occasionally," he said blandly, gesturing to the shower stall. "Coming?"

"I don't think I could," said Kilroy sadly.

The crease down Griffin's cheek deepened. "I always respond best to a challenge. I have the feeling that with a little expert encouragement you could surprise yourself."

While Kilroy wasn't wholly amazed by what followed, he didn't waste his breath pointing out as much.

oOo

"Does it bother you that Annie's realised we're lovers?" asked Kilroy the following evening, as they drove out of the sports club car park.

"It's a bit late to worry now," said Griffin placidly. "I take it you're out of the closet at the agency."

"Oh, they're very liberal. I'm their token gay." The flippancy Kilroy had intended was absent from his voice.

"Token hokum. You're the senior partner. From what Kevin was saying you've spun the agency round on its axis since you took charge. Annie thinks a lot of you, too."

"Have a nice chat about me, did you?"

"Great, until she started the cross-examination. While she never got round to asking my intentions, I was convinced she was going to ask if we practised safe sex."

"Don't exaggerate, she wasn't that bad."

Griffin spared him a brief, amused glance. "I thought you'd been there longer than you let on. You might have come to my rescue."

"You were quite capable of stopping her."

"What with, an Exocet?"

"I was there, remember? Why don't you admit it, you're just a softie."

Griffin parked the car and gave Kilroy a glance he was not sure how to interpret.

"No. I just like Annie."

Obviously favouring his own theory, Kilroy let it pass. "She needs friends. While she's never said anything, I've got doubts about her John. He's had more jobs than we've had hot dinners, and I think he sometimes slaps her around."

Griffin leant against the car, the keys dangling from his fingers, and gave him a shrewd look. "Why don't you check him out?"

"Don't think I haven't been tempted. But I don't have the right to interfere. While Annie might like listening to people, she doesn't volunteer a lot about herself. Have we got any food at the flat?"

Griffin, who was learning, gave him a look of wide-eyed innocence. "I thought you were getting it."

Contenting himself with a sceptical snort, Kilroy led the way out of the small agency car park which Griffin used when he wasn't staying at Brown's. While technically still a guest there, since his return from Hong Kong he had visited his suite only to collect fresh clothing and pick up any messages.

"We could eat out. Good food and wine, soft music, candlelight," suggested Griffin.

"The flat can manage the music, light and wine - and I can take my shoes off."

"I wonder about you sometimes."

"That's a step in the right direction," said Kilroy encouragingly. He was still at the stage where his conscience kept reminding him he had lied to Griffin from their first meeting onwards. The relief that he no longer had to sift and analyse every conversation was exquisite, provided he ignored the odd doubt which insisted on resurfacing.

Relocking the front door, Griffin tucked his key back into his pocket and turned to see Kilroy's smug expression. "I'm staying at Brown's," he said pugnaciously.

"Only because they do your laundry and I won't."

"I can think of other reasons," Griffin admitted, sighing when Kilroy's look of satisfaction increased.

oOo

After a tedious week on night-duty, Kilroy was delayed at the agency until mid-afternoon on Friday. Almost asleep on his feet by the time he returned to the flat, he experienced a flicker of life when he entered the kitchen and saw Griffin, who turned at his wolf-whistle.

"What's that for?" he asked, reaching out for a second mug to make Kilroy some coffee.

"You should wear jeans more often. My god you should. Are you wearing anything under those?" added Kilroy, his hand gliding over an area of particular interest.

Seeming to take the attention as no more than his due, Griffin continued with what he was doing. "Given that it's close to freezing outside and you're condemning me to staying in a draughty Victorian house, what do you think? I've packed the car for a week - including food. D'you want any scotch in your coffee?"

"Please. No, that's plenty."

"Then if you'd like to change we can - "

" - get it over with?" completed Kilroy with amusement.

"Something like that," admitted Griffin, who was itching to get back to work now he had taken the plunge of committing himself to making a piece of furniture. It was going well, to the point where any delays were unwelcome.

"No rush. I need a shower - and I'm starving."

"There's nothing left unpacked except for some stale bread. I'll take us out," said Griffin quickly, wary that Kilroy might produce some esoteric recipe which would demand knowledge he did not possess and could not bluff his way through.

"Too much effort," dismissed Kilroy, yawning. "Try the cupboard in the corner. I'm sure I saw some tins in there the other night."

Crouching down to investigate, Griffin looked up with a grimace. "Two cans of lager, three of baked beans and one of apricots - in syrup."

"Great!" said Kilroy, deaf to the lack of enthusiasm. "Baked beans on toast. Be a new experience for you, baked beans will."

"No they won't. You forget, I spent ten years in the English public school system. Baked beans and pease pudding are but two of the horrors I've been trying to forget."

"Stop moaning and start cooking," commanded Kilroy, rubbing eyes gritty with fatigue. Lack of sleep was a common problem when on night-duty; by the time his system adapted to the change he was back on days and condemned to a period in the twilight zone until his body caught up.

"Right." Griffin peered at the label, frowned, and turned the tin round.

"Problem?" asked Kilroy, when he became aware of the lack of activity.

"Not really."

"Then what's up?"

"How do I cook these?" Griffin asked, a defeated look on his face.

Kilroy looked blank. "You are joking?"

"Half the label is missing - including the cooking instructions for the microwave," snapped Griffin.

Kilroy gave a crow of laughter which, after glimpsing Griffin's expression, he tried unsuccessfully to turn into a cough. Comprehension dawning as he remembered the small burns Griffin acquired each time he worked in the kitchen, and the culinary disasters produced when he was left to his own devices, Kilroy's expression changed to one of affectionate understanding. "There weren't any kitchens in your hotel suites, I take it."

"No. Now how do I cook the fucking things?"

"You don't have to use the microwave. They won't take long to warm on the cooker. Just stick the contents in a saucepan over a low heat and keep stirring to stop them sticking."

Cutting his finger on the edge of the can Griffin sucked the small wound, and fished for a saucepan, narrowly missing braining himself when the smaller one inside it fell out. His back to the room, even the set of his shoulders was defensive.

Understanding on his face, Kilroy moved behind him to slide an arm around Griffin's middle. "I wasn't laughing at you. You did brilliantly to hide the fact you can't cook, though I don't know why you bothered. There's no reason why you should have learnt. I'm no great shakes myself. We'll pool our resources from now on."

"That won't take long as far as I'm concerned," Griffin admitted. "And you can stop soft-soaping me." He lessened the reproof by leaning back into the embrace.

Inhaling 'Givenchy for Men' and warming baked beans, Kilroy folded his other arm around Griffin and nipped delicately at his ear lobe. "Shit! That's the second time I've bitten your ear stud," he complained.

"Teach you to be so oral," said Griffin, before he sniffed the air. "What's that smell?"

Reaching around him, Kilroy switched off the bubbling baked beans. "These."

His nose wrinkling fastidiously, Griffin turned. "No. It's coming from you."

"That's a very personal remark."

"It's a disgusting smell."

"I hoped you wouldn't notice," admitted the eternal optimist. "The sink in the office kitchen was bunged up and I made the mistake of trying some DIY."

"And there was me thinking you were the complete handyman," murmured Griffin, his intent gaze on Kilroy's mouth. He closed his teeth over Kilroy's lower lip, dragging gently on it before tracing its contours with his tongue tip. "How would you like to be fucked?" he enquired, his hands sliding with a lazy purpose between the edges of the stained shirt to stroke the smooth flesh over Kilroy's ribs as his knee slipped between Kilroy's legs.

"But you've never...that is...a lot. I think. Shall I shower first?"

Griffin's expression changed to one of rueful recognition. "Poor Kit. I didn't realise, you're half-asleep. Lousy timing on my part. I'll take a rain check. I'd prefer your undivided attention." Drawing away, he willed his untimely erection to subside.

"You don't mind?" Kilroy blinked owlishly.

"Of course I do. But not to the point of taking umbrage. What did you expect?"

"I'm not sure," Kilroy said slowly, sinking onto a chair. "I've never seen you lose your temper. You just get a cold look in your eye and close me out when you're pissed off."

"So?"

Kilroy ignored the warning signals. "So give yourself a treat, let go sometimes. Be yourself."

Griffin's mouth pursed. "I hate to break it to you," he said at last, "but what you see is what you get."

With the stubbornness of the over-tired, Kilroy shook his head. "That's bollocks and we both know it. You don't even relax completely when we're...alone," he finished lamely, yet to reach the point of exhaustion where he couldn't foresee danger if he offered anything that could be construed as a criticism of Griffin's technique in bed. But it was a fact that Griffin had yet to drop all his barriers. Even on the point of climax he seemed to hold back something of himself.

Frowning, Griffin sat opposite him. "What is it you expect from me?"

"I dunno. Everything, I suppose. I'm going to bed. You'll want to get back to your workshop."

"No. I'll get the laptop from the car and get on with some work. I've got a bit behind recently."

"On what? Making money?"

"Is there something wrong with doing that?"

"How would you know, you've never done anything else."

"I can work in my suite if you're afraid you'll be contaminated."

Oblivious to the icy note in Griffin's voice, Kilroy shook his head, yawned and blinked sleepily at Griffin. "Don't be daft. 'S nice having you around the place. You won't be disappointed if we don't go down to Whitehaven until tomorrow?"

Rumpled, unshaved and smelling strongly of drains, he was still hard to resist: Griffin abandoned the attempt. "I think I'll be able to bear up. Don't you want to eat before you sleep?"

Kilroy thought about it. "No. I'm not that fond of beans myself." Ambling in the direction of the bedroom, he never knew how close he came to having them thrown at his head.

 

Kilroy emerged from his period of hibernation to find the flat empty and a note on the table, promising fresh food in the refrigerator. Feeling drugged after his spell of death, he drank from the opened carton of orange juice. Switching on the radio to mask the silence of the flat, he sang along to some golden oldies while he cooked himself eggs and bacon. He had just finished his meal when Griffin returned.

"Hi. You look better," he remarked, with what Kilroy could only feel was a disgusting amount of vivacity.

"I feel it. Breakfast, or have you eaten?" Kilroy was already frying more bacon.

"I'm starving. I went for a jog. Don't panic, I dumped my kit at Brown's. It's miserable out, just starting to rain - perfect weather for the country. Even I can cook eggs and bacon," Griffin added, when he noticed what Kilroy was doing.

"You've got enough burns on your hands already," pointed out Kilroy with more truth than tact as he broke eggs one-handed into the pan; the professional effect was ruined when he had to pause to fish out some shell.

All wide-eyed admiration, Griffin sat down to watch. Catching Kilroy's glare, his expression was blandly innocent. "I wasn't going to say a word."

Kilroy threw a balled up tea towel at him. "These should be...um, yes, they are. You do like rubbery eggs, don't you?"

"I seem to have acquired a taste for them since meeting you. Where are you off to?" Griffin added, when he noticed the signs of departure.

"Some last minute shopping. I won't be more than an hour." Mindful of his responsibilities as host, Kilroy intended to stock up on wine, torches, candles and thermal sleeping bags in case the heating should play them false. He thought it best not to mention the possibility to Griffin. "You can clear up while I'm gone," he added generously.

"Gosh, thanks," breathed Griffin. As he suspected would be the case, his irony was wasted.

Chapter Text

ELEVEN

Because neither man enjoyed being driven for any distance, by mutual consent they took their own cars. The motorway long behind them, Griffin supposed vaguely that it was the drizzle and mist which made everywhere look so dismal; the clouds were so low it was difficult to tell where they ended and the fog began, although it gave the glowing colours of the autumn foliage an oddly luminous quality. Even watching the car in front for Kilroy's signal, having been warned that there was an abrupt left turn to look out for, Griffin almost missed it.

The single-lane track they turned onto was greasy with mud and potholed, brambles and assorted vegetation scraping the sides of the car. Uncertain what to expect, Griffin waited while Kilroy paused to unlock the padlock on the high, rusting wrought-iron gates before following him onto a drive slick with moss and rotting leaves, the trees creating a twilight lattice-work of vegetation. Following the curve of the drive out into what light there was, Griffin pulled up behind Kilroy's neat, blue Renault and switched off the ignition.

He discovered he had parked next to an immense circular bed, in the middle of which sat a grey-green fountain, whose Cupid had lost half his head and one dimpled knee. Beyond it squatted the house. Transfixed, Griffin felt his jaw sag, the size of the place far beyond the Victorian villa he had imagined. The lurid red brickwork, untamed by at least a hundred years of weathering, looked as if it was held together by the ivy which smothered it like an overgrown beard and through which a variety of windows were just visible. The architectural style was...unusual, he decided: Victorian Gothic run riot, with every conceivable decorative aid bad taste could contrive. The immense front door looked like one of Hollywood's worst excesses, although perhaps that was due to the crumbling stone pillars which flanked it. While he couldn't see the roof from this angle, he was prepared to bet it leaked. Reaching for a cigarette, he jumped when he saw Kilroy beaming at him through the window on the passenger side. His party manners in place, Griffin stepped out into the fine drizzle which was still falling.

"What d'you think?" asked Kilroy eagerly.

"It's...secluded. Bigger than I was expecting, too."

"Yeah. It always takes me by surprise. I haven't explored it all yet myself. Isn't it the ugliest place you've ever seen," Kilroy added cheerfully, grinning when he recognised the fleeting relief on Griffin's face. "Relax. You don't have to be tactful. I've often wondered what the architect was on when he designed it."

"Opium?" suggested Griffin, walking backwards to enjoy a better view of the crenellated turrets. "Are they supposed to be gargoyles up there?" He pointed vaguely.

"Your guess is as good as mine. You've got to admit, the house has got something."

Hoping it would prove to be central heating, Griffin gave a noncommittal grunt and turned up the large collar of his American air force pilot's jacket.

"We'll dump our stuff inside before we explore," added Kilroy brightly.

Possessions piled beside them, it took their combined weight to open the warped front door, Griffin's attention remaining on the ominous cracks over the lintel throughout. Propelled inside when the door surrendered, the smell hit him immediately. During his house-hunting forays around the Home Counties Griffin had met various scents; the vast entrance hall, whose dimensions would have better suited a far statelier home, gave notice of dry rot, damp, drains and disuse, together with another odour he couldn't identify. He experienced the depressing certainty he would be able to by the time they left.

"It needs a bit of work," remarked Kilroy unnecessarily, flicking on the lights. The two forty-watt bulbs did their best but could make little impression on the gloom. Dust stirred, cushioning their footsteps before floating upwards in soft clouds; at least common sense had prevailed and flagstones had been omitted in favour of creaking floorboards. The only furniture was a broken grandfather clock, a lidless chest and the breastplate from a suit of armour, crouched ominously on the left side of the sweeping staircase.

"This is beautiful." Griffin ran a hand lovingly along a portion of banister. "I'd like to meet the guy who made this. It's far older than the house. The woodworm's been and gone though." Straightening, he gave Kilroy an accusing look.

"I've only been down here three times," Kilroy heard himself say defensively.

"And that panelling," breathed Griffin, going deeper into the gloom of the hall. "I wonder which house they vandalised to get this. Look. Thank god no idiot took it into his head to paint it."

Mindful of the white emulsion he'd intended to buy to brighten up the hall, Kilroy whistled nonchalantly as he ferried in their luggage. "You seem to know a bit about the subject."

"I studied the history of design. You pick up a bit that way. Look at the quality..."

"You can't have a love affair with panelling."

"I can when it's this good. I think it's late Elizabethan. The Victorians were shocking vandals," added Griffin, wiping his dirty hands down his jeans. "Still, Whitehaven obviously has some surprises to offer."

"I can't promise they'll all be good ones. Would you like to look round?"

"Sure." Griffin was inspecting the fireplace. "For barbecuing oxen?"

"Or the odd tree. There are plenty of fallen ones in the garden. Luckily most of the other fireplaces are smaller, though I haven't been able to get far enough into every room to check. Great-Uncle Percy was a hoarder. One room's crammed with stacks of newspaper. You won't believe the smell. He seems to have lived in this room," Kilroy added, opening a door.

The bilious green flock wallpaper was peeling from the walls, a bare light bulb revealing a large room so tightly packed with furniture that there was only one narrow path from door to a mean-looking paraffin heater, which blocked the grate of the fireplace. It took a moment for the full horror of the room to sink in. Staring with appalled fascination at a massive sideboard constructed of black fretwork, Griffin tried to decide what the two deformed elephants decorating the back of the top were supposed to be doing. His attention distracted, he wondered if he had imagined something small and brown speeding out of his line of vision.

"It looks better in the sunshine," Kilroy said into the silence.

"Of course it does," said Griffin, backing out past two deck chairs and gently closing the door.

They inspected every room which had space for them to enter. Huge and high-ceilinged, despite years of neglect and the hideous furniture, which ranged from the worst Victorian excesses to fifties utility furniture, the potential of the house was unmistakable. Griffin tried not to notice Kilroy's hopeful air as he trailed after him like a Berber with ten daughters to dispose of and not enough camels.

"The old boy had never heard of DIY. Apparently he didn't leave the house at all after the war. Thought fresh air gave you cancer. I've got to work on the windows, most of them are still nailed shut. You won't believe the stuff he kept. This room was full of bottles - not the collectable kind, either - I checked. Oh, and old shoes. As you can smell, the books have had it, the leather disintegrates when you touch it. When I've emptied this room I'll make it my study. The view's great - or will be when I've cleared up outside. That's the conservatory through the French windows to your right. It's a bit overgrown."

Griffin muttered something innocuous as he looked for a chink of light through the vegetation. Tripping over a flat-iron, the hand he flung out went through the rotting, mustard-coloured velvet of a three-legged wing-backed chair. Quickly righting himself, he watched the cushion heave. "Uh, Kit..." Agitated squeaking accompanied his voice.

"It's only mice," Kilroy told him blithely. "They're a bit of a problem, actually. They must have had the run of the place for years. I'll have to get Rentokil in. Come and see upstairs. Oh, watch yourself on the second landing, the lighting's dodgy."

Curbing his impulse to flee back to civilization, Griffin discovered that the lighting wasn't the only unreliable thing. For his peace of mind, he took to following in Kilroy's footsteps. Panicked rustlings preceded them.

The master bedroom held only a wardrobe of Narnian proportions, a commode (his eyes looking a little wild at this point, Griffin lit a fortifying cigarette and tried to pluck up the courage to ask about the plumbing), and a bed. Wide enough to accommodate six adults with ease, the sagging mattress was a good three feet off the floor; two ornate posts supporting a crossbar at the head trailed some sad-looking crimson hangings.

"When did you take possession of the house?" Griffin asked eventually, trying not to think what livestock he would be sharing that bed with tonight.

"July. While I filled up three skips with rubbish, I couldn't shift some of the furniture by myself."

"Now I know what I'm doing here."

Kilroy's face dropped. "We'll go back to town."

"Why? While tonight might not be very comfortable, with two of us we should be able to get a lot done this week. We'll only need a couple of rooms." Griffin almost looked round to hear who had said that.

A pleased smile lit Kilroy's face. "I hoped you'd like it," he admitted unnecessarily.

Griffin began to laugh when a connecting door revealed the bathroom off the master suite. "I've never had to climb stairs to take a pee before. That's an impressive cistern." Staring up at it, he was careful not to move within fallout range.

"Installed in eighteen eighty-seven. It's printed on the side. The bath's my favourite."

Griffin peered into it, then at Kilroy with respect. "You've used this?"

"Not yet," he conceded, adding defensively, "there is a drought order in place. I didn't want to use up the county's supply of water with one bath."

"Liar," said Griffin amicably. "Though it is bloody deep."

"I know. I was afraid I might get sucked down the plug hole. Now you've seen the mod cons, I'll light the fire in the bedroom, help air the room."

"I noticed the radiators," said Griffin with fine understatement; it would have been difficult to miss them. "Does the central heating work?"

"I got it going twice." Kilroy looked guilty.

"Third time lucky." Strolling to the full-length windows, whose scarred sashes showed where nails had been removed, Griffin open them wide. "A balcony! Is it safe?"

"Sort of," said Kilroy, picking up the coal scuttle. "The view's - "

" - yes, it is," agreed Griffin, who had climbed over the sill. "My god it is."

Even the low cloud and rain couldn't mar the sight of the rolling countryside spread out in front of them. Except for bird song and a lone cow lowing there was no sound; the air sweet, if cold, the only sign of human habitation was a village on the other side of the valley. Closer at hand, a vague pattern became discernible in the tangle of unattractive vegetation beneath them.

"Great-Uncle Percy wasn't a gardener either," offered Kilroy, joining him on the balcony.

"How much land do you have?"

"About sixteen acres in front of you. More round the side and front, of course."

"Then we'll drink a toast to Great-Uncle Percy tonight. It's not just this," Griffin gestured outside. "The house has incredible potential, although it'll always be eccentric."

"Is that bad?"

"Not if, like me, you prefer something with character. And this has character plus. Is that water through those trees in the middle?"

"I have a lake," said Kilroy in lofty tones. "And a wood, though I have to admit it's not easy to tell where it starts." While he struggled for objectivity, his love for the place shone through.

"Let's go and take a look." Griffin climbed back into the musty-smelling bedroom. "From the approach to the house you'd never guess it would have these kind of views, or the privacy."

"You value that highly."

"Especially after I found it in short supply. Let's go."

Climbing in behind him and closing the window, some rotting wood came away in Kilroy's hand. He gave it a doubtful look. "It's still raining."

"I had noticed. If we put the heating on before we go..."

"You must be frozen. It is chilly."

"The exercise will warm me up."

"Have you been taking lessons from Pollyanna?" enquired Kilroy. "Never mind," he added, in answer to a blank look from Griffin.

Following Kilroy down to the kitchen which would have been considered Spartan fifty years ago, Griffin jumped at the clanging noise which had started up, seeming to echo around him.

"It's OK," said Kilroy, reappearing from the laundry room. "It just means the pump's working. I think there must be an airlock somewhere in the system."

Of the view a hurricane would be nearer the mark, Griffin firmed his beginning-to-twitch mouth, adding a central heating contractor to the mental list he had begun to compile. "Probably," he agreed, managing to keep his voice steady.

Busy kicking the warped bottom of the back door, Kilroy paused. "This isn't what you're used to, is it." He put his shoulder to the top of the door, while giving the bottom another hefty kick.

"That's what you think. I spent quite a few holidays with school-friends, when it wasn't convenient to fly home. I could write a book about draughty white elephants. Stop worrying, I'm fine."

Beaming, Kilroy heaved the door shut behind them. A small pane of glass fell out of the window next to it. Glancing at Griffin, who was struggling for sobriety, Kilroy released the bubble of laughter which had been forming minute by catastrophic minute.

"We'll have to work out a plan of campaign," he decided, when they had sobered.

"Bedroom, kitchen, study. Bedroom first, because I get nervous about sleeping with anything large and hairy." Griffin punched Kilroy's biceps when Kilroy gave a lecherous grin. "You don't qualify."

"I could work at it. 'Strewth, it's cold out here - and murky. You don't fancy going upstairs for a bit of the other, do you?" A familiar gleam replaced Kilroy's theatrical leer.

Griffin gave him a thoughtful look, before murmuring:

"Though Love and all his pleasures are but toys/
They shorten tedious nights.'

"Not to mention the fact the exercise warms you up. Save the thought for later. I intend to take my time over you - now you're awake enough to notice." While his tone was flippant, the spark had been lit, lust running between them like a current, firing their nerves.

"Ah." Stepping closer, Kilroy ran his fingertips along the edge of Griffin's jacket. "It's only five past twelve. We've got as long as you like. I'll come quietly, guv."

Griffin's smile was wickedly knowledgeable. "Not today, you won't." Oblivious to the soft rain speckling their hair, faces and clothes, he found Kilroy's mouth. The kiss, assertive and deep, was a possessive statement of intent. "OK," he murmured, drawing back a few inches, "you talked me into it."

Touching constantly, as urgent for one another as if they had been parted for months, they left a trail of clothes up to the bedroom. Hunched with desire by that time, Griffin seemed to have forgotten the cold as he pulled down his jeans, his erection straining at the front of his boxer shorts.

"I am not going to rush this," he insisted, evading Kilroy's hands. "No, I'll come. Let's see to you first." Sinking to his knees, he unfastened Kilroy's cords, easing his briefs down with care for the burgeoning contents.

"James." Kilroy firmed his legs. "You can't. It isn't - " his breath caught " - safe."

Blowing gently over his prize, his eyes heavy and brilliant with lust, Griffin looked up. "The fuck I can't. I'm going to eat you. 'S all right." One-handed, he fished for his discarded jeans, fumbling for his wallet, forgotten until now in his back pocket. Flipping it open, he found a foil-wrapped condom. Tearing the top of the foil open with his teeth, he dropped the limp latex on the bed against which Kilroy swayed, and leant forward.

Sucking the dark-downed thighs, his tongue teasing the stark definition of muscle at the junction of thigh and groin, Griffin explored every fold, crevice and warm hollow, his hair and the slight abrasion of jaw and cheek a further distracting stimulus for the man above him.

His prick seeming to swell with every touch, Kilroy swayed and gasped as his swollen testicles were thoroughly investigated. And all the time Griffin's hands supported, restrained and caressed him, fingers rarely still, so that Kilroy was never sure of the exact moment when he was expertly encased. For heart-catching seconds the head of his penis enjoyed the torment and promise of Griffin's lips and tongue. Groaning, Kilroy thrust involuntarily, forcing Griffin to draw away or gag.

"Gently...gently." Holding Kilroy's flanks, Griffin took him back in as he willingly offered up his mouth and throat. As Kilroy's pelvic thrusts shortened, Griffin's eyes scrunched when the fingers locked in his hair clenched, before they relaxed as Kilroy came.

Wordless, his legs unable to support him, Kilroy slumped, finding the edge of the bed more by luck than judgement. "Bloody hell," he breathed, staring at Griffin, whose forehead now rested against his bent knees. Reaching out, he lightly touched the top of the bowed head.

Stirring, Griffin muttered something incomprehensible. Interpreting with no difficulty, Kilroy quickly removed the remainder of their clothing and settled Griffin on the sagging mattress.

"Only had the one condom," said Griffin, frustration grating in his voice as his right hand encircled his penis.

Kilroy caught hold of his wrist. "Then we'll be careful. Come against me. Over me." Loving Griffin's helpless responsiveness, he took charge, cradling Griffin, who came the moment his balls were gently squeezed.

Slumping as the storm in his blood eased, Griffin rolled onto his back. "M-goy," he gasped.

"Very probably," agreed Kilroy with a grin, hugging Griffin with exuberant delight.

"Thank you again, I think." Griffin's eyes were still closed, his slightly swollen mouth curving. "So much for my plans."

Lightly massaging cooling slickness into his belly, Kilroy patted Griffin's flank. "There's always later. I've got all we'll need in my bag." He licked the corner of the softened mouth, before kissing Griffin in earnest. Urgency abated, they indulged themselves.

"Mmn, what was that for?" enquired Griffin some time later, his mouth rosy. "Not that I'm complaining," he added unnecessarily.

"I'll give you three guesses."

Looking absurdly pleased with himself, Griffin rolled onto his stomach, his stretch doing wonderful things to the muscles of his back and buttocks. "You're more than welcome. Sucking you is no hardship. Shit, but it's cold."

"The bedding's damp, too." Loving the sensation of the muscled flesh brushing his naked cock, Kilroy snuggled closer.

Giving him a determined shove, Griffin sat up to rub his goosebumped arms. "It's too cold." Slumped on the edge of the bed, he fished for his clothes.

"Passion-killer," accused Kilroy, sadly watching some favourite areas disappear from view.

"Believe it. But if it worries you so much, there's an added incentive for you to keep me warm."

 

Having heaved the mattress onto the floor to air it in front of the fire, they left it there after discovering later that evening that it had all the characteristics of a trampoline when on the sagging divan. An unzipped thermal sleeping-bag slung over his shoulders, Griffin was straddling the man he had lavished such care over, Kilroy's skin fragrant with aromatic oil, his body open and spasming with need.

"How would you like me?" murmured Griffin indulgently, nibbling a pink nipple and feeling Kilroy's belly muscles ripple in response.

"My wish is your command?"

"Why not?"

Kilroy traced Griffin's profile with his forefinger. "I want to feel the weight of you covering me while your cock's filling me. And I want it to last for ever."

Giving a husky snort of amusement, Griffin helped him to turn onto his stomach. "I'll do my best." Stroking the wide-parted buttocks, he bent to suck at the spasming anus, before probing it with his tongue.

Kilroy's breath hissed inward when the head of Griffin's cock entered him for the first time and he tried to raise himself, abruptly wanting it all, now. His legs splayed wide, pelvis only slightly elevated, he lacked the leverage. He gave a sigh of contentment when he felt Griffin's weight settle over him fully, the mouth that teased shoulders and neck, sometimes sucking, sometimes biting.

Toying with them both, Griffin's movements were almost languid at first; he would stop, murmuring to the man beneath him as he sucked at his flesh, only to start before stopping again. By the time he surrendered to the rhythm his body demanded, Kilroy was incoherent beneath him, his roughened voice breaking as he urged Griffin to completion, his own lusty yell precipitating Griffin to climax.

It was some time before either man felt like moving. Having been cleansed and covered, Kilroy lay in a blissful sprawl, languidly watching Griffin slide back onto the mattress.

"M-goy."

"What?"

"It means 'thank you', doesn't it?" Proud of his pronunciation, Kilroy was indignant.

"Oh, is that what you were trying to say? Well, yes it does, but in the circumstances daw-tse would be more appropriate."

"Why?" asked Kilroy, mistrusting Griffin's mischievous grin revealed by the flame of Griffin's lighter.

"M-goy is just a polite acknowledgement. Daw-tse is the common response after receiving a gift - or some service of great value."

Griffin's voice was so bland that it took Kilroy a moment to catch on. "Of all the smug, self-satisfied... You could have a point though," he conceded fairly, before a thought occurred to him. "Hang on, how come I didn't rate a proper 'thank you'?"

"I was afraid you might think of that," Griffin admitted.

"So you should be. I might take great umbrage."

The warmth of Kilroy's arm banding his abdomen, Griffin flicked his partially-smoked cigarette into the heart of the fire. "You haven't got the energy."

"Maybe not, but you wait until tomorrow," Kilroy threatened darkly, rubbing his nose on Griffin's shoulder.

Giving a resigned sigh, Griffin felt content enough to let him get away with it.

 

A pressing need for the bathroom waking him, cowardice kept Griffin in their snug cocoon for a few moments more as he drowsily surveyed what he could see of his surroundings. The glow of the fire cast surreal shadows, pools of deepening darkness spreading out from the mattress. A window was rattling in the wind, the fire whispering as ashes resettled. Refocusing with a sense of being under surveillance, he jumped on realising they were three to a bed. A mouse sat at the foot of the mattress, ears tuned for the slightest sound. Unblinking and bright-eyed, whiskers twitching, it seemed to return his gaze before it scratched its ear, defecated and skimmed off into the darkness.

"Oh shit," said a hollow voice.

The spell broken, Griffin turned to face Kilroy. "Did you see that?"

"I hoped you were asleep," Kilroy said wryly.

"You did see it then."

"Don't worry, you're not hallucinating. We can move to another room if you'd rather."

"No point," shrugged Griffin. "I have a feeling that all the rooms will be equally blessed."

"You're taking this remarkably well."

"Yours isn't the only draughty house I've visited. You just have tamer livestock. I'll call - Rentokil, did you say? - in the morning."

"There's no phone," said Kilroy, in the manner of one making a clean breast of things.

"There is in my car." Griffin's smugness gave way to pathos when he slid from the bed. He quickly hauled on his thigh-length jacket.

"Oh, I like it. Very fetching. Where are you going?"

"For a walk round the estate. Where d'you think? God, it's cold. The lights aren't working either." Muttered imprecations indicating his progress, Griffin disappeared from the circle of light.

His baser instincts coming to the fore when a yell suggested the cistern had reverted to its habit of overflowing onto whoever was unfortunate enough to be under it, Kilroy drew the sleeping bag over his head. By the time Griffin returned, limping from the splinters he had acquired from the floorboards, Kilroy was giving an excellent portrayal of a man deeply asleep. It lost conviction when icy hands burrowed between his thighs.

 

Slow to wake the following morning, it wasn't until he emerged from the bathroom that Kilroy saw the note weighed down by a mobile phone on the mantlepiece.

As the tooth-marks on the bread in the kitchen were too small to be yours, I've gone to buy fresh food (and a kettle, paraffin lamps, toilet paper, mouse-proof tins and condoms).

Ring Rentokil! Much against my better judgement, I shall return.

James.

Smiling, Kilroy got busy.

Chapter Text

TWELVE

Despite Kilroy's optimism about the weather, it poured with rain for the next five days. A crusading light in his eye, Griffin ignored pointed hints and dissuaded Kilroy from spending all the time in bed (or rather on the mattress). By Wednesday night, exhausted and filthy, they had filled the ten large skips sitting in the driveway with the contents of four rooms only because Kilroy had the forethought to hire a couple of labourers for their muscle. The heaviest pieces of furniture had required the combined strength of at least three men to move. Having discovered the coach-house, which would make a huge garage, to be in a better state of repair than much of the house, Griffin had cleared out the junk of decades. They used the space to store the few pieces of furniture which Kilroy liked and which were in a state worth salvaging.

Rentokil had come and gone, but only after the team had made numerous pointed comments about the conditions in which they were expected to work. Kilroy's charm, and the cash Griffin slipped them when Kilroy wasn't looking, ensured the house was baited from attics to cellars and fortnightly visits promised for the next six weeks, after which time it was hoped Whitehaven would be free of rodents - live ones anyway.

"Let's hope they don't all crawl behind the wainscots to die," remarked Griffin, for whom the novelty of surfaces sticky with mouse urine was wearing thin.

"Happy thoughts like that I can do without," said Kilroy, coughing as a large chunk of plaster came away with the wallpaper he was stripping.

Perched on top of a stepladder, the saucer he was using as an ashtray in one hand, a cigarette in the other, Griffin looked unsympathetic. Smudged with dirt, his nails torn and filthy, and his sweater sporting two new holes, his five-day growth of beard added to his disreputable look.

"Are you sure you wouldn't be more comfortable staying in a hotel?" asked Kilroy, experiencing one of his periodic surges of guilt.

"I know I would be," said Griffin frankly, stubbing out his cigarette. "But there are compensations."

"There are?"

"At least I get to grope mine host. Besides, I've never done this sort of thing before."

"I bet you haven't. Don't say I don't know how to give my guests a good time."

While he grinned, his teeth looking white in his grimy face, Griffin's expression gentled. "Oddly enough, you are. I'm enjoying myself."

"I've never thought of you as a domestic animal. Slippers in front of the fire," Kilroy prompted.

"I wouldn't go that far. Perhaps it's the novelty value but I don't think so. There's a certain satisfaction about all this. While the work might be basic, at least you see results quickly."

"This is you talking, isn't it? We could start a new fashion in minimalist furnishings. Four upright chairs, two tables, a wardrobe and a mattress. It'll take years to get this place looking right."

Griffin had been thinking exactly the same thing; knowing he could achieve the desired result in months, he was wise enough not to suggest it. "Then do it room by room instead. Watch your back, I'm going to take the last of these curtains down. Then you can take me out to dinner, pour quantities of fine wine into me and bring me home and fuck me legless. We've been too exhausted for anything but sleep recently."

Scraper in hand, Kilroy paused, turned and gave him a smile of blinding sweetness.

Griffin eyed the sight with the gravest suspicion. "What are you looking so fatuous about?" he grunted, having begun to struggle with rusting curtain hooks. He tugged, and narrowly escaped concussion when he brought down the heavy brass rail holding the hooks, together with a quantity of plaster.

Accustomed to such mishaps, Kilroy's mood remained sunny. Griffin had worked like a navvy, fucked like an angel, and displayed every sign of enjoying himself. The real test was the fact he had just referred to Whitehaven as home. Knowing better than to mention the fact, he gave Griffin an injured look. "I was only leering at your arse."

"Yes?" Having left the stepladder to shake pieces of plaster from his hair, Griffin rubbed first his chin, then the area in question. "Then why don't we call it a day now, so you can give it a closer inspection?"

 

The following morning the hard work they had put in over the last few days showed every sign of having caught up with them.

"It can't be time to get up," moaned Griffin pathetically as he sank back under the covers, having woken to aching muscles and a strong disinclination to do anything but sleep. The rain hitting the windows added to his reluctance to shift, that and the cold air whistling past his nose.

Kilroy killed the alarm and quickly tucked his arm back into the warmth. "It is if you're intent on keeping to that back-breaking schedule you worked out."

The growl which issued from under the covers indicated a certain lack of enthusiasm.

"Thank god for that," sighed Kilroy with relief. "I've been knocking myself out trying to keep up with you."

Griffin's head turned on the pillow. "I wish you'd mentioned that earlier. It's your fault we've been exhausting ourselves."

"How d'you work that out?" asked Kilroy with a trace of indignation. "It wasn't my idea to work an average fourteen hour day."

"I can't say it would have been my first choice but I knew what you thought of effete city slickers." Griffin spared a scraped and calloused hand a rueful look, holding it out. "Rite of passage," he mocked, wryly amused at his own stupidity.

"Prat," said Kilroy, tucking the hand in question between his thighs. "We take the day off, then?"

"Two, if you like," said Griffin generously. He was asleep within minutes.

 

It was mid-morning before they got up. By the time they had devoured a leisurely brunch from food left in the mouse-proof containers, the rain had finally stopped.

"How about a look around the estate?" suggested Griffin. "Apart from visits to the shops and the odd restaurant we haven't stuck our noses out of doors for days."

"Have you got any boots - Wellingtons?"

Griffin shook his head.

"What size do you take?"

"Uh, I think it's a nine in Britain. Hang on, I'll look at this pair." Hauling off one of the Gucci loafers he was wearing, Griffin said, "Italian sizing."

"Well, I take eights and I've got a spare pair in the boot. See if you can get into them. It'll be sodden out."

So wrapped up that he bore more than a passing resemblance to the Michelin man of the tyre adverts, Griffin followed Kilroy into the weak sunshine, his legs looking matchstick thin when compared to his bulky torso.

"Watch yourself on the steps down from the patio," Kilroy warned, "they're slippery."

"So are the flagstones," noted Griffin, saving Kilroy when he skidded on the moss.

Of necessity their progress was even slower when they left the patio, hampered by thigh-length grass matted by the weather, brambles, nettles, ground elder and unexpected potholes.

"Moles, I think," said Kilroy, just before he tripped over a concealed branch, the rotting trunk covered by about a decade of vegetation.

Giving an absent nod, Griffin forged ahead with the dedication of a born explorer. Since arriving at Whitehaven he had visibly shed much of his reserve. Relaxed and at ease, he had the look and sound of a man who had been reminded how much fun life could be. It didn't occur to Kilroy that some of the change could be attributed to his own behaviour now he was no longer required to act a part.

"Dr Livingstone, I presume," intoned Griffin, making Kilroy jump when he came up behind him through a tangle of rhododendrons in a soggy woodland dell. One cheek bearing a long scratch, the knees of his torn jeans wet and muddy, two dead leaves were caught in his hair. Exertion had brought colour to his face. "This must look gorgeous in spring. But I can see why you dragged me down here - cheap labour."

"Damn, you guessed. Oh, watch yourself once we get out of this thicket. Some of the fencing must be down and cows get in. I haven't had a chance to work out which farm they're from yet."

"They don't bother me," said Griffin, just before he skidded. Something shot up from the undergrowth in front of them.

"Pheasant," said Kilroy, grabbing Griffin.

"No, a cow-pat," he corrected, his nose wrinkling as he tried to clean his boot on a tuft of grass. "Pheasant, eh. Well, that's dinner taken care of."

"Not on my land it's not."

Perching on a greenish tree stump, Griffin lit a cigarette. "No huntin', shootin' or fishin'?"

"That's right," said Kilroy, his manner uncompromising. "I've seen enough of all three."

"Yes, I expect you have," agreed Griffin. Reaching out, he caught hold of Kilroy's forearm. "Look. Don't move," he whispered. "We must be downwind of them or something." Delight on his face, he remained motionless until the three rabbits, probably catching a whiff of nicotine, disappeared.

"You're not usually that patient," Kilroy remarked, allowing himself to be urged on toward the lake.

"You'd be surprised. Astronomy isn't a hobby for anyone who's in a hurry."

"You're into astronomy?"

"Afraid so. Watch out, this is a boggy - shit! - bit. Help." Wobbling on one foot, Griffin waited for Kilroy to rescue the boot he had inadvertently left behind him.

"There you go, Cinders. Why the stars? I mean, what is it about space that hooked you?" asked Kilroy curiously as they squelched on, keeping their eyes firmly on the ground which was littered with traps for the unwary.

"I've never stopped to wonder why," mused Griffin. "Overriding curiosity, I suppose. And it was one of my father's passions, that probably had a large part to play initially. But I can't remember a time when I wasn't interested. Some stars have the most beautiful names."

"Such as?"

"Let's see - don't forget I've a northern sky to reacquaint myself with: no more Southern Cross. Betelgeuse, Aldebaran, Arcturus ...Zubenelgenubi," Griffin added wickedly.

"I wish I thought you made that one up. So you're a star-watcher."

"And planets, and the moon, of course. That's what most of us study. Don't get me started on the subject or I'll turn into a bore. But there's nothing like a couple of hours at a telescope for putting life more in perspective - and deepening the mystery. If I ever find myself a place to live and get my telescope set up you'll have to take a look. A few hours star-gazing is more therapeutic than almost anything you care to name."

"Sex," said Kilroy, predictably.

"You could have a point," Griffin conceded.

"Only could? I must be slipping."

"Very probably, given the state of the ground. The lake's farther away than I thought."

"And I don't think we'll get much closer to it until the ground dries off a bit. Now the sun's gone in it's getting cold. It'll be dark soon, and we could break a leg out here even in the daylight. I hadn't realised how much needs to be done," sighed Kilroy as they turned back, bearing right so that Griffin could get some idea of the other side of the grounds.

"There's no rush," Griffin comforted him.

"That's lucky, because there's not much cash either. It was only when we started to clear the house that I realised how big it is. Maybe I'll get a buyer for the stable block."

"Stable block?" Griffin's head turned, an intent look entering his eyes.

"You won't have seen it yet because it's tucked away to the right of the house, about two hundred yards down the lane. It's screened by that bank with the conifers on it. I was lucky there actually, because it has about an acre of land and a sort of drive and planning permission. All I need is a buyer. Where are you rushing off to?" added Kilroy, having to stride out to keep up with Griffin.

"To see it."

Bemused, Kilroy followed Griffin's single-minded passage, having to reserve his breath to keep up with him until they neared Whitehaven. "Funnily enough, the stable block was in far better nick than the house. It's got water, power and an old washroom and toilet. From its size, I think half of it must have been used for the coaches in the old days. It only cost me a couple of grand to fix up. Hold on, the only access is round the front now. I had the land fenced off. Would you like me to get the key?"

Griffin's impatient look spoke volumes.

An hour later, having made an exhaustive survey of the L-shaped building, Griffin stood in the echoing centre, staring about him with a mixture of delight and disbelief. "It's bloody well perfect," he breathed.

"For what?"

"A workshop and - given the height of it - a flat above. I'll want a lot of space, good light - and privacy. This has all three, with the added distraction of a wonderful view. I could work here. Do you have any idea of the hours I've wasted looking for a place like this? It has planning permission you say, for what?"

"Residential and light industrial use. You're welcome to use the place," added Kilroy, with the feebleness of one who felt himself being overrun by superior forces.

"I'm going to buy it," said Griffin in a definite tone. "Now. In case some other bugger suddenly decides to show an interest. I'll get my phone."

Kilroy started to lose track of events soon after that. Having listened to the first of Griffin's telephone calls, he began to understand how Griffin's business reputation had been gained. His socked feet to the fire in the study, which was empty save for two upright chairs and a Formica-topped table, Griffin was an unprepossessing figure. But he got things moving with a dazzling speed, using a mixture of charm, force of personality and the unconscious arrogance which came from always having the money to buy what he wanted.

"That's that then," Griffin announced, depositing the mobile phone on the floor. "The contracts and the architect should both be here tomorrow." He seemed visibly to draw energy back into himself but his eyes still gleamed.

Some of Kilroy's resentment faded. "You really want a workshop, don't you."

"Of course." Glancing round, as if only just reminded of Kilroy's existence, Griffin pulled a face. "I'm a selfish bastard. I've monopolised half the afternoon and evening. Not to mention ruining any plans you may have made for us tomorrow. I didn't think."

"You had other things on your mind," said Kilroy, aware that he had not been one of them. "Thanks to you, I'll have the money to get some work done around this place. There's a hotpot cooked if you're ready to eat. I put it on while you were busy on the phone."

Getting up with alacrity, Griffin paused to draw Kilroy back into the scanty light. "What's wrong? I know I haven't given you a chance to say much. If you've got second thoughts about my moving next door, it isn't too late to - "

"It isn't that." Going into the kitchen, which was by far the warmest room in the house, Kilroy took the hotpot from the oven, setting a loaf of warm French bread onto the breadboard and placing both in the centre of the old pine table he had scrubbed clean the day before. "Help yourself." He had already opened the bottle of claret.

"Then what's wrong?" pursued Griffin, sitting at the table and serving first Kilroy, then himself, with generous portions. Breaking off a piece of the crusty bread, he dunked it in the rich, meaty gravy. "This is good," he mumbled, his mouth full.

Kilroy received an incongruous mental flash of the sleek, groomed businessman he had picked up at the jazz club. Yet the mud-stained figure eating neatly with his fingers was little different, save that he seemed to have come to vibrant life, visibly revelling in all his senses rather than going through the motions.

"Your table manners are horrible," he remarked dispassionately.

"Who do you think I learnt this technique from?" retorted Griffin, helping himself to some more bread. "I'm serious, Kit. I didn't intend to thrust my way into your life the way I have this last week. Today must have been the final straw for you. Whitehaven - that's a stupid name for a red-brick house - means too much to you. Don't let me fuck it up. If you'd rather not have me living next door, say so. I won't take umbrage."

"Then you don't really want the stable block?"

"There'll be other places," shrugged Griffin, his gaze fixed on his plate despite the fact he was no longer eating.

There was a short silence.

"Of course I don't mind you moving in," said Kilroy roughly.

"Thank god for that," said Griffin, with the directness Kilroy found so refreshing. "You had me worried for a moment. And not just because of the workshop," he anticipated smartly.

"It's not like you to suffer from false modesty."

Griffin looked self-conscious and picked up his glass. "No. Well, if it isn't the thought of having me for a neighbour that's the trouble, what is bothering you?" He fished a breadcrumb from his glass of wine, ignoring the implication behind Kilroy's statement.

"I suppose it's the fact I hadn't appreciated how accustomed you are to getting your own way - buying whatever you want: workshop, car, people. It's all the same to you, isn't it."

His fork poised halfway to his mouth, Griffin set it down with precision. "No, it isn't. If you mean do I take people seriously when they claim to offer a twenty-four-hour-a-day service, for which I pay handsomely, then yes, I do. They can always say no."

"But they never do, do they. Money talks."

With some deliberation Griffin took a mouthful of wine. "Crudely put but essentially correct."

"I'm a crude bloke. Not in your social - or monetary - sphere at all. Or does Whitehaven make up for my other deficiencies?"

Gently pushing aside his half-eaten meal, Griffin rummaged in his pockets before lighting a cigarette, using the time to control his temper. When he looked up his expression was unrevealing, which was a warning in itself. "Was that a serious question?" Steady-eyed, he held Kilroy's gaze.

Only then did it occur to Kilroy how offensive his question had been. "No," he said with an apologetic grimace. "If I'd been on the other end of that first phone call, I'd've told you to get stuffed. You virtually told him how to do his job."

"No, I gave him all the facts he needed and made it plain I was in a hurry. He's a pompous windbag but a good lawyer, that's all that interests me. I'm damned if I'll pretend I want to socialise with him. We are not, and never will be, friends."

"You don't believe in wasting time, do you," remarked Kilroy, realising his remark must have stung; Griffin never usually bothered to justify his actions.

"Not when it's something that's important to me. I can't say I've noticed you being any different in that respect. Or maybe you didn't listen to yourself giving that mechanic a bollocking after he fucked up the service to your Renault. It's about time you put that bee in your bonnet about money being the root of all evil to rest," Griffin added irritably, pouring himself another glass of wine.

"Old prejudices die hard," muttered Kilroy, toying with a piece of parsnip on his plate.

"Then put them out of their misery, kill them quickly. You still don't like me very much, do you." It was not a question.

Startled, Kilroy looked up. "Don't be ridiculous."

Shrugging, Griffin let it pass and drained his glass, turning it absently between his hands.

Reaching out, Kilroy took a firm grasp of Griffin's wrist. "If I didn't, I wouldn't have given you my key, never mind invited you down here," he said in exasperation. "I liked you even before I knew much about you. I know that doesn't make much sense but that's the way it was."

"Lust and logic never go hand in hand." Griffin eased himself free.

The corners of Kilroy's eyes crinkled when he smiled. "Maybe they don't, but I haven't changed my mind. And it's not just because I still fancy you something rotten," he said confidently. His abrupt change of expression betrayed the direction of his thoughts and he glanced at Griffin in obvious question.

"You're not the only idiot," Griffin admitted, without enthusiasm.

Kilroy poured them both another glass of wine. "A while ago I saw a new side of you - like a rocket after someone lit the blue paper. Only no-one warned me to stand clear. All of a sudden I felt, I don't know, like a stranger. Why is getting a workshop so important to you? It can't just be so you can play carpenter."

"Play?" Griffin's voice lost its edge. "This isn't a rich man's hobby, more like an obsession of mine."

"But you're a businessman," said Kilroy blankly.

"For eighteen interminable years. It wasn't my first choice of career. Maybe I'm going through a mid-life crisis, but now I have the chance I intend to take it." Griffin extended his strong, long-fingered hands; scraped and calloused from recent labour, they were still beautiful. "These might be useless when it comes to cooking but put the right tools in them and... What the hell, furniture design's a hobby of mine." Refilling his glass, he drank deeply from it, avoiding Kilroy's eye.

"Why do you want to design furniture - for the prestige, the money?"

"Don't you ever think of anything else? Of course I want to sell my work, or to know others think enough of it to pay to own it. But it's more than that. It's the joy that comes from creating something from nothing, of enhancing the beauty of the wood I'm using. I want to create pieces which give pleasure every time they're used. I want the satisfaction of knowing that work I've done will still be bringing pleasure to someone three hundred years from now."

Caught in the blaze of Griffin's fervour, this the last ambition he had expected to hear Griffin voice, Kilroy didn't know what to say, his every preconception crumbling. "Posterity rather than a cheque book," he murmured without mockery. "Are you that good?" He wished he knew something about the subject.

The face Griffin turned to him was suddenly naked, haunted by self-doubt. "I don't know," he muttered, running a hand back through his dishevelled hair, most of which had escaped its elastic band. "I could have been. I might have left it too late. But it's more probable that I'm deluding myself because I can't stand the idea of mediocrity. I don't know. And I have to find out. For better or worse I need to know. I've wasted too many years already. Can you understand?"

Driven by his own needs, haunted by his own doubts, Kilroy understood with an uncomfortable, empathic clarity. "Is this why you didn't tell me what you were doing before?"

Looking as if he wished he was somewhere, anywhere, else Griffin nodded and lit a cigarette.

Suspecting that Griffin would have found it easier to stroll naked down Piccadilly than volunteer that closely-guarded secret and the hopes which accompanied it, Kilroy opened a second bottle of wine, refilling Griffin's glass. "I suppose it was your father who wanted you in the family business?"

"That's right."

"And you turned him down?"

"Of course. But it was only a partial victory. Marius Melville wasn't a man it was easy to ignore. The corrupting power of money, you see." Who it was Griffin mocked wasn't clear.

"You could have insisted on going your own way," Kilroy pointed out, remembering the choices he had faced.

Griffin's mouth twisted. "Of course I could." He topped up his glass with wine.

"From all I've heard, your father had a strong personality."

"That's one way of putting it. I wasn't equal to the struggle." Looking up, and correctly interpreting the expression on Kilroy's face, Griffin shook his head. "Save your compassion for a worthier subject. I knew what I was doing."

"Never made a mistake, eh?"

"Show me a forty-year-old who says that and I'll show you a liar - or a fool. Just as it trapped me, the Melville power cushioned me. His empire was vast. Do you have any concept of the kind of power it brought him? And he knew how to use it." Griffin licked a spot of wine from his hand. "He always said the word 'no' wasn't in his vocabulary. It was no idle boast. What he meant by it, of course, was that he never accepted no for an answer - unless it suited him. Not in business, not in his private life, although he had difficulty in separating the two. He wasn't a man given to compromise. Getting your own way can be habit-forming."

"For you, too?" asked Kilroy, uncertain what he was being told.

"Me?" There was a corrosive self-mockery in Griffin's voice.

"James..."

"Save it," said Griffin with a humourless snort. "I lost any illusions about myself years ago." Devoid of self-pity, it was a bleak statement of fact, speaking of lessons bitterly learnt.

"You're too hard on yourself."

"You think so? As an accessory to murder, I damn well should be." Hunched over the table, his glass between his hands, Griffin was staring at something only he could see.

"Who was murdered?" asked Kilroy practically, keeping his voice level only with some effort, knowing that Griffin could close him out at any time.

"Robert Wong."

"Who was he?"

Silent for a moment, there was a distant quality to Griffin's voice when he replied, "My lover, many years ago. We were green as grass. Sweet sixteen and in love for ever. As you can imagine, we didn't actually announce as much to the world. We already knew what it would have to say. There were so many pressures at that time, not least the fact we'd both realised we were expected to go into our respective families' businesses, without being able to see any way out of it. God, we were so naive. We decided to run away to live happily ever after. While that wasn't bright, even more stupidly we did it in Hong Kong rather than waiting until we were back in England for the summer term."

"What happened?" Kilroy asked, hoping his intervention wouldn't halt the reminiscent flow for good.

"We fled into the old city - Kowloon. Locals called it Hak Nam: the City of Darkness. For obvious reasons. It was an ants' nest. No place for two babes in the woods. Back in the sixties, the police wouldn't enter the place, with good cause. You don't know what poverty means in the West."

Force of will kept Kilroy quiet. Without looking up, Griffin gave a wintry smile. "Ironic, isn't it, me lecturing you about poverty. In Hak Nam you couldn't mistake it. But even there you saw varying degrees. If you were lucky, you lived in one of the tenements. Stack upon stack of shifting matchboxes linked by a maze of twisting corridors, bare wires hanging from the ceilings, with water dripping from them as you waded ankle-deep through the rubbish on the floor; cockroaches and rats were everywhere. Twelve people sharing a room six foot square, having to sleep in shifts because there wasn't the space to do anything else. One tap between fifty families, the destitute left to rot when they died. Life was cheap, except to those to whom it belonged. Robert and I got jobs in one of the twenty-four hour sweatshops; we made ping-pong balls. I've never cared for table tennis since." Looking up, Griffin's eyes pinned Kilroy where he sat. "Don't ever try to tell me there's nobility in poverty. The only nobility is in people despite it, never because of it."

"How did you both survive? They don't sound the ideal surroundings for public schoolboys." Training came to Kilroy's rescue, his tone as prosaic as he could make it.

Swirling the dregs of his wine in his glass, his expression distant, Griffin shrugged. "With the arrogance of youth it never occurred to us that we wouldn't. I found out how we managed to survive - later. My father traced us within twenty-four hours, even in Hak Nam. Although on reflection it wouldn't have been difficult. There weren't many occidentals living there. I must have stuck out like a sore thumb. He left us alone for seventeen days. If it was supposed to teach me a lesson, it backfired. God knows what he must have paid the Triads to keep us alive. It would have been far cheaper to have us killed."

"Is that how Robert died?"

Lighting a cigarette, Griffin shook his head. "I don't know. I was 'hijacked' by a couple of my father's bodyguards on my way back from the market one morning. After a stormy few days, going crazy worrying that Robert would think I'd abandoned him, I heard he'd been found floating in the harbour. At the time I believed my father when he said he'd done all he could to find out what had happened. Maybe I just needed to believe him. There was nothing else left. It was only later, several years later, that doubt set in."

"What did the police say about Robert's death?"

"Murder by person or persons unknown. Unofficially it was attributed to a Triad killing. The Fourteenth K and the Ging Yi were in the middle of a power struggle and Robert's family..." Griffin shrugged. "As the only son he was a natural target."

Beginning to suspect this was a world whose complexities he was never going to understand, Kilroy poured himself a drink. "Then what makes you think your father was responsible for Robert's death?"

Griffin drained his glass as if it contained water. "Robert was the gentlest of boys. The only two things which interested him were sex and art - although not necessarily in that order. My father was far more single-minded. He loathed any disruption to his plans, for whatever reason. And he always wanted the best for me. His 'best'. Those who didn't meet with his approval had a habit of disappearing from my life."

"Murdered?"

"Nothing so crude," dismissed Griffin in the same detached tone, obviously lost to his memories. "We're back to the corrupting power of money. After Robert's death I went crazy for a while, got myself suspended from school and sent home. Hong Kong's the ideal place to run wild. The kidnap sobered me up. It also made me understand why my father never publicly acknowledged me as his son. We became a lot closer - until I discovered he'd bought off the next love of my life. It was supposed to be a warning, to put me on my guard against fortune-hunters. I took it as a warning of a very different kind. There was no limit to what my father would do to safeguard a plan of his. And he had a number of them for me."

"Was it the fact you're bi-sexual he couldn't accept?"

Looking up in surprise, Griffin shook his head. "He had no choice but to accept it," he said simply. "It's what I am. Or perhaps not. If I hadn't gone through a period when I wanted to conform maybe I wouldn't have discovered women. My sexuality wasn't the problem. While he didn't understand my passion for boys, my father found passion and all the emotions that can accompany it a difficult concept to accept in himself, never mind anyone else. After he'd told me that he'd paid off Anita we argued fiercely - or I did. I never knew him to lose his temper. When I asked if he'd tried to buy Robert off he said that some people just wouldn't be warned, and couldn't be bought off. And because I was afraid he might tell me the truth if I pushed it, I never asked the obvious question. But I was careful after that in my choice of lovers. I didn't want to risk another sea-green incorruptible who might inadvertently get in the way of his plans."

"Did your father ever threaten you?"

"Never, and I certainly gave him the provocation, especially in those early years. That was the trouble," Griffin's eyes were haunted. "I soon realised that I would never be the one to pay the price. And so I became adept at rationalising the favours I did for him: a seduction here, a question there, never asking why in case he told me and I had to admit the truth. Sweet christ, why am I telling you this," he muttered in horror, as if only just realising what he was saying. He peered at his glass. "How much have I had to drink?"

"About a bottle and a half of claret."

"That must account for it." Picking up the bottle which sat between them, Griffin frowned when only a few drops emerged.

"You'll need a clear head for the architect tomorrow morning," said Kilroy mildly, his expression giving no sign of his inner turmoil, caused as much by what Griffin had left unsaid as by his revelations.

"At all costs. I'll call a taxi and book into a hotel." Griffin's restless, too-bright gaze flicked around the room, settling everywhere but on Kilroy. His chair scraped noisily over the tiles as he got unsteadily to his feet.

"Who is it you're running away from this time - me, or yourself?"

Staring at Kilroy for dangerous seconds, unexpectedly Griffin began to laugh, if without amusement. "Who d'you think?"

"Then you may as well stay here. The lack of comfort should suit your masochistic leanings."

Obviously finding it difficult to concentrate, Griffin abandoned the attempt and slumped back onto his chair with an abruptness which suggested necessity rather than choice. Tilting his chair back on two legs, he fished behind him for the only bottle remaining on the side. He pulled a face after squinting at the label.

"This brandy deserves better, but that's life."

"Will it help?"

"I'll let you know later." Pouring a large measure into his empty wine glass, Griffin lit another cigarette. "Are you planning to sit and watch? I've concluded reminiscences for the night. Now I'm going to wallow in even more self-indulgence and get drunk. You can do what the fuck you like."

"Then I think I'll join you," said Kilroy, a certain grimness to his voice.

"Why?"

"Why do you think?"

"I'm trying not to."

"What is it you're so afraid of?" asked Kilroy, a glass of brandy later.

"You - and myself," added Griffin almost inaudibly, a slight slur in his voice by now. While he looked away immediately, Kilroy had seen the fear in his eyes and wondered what memory had been stirred for Griffin. After some more brandy any questions Kilroy may have had had become blurred.

Chapter Text

THIRTEEN

 

"You have a visitor," announced Kilroy with a brightness he was far from feeling as he entered the kitchen. "I left him in the study. He didn't seem impressed with the decor. You look like shit," he added frankly.

"Yeah? You don't look so great yourself." Morosely slumped on the chair he had occupied the previous night, Griffin took a sip of coffee, grimaced and set the mug down. If it hadn't been for the fact he had changed and shaved, Kilroy would have thought Griffin had remained there all night.

"There's aspirin on the side if you need them," Griffin added colourlessly.

"Thanks." Kilroy took two, and after a pause, another two. "I can't remember the last time I drank that much."

"Nor me, but I can remember why I don't make a habit of it. It was a hell of a waste of good claret."

"I put it down to the brandy we had afterwards." Kilroy sank onto the chair opposite Griffin.

"Whichever." Griffin stared at the cigarette he had taken from a crumpled packet. "The guy in the study. Is he the architect or lawyer?"

"I didn't think to ask him. Given the Armani suit and Lotus I'd say the former. Name of Cassell."

"You'd be right. I'll go and get rid of him." Griffin heaved himself to his feet, all his usual grace lost.

"Your head must be bad."

"Why?" asked Griffin, frowning.

"I thought you were in a mad rush to get the workshop started."

Griffin shrugged and lit the cigarette he had been mutilating. "You still want me for a neighbour?"

"Christ, that's strong," complained Kilroy, having helped himself to a mouthful of Griffin's coffee. Then it dawned on him what he was being asked. "The fact your father was a manipulative bastard who may or may not have murdered your lover isn't relevant to us. It might not matter to you so much if you could stop feeling guilty for being alive." As he had intended, that caught Griffin's attention.

"Yes, I expect it might," he agreed coldly.

"Then give it a try. You'd better get a move on, Cassell looks like he charges by the minute. Here. My keys to the stable block, along with the spare set. Keep 'em. You'll need them both for when the workmen start," Kilroy added vaguely, helping himself to Griffin's coffee again.

"I haven't bought the place yet."

"I'm sure you're good for the money. Don't wait for the lawyers to start work. I trust you."

"Then you're a bloody fool." Scooping up the keys, Griffin paused in the doorway. "Maybe this isn't such a good idea," he said slowly.

Turning in his chair, Kilroy sighed when he recognised the doubts Griffin was in no state to hide. "Go," he said firmly. "I want to enjoy my hangover in peace."

 

Soaking in the bath that evening, Kilroy was frankly dozing in the steamy atmosphere when the door opened.

"Want any company?" asked Griffin; hovering, he made no effort to enter the room.

"Just so long as you close the door. There's a hell of a draught," mumbled Kilroy, who was floating in that blissful state of fatigue and physical comfort where consciousness was a moot point.

"Hard day?"

"I'm knackered. Started sorting through the junk in the breakfast room and got carried away. You know what it's like. Once you get a foot of space cleared you tell yourself you'll just do one more. Though I couldn't shift some of the furniture. There's a table in there at the back you're going to hate," Kilroy predicted happily, squeezing a sponge of warm water down his throat. "How did things go with Cassell?"

"Fine." Kneeling, his arms propped on the rim of the bath, Griffin pushed up his cuffs and absently trailed his fingers in the water, pushing bubbles along the wet hairs on Kilroy's upraised thigh. "Marcus isn't the stuffed shirt he might seem. Believe it or not, he's shy."

Kilroy gave a hoot of disbelief, then thought about it. "You could be right, I've known a couple of blokes like that myself. Can he do the job you want?"

"No problem. The plans should be couriered here by tomorrow evening. Once I give the go-ahead he'll organise everything, including the builders."

"Great. When will you be able to start work?"

Griffin shrugged, his eyes on the pattern he was creating on Kilroy's leg. "Depends when I can take delivery of the machines I need. Installing them won't take long. I'm looking for two weeks."

"Optimist. You don't seriously think they'll get the flat conversion done in two weeks?"

"Course not. But just so long as the ceiling's up, it won't interfere with me working down below. Everything I'll need will be ready."

"Fancy a bet on that - loser buys dinner?"

"I know just the restaurant," said Griffin, smiling, but there was still a certain reserve in his manner.

Kilroy decided to ignore it in the hope it would go away. "You would. Add some more hot water, this is cooling down."

"You'll turn into a prune," Griffin warned as he obliged.

"Already have." Waving a wrinkled big toe above the water which lapped around the base of his throat, Kilroy slipped and disappeared beneath the surface for a second or two.

Griffin's arm shot out to haul him back into view. "There are better things to drink than bathwater," he reproved, when Kilroy had stopped spitting. "Though it's surprisingly clean."

"This is my rinsing water," Kilroy explained hoarsely, still coughing as he wiped moisture from his eyes.

"That would account for it. Can I buy you a present?"

"Of what?" asked Kilroy with deep suspicion.

"Four strong men," said Griffin gravely.

A happy grin split Kilroy's face. "Now that's what I call real generosity."

His palm over the crown of Kilroy's head, Griffin pushed him back under the water. "To help clear the house," he explained patiently, when Kilroy reappeared.

"Spoilsport. That'd be great. Though I reckon it's because you can't hack the work myself. I surrender," Kilroy added cravenly, when Griffin loomed above him. "And thanks. It would take us for ever. You'll have to tell me what's worth keeping, then they can junk the rest. I don't know what I've done to deserve this."

"Nor do I," said Griffin, grimacing when he realised how damp he had become, "but I'll probably think of something."

"As you're so wet already, you may as well get in with me."

Wringing out the sleeve of his thick sweater, which did it no good at all, Griffin shook his head. "Too tired."

"I'll do all the work," coaxed Kilroy.

"You might have to." Griffin began to undress without noticeable enthusiasm.

Kilroy lay back to enjoy the view, the head of his penis rising to peep coyly out of the water.

"And hello to you, too. That was quick," noted Griffin, rubbing himself unselfconsciously as he dipped one foot in the water to check it was hot enough. "I suppose you expect me to sit on the plug?"

"Only if you can't find somewhere more comfortable." Kilroy gestured down to himself. "There are some Mates on the window-ledge."

"I hope they're not Great-Uncle Percy's," said Griffin, as he wandered over to retrieve them. A wet sponge catching him under the chin, he returned it with accuracy.

oOo

His holiday over far too soon, Kilroy was aware that something was wrong between them without being certain what it was. Uneasy at the foreign phone calls he had heard Griffin make, and beginning to regret his own lack of fluent Italian, his suspicions began to stir, the more so when he realised what the purchase and conversion of the stable block were going to cost Griffin. In the circumstances, he was glad to leave for London, having agreed that Griffin would remain at Whitehaven until the house had been cleared. Neither man suggested that they meet up before the following weekend.

oOo

By the time Kilroy got back to Whitehaven on Saturday morning he had been too busy to have time to worry about his domestic arrangements or Griffin's frame of mind. If Griffin had any doubts, they weren't apparent when he took Kilroy out to dinner.

"What will you do if the machinery isn't going to be installed until the week after next?" Kilroy asked over coffee.

"Why don't you just say 'I told you so' and get it over with? I'd hoped to stay down here and do some more house clearing but something has come up. I have to fly to Geneva on Monday."

"Not the gnomes of Zurich?"

"Right principle, wrong city," said Griffin, adroitly changing the subject.

When they arrived back at Whitehaven some time after midnight, Kilroy stood in the middle of the echoing entrance hall and flung out his arms. "You've got to admit, it's cosy."

"A small place, but your own," agreed Griffin. Rubbing the back of his neck, he added, "I'm beat. Do you mind if we leave the game of backgammon until tomorrow?"

"Course not. I won't be long myself."

"Don't hurry on my account. I've cleared out the room down the corridor for my use," said Griffin as he reached the top of the stairs.

Stunned, it didn't occur to Kilroy to follow him.

oOo

Going into the kitchen just after eight the following morning, Kilroy saw all the signs that Griffin had already breakfasted, from the look of the dried yolk on the plate, at least two hours ago. He found Griffin outside the stable block, unloading a transit van.

"Who does that belong to?" asked Kilroy.

"Alan at the pub. He's lent it to me in exchange for me stripping down that Welsh dresser he was conned into buying. I can't transport much in the Jag. and I needed to move the stuff I'd acquired at that workshop I rented in town. Now you're here, come and have a look at how they're getting on."

Kilroy was impressed and made no bones about saying so. The new front door of solid mahogany now led into a wide, light hallway, off which were a fully-functional office and a small kitchen and a bathroom. Glass panelling revealed the workshop, which stretched the full length of the upright of the L-shape. "What's through here?" he asked, pointing to a door.

"Storage shed for the wood. The temperature control isn't as vital as it might be because the wood is already seasoned, but I prefer to keep a decent level of stock - and a variety of timbers, of course. The damp is likely to be more of a problem than too much heat. I won't be seasoning my own timber at the moment, I've found a couple of excellent suppliers for all I'll need."

When Griffin opened the door, Kilroy took an appreciative sniff. "What's that gorgeous smell?"

"Wood," said Griffin in a patient tone. "Each species has its own characteristic smell. You're really interested?"

"I'm really interested," confirmed Kilroy. Two hours later he was far better informed, if a little confused.

"They should bottle the scent. With the office and stuff out front, you hardly need a flat."

"That's what you think."

"You'll echo round this workshop. What are they?"

"Speakers for the music system," said Griffin, as if it should have been obvious.

"Silly me," murmured Kilroy, staring out of one of the large windows which looked onto the patch of wilderness which had once been a part of his garden. "Is everything all right?"

"Of course. How d'you mean?" Griffin added without turning.

They stood so close that Kilroy was acutely conscious of the warmth of Griffin's body, the light tang of his cologne and the trace of nicotine. "Last night. I know a mattress in front of the fire isn't exactly luxurious, but I've got a new bed on order. I'd like to share it with you."

"It isn't that," said Griffin irritably, running a hand back through his hair.

"Then what is it? Me?" The speaking look he received reassured Kilroy on that point. "You'll have to give me a clue."

"I just thought it might be easier if we had separate rooms."

"Easier for what?" asked Kilroy, mystified.

"You're sex obsessed," said Griffin irritably. "So that when I can't sleep I don't have to lie there listening to you. You don't care for the idea?" He sounded no more than amused.

"No I bloody don't. I like sharing a bed with you and waking up next to you."

"And following me into the john to finish whatever conversation you're in the middle of. I'm used to some space in my life. This last week reminded me that I need it. I enjoy having time to myself, I've been accustomed to it for too many years to find it easy to adapt. It isn't you," Griffin added quickly as he met a reproachful blue stare, "it's me."

"Right."

"I just thought the other room would be handy for the nights when I can't sleep," Griffin heard himself say weakly.

"Fine."

"I - " Breaking off whatever he had been about to say, Griffin made a soft sound of defeat and kissed his disconsolate-looking companion.

Inevitably one thing led to another.

 

That night Kilroy was gratified to see his bedroom door open; Griffin appeared, trailing a duvet that was partially wrapped round him, a paraffin lamp in one hand because the lights had failed again.

"I think I prefer candlelight," Kilroy remarked, his nose wrinkling. "Not only is it more romantic but it doesn't smell nearly as bad." To prove Griffin wasn't going to have everything his own way he remained on the portion of mattress he had warmed.

"It doesn't give much light either," retorted Griffin with asperity, turning the lamp down and sliding in beside him with an audible shiver.

Kilroy withstood the sound of chattering teeth for a good thirty seconds before, with a sigh, he clambered over Griffin. "Go on. It's warmer by the fire."

"I know," said Griffin smugly, wriggling across before he winced as a firm hand impacted with his rump.

"Missed me, did you?" asked Kilroy after a few minutes, during which he surreptitiously redistributed the duvet, welcoming the extra warmth: it was a cold night.

"Actually, my chimney started smoking."

"Why, you rotten..."

Chuckling, Griffin put up no defence.

oOo

Frankly bored by the lack of interesting work coming in to the agency, by the beginning of December Kilroy was fed-up with what was turning into a weekend romance. His strong hints to Griffin about the benefits of London air fell on deaf ears when the first bandsaw was installed in the workshop; worse, Griffin had no other topic of conversation. Well, maybe one or two, Kilroy conceded grudgingly, but he wasn't in the mood to be reasonable, feeling excluded by Griffin's new passion. Alone because he refused to drive fifty-eight miles for a lukewarm reception similar to the one he had received on Monday night, he rang the workshop, only to get Griffin's answering machine again.

"It's me," he said shortly. "There isn't any message."

It wasn't until he'd rung off that he realised how childish he was being. Somehow he didn't think it would help to ring back. Tossing his book onto the opposite chair, he flicked through all four TV channels, then debated calling up a couple of friends for an evening's pub-crawl. It was easier than facing the truth which had been creeping up on him for some time: he missed Griffin. Equally, the headlines in the financial pages made it difficult to be natural around him. Marius Melville's business empire was collapsing and Kilroy couldn't stop himself from wondering and worrying, particularly since Griffin had just made his third trip to Geneva in three weeks: the city which had been Melville's second home. Worrying a hangnail by the side of his thumb, it was a moment before Kilroy realised the subject of his thoughts stood in the doorway.

"I did call," said Griffin mildly. "It must be middle age if you've started dozing off in the evenings." He dropped a gleaming wooden case on top of the American air force pilot's jacket which suited him so well.

"I was thinking," explained Kilroy with dignity, getting up to give him an absent-minded kiss before he went back for another, paying attention this time. "You smell wonderful. What is it, some exotic wood?"

"Your aftershave. I ran out of mine."

"I wish it smelt this good on me," mumbled Kilroy, who seemed intent on eating Griffin alive.

"Kit, hang on a minute, will you," expostulated Griffin, just before his breath caught. "Never mind," he muttered, helplessly thrusting into the palm rubbing him.

"God, your hands are cold," Kilroy complained some time later.

"I wasn't given much chance to warm them," Griffin reminded him tartly. "I'm too old for rolling around on the floor. Kit..."

After a minor upheaval, Kilroy found himself looking up into Griffin's face. "I always underestimate your strength," he wheezed as Griffin settled fully over him. "Bloody hell. You weigh a ton."

"Tough," said Griffin, staying where he was until he had caught his breath.

"Are you really pissed off with me?" Kilroy asked, already confident of the answer he could expect, Griffin a seemingly boneless sprawl over him.

Stirring with obvious reluctance, Griffin got to his feet and began to rearrange his clothing. "I might ask you the same thing after all those anonymous phone calls I've been getting." Noticing Kilroy's guilty twitch, he gave a resigned sigh. "I gather I've got another one to look forward to."

"I rang just before you arrived," Kilroy admitted sheepishly as he clambered to his feet, making the same necessary adjustments to his clothing before turning his attention to his dishevelled companion. Trying to do up the buttons on Griffin's shirt, he had to concede defeat because several of them were missing. "Sorry."

"So am I. I liked this shirt." Griffin shivered. "May I switch up the heating and borrow something to wear?"

Kilroy rested a hand against Griffin's forehead. "You must be sickening for something, it's not like you to ask. Help yourself. Have you eaten?"

"No, you came too fast," said Griffin sadly, tying his hair back in the ponytail he had adopted since the night Annie had introduced him to the idea.

The glimpse of the vaulting rib cage and the intriguing shadow of the navel between the gaping edges of the shirt distracted Kilroy. "What was that? Never mind, I'll get us something to eat. Will an omelette do you?"

"Make it a big one. I'm starving," Griffin ordered, before he went into the bedroom to search for the warmest sweater he could find, over one of his own shirts. "I wondered why I couldn't find this one," he remarked, as he strolled back into the kitchen.

"I was hoping it would fit me."

"It should have done. You're not that fat, are you?"

"I'd thump you if I wasn't busy with this. What brought you to town?" asked Kilroy, whisking eggs.

"Came to see you, of course," said Griffin. Raiding the fridge, he chopped ham, tomatoes and onions, before grating cheese in the manner of one born to the task. "I could do with some salad, too. Are there any olives?"

"I finished them last night. What dragged you away from the workshop?"

"Partly to see you."

"And the other part?" pursued Kilroy, grinning.

"You never give me any credit," complained Griffin without heat as he munched a ring of raw onion before handing one to Kilroy. "Here, you'd better have a piece or you won't let me anywhere near you. I had a meeting in the City. It also dawned on me that I'd better empty my suite at Brown's. I needed some of the reference books I'd left there."

"So you'll want a bed for the night," said Kilroy with satisfaction. "I knew that key I gave you would come in handy one day. Damn. This may be a bit herby," he added, peering into the bowl.

"Your omelettes always are. And you can stop looking so pleased with yourself. Is this all the bread we've got?"

"You have it," said Kilroy superfluously, given that Griffin was already eating it. "When was your last meal?"

"Yesterday sometime, I think. I was working on something and didn't want to stop. From your lack of sparkle do I take it that there are still no interesting cases on the agency's books?"

"You do. I'm going out of my mind with boredom. Pass me the plates. I wish something would happen. Well, no, I don't because it means trouble for some other poor sod. Though I wouldn't say no to a nice little industrial espionage case, even if I have to fight off the others to get it. There you go, wrap yourself round this."

Talking about everything from The Guardian crossword to the best way of clearing the grounds at Whitehaven, they ate a leisurely meal. Having cleared away, they took the remainder of the bottle of wine into the sitting-room.

"Fancy a game of backgammon?" asked Kilroy eagerly, having been hooked on the game by Griffin.

"Sure. I brought a board with me. It's over there on top of my jacket," said Griffin, heeling off his shoes before sitting cross-legged on the sofa.

Kilroy paused when he saw the case. "This is gorgeous." Opening it to reveal the board, he looked up. "It's beautiful. Where the hell did you get something like this? It isn't factory produced. What's that fantastic smell?"

"Cedar of Lebanon. The cups are lined with it, the counters made with it, though they won't last long. The wood's too soft. Do you like it?"

"Who wouldn't." Looking up, Kilroy suddenly accounted for the sparkle in Griffin's eyes. "Is this an original Griffin?"

"That's what my trade mark says," mumbled Griffin, disconcerted by his need for approval.

"You're blushing," noted Kilroy with a mixture of glee and wonder.

Griffin gave a self-conscious twitch. "I am not. Am I?"

"Nah, but I got you worried. No wonder you're looking so pleased with yourself. If this is the quality of the work you produce I don't think you're going to have any worries about people wanting your stuff. It must have taken hours to get all these different bits stuck together. Ah, wrong thing to say?"

"But in character. It's inlay work. It's common to use glue but the real skill comes from not using it. These aren't my work," Griffin added, tossing the dice in his palm. "I didn't want you accusing me of loading them. I've never met such a bad loser."

"You wish. I'm feeling lucky tonight."

"You'll need to be."

Cup poised in his hand, Kilroy looked up. "I've just had a thought. You aren't any good at making bookshelves, are you?"

Realising he was serious, Griffin began to laugh.

Chapter Text

FOURTEEN

Because 'flu had swept the ranks of the partners, to his intense disgust Kilroy found himself stuck with an additional four nights manning the phones, a duty he didn't care for when they were busy; when they were slack, life hit an all-time low. He arrived at Whitehaven early Friday evening. As he and Griffin dined in the kitchen on the best Marks & Spencer could provide, the minor irritations of the week began to recede. Content and at peace, Kilroy lazily toasted Griffin with his bottle of lager.

"Have you been sneaking in any more odd improvements while I've been away?" he enquired. "The house smells...fresher."

"It's called 'clean'. The novelty of finding everything sticky with mouse pee wore off so I imported a small army of non-squeamish ladies to help out, and hired a mountain of gear."

"Then it must be polish I can smell. I bet it frightened a few spiders. We didn't have a fridge last week, did we?"

Griffin looked vague.

"James..."

"You like cold lager, don't you? I got fed up with having to go shopping every day and I don't like warm milk. Oh, that reminds me. I hired those blokes we talked about. The house is clear - except for the attics."

Kilroy grinned. "I should've guessed. Even the room with the newspaper?" They had both been avoiding it, the smell when the door was opened warning enough.

"Don't remind me. There were some very odd things growing out of the floorboards in the far corner and the stench was foul. I had to give them a hand or they would have walked out. I would have liked to myself. Can we change the subject while we're eating?" Griffin added plaintively.

"Have some fruit, it'll clear your palate for that chocolate cake."

"You mean you can't manage a second piece?"

Kilroy eyed the fat, moist wedge with sorrow. "While it pains me to admit it, I couldn't." His face brightened. "Never mind, I'll have it for breakfast."

"I wish I thought you were joking," murmured Griffin, deftly peeling a clementine.

"It's better than wasting it. I'll start clearing up. That's a dishwasher! OK, what's the excuse for this?" demanded Kilroy, unamused to realise he had been sitting in a showcase kitchen for the last two-and-a-half hours without noticing; given what it replaced, he couldn't think how.

"We both hate washing-up. I haven't done anything else," said Griffin guiltily.

Mumbling to himself, Kilroy looked round. "I should think not. It looks fantastic," he admitted. "I thought I felt comfortable, just couldn't work out why. You'll have to let me know what I owe you."

"Civility would be a novelty. Forget it."

"Ja..."

"Forget it," said Griffin, a note of warning in his voice. "Or are we going to start bookkeeping about who pays for what?"

"The odd meal's a bit different from a new kitchen. Blimey, where did you get that glare from?"

"Just so long as it works," said Griffin placidly.

"It works. This is nice," discovered Kilroy. Wandering around the room, he opened and closed cupboards, whistling when he realised the kitchen now boasted every modern aid. "Get a couple of armchairs in here and we won't need to worry about the rest of the house."

"You'll be wanting the bed in here next. Oh, it won't surprise you to learn that BT say they have a waiting list. No phone for at least another couple of weeks. So I've left my second mobile in the study for you."

"Thanks. There are a couple of calls I meant to make before I left town. Jake was due back a couple of days ago and no-one's heard from him. As he went off touring Kenya we're a bit windy in case a poacher confused his beer-gut with an elephant's backside. The study, you say?"

"Oh, that reminds me. No, I haven't touched it," Griffin added indignantly, conveniently forgetting the repaired windows and replastered walls. "While we were clearing out I found a few more pieces that will be worth keeping. One of them was a desk. While it's not worth hanging on to in the long run, I thought you might find it useful for the moment. I've cleaned it up. Give me a few hours to work on it and the captain's chair I put in there with it will definitely be worth keeping."

"Terrific. I suppose you didn't come across any family heirlooms?"

Griffin shook his head, wishing he'd had the sense to import a few pieces; Kilroy would never have known and it might have helped his financial problems. While Kilroy hadn't said anything, it was obvious that the sale money from the stable block had gone into the agency. And he'd stopped talking about major repairs to the house, undertaking only piecemeal work as it became necessary, which in the case of the wiring was about once a week.

"Maybe Great-Uncle Percy kept the silver in the attic."

"Not judging by his taste in collectables. Ah well."

They parted just before ten, Griffin to enjoy a protracted soak in the bath, while Kilroy caught up with his phone calls.

It was gone midnight before Kilroy finished the last of them. Taking his feet off the edge of the battered oak desk, he looked through the stack of post which had accumulated in the week he had been away. Most was junk mail or bills; tossing the former into the fire, he made a mental note to pay the latter, having no wish to explain to Griffin why the electricity had been cut off. A large padded envelope, delivered by courier, held a battery-operated tape deck, inside which was an unmarked audio tape. The note which accompanied them was self-explanatory.

This is a poor copy of the original tape which is in my possession. I beg you to reconsider your decision not to proceed with the investigation of James Griffin.

The cramped signature was barely legible as Charlie Cassidy's.

Holding the cassette between two fingers, Kilroy was tempted to throw it in the fire; inevitably curiosity got the better of him. Pouring himself a drink, he set the tape deck on the desk, inserted the tape and hit the play button. Sitting back with a sleepy contentment, the shock of what he heard was instant.

By the time he had listened to both sides of the tape, its hiss remaining in his ears long after it had stopped playing, Kilroy's glass lay in the hearth, whisky-fed flames reflected in the scattered shards.

Langlois had given him the evidence and he had ignored it. That was what came of letting his balls do his thinking for him. After a half-arsed investigation he'd kidded himself he knew all there was to know. Christ only knew what Griffin had been arranging over the phone.

Self-contempt burned Kilroy's gut as he stared at the fire, one hand clenching and unclenching while he mentally castigated himself.

This time he could find no excuse. Griffin stood convicted out of his own mouth; Josh Cassidy wouldn't be Griffin's first victim by any means. But he'll be his last, Kilroy promised himself viciously, livid because the tape also gave him incontrovertible proof of his own gullibility. At the moment he wasn't sure which hurt the most.

His emotions in chaos, he sat rigid in the chair, deaf to everything but his slowing pulse as a sense of betrayal began to eat into him like acid. Only an hour ago he had thought their life together mapped out, now there was nothing.

"Aren't you coming to bed tonight?" asked a sleep-husky voice.

Glancing up, Kilroy saw Griffin on the far side of the room, one arm propped on the door jamb; the slipping ties of his black robe meant that it revealed more than it concealed as he rubbed lazily at his armpit. His thick mane of hair dishevelled, stubble shadowing his jaw, he was all smiling, sleepy eyes and rumpled sensuality. His body responding instantly and inopportunely, Kilroy's cold fury was given both a focus and a means of expressing his rage.

"Yes," he said in a clipped tone, "I've finished here."

Rising from his chair, he brushed past Griffin. They would go to bed, but how much joy either of them would gain from the experience was a moot point. It was time the prime user and abuser of those weaker than himself learnt what it felt like when the tables were turned. Kilroy felt just the man to teach Griffin a lesson he would never forget.

"I didn't realise how late it was until I woke up," explained Griffin, still half-asleep as he trailed up the stairs in Kilroy's wake. "Did you manage to get hold of Jake?"

It took Kilroy a moment to remember his concern for the operative who had been late returning from holiday; the conversation seemed light years away. "Yes," he said shortly. Pushing the bedroom door shut, he flicked off the light and began to strip, untypically leaving possessions scattered over the floor.

Griffin paused to yawn and stretch where he stood at the foot of the bed, oblivious to the warning signals emanating from Kilroy. "That's good." He came to a halt when a hand caught the back of his robe. "D'you want something?"

"Yes. You."

"You'll have to wait until morning. I'm done for tonight."

"Not yet you're not." Dragging the robe down Griffin's arms, Kilroy effectively pinned them at the elbows. His hand in the small of Griffin's back, he pushed the off-balance man onto the bed.

An out-thrust hand just saving his face from impact with the mattress, there was no more than surprise in Griffin's eyes as he tried to roll over. "No, I'm really - " A hard weight pinned his thighs. "What the - ?" The pillow muffled his voice. "Kit?"

"Oh, I'm here," grunted Kilroy, shifting position over the beginning-to-struggle man. "You enjoy playing power games with people, don't you. Well, let's see how you like this game of mine."

The sense of what Kilroy was saying subordinate to his actions, Griffin's eyes shot open when he realised that the unthinkable was about to happen as bruising hands grasped his flanks, thumbs digging into the muscle of his buttocks. "I'm not - Christ, not like this!"

"Tough. You've had things your own way too often. Now it's my turn. Shut up and open up," grated Kilroy, probing with an ungentle finger.

Enduring the bruising invasion, Griffin tensed the moment Kilroy's fingers left his body, knowing he had only seconds to make his choice: he could fight, or he could submit to rape. Instinct took over, adrenalin flooding his system. Rather than trying to rise under the weight pinning him, he went limp. The moment he felt Kilroy's grasp slacken, he rolled sideways, kicking out strongly. One foot connected with Kilroy's face.

"Oh, so you want to play rough." The blow Kilroy delivered made Griffin see stars. "Next time you decide to pick on someone weaker than yourself, maybe you'll remember how it feels," Kilroy hissed vindictively, leaning over the prone figure. Wanting the satisfaction of seeing Griffin's face in defeat, he was blind to the threat of bunching muscles.

An elbow caught him in the throat, reflex saving Kilroy's voice box. Stumbling back, wheezing for breath, his expression changed as Griffin came after him; as unsteady as Kilroy, there was a chilling intent on his pale face.

Devoid of grace, there was a short, ugly struggle for supremacy, whatever skills either man may have possessed forgotten. Fortunately it ended before either of them could seriously damage the other when Kilroy stunned himself. Having caught his foot in a dangling tangle of sheet, he tripped, fell, and caught the back of his head on one of the massive bed legs.

Hands on his knees as he tried to catch his breath, Griffin didn't trust himself to go to Kilroy immediately.

While still conscious, Kilroy's world was hazed and spiked with red, the thumping pain in his head matching his pulse. Movement and coherent thought beyond him, he heard Griffin approach. When careful fingers probed the back of his skull he tried to jerk away but he was too disorientated to escape the thorough if impersonal examination.

"You'll live." There was no audible joy in Griffin's voice, nothing beyond a flat statement of fact.

It all seemed too much effort to reply and Kilroy gave up the attempt. Even with his eyes closed, red splotches of colour danced in a dizzying pattern that only gradually slowed. Hard fingers bracketed his mouth, exerting a numbing pressure.

"I know you can hear me, so listen carefully because this is the only warning you'll get. If you ever try to force me again I'll kill you. Do you understand?"

Griffin's fingers tightened, making Kilroy wince. Unable to speak, he nodded, shooting pain through his head. Finding himself released, it was with some relief that he heard Griffin move away, a rustle of fabric followed by the banging of a door.

His senses continuing to clear, Kilroy laboriously stirred. The fire giving the only illumination, the dying flames cast strange shadows on the crimson wallpaper, the pattern assuming sinister shapes. A window rattled and he shivered as draught rippled across his body. Various bruises making themselves felt, he clambered to his feet in slow stages, holding on to a bed post until the room stopped revolving. Staggering into the bathroom, he stuck his head under the cold tap and gritted his teeth until the pounding in his head eased to a more bearable ache. Straightening, he closed the lid of the toilet and sank onto it, staring at the cracked lino until the cold forced him to go and find some clothing. To his relief the bedroom was empty. Grateful to be alone at first, he pulled on a fleece-lined tracksuit and a pair of trainers.

He could have killed James. Had come close to doing so, he realised numbly. A sour taste in his mouth but steadier on his feet now, he made his way slowly down to the kitchen. He saw no sign of Griffin. Drinking a glass of water while he waited for the kettle he had filled to boil, Kilroy absently rubbed a couple of sore spots and shivered.

If he was cold, James would be freezing, he thought absently. It was then that the merciful numbness which had surrounded his emotions cracked. Too shaken to recognise his shocked state, he couldn't stop thinking about what he had almost done. He felt only relief that Griffin had defeated him, without pausing to consider how unlikely that victory should have been given his own SAS training.

He added coal and two logs to the ashes of the fire in the study, waiting until he was sure they had caught. Then he made an extra mug of tea and went in search of Griffin, needing to reassure himself that he had taken no lasting harm. The bare rooms were easy to search and devoid of life; it was some time before he thought to return to the study.

One draught, stronger than the others eddying around the house, led him out into the huge conservatory which overlooked the patio and lawn. They rarely ventured here, where plumbago, figs, jasmine and bougainvillea lived in a choking, tangled exuberance of unchecked vegetation; one of the many jobs he hadn't got round to tackling. Too busy playing at Happy Families, he thought, bitter with his own naivety. And yet he stayed where he was, needing to see that Griffin was unharmed.

Through a twisted knot of fig branches he glimpsed a tiny glow of orange, Griffin's dark robe blending too well with the shadows for him to be immediately apparent. It seemed so unlikely that it took Kilroy a moment to realise that Griffin had opened the French doors to the night; despite the cold, he stood in the doorway, one shoulder propped against the frame. It wasn't possible to see his expression, only the outline of his profile visible. While he wasn't a man given to fidgeting, the quality of his stillness now was absolute, a cigarette burning away unsmoked in the hand at his side as he looked out into the darkness.

Watching that motionless figure, his emotions roiling, Kilroy was left with only one certainty. "I've made you some tea," he said, offering that mundane detail because he did not know what else to say. He felt obliged to announce his presence, in some curious way feeling as if he was witnessing an intensely personal moment not intended for his eyes.

Griffin's already straight back tensed as his weight shifted. He drew on his cigarette before saying, "Thank you." The courtesy sounded mechanical, an automatic response he probably wasn't aware of making. There was a blur of light as he flicked the butt out onto the patio, leaving him in the shadows again.

Kilroy absently shredded two fig leaves between his fingers. Understanding Griffin better than he liked to admit, he knew Griffin would not refer to the attempted rape again. Having chosen a rapist as his lover, he would think he must pay the penalty in silence. Ashamed that so much ugliness could exist in him, Kilroy shook his head. His temper slow to rouse, he had guarded for years against his propensity for violence when enraged. What he couldn't understand was why, after Griffin's first blow, he had continued to fight. What would he have done to him if he'd won? He'd already planned to rape him. The fact stared him starkly in the face and Kilroy found himself hugging his own body for warmth, having always held the crime of rape second only to child molesters.

Brushing through the vegetation, he slumped onto one of the ancient wicker sofas. Dust rose from the musty cushions as he settled on them, waiting for his personal storm to break.

 

 

Alone with the nocturnal scents of an English garden in winter, the sickly sweet smell of decay was still apparent under the cleansing edge of the thin breeze which had begun to drive toward him. Shivering, Griffin remained where he was. The silence stabbed like jagged splinters of glass. Then the muted call of an owl, some distance away, drifted eerily through the trees. It seemed the loneliest sound in the world, increasing his sense of alienation.

Bruised mentally and physically, he felt pulped, squeezed dry of emotion. Inviting Kilroy to his bed, he had been attacked by a pitiless stranger. It was less what had almost happened than the measure of the mistake he had made in believing he knew Kilroy, which had shaken Griffin so. He needed time and privacy in which to regroup his sundered defences. It was childish to feel...betrayed, though that was a mild description for what he felt, only the bruises springing onto his body reminding him the scene hadn't been some sick nightmare. It had all happened so fast, Kilroy's anger unleashing before he'd been alert enough to recognise the warning signals.

Why was he finding excuses for himself? He hadn't invited this. But he knew why. Kit had been his choice, and he'd chosen a rapist.

It was a rare man who never expressed his anger in sex on occasion, he rationalized, trying to find an excuse for Kilroy. So why was he shaking?

Ugly as the scene had been, he knew intellectually that it could have been worse; there had been a split second, Kilroy lying stunned at his feet, when he had wanted to kill. Now only the ashes of his rage remained but they weren't enough to camouflage his disbelief.

How could Kit have hidden what he was so well?

Digging into his pocket, Griffin pulled out another cigarette, sheltering the lighter flame from the strengthening wind. Inhaling, his hand tightened around the lighter until the tiny diamond pattern engraved on the gold transferred itself to his palm.

Walk away, chalk this up to experience and forget it, he told himself tiredly, but intellect could not convince his beginning-to-stir emotions. He had mistrusted the ease with which Kilroy had become an integral part of his life and so had said nothing about their future together while taking it for granted that they had one. Somehow that sop to his pride didn't help as much as it should have done.

He couldn't believe he could have misread Kilroy's tastes and character so badly. But it hurt that a relationship which they had slid into without conscious thought and which had felt so gloriously right, should have come to such an ugly end. From Kit, of all men The knowledge that he had never known Kilroy hurt worst of all.

Shuddering with the cold to the point where his teeth began to chatter, he stared blindly out into the garden. He'd been happy here. Happier than he could ever remember being before; to the point where he had begun to take it for granted.

The muscles of his face tightening, he raised his cigarette to his mouth. As abrupt as a gushing pipe, it began to rain; not the soft English rain he'd become used to but monsoon hard and spiteful. He flinched under the impact of the cold, marble-sized drops before realising that hailstones were mixed with the rain. They drove him back into shelter, his ankles stinging where hail had bounced up from the patio. Shivering violently, his numbed fingers fumbled as they set the bolts into place. Rain rolled down his face like tears before he wiped the moisture away, slicking back his wet hair.

"Last time I looked there was an old blanket in that cupboard behind you," announced Kilroy, trying not to notice too obviously how the wet silk of Griffin's robe clung to him, accentuating the breadth of shoulder and narrowness of flanks.

Griffin froze, as if he'd forgotten Kilroy's presence, before he nodded an acknowledgement. Finding and shaking out the musty blanket, he stripped off his sodden robe; wrapped in prickly grey wool, he sat because he wanted to hide the fact he had begun to shake again.

Aware Griffin was on guard, and why, Kilroy stared at his feet. "I don't know how to begin to apologise," he said abruptly, his clasped hands tightening.

"Don't try. I'm not a child."

"No, you're my lover. As such, you're entitled to an explanation."

"I waive my rights." Picking up the mug set on the table beside him, Griffin curved his unsteady hands around its body for warmth. The tea was cold and the consistency of treacle.

"Sugar's good for shock," said Kilroy tactlessly, having noticed Griffin's grimace as he swallowed.

"Then you drink it."

As quickly as it had begun the intensity of the storm eased, the sky lightening to reveal Griffin framed by the elegant sweep of the high-backed peacock chair. He looked like a remote stranger, his face a study in bleak control.

"James, please," whispered Kilroy, his throat tightening.

Pausing in the act of lighting a cigarette from the damp packet, the lighter flame revealed Griffin's glance of inquiry.

"Damn it, I'm not a rapist," Kilroy burst out in a mixture of frustration and disbelief at his own actions.

"No? Accidents will happen," said Griffin with a brittle flippancy. "Do you know what time it is? I have an appointment in London at nine."

Kilroy automatically glanced at his watch, squinting in the half-light. "Nearly twenty-to-six." He must have spent longer than he'd thought before coming out here, unable to remember for certain. "You're leaving, aren't you?"

Griffin met his gaze head on and it was Kilroy who looked away first. "Of course you are. Anyone would. Will I ever see you again?"

His precipitate rise more painful than he had anticipated, Griffin paused before walking stiffly to where Kilroy sat; he was one of the few people who could make a blanket look like haute couture.

"What do you think?" His tone was biting.

"I know that I don't want to lose you," Kilroy said baldly, knowing there must be some other explanation for the tape he'd been sent. Odd that it should have come from Charlie rather than Langlois.

The silence was such that Griffin's winded sigh was audible before he swung away. Then he stopped and turned; it was an awkward gesture for a graceful man. "Why did it happen?" The question sounding as if it had been dragged from him, it was then that his mask slipped.

Glimpsing the desolate bewilderment Griffin had hidden so well until now, Kilroy's unwary heart twisted. "I was...angry," he said lamely. Aware of the inadequacy of that explanation, he knew he was trapped in a snare of his own making, unable to tell the truth without making matters even worse.

"With me?" Griffin gave a puzzled frown.

"And myself."

"Ah." Griffin's face twisted in an approximation of a smile. "Is that all?"

"All!" Grasping Griffin's arm, Kilroy released him immediately when Griffin's eyes narrowed in warning. "No, that isn't all. We need to talk. I banked up the fire in the study before I came out here," he added, trying to diffuse the emotion-charged atmosphere. "We could talk where it's warmer. I won't touch you again."

"No," agreed Griffin, "you won't." Passing Kilroy, he went through the study, across the hall and up the stairs, pausing when he realised he was being followed. "I'm going to get dressed. Alone."

Kilroy hardly heard him, his gaze on the portions of Griffin bared by the blanket: his flesh mottled with the cold, livid bruises were springing into prominence. His head began to pound again. "How I must have hurt you."

Griffin made no attempt to deny the obvious. "So?"

Closing his eyes in an orgy of self-hatred, Kilroy gave an audible swallow. "I didn't...I don't know why I... It's too late, isn't it. I forfeited the right to care. But I do." Mute, he extended his hand palm upward, his expression nakedly revealing.

While Griffin did not take his hand, nor did he turn away. "No human being should expect to have rights over another," he said tiredly.

Kilroy continued to stare at him, more hope than expectation on his too pale face.

"You should see a doctor about your head. You could have concussion," added Griffin in the same flat tone.

That trace of unwilling concern stung Kilroy more surely than a lash. "I'm all right."

Griffin stared at him. "I don't think either of us is 'all right'. I don't understand... I'm going to get dressed," he amended, plucking at the coarse wool blanket with distaste.

"I'll make..." Kilroy's voice trailed away. While he needed to take some positive action, no matter how trivial, he could think of nothing appropriate.

"Coffee. Without a bowlful of sugar this time." Continuing up the stairs, every step laboured, Griffin entered his rarely used bedroom and closed the door behind him with a quiet finality.

Fatigue hitting him, Kilroy took fresh coffee into the study, adding more logs to the already blazing fire. The sky leaden, it had yet to stop raining and the house of a thousand draughts felt colder than ever. He sat slumped in a limbo state between consciousness and sleep, stirring only when he heard a sound on the stairs.

A couple of minutes later Griffin came into the room, cradling a mug between his hands, both of which were scraped and bruised. He looked in need of both warmth and some kind of stimulant, disillusion and obvious physical discomfort leaving marks of strain around his mouth. Kilroy allowed himself to hope when he saw that instead of one of his designer suits, Griffin was casually dressed in pale grey, a sweater a couple of tones deeper and a thick, light grey, knitted jacket.

"I've left a message cancelling the meeting I was supposed to be attending. We need to talk. There's water flooding down the wall outside the second bathroom again," Griffin added abruptly. While he was moving with more ease, it was noticeable that he was in no hurry to approach Kilroy.

"Instead of trying to rebuild it, I should have knocked the house down. I've a talent for destruction." All emotion flattened from his voice, Kilroy stared sightlessly at the floor, his fingers yellow with the pressure he was exerting on them.

Griffin shot him an unseen glance, but remained silent. The fire drew him like a lodestone. He had moved close enough for Kilroy to catch a waft of familiar soap and shampoo. Beneath them was a trace of something antiseptic. His eyes widening, Kilroy forced himself not to look away.

"I must have hurt you inside when I - ? Do you need a doctor?" he finished awkwardly.

"No."

"Are you sure?"

"I think I'd have a shrewd idea, don't you?"

Unable to sustain the bleak gaze which stared through him, Kilroy looked blindly at the floor and forced his unsteady mouth to firm. "Thank god for that much at least," he muttered almost inaudibly, his head pounding in rhythm with his pulse.

Opening his mouth to savage Kilroy, Griffin noticed the green-tinged face and found he could not. Moving away, he supported his weight by resting his forearms on a chair back, trying to summon the energy to leave, or even for some righteous fury.

The noise of a log shifting in the fire made Kilroy aware of the lengthy silence, goading him back into speech. In the time he had been alone he had not made any conscious decision, but it was obvious what he had to do.

"There's something you should hear," he announced curtly. "An audio tape. It doesn't excuse what I did but... I'd just finished listening to the tape when you came downstairs earlier. It's the reason..." Getting up, he switched on the tape deck.

" - three million dollars at least. Late payment will be even more expensive for you - "

"That's my voice," recognised Griffin, surprise on his face as he straightened.

"I know. There's more. A lot more," said Kilroy tiredly. Now it was too late he could hear the discrepancies he should have noticed the first time. Even allowing for the work of an amateur, the voices had been poorly spliced to give the illusion of various conversations taking place. Because he had never trusted Griffin enough, the taint of Langlois' accusations lingering, he had accepted this second-rate forgery as proof of Griffin's guilt without question or hesitation.

Open disbelief on his face, Griffin slowly approached the desk as he listened to his own voice interspersed with Charlie Cassidy's. Josh was threatened with some unnamed horror if Charlie did not pay Griffin at least three million dollars.

"This is what made you so angry?" he asked finally, when the tape came to an end. "Or was it just recreational sex you had in mind?"

His face looking pinched, Kilroy shook his head. "You must know that isn't true. There's more on the other side of the tape."

"I should hope there is. It didn't occur to you to discuss this with me? Or to question its content?"

"Obviously not." Kilroy stared at his shoes.

Ejecting and turning the cassette over, Griffin reinserted it. "I want to hear the other side."

"There's no need. I know now that - "

"There's every need," said Griffin coldly, turning up the volume before hitting the play button. Seating himself with caution on the captain's chair behind the desk, he took his lighter and cigarettes from his jacket pocket. Listening to the tape with mounting incredulity, he forgot to light the cigarette he was turning over and over.

"You believed this piece of melodramatic crap?" he said at last, outraged disbelief giving the illusion of energy. "Even a child would know it's been spliced - and badly. You're supposed to be an expert in such matters." His voice was spiked.

"Yes," agreed Kilroy, knowing he would have to tell Griffin everything and not having the slightest idea how to go about it. "But I'm not usually personally involved with the subject."

Griffin ignored that. "Someone must have been bugging my phones way before ASIO arrived on the scene. Wait, this section, I'm talking to David Cheng. He was trying to persuade me to finance some half-assed development scheme for a sports complex. And that third part, I was with Charlie. In her room, not mine. We never slept in my suite, even when Josh was staying with Sam. I thought it was in case Sam tried to get hold of her if Josh was ill. Not the first time I've been wrong." He paused to light the cigarette he had been in danger of shredding. "She must have had a tape running the whole time we were together. Ironic that, considering she later claimed that I'd used her. I wonder if she kept the tapes running when we fucked. If so, you'll enjoy those. That last section, in which I'm supposed to be a practised extortioner, is me talking to my bankers. I might even be able to prove as much - not that it's worth the bother."

Kilroy's mouth thinned. "You don't need to go through the entire tape. I believe you."

"That's very generous of you, if late in the day. Were you drunk when you listened to this? Do I strike you as being this stupid, quite apart from this venial? Switch that rubbish off," Griffin added irritably, leaning forward to do it himself.

"But it was your voice."

"Well at least you got that much right. What a charming picture you have of me. Not only do I dabble in extortion in my spare time, but I threaten children with mutilation. You believed me capable of that?" Griffin's softened voice held a silken note which was its own warning.

"It dovetailed with what I'd been told about you."

"By whom?"

"A client."

"Who?"

"You know I can't tell you," said Kilroy wearily.

"Fuck client confidentiality. If I'm being slandered by one of your clients I have a right to know by whom. Their name."

"Henri Langlois," said Kilroy, because by sending him this forged tape Langlois and Charlie Cassidy had forfeited all rights.

"Who?" Blank incomprehension overrode the menace in Griffin's expression.

"Charlie Cassidy's current lover. He's a Frenchman living in Sydney. A banker."

Griffin's eyes narrowed. "The merchant banker? I know him. Of him, at least. We only met once, and that briefly. How could he possibly imagine - ? Ah, Charlie, of course. My god, how she must hate me. Perhaps with due cause. But I don't understand why you should have believed their lies so easily."

"At the time I found them all too convincing." Kilroy offered it as an explanation, not an excuse.

"Convincing! You must be the con man's dream. Good god, just how gullible are you?" Griffin demanded with contempt.

Looking down, Kilroy knew there was worse to come. In a minute Griffin would think to ask what Henri Langlois had hired him to work on, and he would have to tell him the truth.

Having passed through anger, Griffin unsteadily stubbed out his unsmoked cigarette. "Was it so easy to believe the worst of me?" Pain was leaking through his surface control now.

Something in Kilroy broke when he recognised it. "Easy? It was the first thing I knew about you. There's something else you should know. It was no accident we met. I'd already had you under surveillance for a couple of days. Henri Langlois hired me to become your lover, to establish a relationship with you."

His face stark, eyes wide and unblinking, Griffin was watching Kilroy as a condemned man might watch his executioner. "Go on," he said dully.

"My primary task was to gather enough evidence against you regarding your plan to kidnap Josh Cassidy for a criminal prosecution to succeed. I was given a dossier on you - and your father. His reputation in some circles gave credence to the idea that you could be involved in such a plot."

Griffin's face might have been carved from stone, every sinew and muscle defined, but little by little the mask was breaking down.

Doggedly Kilroy forced himself to continue. "The evidence against you was circumstantial but damning. That isn't all," he added with difficulty, finding this even worse than he had imagined it would be. "The reason it was hoped we would become lovers, quite apart from the chances it would give me to get you talking, was that I was supposed to try and make you fall in love with me, as Charlie claimed you had done to her. Then I was to tell you the truth. They wanted you to know what it felt like to be used."

Griffin was beyond controlling his expression. Pain bleeding from his eyes, he continued to stare at Kilroy. "It lost its novelty factor longer ago than you can know," he said at last, his voice devoid of emotion.

"James, I - "

"Congratulations," continued Griffin, but his voice broke on the word before he regained control. "You've done a splendid job. What a wonderful time you've had, rooting in the dirt like a pig hunting truffles. You were very convincing. But then I was an easy mark, wasn't I? Mark, that is the right word, isn't it? Or should it be John?"

"It wasn't like that," Kilroy protested.

"It was exactly like that. I'd never thought of Charlie as a pimp. I hope she paid you well, you've worked hard for your money." Unable to go on, Griffin covered his eyes with the heels of his hands. Exerting a painful degree of pressure, the reddened darkness was splintered by dazzling shards of light.

His self-respect in shreds, able to think only of this new hurt he had inflicted, Kilroy was beyond speech.

Eventually Griffin found the courage to face his tormentor again. His eyes dry and burning, his face looked strangely hollowed, but when he spoke he asked the last question Kilroy had been expecting. For a man dealt a mortal blow he betrayed an ingrained capacity for understanding that there was always more than one side to any issue.

"Why did you tell me this? You must know I trusted you implicitly." There was no recrimination in the emotion-deadened voice, only the dawning realisation of the extent of the betrayal, the first searing drop that would eat away at self-esteem until there was nothing left but exposed nerve ends.

"I lied to you from the first day we met. But you have to understand, it stopped being a job a long time ago. I knew I'd have to tell you the truth one day, it was essential if we were to have any chance of a life together. There have been so many lies. Too many. I can't lie to you any more. Not after what I did to you tonight."

"You do yourself an injustice."

The deceptive gentleness in Griffin's tone launched Kilroy to his feet before he swung away, unable to meet his eyes. Irresolute, he stood for a moment before he turned to grip the back of the chair he had been sitting on.

"Probably," he agreed, steadying his voice only with some effort. "I knew something about their story was wrong from the beginning. But then I wasn't thinking straight at the time. I took the case for all the wrong reasons." He did not see Griffin flinch at hearing himself so described. "The last thing I wanted was another case involving a child. I'd lost my nerve after Emilio's death. Then I was told about the threats to Josh and it seemed like a chance not only to keep one child safe, but to salvage my self-respect by getting something right. Doing something positive. From your dossier you sounded like a spoilt, amoral bastard who needed to be taught a lesson. I've always been inclined to think the worst of the rich. Then, of course, there was your father's reputation. You're his son."

"Yes. Make no mistake about that."

Attracted by an unfamiliar note in Griffin's voice, Kilroy looked at him. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Merely that I shall take steps to protect myself."

"What kind of steps?"

"Whatever it takes," replied Griffin in the same deadened tone.

"James, don't! Christ, d'you think I'm proud of myself? Do you think I don't know how criminally wrong I've been about you?"

"That hardly matters now, does it?"

"You don't mean that."

"Who the fuck are you to tell me what I mean?" A moment later Griffin's anger was capped; it made him no less dangerous. "It's a pity you didn't think to video this denouement for Charlie. She'll be delighted to know she bought herself such a well-trained whore."

"Very probably," Kilroy agreed colourlessly, having called himself that too often in the past three months to think of denying the charge.

A muscle jumped in Griffin's jaw. "If you think I'm right, your experience of the breed has been limited. Like much else about you. It would be better if I left," he added abruptly, staring at his hands.

"For who?"

"Oh, for me. Who else do I have to consider?" Pausing, Griffin audibly took a steadying breath. "While you may not believe this in light of all you've been told about me - and I'm sure much of it's true - I have never killed anyone. Nor have I ever ordered anyone killed, or harmed in any way." It was obvious he had little expectation that he would be believed.

"My insanity of earlier tonight excepted, it never occurred to me that you might have."

"Then it should have done," said Griffin coldly.

"Why?" asked Kilroy in blank surprise.

"You mean you hadn't realised? Did you put my recent drunken ramblings down to self-pitying excuses for a lifetime of failure? Or perhaps the dossier was incomplete regarding certain important details. While that doesn't matter, it's just as well. Who knows what other actions you may have taken it upon yourself to perform if you'd known. It was my father's habit to remove those who...inconvenienced him."

"By bribing them," Kilroy reminded him.

"No, by whatever means it took. Sometimes money or blackmail wasn't enough, sometimes, as with Alice Wu, he had them removed permanently. Right now I can understand the temptation. By christ I can." On this occasion it was the intensity of his anger which made Griffin's voice shake, his eyes fierce and predatory as a hawk.

Believing that much, Kilroy nodded. "Your quarrel is with me, not Langlois or Charlie Cassidy."

"You?" There was contemptuous dismissal in Griffin's raking gaze. "You're just the gullible fool they hired." But his voice cracked on the last word.

Most people would have missed that tiny betrayal; by now Kilroy missed nothing about the man he had so wounded. "Don't!" he pleaded. Surrendering his advantage of height, he crouched beside the chair Griffin occupied, one hand on the edge of the desk for support as he looked up at him. "We both know you won't break the habit of a lifetime and turn into the man your father wanted you to become. I love you," he added, steady-eyed.

Griffin hit him; a ferocious backhanded blow which Kilroy never saw coming. It sent him sprawling, his head ringing with renewed ferocity. By the time he had righted himself, blood welling from a split lip, Griffin was already at the door.

"Damn you," Griffin said, without turning. "You might have spared me that." Then he was gone.

Stumbling to his feet, Kilroy took the short cut to the garage, skidding to a halt when he saw Griffin's Jaguar take the turn in the drive so fast that it kicked up a spray of gravel before its tail vanished from sight. Wiping the blood from his mouth, he continued to stand in the pouring rain, untypically having no idea what he could do next.

Chapter Text

FIFTEEN

It was mid-afternoon by the time Kilroy drove to London, accompanied by a splitting headache and the depressed certainty that things couldn't get any worse. Yet to concoct a convincing explanation to interested agency members for his split lip and bruised face, he retreated into his office and closed the door: the agency equivalent of 'Do Not Disturb'.

A beaker of coffee growing cold in his hand as he stared sightlessly at the opposite side of the room, he automatically answered the ringing telephone. His first impulse after Charlie Cassidy announced herself was to hang up, his second to voice his opinion of her actions. Hearing the note of hysteria in her voice, professionalism overtook personal preference; he spent the next hour trying to calm her. About the only crime she failed to accuse Griffin of committing was original sin. Too experienced not to recognise the sound of a woman close to breakdown, Kilroy felt a slither of unease upon learning that she and Langlois had moved to London, in dangerously close proximity to Griffin. With emotions running high on all sides, any meeting, chance or otherwise, could have deadly consequences.

When she finally rang off, Kilroy applied himself to spearheading a concentrated search for Griffin. Relieved to hear that a blank had been drawn at the airports, and unable to think where Griffin might go, he ordered a routine check of the main London hotels. Learning a couple of hours later than Griffin had booked into Brown's that morning, he nodded his thanks to Paula and called the others off the search. For some reason it hadn't occurred to him that Griffin would return to Brown's, which was probably why Griffin had done so.

Walking into the oak-panelled reception area he had come to know so well, and sidestepping a group of American tourists who were about to go out for the evening, Kilroy was accosted by an elegant if distraught-looking Charlie Cassidy.

"You're Kit Kilroy, aren't you! You bastard, you knew James was here all the time!" When Kilroy's expression hardened, she caught hold of his arm. "I'm sorry, but I'm at my wit's end. You've got to believe me," her voice shook with intensity, "he is having me followed!"

Taking a patient breath, his head beginning to pound again, Kilroy steered her away from interested eyes, through the writing room and into the deserted coffee lounge. Seating her on one of the green velvet chairs, he spent the next ten minutes trying to soothe her, no mean feat given that his first impulse on seeing her had been strangulation.

oOo

Having discovered he was out of cigarettes, Griffin dropped his key back in his pocket and walked stiffly down the stairs, his heavily bruised thigh protesting with every step. Once in the lobby, he took fast evasive action to avoid an insecurely-steered suitcase on wheels and found himself opposite the entrance to the coffee lounge. A too familiar broad back caught his eye and he stopped in his tracks. His first unconsidered reaction on recognising Kilroy was unadulterated pleasure, until he identified the woman who sat in the circle of his arm.

When Griffin realised how far Kilroy's lies must have extended, a muscle in his jaw began to jump, his expression disconcerting the elderly couple approaching him. Muttering an apology, he moved out of their way, heading out of the hotel onto Dover Street. Every nerve end felt rawly exposed, Kilroy's most recent betrayal the cruellest of all.

oOo

When he had steered Charlie Cassidy into a taxi and escorted her to Henri Langlois' London house, Kilroy made a point of seeing the Frenchman in private.

"Why did you bring her to England?" he demanded without preliminaries.

"Because she found life in Sydney insupportable. Charlie thought the pressure would ease when she delivered Cassidy's records to the authorities."

"That was optimistic of her."

"Why are you so angry?" asked Langlois without heat.

"Leaving aside the fact you lied to me, libelled James Griffin and seem prepared to continue to do so?"

Langlois shrugged. "I admit I falsified certain facts when I engaged your services. That I regret. But, as we agreed when you returned the dossier, the matter is closed."

Kilroy's hand clenched at his side. "Yes? Then perhaps you can explain why this was sent to me yesterday." He tossed a padded envelope onto the marble-topped table which sat between them.

"What does it contain?" asked Langlois, making no attempt to touch it.

"A poorly spliced audio cassette tape which purports to detail Mr Griffin's blackmail threats to Ms Cassidy. She was obviously recording their meetings when they were lovers, not to mention tapping his telephone conversations. Either that, or she had a contact in the security services who made those tapes available to her at a later date. She sent it to me as proof of Griffin's guilt and begged me not to drop the case."

Slumping onto a chair, Langlois turned the envelope over and over. "Are you sure? Yes, you must be," he recognised instantly. "Electronic surveillance is your area of expertise, not mine. I had no idea. Will this obsession with Griffin never die? Since I brought her to London to escape the attentions of the media she has become convinced she is being followed."

"So she told me. We met by chance at Brown's hotel - where James is staying," added Kilroy pointedly.

Langlois closed his eyes for a moment.

"Fortunately I met her before she made her way to his room. She's obsessed with hatred and on the verge of a nervous breakdown. She needs help," Kilroy continued.

"You're not suggesting she would harm Mr Griffin?"

"More than she has already? Yes," said Kilroy, his tone uncompromising, "I am."

"I will again urge her to seek the help she needs," muttered Langlois, the strain he had been living under becoming apparent as he dropped his guard. "Is Mr Griffin now a client of yours?"

"That isn't your concern," said Kilroy evenly.

"If so, he is a fortunate man."

"I doubt if he would agree with you. Will you destroy that tape, or shall I?"

"I will, of course," said Langlois absently, his fingers drumming on the arm of his chair. "I cannot leave London for at least three months. It took a certain amount of...difficulty to move to Britain in the first place. I have business commitments which cannot be set aside. Also, we have only just got Josh settled back at his old school. He should not be uprooted again so soon."

"Then find Ms Cassidy some other interest in life," warned Kilroy, getting to his feet. Afraid of the strength of his anger, he left as abruptly as he had arrived, knowing there was no-one but himself to blame for this mess.

Kilroy returned to Brown's, knowing better than to give Griffin advance warning of his presence. The porter greeting him like an old friend, Kilroy took the Dover Street staircase to Griffin's suite, a different one from that he had occupied before. Swallowing nervously, he knocked briskly on the door.

"It isn't locked."

As Kilroy turned from closing the door Griffin moved into view, obviously expecting a member of the hotel's staff; a suitcase sat by an ornate side table. He wore a suit which Kilroy had not seen before, and his hair had been restyled in the sleek cut familiar only from photographs, but his inimical expression was all too familiar.

"I must speak with you," said Kilroy in an attempt to pre-empt eviction.

"To tell me of the latest plan you and Charlie have hatched, no doubt. I may be a fool, but even I'm not likely to succumb to your charms again."

"You saw Charlie with me downstairs," recognised Kilroy with a grimace. "I know how it must have looked, but believe me, it - "

"Believe you? Goodbye. Or are you hoping for a wrestling match before I eject you?"

"At least let me - "

"No, let me tell you something. Meeting you has been an educational experience, but not one I care to repeat. Nor shall I. Must I call hotel security to evict you?" Griffin's tone was that of a weary host addressing a party guest too drunk to understand that he had outstayed his welcome.

"No," said Kilroy flatly. Despite the lateness of the hour, everything about Griffin was immaculate, but he looked worn to the bone by a mixture of tension and some other emotion Kilroy was wary of giving name. "Are you leaving?" He gestured to the case, realising that Griffin must have replaced the clothes he had abandoned at Whitehaven that morning.

"How quick of you to realise."

"Where would you like me to send your belongings?" asked Kilroy, feeling bruised with fatigue. "The workshop?"

"You may send my passport and any private papers to my lawyers. I'm sure you already know their address."

Kilroy's face tightened, but he could not deny it. "And your clothes and books?"

"Give them to Oxfam. Is that all?" Griffin glanced pointedly at his watch. He might have been encased in ice.

"Yes. I won't bother you again," added Kilroy with a trace of awkwardness.

Slate-coloured eyes drilled through him. "You don't bother me now." Each word was given a diamond-like clarity.

Unable to stop himself, Kilroy reached out. "James, I never intended to - " The edge of Griffin's hand deflected his grasp, numbing his arm from elbow to wrist.

Perfectly controlled, Griffin stood motionless, his hands at his sides again. His expression of bored distaste made it plain that he would defend himself if he must, but that he had no other interest in touching Kilroy; his cat's eyes were coldly disdainful.

"Goodbye," he said with finality.

His own temper slipping a few notches, Kilroy's mouth thinned. "Don't you think you're being overly dramatic about this? Can't we discuss what's happened like rational adults?"

For a few seconds Griffin's expression was one of murderous simplicity, reminding Kilroy of the honed steel beneath the silken veneer. Tensing in an instinctive reaction to that unmistakable threat, he experienced a fresh slither of doubt about Griffin.

"James?"

The tension between the two men eased when Griffin's expression smoothed back to a civilized mask. "You must forgive my over-sensitivity, but I don't feel particularly rational about attempted rape. Or was that just one of the added joys of being your lover, bought and paid for? Goodbye."

Stark misery on his face, Kilroy watched Griffin turn away. The click of a door closing behind him held a bleak finality. Sighing, Kilroy rubbed his face, as if hoping to erase the emotions besieging him, and left the suite.

oOo

Having decided to remain at Brown's, partly in the hope everyone would assume he had moved out but mainly because he was damned if he would be driven away by anyone, Griffin ensured he filled every waking hour with activity, wanting to preclude the need for thought. While he didn't succeed, the illusion helped his battered self-esteem to a degree. By the end of the week the only physical reminders of how he and Kilroy had parted were some yellowing bruises; the mental scars were still as raw as the night Kilroy had thrown him out of the rosy fantasy he had been nurturing like a lovesick schoolboy.

London offering reminders of Kilroy at every turn, Griffin leapt at the invitation of an old school-friend and committed himself to a long weekend in Derbyshire.

Accustomed to getting his own way, Tom Culver wasted little time in persuading Griffin that his return to his rightful world would be best announced by a prestigious commission.

"From you, I suppose?" said Griffin, lighting another cigarette and wondering if he would ever feel warm again.

"Next year we celebrate the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the house. I'd been wondering about commissioning a piece of furniture to commemorate the event for posterity," said Culver with a wry smile, the burden of his ancestral home weighing heavily at times. "Only I couldn't settle on a designer I trusted."

"Don't bullshit me," said Griffin pleasantly. "I can think of six off the top of my head."

"James."

"And save the look of wounded innocence. If it didn't convince me when you were ten, it isn't going to work now."

Culver gave an unrepentant grin. "It works on Jilly."

Having been impressed by Culver's pretty wife, Griffin didn't enlighten him. In some ways he had found it an unsettling evening, the palpable contentment of his host and hostess in each other's company leaving a faint, persistent ache: a reminder of what he might have had. What he'd been stupid enough to believe he had, he reminded himself tiredly, wondering when he would get used to the pain of that.

"Will you at least consider the idea?" asked Culver persuasively.

Griffin took a mouthful of the excellent port. "It's been over twenty years since I last produced anything. What makes you think I'll be able to come up with anything worth keeping?"

"Because the kind of gift you possessed doesn't just vanish even if you allowed your creative muscle to get flabby. You've already set up your workshop. Unless you've changed radically, you've been working your arse off perfecting your skills. I never understood why you went to Cambridge and into the business world when you had the ability to..." Warned by the expression in Griffin's eyes, Culver smoothly changed tack.

"I'm glad you've come to your senses at last. I thought perhaps a pair of tables - for the entrance hall. I'd leave the details to you."

"That's lucky," said Griffin dryly, but there was a thoughtful look on his face. "I don't do reproductions."

"If that's what I wanted, I'd know better than to ask you. I want an original Griffin."

"What did you have in mind - exactly?"

"A pair of tables, one for each side of the main staircase. With marquetry tops. I was wondering about a country theme. An owl, perhaps, and a pheasant? Or a fox? You don't like the idea, do you," recognised Culver with resignation. "I suppose it is rather trite."

"Not at all," murmured Griffin. "We could always include some dear little bunnies, if you like."

An appreciative grin split Culver's lean face. "You haven't changed, I see. Consider me duly crushed. What am I going to have instead - and could you manage whatever it is by next September?"

"I'll let you know," said Griffin, trying to dampen his own enthusiasm for the project, a design already taking shape and texture in his mind's eye. "With a hall the size of this one, a screen might work. Carved, of course. In oak - I must allow you one cliche. Would you want to approve the design?"

Culver grinned again. "Do I look suicidal? I can't imagine trying to dictate to you about this - though no Karma Sutra, please, or not at the kids' level anyway. In fact not at any level. We get enough complaints about the nudes on the ceiling in the Long Gallery from 'disgusted of Stoke Poges' as it is."

"Mmn," said Griffin absently. He had intended to return to carving, refusing to limit his skills as so many craftsmen chose to do. Coming to with a start, he realised Culver was talking.

"What's this going to cost me?" Culver chuckled when he saw the consternation on Griffin's face. "I knew it," he crowed. "You need an agent. Remember Piers Masterson? The lanky boy with jug ears a couple of years ahead of us; two left hands, but a brain like a calculator. He runs a small agency, represents a couple of up-and-coming artists. While it's doing very nicely, he'd snap up the chance of getting you on his books before some of the other sharks get wind of what you can do. I'll give him a ring for you if you like."

"You're organising me," Griffin pointed out, without resentment; Culver could no more help himself than he could stop breathing.

"You need someone to give you a push in the direction you want to take," said Culver frankly, cracking a walnut shell between his strong fingers. "Besides, I owe you a large favour, remember? The crash of eighty-seven."

"Rubbish. Billiards?" Griffin added, wanting to steer the conversation away from the personal.

Resolute in his determination to make a new life which left no room for lying, blue-eyed men, he spent the rest of his stay concentrating on being the perfect guest.

oOo

Griffin's resolve to forget Kilroy and those who had hired him was shattered twenty-four hours after his return to London. Walking down Davies Street, his coat collar up against the cold, he paused when an art gallery bearing a familiar name caught his eye. Crossing the road, the elegant window display under the black and white striped awning gave him the perfect excuse to go inside.

The immaculately tailored assistant, whose oiled affability never wavered, lost the thread of his practised patter when he realised Griffin was interested in the chair rather than the painting displayed on it.

"Although I'll buy both if I must," Griffin added, sparing the still life a disparaging glance.

The assistant had the experience to sense a lost cause. "To the best of my knowledge the chair is a private piece and not for sale. Unfortunately Mr Langlois is unlikely to return until early evening."

"Henri Langlois? We met in Sydney."

"Mr Langlois' uncle." Gossip obviously dear to his heart, the assistant needed little encouragement to elaborate.

Accepting a glass of the excellent wine and ignoring the assistant's look of pain when he lighted a cigarette, it took Griffin, charm unleashed, only twenty minutes to learn that Raoul Langlois was one of the leading lights of London society. More damningly, the gallery had had its share of excitement, resulting in the hiring of the services of an investigation agency the previous year. From the wistful enthusiasm in the assistant's voice, Griffin was willing to guess who at the Lessingham Agency had handled the job. Wondering if Raoul had suggested Kilroy to his uncle, Griffin arranged to return to the gallery later that day, ostensibly to discuss purchasing the chair with Raoul Langlois.

 

The quickly veiled but unmistakable recognition on the face of the beautiful young man who emerged from the back of the gallery to greet him was all the confirmation Griffin needed. When the private amusement in Langlois' smile faded Griffin revised his opinion of the younger man's intelligence. His own smile yet to falter, he exerted himself to please.

Swiftly dismissing his assistant, who had been trying to flirt with Griffin, Langlois gestured to the comfortable chairs positioned in such a manner that they gave prospective purchasers the chance to assess the works on offer, before seating himself opposite Griffin and pouring them both a glass of wine.

"Ralph explained your interest in the chair to me. It grieves me to disappoint you, James - may I call you James? - but I should be desolate to part with such an exquisite example of modern furniture."

"Even to its designer?"

"You?" Langlois' expression betrayed his surprise.

"Me," confirmed Griffin. "May I?" Getting up, he tilted the chair and pointed beneath the intricate curve of the hand rest, where a carving was visible: a small griffin which would have fitted comfortably onto a ten pence piece, around which was a date. "My trade mark."

"I had never noticed that." Standing so close that his flank brushed Griffin's thigh, Langlois smiled with bright-eyed malice. "You are a true craftsman. You must have talented hands," he added, with an arrogant confidence in his power to charm.

"Now how am I supposed to answer that," mused Griffin, his smile as warm as his eyes were cold. Reseating himself, he allowed Langlois to overcharge him for the chair before he accepted the younger man's invitation, first to dine, and then into Langlois' bed.

 

"What would you like?" asked Langlois indulgently, his fingertips threading through the greying hair which covered Griffin's chest.

Avoiding the younger man's mouth with a skill which made the evasion appear accidental, Griffin's hands roamed with impunity. "To fuck you for longer than you think you can bear," he murmured, his velvety voice indulgent.

"Yes. Do me now," commanded Langlois imperiously, seeming to take the attention paid to him as no more than his due.

"Later," said Griffin, his stubble-darkened chin scraping beginning-to-ripple stomach muscles.

Sprawled over the foot of the bed, his feet still on the floor, Langlois encouraged Griffin to cover him, linking his thin, olive-skinned fingers with Griffin's. "Did you truly design and make that chair?"

There was an expression on his face which Griffin was not sure how to interpret. "Why should I lie? I made it when I was seventeen. Twenty-three years ago," he added with deliberation.

"You still have a good body," consoled Langlois.

Caring nothing for what this arrogant boy might think of him, Griffin gave a crooked grin. "For a man old enough to be your father?" he mocked.

"For a craftsman," corrected Langlois, serious now. "You are a true artist. I wish I had known...you then," he added in clumsy amendment, obviously having realised he was on the point of betraying himself.

Unseen, Griffin's eyes narrowed. "I doubt it," he murmured, his teeth closing over a plum-dark nipple to the point where pleasure and pain walked a tightrope and Langlois began to writhe, mindless under the sensations travelling from his nerve-rich nipples to his genitals.

"A griffin is a fabulous creature indeed," he sighed, his expression rapt and introverted as his body was arranged for Griffin's pleasure. Bent beneath the older man, his spread knees almost brushing his narrow shoulders, he quivered with need, as open and vulnerable as a man could be.

Poised to swoop, Griffin's smile possessed the cold brilliance of an arctic sun. "But not so easily domesticated. Did no-one warn you that I'm a dangerous man to cross?" It was ease itself to pin the younger man; he exerted enough strength to make Langlois wince.

The lust-blind eyes were slow to refocus. "James? You're hurting me." There was perfect confidence in the attractive voice.

"No, not yet. I presume you thought it would be amusing to bed your victim, whom you assumed to be ignorant of your involvement in his affairs. Why you should have abetted your uncle I don't know. Loyalty? I doubt if you're capable of understanding the concept. So why, I wonder. For sport?" Griffin tightened his grip.

Langlois' sweating face betrayed the beginnings of fear. "I don't know what you're talking about." His denial lacked conviction.

"Oh, I think you do. Well, mon brave, you picked the wrong target when you chose to play games with me. It's time you learnt there's a price to be paid when you meddle in the lives of others."

"You're hurting me," gasped Langlois.

Griffin gave a cruel smile. "Sweet boy, I haven't even begun."

"Why?" While Langlois' tone was sharp and panicky, it was noticeable that he did not meet Griffin's eyes.

"For sport. What other reason is there? Why did you suggest to your uncle that he hire Kit Kilroy? Ah, I see your memory is improving. Well, I have a message for you to pass to dear Henri."

With great deliberation Griffin transferred Langlois' captive wrists into a strong one-handed grip. The controlled apprehension on the younger man's face mutated into open terror when Griffin flexed the fingers of his free hand before forming a graphic fist.

"Try not to make too much noise," he said with a chilling matter-of-factness

"James?" Langlois' voice cracked.

"Are you so innocent? I find that hard to believe. I'm going to fist you, beautiful one."

As the muscular forearm disappeared from his line of vision, Langlois began to struggle in earnest. Lacking leverage and muscle power against the older man's greater strength, he gained nothing but cramp. He trembled when fingers brushed his buttocks.

"My God, no! You'll kill me! I beg you, not this."

Griffin's face seemed all hard-angled planes. "Why should you expect mercy from me? I thought you enjoyed dangerous games."

"Not like this." Langlois quivered like a leaf in the wind, fear stark on his face, terror stealing away his beauty.

"You mean not games where you are hurt?"

Langlois cried out as Griffin's knuckles nudged his balls before brushing his open anus. "Please!"

His breath caught as another cramp savaged him, his body protesting at the strain of the position imposed on it. Biting his bottom lip, he averted his face from his tormentor, shivering with a mixture of pain, fear and revulsion, but a soft sound escaped him as the agony increased, locking his muscles in visible knots. Incredibly the bruising grip restraining him eased, then vanished, the weight pinning him removed. Massaging the spasming muscles, Griffin's face betrayed nothing but an impersonal concentration for the task. The pain diminishing to a bearable level, Langlois gave an audible swallow and slumped, his skin clammy with shock.

"Thank you," he muttered finally, sensing that he was safe. The relief from terror was so exquisite that exhaustion swamped him. "I'm sorry," he whispered awkwardly.

"Is that supposed to be enough?"

Uncertain if it would be permitted, Langlois pushed himself up, grimacing as his over strained body protested. "It seemed no more than a diversion. I wanted you the moment I saw your photograph. So when you came into the gallery - "

"You sought further amusement at my expense. I understand perfectly."

The biting contempt in the clipped voice caused Langlois to look away. "Yes," he admitted, before he ventured a crooked smile of tested charm. "But my instinct was sound. You would not have hurt - "

"Your instincts don't bear close examination," snapped Griffin with exasperation, looming over the seated man.

Pinned by that dissecting gaze Langlois could not hide behind the maliciously amused facade he habitually presented to the world. "Don't," he muttered finally, an ignominious shake in his voice.

Leaving the bed, Griffin collected cigarettes from his jacket pocket, lit two and handed one to Langlois before going to stand by the window. Even Chelsea was quiet at this time of the morning.

"Why didn't you take me?" asked Langlois, having no idea what Griffin was thinking and made uneasy by the silence. His mind shied away from the horror of what had almost happened.

Griffin's tone was clipped and cold. "I could give you several reasons but I doubt if you would enjoy any of them."

"Try me."

"Very well." This time there was no trace of compassion on the face Griffin turned to the younger man. "I'm selective in my choice of lovers. Your physical charms are no compensation for your obvious deficiencies, not the least of which is the fact the concept of mutual pleasure with a bedmate doesn't seem to be one you've grasped. And your irresponsibility in failing to insist that your partner wears a condom. In the era of AIDS, wilful juveniles who expect gratitude when they offer up territory visited by half of London are going to be disappointed - or dead within a decade, wreaking god knows what havoc in their wake. Take you?"

The contemptuous dismissal in Griffin's voice flooded Langlois' face with colour. "So it was revenge you sought."

Stubbing out his half-smoked cigarette, Griffin began to dress. "Why else do you suppose I accepted your invitation - lust? Grow up, while you still have time."

There was a bitter twist to Langlois' mouth now. "You've made it obvious I don't meet your standards of perfection. Who is it you want? Kit?" Alerted by the quality of the older man's silence, Langlois caught hold of Griffin's arm. "Is it him?"

"Don't," warned Griffin, his muscles tightening.

Releasing him, Langlois sank back on his heels in the centre of the bed. "The plan worked." He sounded astonished.

Griffin wheeled round, the silk lining of his jacket flaring out with the speed with which he moved. "Yes, it worked. Better than you could have dreamed. Now I'm alone and Kit's alone and I doubt if either of us is very happy. Is that what you wanted to know?"

The intensity of raw emotion revealed in anger struck an unwelcome chord with Langlois. He made a helpless gesture, at a rare loss to know what to say.

Recovering control as quickly as he had lost it, Griffin demonstrated that he had not finished with him yet. "Earlier you said you'd seen my photograph. Was that in a newspaper, or have you seen the dossier your uncle prepared about me?"

Held by nothing more than the force of Griffin's personality, it did not occur to one of the glibbest tongues in London to lie. "The latter."

"Before or after evidence was manufactured to suggest that I'm an extortioner?"

"Before. Henri asked me to recommend a man of integrity. I am capable of recognising that trait in others. I suggested Kit, and that the lever should be a threat to Charlie and Josh." Langlois would have told this terrifying man anything he wanted to know if it meant he would be rid of him. Having been forced to face some unpalatable truths about himself, it wasn't only violence he feared now.

"Why? Were you so bored? Charlie has cause to hate me but even she can't believe I would hurt her, let alone Josh." Tie fastened, Griffin slipped on his shoes.

Feeling at a disadvantage naked, Langlois dragged on a dressing-gown and cautiously left the bed, for all his bravado yet to be convinced he was safe from physical harm. "I need a drink even if you don't. We should talk."

"About what?" Griffin stalked after him.

"Charlie Cassidy. What will you drink?"

"Nothing. What about her?"

"I understand your reluctance to become further involved. Unfortunately we carry our past with us."

Griffin gave him a brief look of uncomfortable intensity, which left the younger man feeling as if every buried emotion lay exposed before that merciless gaze. But when Griffin spoke, it was quietly, as if to himself. The extravagant children, who lately swaggered/ out of the sea like gods, have, I think, been soundly/hunted by their own devils into their human selves..."

When he fell silent the illusion of communication fled and Langlois blinked. "What? Oh, yes, I see. Aren't we all, one way or another. Perhaps Charlie most of all. While we have never met, I know she has been living under intense pressure. First her father's death, his legacy, the murder of her friend Alice, and the attentions of both the media and the authorities."

Griffin sharply exhaled a plume of smoke. "And perhaps even a twinge of guilt for being an accessory to my father's murder."

"What?" Langlois' new-found composure cracked.

"Didn't you know? I suppose you wouldn't. It's hardly gossip fodder for the cocktail circuit."

"That cannot be true," protested Langlois, shock obliterating his cynical air.

"No? Had I been the son my father wanted, there would be a blood bath in Hong Kong even now. For Charlie's sake, and particularly for Josh's, I hope she's severed her connection with Chong. Members of his Triad dismembered my father."

Motionless for a moment, Langlois recovered enough to notice Griffin; he pushed his glass toward Griffin, judging him to be in greater need of it. "Take this. It's only brandy. Ms Cassidy isn't the only one to have been under great strain. My uncle knows none of this, I'm sure."

"Nor should you," said Griffin, ignoring the drink. "Now four people know." His inference was clear.

"How could it help my uncle for me to tell him this?" Langlois gave Griffin a shrewd look. "You will not harm me, therefore you must trust me to be discreet. It goes against the grain, does it not."

"Are you surprised?" But there was no bite to the mellow voice now. "I believe my father ordered Alice Wu's murder and that he threatened Charlie. I imagine she gave Chong, Alice's father, the name of the man responsible. It may reassure you to know Charlie isn't a homicidal maniac."

"Only, I think, on the verge of a nervous breakdown," said Langlois sombrely.

Griffin tensed slightly. "For which your uncle blames me?"

"I don't believe his motives were ever clear cut. He's an honourable man - "

"I could tell that."

"But he is in love. When this began, he was fighting a rival he had never met. One who intruded on every private moment. He was jealous of you."

"And that excuses what he did?"

Langlois sighed. "Have love - and hate - never made you act irrationally? In a manner you later regretted?"

"Touché. I intend to meet your uncle."

"Your quarrel is with me," said Langlois protectively.

"Only in part. The smaller part. Will you arrange the meeting, or shall I?"

"I'm not sure where he is," prevaricated Langlois.

"How long's he been in London?" Griffin asked casually, stubbing out his cigarette.

"Just under a - " Langlois grimaced. "How did you know?"

"If he was still in Sydney you wouldn't be so worried. Besides, I've had the pleasure of seeing Charlie, albeit from a distance. I take it Henri left Australia for her sake?"

"Of course, although he made business his excuse. Why do you want to see him?"

"To discover how many other people have seen that dossier he compiled and to retrieve all the copies. Call me unduly sensitive, but I take grave exception to having my life investigated and my reputation libelled."

"Libel?" Langlois frowned. "I had not considered that."

"Start now," Griffin advised him. "I'm staying at Brown's. Tell your uncle to contact me. If he doesn't, my lawyers will be contacting him." Leaving the sitting-room, he headed down the hall, pulling on his overcoat.

"You don't like me very much, do you," remarked Langlois with unconscious egotism.

Pausing, Griffin's gaze travelled over the younger man, recognising all the signs of recovery. "What do you think? But if it's any comfort, I like myself even less for what I did to you."

Langlois stared at him blankly. "But you didn't go through with it."

Pulling up his collar, Griffin eyed him with something like pity in his eyes. "I did worse than that," he said gently. "I made you believe I'd fist you. There is a difference."

It took a moment for the humiliating truth to sink in.

"You mean it was all a trick! You cold-blooded bastard! You set me up! I've never been so terrified in my life!" cried Langlois hotly, outraged by the cruel calculation of Griffin's actions.

"That was the general idea. You'd do well to remember as much." Griffin's voice hardened when he saw Langlois tense, as if considering physical retaliation. "I've let you off lightly so far. Interest yourself in any aspect of my life again and I promise you'll live to regret it. Acts of mercy, like mistakes, should never be repeated." Frosty air billowing around him when he opened the front door, he paused on the top step. "Do I make myself plain?"

Like a rabbit hypnotised by the beam of powerful headlamps, Langlois could not look away. It seemed impossible that this coldly dangerous man could be capable of human warmth, yet he had glimpsed the passion hidden beneath the surface, felt the searing heat before the furnace door was slammed shut. It did not occur to him to try to capitalise on the knowledge. Tonight had warned him that Griffin's revenge would take a form far more subtle than physical violence: the memory of his near escape made him sweat despite the cold.

"Well?" asked Griffin.

"I understand," confirmed Langlois, blinking nervously.

"Good. I'm glad we've finally managed to communicate." Griffin turned away.

"James! Mr Griffin! Wait!" Langlois called, impelled by a sense of fellow-feeling which he had no intention of trying to analyse.

"What is it now?" demanded Griffin, obviously impatient to be gone.

"The dossier. Kit had every reason in the world to believe the worst of you. If you think it would help matters between you I will see him. To explain," Langlois added hurriedly, wishing he hadn't surrendered to impulse and had simply allowed his dangerous visitor to go.

The wind whipping the corners of his collar and stinging his eyes, Griffin shook his head. "Unfortunately the moment for explanations has passed."

"I mean it," insisted Langlois fiercely, feeling as if his honour was being impugned. "You may believe that much."

The severity of Griffin's expression eased fractionally. "Oddly enough, I do. You aren't the only one with instincts. Goodbye." Without waiting for a reply he ran down the rest of the steps and hurried along the street to where his car was parked.

Despising his descent into the depths for a revenge which had already turned sour, Griffin's quota of self-hatred was high when he turned his Jaguar out of London. It had been necessary, as so often in the past, to demonstrate a show of strength - jungle law prevailed - but he wished he had found another means of making his point. Sex should never be used as a weapon. Nor should love, he reminded himself, his expression bleak as he drove north with a speedy precision. Having no destination in mind he intended only to unwind enough so that he could sleep. The monotony of the motorway offering too little challenge, he left it to follow a winding route along B roads, abandoning town in favour of countryside. Even the familiar pleasure of driving failed to work its magic.

The discovery that he had smoked his last cigarette made Griffin pull up to a brightly-lit transport café just after four in the morning. The scent of frying bacon and the warmth seduced him into staying, his stomach quick to remind him how little of his last meal he had eaten. The café was crowded with lorry drivers, their presence a sure sign of the excellence of the food.

Ordering everything but black pudding and baked beans, Griffin took his meal to one of the few empty seats. Grateful to be ignored after wary nods of acknowledgement, he concentrated on his meal, peripherally aware of the diversity of conversations taking place around him.

"You look as if you needed that," remarked a neighbour, when Griffin pushed his cleared plate away. "Smoke?"

"Thanks." Taking one of the Woodbines offered to him, Griffin passed his lighter around. "I hadn't realised how hungry I was." Flexing his stiff shoulders, his lack of sleep beginning to catch up with him, he leant back on the shabby plastic-covered bench, the unfamiliar tobacco harsh in his throat.

"It always gets to you this time of the morning. Murder it is, sometimes, when there's no decent grub within miles."

"I can imagine. Have you been on the roads for long?" asked Griffin, his lack of interest well-hidden.

It was diversion enough for the seasoned drivers around him. Encouraging nods fostering the illusion that he was listening, Griffin drank the strong Indian tea, grateful for its warmth, and shared out his cigarettes. The conversation turned from tall stories about sights seen on the road to an analysis of the recent final of the Rugby World Cup, on which subject his time with Kilroy had left Griffin better informed than he wanted to be. The enthusiasm of a stocky, thickly-accented man reminded him of Kilroy so acutely that he had to close his eyes against a rush of longing.

In the ten days since he had sent Kilroy away, he had begun to think of more than his own lacerated emotions. In fact he had done little else but think, first with the pulsating agony of betrayal raw in his mind, then in an icy rage before sheer emotional exhaustion brought a merciful numbness. That had been only another form of protection from the realisation he had been justly served. Whatever he had thought he felt for Charlie Cassidy, it hadn't stopped him from using her. At least Kilroy's motives had been purer. At that stage Griffin began to accept that Kilroy had been used just as much as he had, a victim caught in the same trap. Every conversation between them returning to haunt him, at first they had seemed no more than stinging reminders of how easily he had been duped. Only recently had he been able to see where the pattern had changed as Kilroy's involvement became real, gaining dimension and warmth.

Kilroy took the responsibilities of his job seriously. Given what he must have read in Langlois' dossier, the only surprise was that he should have been able to trust at all.

Absently lighting a cigarette, despite the fact that one already sat burning away in the ashtray, Griffin stared at the rejected curl of bacon rind on his plate. Unpractised in sharing his life with others, he knew it would require a considerable effort on his part; an effort not required of him until now. He didn't seem to have any choice in the matter. He missed having Kilroy in his life; his warmth, his humour, his dependability and his integrity. They were stolid-sounding virtues; the reality was very different, bringing a contentment Griffin had never found with another human being, and which he had not known he needed until it was taken from him. The only astounding thing was the fact Kilroy seemed to feel the same way about him, despite everything that had happened. Unconscious of having made any decision, he got to his feet.

"Going to chance your arm and go back home, are you, mate?"

Looking at his companions Griffin saw the same good-natured understanding on each face. Even knowing how quickly their reaction would change if they discovered the gender of his mate did not, on this occasion, sadden him. Rubbing his stubble-roughened chin, he nodded.

"Was I that obvious?"

His wry tone earned him friendly grins around the table. "It's the usual explanation when a bloke dressed to the nines turns up in a transport caff in the middle of the night, smokes two cigarettes at the same time and then sits staring into space."

"Best of luck," said another man.

"Thanks. We'll need it. A safe trip home." Leaving the café, Griffin wasted no time getting onto the London-bound side of the M1. Lucky enough not to meet a police patrol, his speed slowed only when he met the coagulating stream of commuters on their lemming-like rush to work.

Chapter Text

SIXTEEN

Griffin's initial impulse to seek a reconciliation with Kilroy did not survive his drive to London, bitterness eroding his longing. He didn't trust himself, yet to come to terms with the knowledge that their every conversation and action had been monitored and judged, that Kilroy had manipulated their relationship - and himself - from their first meeting. While Kilroy claimed to be in love, Griffin could vouch for the fact that guilt could produce strange reactions in a man.

It was only when he returned to Brown's that the crowds, bright lights and extra traffic made more sense: tomorrow was Christmas Eve. Suffering from a deficiency of goodwill, Griffin spent Christmas alone in his hotel suite making plans, although he remembered to include larger than usual tips for the hotel staff. Trying to ignore his sense of loneliness he began to put his plan into operation the moment the holiday period was over, the difficulty he experienced in contacting bankers and lawyers making him realise that not everyone shared his views about Christmas being a waste of time.

After a number of business meetings in the City, he spent an exhausting three days in France before returning to Brown's. A message from Henri Langlois banished all thought of catching up on lost sleep. After making a number of telephone calls to ascertain that the arrangements were in place, Griffin went to meet the banker at the Window to the World Restaurant on the twenty-eighth floor of the London Hilton in Park Lane.

Beyond a brief nod neither man spoke, except to order drinks. At this hour the restaurant was almost deserted, giving them some much needed privacy.

"You came alone," remarked Langlois, once the waiter had filled their order and moved out of earshot.

"What did you expect, an entourage of hitmen?"

Langlois picked up his glass but made no attempt to drink from it. "It is not unknown."

"It is as far as I'm concerned. There again, in your fantasy I wage war on children. Have you brought the dossier?" Comfortably seated, Griffin's lack of movement was as intimidating as his quiet, clipped speech. His rarely blinking eyes had the merciless calculation of a cat watching its prey.

"I have it here."

"Are there copies?"

"There were two. Both are here with the original. I owe you an apology."

"What you owe me cannot be measured. But understand this much: if you, your hirelings, or anyone connected with you dares to libel me again, we'll meet in court. I'm beyond caring what secrets are dragged out into the open in the process. Do I made myself clear?"

"Very. Your primitive instincts urge you to violence. This I understand but - "

"Not violence," corrected Griffin, "revenge. We are not, after all, creatures of the jungle."

"No? Earlier this year I might have agreed with you. Then I discovered in myself a capacity for hatred I had not suspected. You know of course that I was jealous of you."

Griffin eyed him with weary contempt. "This is an obvious ploy even by your standards. Am I to be disarmed before I'm further insulted? If so, I would suggest you rethink your strategy."

"I have given you no cause to trust me, I know," said Langlois with a faint sigh. "If I could undo the wrong I have done you I would do so. That is not possible. So tell me how I may make amends."

Lighting a cigarette, Griffin studied him. Against his better judgement he believed the Frenchman to be sincere; only a fool, or a man so befuddled by emotion that he had lost the ability to reason, could have acted as Langlois had done.

"Make Charlie understand that her vendetta must end," he said abruptly. "I listened with great interest to the audio tape she prepared from edited conversations of mine."

"You, too." Obviously appalled, Langlois closed his eyes for a moment. "I did not know of the existence of the tape until Mr Kilroy came to see me at the beginning of the week."

Griffin's expression unconsciously softened. On your white charger again, Kit?

He rode all unarmed, and he rode all alone,/ so faithful in love, and so dauntless in war...

He gave a wry grin at the inappropriate reference; yet there were times when Kilroy was young Lochinvar to the life.

"I am gratified the tape brought you some amusement."

Langlois' acid tone returned Griffin to the present. Amusement Memories of the last night he had spent with Kilroy effectively doused his affectionate reverie. Sitting back, he outstared the older man with ease.

"If that's what you believe, you're a bigger fool than I take you for."

Swallowing the insult, Langlois examined his clenched fingers. "I regret that tape more than you can know."

Exhaling, Griffin's assessing gaze remained on Langlois. "That much I believe. Regret isn't enough. I require a guarantee that Charlie understands that her preoccupation with my affairs must end."

Langlois looked unhappy. "She is very bitter, but I will try."

"Perhaps I failed to make myself plain. You'll have to do better than that."

Langlois' hands parted. "I meant that I will try to discuss the matter rationally with her. She is...distraught, to the point where she imagines she is being watched, even here in London. She has been living on her nerve ends for months and...I am afraid for her," he added simply.

"Then get her medical help," said Griffin without a flicker of emotion.

"That requires her co-operation. Recently...she has reached the stage where, I believe, she wonders if even I am plotting against her. Unfortunately Cassidys know how to hate, just as they know how to love."

Finding Langlois' expression too revealing for comfort, Griffin looked away, having gained all the confirmation he needed of the Frenchman's feelings for Charlie. He had met Langlois only once, and that briefly, but he could see the changes the strain of living with Charlie Cassidy had wrought in him.

"Charlie never loved me," he announced brusquely, without pausing to analyse why he offered that comfort to his enemy. "Lust soon burns to ashes. I wounded her pride, not her heart."

"I know that now." Looking up, his expression relaxing, Langlois gave an apologetic grimace. "I seem to lack the necessary sophistication for civilized behaviour in the presence of one of her ex-lovers."

"Yes," agreed Griffin, stubbing out his cigarette.

"Did you love her?"

"That's none of - " Recognising the pain inadequately hidden behind the Frenchman's bland mask, Griffin nodded. "Yes, I did. Not that she believed me. I can hardly blame her."

There was a short silence.

"I wish we could have met in different circumstances," said Langlois unexpectedly.

"We did," Griffin reminded him. "The night you met us on the jetty to take charge of Cassidy's records for Charlie. I've wondered since what capital you made from that legacy while it was in your charge."

"It is not my habit to pry into the possessions of others when they have been entrusted to my care. Charles Cassidy was my mentor and my friend long before I fell in love with his daughter. Whether you believe me or not is unimportant. Do you intend to remain in London?"

"My movements are not your concern."

"I agree. I ask only because I had hoped that here in London Charlie might find the peace of mind which eluded her in Australia. She and Josh lived here for almost nine years, and since Sam's death - "

"Sam's dead?" Surprise betrayed Griffin into speech.

"Two months ago. He was killed in a multiple pile-up outside Sydney. Five others also died."

Griffin gazed into the middle distance. "Did you satisfy yourself that it was an accident? I understood he was handling Charlie's legal affairs. Cassidy's records still have the power to blight several as yet unblemished reputations."

"You know what the records contain?"

"No, but I'm capable of making an educated guess," replied Griffin, who had no intention of giving the Frenchman any more ammunition to use against him.

Langlois eyed him shrewdly. "If you say so. Charlie is certain that Sam saw nothing of Cassidy's records. I, too, became concerned about the circumstances surrounding the crash. It occurred during heavy rain. Evidence suggests a lorry driver fell asleep at the wheel. Sam had the misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Naturally I caused extensive enquiries to be made - for Josh's sake."

The tension on Griffin's face eased. "How is he? I remember how much his father meant to him."

"He was, and is, distressed. But he is such a self-contained child that it is sometimes difficult to be certain exactly what he feels. In the short time he lived with Sam I believe there was a certain...disenchantment. Given Josh's high expectations, it was perhaps inevitable. At present he spends much of his time with Charlie's mother in Ealing. Charlie is so on edge that I thought it wiser if - "

"She's that distraught?" Griffin frowned as he remembered the rapport between mother and son.

"At present her patience is minimal and her temper unpredictable. There has been much upheaval in Josh's life in the last year. He requires a period of stability and security. I intend to see he gets them, but at present Charlie demands all my time. I just hope she does not meet you until she has regained her equilibrium."

"So do I, if for more selfish reasons. I should have liked to see Josh again. That's impossible, I know."

Langlois gave a nod of acknowledgement. "He speaks of you often, if only to me, and always with affection. For his sake I wish it could be otherwise, but while Charlie is... You understand?"

"Only too well," said Griffin colourlessly, remembering his naivety in imagining he could make a new life in England unencumbered by the old. The past was one piece of baggage which could never be lost no matter how far you travelled.

Langlois rubbed his nose. "Er, I wonder...could you recommend any books on astrology?"

The unexpected change of topic surprised Griffin into a faint smile. "Do you mean astronomy?"

"Probably," conceded Langlois with resignation. "It is a subject on which Josh finds me woefully ignorant."

"Any good bookshop should be able to recommend a beginner's guide. You could always take Josh to the Planetarium."

Interrupted by the insistent buzz of a mobile phone, Griffin gestured for Langlois to take his call. Watching the flare of naked emotion which crossed the Frenchman's face, he knew the course of the call as surely as if he had been a party to the conversation. Langlois' replies remained monosyllabic until he cut the connection.

"So, Mr Griffin, I hear you have decided to interest yourself in the world of banking. Specifically my bank." Langlois' eyes betrayed what his voice disguised.

"Not yours alone," Griffin reminded him blandly. "The Langlois family is extensive. Some members of it were only too glad to dispose of their interest in the bank."

"You do not have a controlling interest!"

"Not yet."

"Nor will you."

"An unwise assumption. I enjoy a challenge."

"Is this your revenge?" ground out Langlois.

"No, that comes later. Banking has been your life, but I've no doubt you'll be able to adapt. You might even be able to find another position." Sitting back, Griffin assessed the older man's flashpoint through unblinking eyes.

Breathing heavily, Langlois controlled his temper with an obvious effort. "You will not taint our bank with practices learnt at your father's knee. You will not gain a controlling interest." While his voice was soft, it shook with vehemence.

"Who do you imagine can stop me if I choose to go on? You can't afford to, outside sources would defeat the object. Leon? Well, unless your brother has undergone a radical change of personality from the days when I knew him, his sloth and parsimony will prevent him from acting in time."

Langlois gave him a look of contempt. "How can you afford this? I thought you disinherited."

A muscle twitched in Griffin's jaw. "But not destitute. I have been making my own way in the world for the last twenty years. Your investigators should have concentrated more on the business aspects of my life rather than attempting to bribe my servants regarding my sexual habits. I'm sure Charlie could have provided references, should I need them."

Langlois half rose from his chair before he regained control. "I would see the bank close its doors before you take charge."

Griffin's smile was one of icy satisfaction. "That, too, can be arranged. Stop blustering. Did you really imagine I would permit you to attack me and walk away unscathed?"

"You're a barbarian!"

"Half-Italian, actually. And more of my father's son than I had supposed."

"That's no recommendation."

Griffin offered a smile calculated to infuriate more placid men than Henri Langlois.

"You are out of your depth. You are no banker," added Langlois with scorn.

"Nor is Leon. That hasn't stopped him from making a thirty-year career, during which he has brought the bank to the edge of disaster more than once. We both know who the power behind the throne has been. Why you chose to bury yourself in Sydney all these years is the only mystery. Or perhaps not. Does Raoul know you're his father?"

It took Langlois a moment to absorb what Griffin had said. "You bastard," he whispered, his shoulders slumping. "You lie."

"We both know that's not true."

"There is no limit to how low you will stoop, is there."

"I had an excellent teacher," Griffin pointed out, his tone still mild as he continued to assess the older man.

"How did you...? Private detectives?"

"Not at all. Every family has its Judas, yours is no exception."

"And so you join me in the gutter," said Langlois bitterly.

"I thought it the only language you would understand."

"And what is the price of your silence to be, my holdings in the bank?"

That had been Griffin's intention. It would be something of a coup to take those back to the consortium he was heading. Inconveniently he remembered Langlois' thirteen-year-old daughter, and Raoul Langlois. Already spoilt and amoral, what would the news of his parentage do to him?

"No," he said slowly. "I don't wage war on children - whatever their chronological age. Now I've made my point, let it rest. Raoul has troubles enough."

"Do you expect gratitude?" Langlois' hand shook as he picked up his glass.

Griffin's mouth curved in an approximation of a smile. "I don't pursue lost causes. I discovered something else during the course of my investigations. You have an enviable reputation, and not only in the banking world - that of being a honest man."

"What is it you want?" Langlois asked, too battered by emotional storms to have enough energy for a fight and scandal which would irrevocably split his family.

"Only privacy and all copies of the dossier you compiled, together with a signed confession of the actions you took to libel me. I shall hold you accountable should Charlie fail to see sense."

"I would have agreed to those conditions without blackmail. When do you require my resignation from the bank?"

Stubbing out his cigarette, Griffin lit another immediately. "As a minority shareholder, my preference would be for Leon's resignation. Given the impossibility of that hope, your departure is the last thing the bank needs."

Langlois disposed of his drink in two large swallows. "Then why did you go to the trouble you have?"

"To make a point I felt certain you would understand. My life and what I choose to do with it is no concern of yours or Charlie Cassidy's. Either make her accept that or suffer the consequences. May I have the dossiers?"

Langlois gestured to the pigskin suitcase next to him and pushed it toward Griffin. "It is not locked. Be careful, it is heavy."

"I had no idea I was so interesting," remarked Griffin, with a calm he was far from feeling as he stared at the huge files.

"I give you my word - as a honest man - that these are the only copies. Take the case," Langlois urged.

Griffin rose to his feet. "No, I've taken all I intend to from you."

"I wish - " Langlois stopped, uncertain of the wisdom of what he had intended to say, or why he wanted to say it.

"That you had chosen your hireling more wisely?" His composure brittle, Griffin's expression was more revealing than he knew.

Until then it had not occurred to Langlois that his original plan had achieved the desired result. Comprehension widening his eyes, it was with a trace of compassion that he said: "Never that. Mr Kilroy is a man of integrity. He made his own investigations into your affairs and returned nearly two months ago the dossier and the fee I had paid him ago, after issuing a stern warning."

Ambushed by memories, Griffin could not immediately hide the effect that information had on him. "Oh," he said finally. Sinking limply onto his chair he knew beyond doubt when Kilroy had made that decision. Looking up, he managed not to flinch at the sympathy he saw on Langlois' face, aware that he had betrayed himself beyond hope of concealment. "So now you know." He shrugged with would-be flippancy.

Langlois' hands parted. "It gives me none of the satisfaction I had anticipated." He was surprised to realise it was the truth.

"No, I don't suppose it does."

The Frenchman made a sound of impatience. "This should never have happened. Had we met in different circumstances... Josh and his grandmother have been busy sightseeing at the weekends. If you happened to be in the vicinity of Ealing Broadway station around ten o'clock this Saturday, you would meet him. If you cared to. I should warn you that he has a passion for the metro and for hamburgers."

"I'll risk both," said Griffin, surprise and pleasure on his face.

"Then there is your opportunity, should you wish to take it."

"I should. You needn't fear that I'll - "

"Mr Griffin, if I thought for one moment that you would say or do anything to distress Josh, I would not have mentioned it. He is not a sacrificial pawn for my own feelings of guilt." Langlois extended his hand.

After a moment's hesitation Griffin took it. The stack of files at his feet catching his eye, he spared them a look of loathing. He knew himself too well to be under any illusions about what his reaction would be if he read them; equally he knew that if they were in his possession he would have to read them. Closing the case, he pushed it back to Langlois.

"These are your property, not mine. Given what I understand they contain, it would be wiser if I didn't read them. Like Josh, despite a certain disillusionment, I hold my father in great affection. And I don't subscribe to the law which says the dead can't be libelled."

"Marius Melville was a formidable man."

"That was circumspect of you." Griffin's gaze remained on the case.

"I will attend to their shredding myself as soon as I return to my office," promised Langlois. "A handwritten acknowledgement of my actions to date will be with you by early evening."

Suddenly sick of the whole business, Griffin shook his head. "Don't bother. I can't see myself wanting to relive recent events in court," he said tiredly, wondering why he had been naive enough to believe revenge would do anything but exacerbate the pain.

"At least you have nothing with which to reproach yourself," said Langlois without irony.

Griffin gave a humourless snort. "I doubt if Charlie would agree with you. I treated her badly. Goodbye."

"I would prefer au revoir," said Langlois, surprised to realise he meant it.

Griffin shook his head, but there was a trace of regret on his face. "I think not. I, too, seem to lack the necessary sophistication," he added, before he walked quickly toward the express lift.

oOo

 

Managing to hire the workshop under the railway arches at Peckham again as a stopgap measure until he could find the enthusiasm to look for a permanent site, Griffin spent every waking hour there, doing his best to ignore the cold he had caught. But his poor concentration owed nothing to physical malaise or the thunder of trains overhead.

He returned to Brown's early Friday evening, partly because he felt so dreadful, but more because his meeting with Josh Cassidy the previous Saturday had shown him that he would need all his energy. The hours they had spent together had taught him a valuable lesson, not least the fact that eight hours in the company of a curious ten-year-old could seem like a lifetime. Ashamed of the boredom which had beset him and feeling in some obscure way that he owed Josh a debt for the part he had played in Charlie's near breakdown, Griffin resigned himself to a few wearing hours each week until Josh's need for him should fade, which inevitably it would when his family life settled into a more orderly pattern.

He was seated at the rosewood desk in the sitting-room of his two-bedroom suite when the door was flung open without ceremony. Swinging round, he tensed when he saw Charlie Cassidy striding towards him.

"How dared you see Josh behind my back!" she exclaimed without preliminaries. "I understand why you're so good with him now. Pervert!"

Her inference was so wide of the mark that her goad missed its target. Rising with unhurried grace, his hands in the pockets of his cashmere slacks, Griffin's eyes were screened. Homophobia was nothing new, particularly in the nineties backlash, but somehow he hadn't expected it from Charlie.

"That's enough," he warned her, his voice hoarse. "We've nothing left to say to one another."

"The hell we haven't! You bastard! If I'd known you were a poof I wouldn't have let you within ten feet of me! Should I get myself tested for AIDS?" The tone of her voice matched the ugliness of her expression.

"As far as I'm aware you're in no more danger of contracting the HIV virus than any other sexually active woman who fails to insist her partner wear a condom."

She slapped him with venom enough to leave the scarlet imprint of her fingers across his mouth. "You irresponsible bloody queer! You didn't even have the decency to use any protection our first night!"

"As I recall there wasn't much time."

He could remember their first night as lovers with uncomfortable clarity. There had been no thought of prudence by the time they reached the hotel, Charlie's hands on him in the lift. Hunched with desire, he hadn't finished stripping once they were in her room, lust crackling fierce and bright between them; it had only calmed as the night progressed. It was difficult to imagine now, the ashes trodden into the mud.

"You miserable shit! You revolt me! Should I take the test, that's all I want to know!"

Griffin could feel his upper lip stinging from her blow. "Not on my account. While it offers no guarantee for the future, I was negative when I had my last test in August. Should I ask you the same question?" This time he stopped her blow, releasing her wrist immediately and stepping away. "Enough, Charlie. There's nothing left between us but bitterness. Go home. Haven't you had revenge enough for your bruised pride?"

This time she went for his balls and eyes. While her nails raked his cheek, he managed to evade her knee as he took her wrists in a strong, one-handed grasp. It was clear she was on the edge of hysteria.

"Enough!" he croaked in exasperation, hating every second of this. "If I have to call hotel security to remove you, I will."

Raging when she discovered her inability to free herself, Charlie Cassidy was like a wild thing. "I'm not going anywhere until I've said all I came to say. Stop having me followed! And never dare so much as speak to Josh again. I'll kill you before I'll let you near him. Small boys are more to your taste, aren't they?"

"No," said Griffin shortly. "Men and women are to my taste. Loving, giving adults. You've libelled me once, don't make the mistake of doing so twice. My patience isn't infinite."

"Then leave me alone!" she screamed.

Grimacing when he heard the knock on the door, in no mood to try and explain this scene to the hotel manager, Griffin was relieved when the door opened to reveal Henri Langlois.

"The key card was in the door and I heard voices," Langlois said.

Much of the anxiety on the Frenchman's face faded when he saw Charlie. "Come, cherie," he added, every emotion but love banished from his voice, "I have been looking for you."

"You see! Even you're spying on me. Oh god, Henri." Her face crumpling, Charlie began to cry, noisy sobs racking her. When Griffin, a forgotten bystander, stepped back, she fled into the Frenchman's arms like a bird seeking refuge from the storm.

"I'm sorry! I didn't mean that. I don't know what I mean any more, I'm so tired. Take me home."

"Of course. But rest for a moment. All will be well. Mr Griffin," continued Langlois in the same soothing voice, knowing that Charlie heard only the tone, not the substance, "I - "

"I think I can guess," said Griffin tiredly, appalled to realise his concentration was so poor that he would leave his suite unlocked. Bending, he scooped up Charlie's scarlet wool jacket, which had slipped from her shoulders when she first attacked him, and handed it to the older man. "It was a mistake for Josh and I to meet."

"Not for him," said Langlois, stroking Charlie's dishevelled hair. "Will you be able to keep your appointment with him tomorrow?" he added.

"Do you think that would be wise?" asked Griffin, wanting nothing more than to wash his hands of the Cassidy family.

"I was concerned for your health. You do not sound - "

"I'm fine. I was thinking of - " Griffin's eyes went to Charlie.

"I do not know," admitted Langlois. "But Josh needs a man in his life, someone he likes and to whom he can look up. While that is a role I intend to fill, at present the bulk of my time must be given elsewhere. I understand your reluctance," he added when Griffin remained silent. "Very well. I will tell him that - "

" - I'll meet him at his grandmother's at eleven o'clock. Do you require my assurance that I haven't hired anyone to follow Charlie?"

Langlois murmured to Charlie as her sobs eased into the occasional hiccough. Handing her a handkerchief while keeping one arm around her, he turned his attention back to Griffin.

"I regret that you have been - " it was then that he noticed the three livid scratches which began close to Griffin's left eye " - inconvenienced."

Griffin shrugged, then glanced at Charlie. "You'll ensure she receives the help she needs?"

"Tomorrow," Langlois promised. "Come, cherie. It grows late." Steering her from the room, the door closed with barely a sound, leaving Griffin alone in the emotion-torn atmosphere.

His expression bleak, he reaped a bitter harvest when he remembered the confident woman he had met last February. He was left with no choice but to wonder how great a contribution his actions had played in bringing her to this.

Chapter Text

SEVENTEEN

Disgusted to find that three days in Hong Kong had done nothing to lift his gloom, Griffin flew back into Heathrow with something like relief. His personal life a mess, his mood depressed, he had been toying with the idea of moving back to the Far East. But his time in the Colony, necessitated by one of the bimonthly Trustees' meetings, had made him realise that the place held too many memories; his presence made too many people uneasy, not least those now running the Melville empire. Besides, Kit was in London.

Going straight to his suite at Brown's, Griffin switched up the heating, bathed and sat sipping a large brandy as he tried to work out what he wanted from life. The temptation to go to Kilroy was acute, the gap where he'd been an aching void he hadn't found a way of filling. Knowing himself too well to be under any illusions Griffin stayed away; until he could let his bitterness go they had no future together, always providing Kilroy would still want one with him by that time.

Stubbing out his cigarette because the smoke was making him cough, Griffin glanced at his watch and decided to go to bed. At three a.m. on a cold January night few people made much sense.

oOo

Waking with a start, Griffin groped for the telephone receiver. "Yes?" he croaked, having to sniff when his fumbling failed to locate a handkerchief.

"Mr Griffin? It's Claire Cassidy. I'm sorry to disturb you so early - "

Hauling himself up in bed, Griffin flicked on the bedside light and stared at his watch-face. Groaning inwardly, he lit a cigarette, inhaled, coughed, and tried to concentrate on what Josh's grandmother was telling him. She took a long time to get to the point. Henri Langlois had been involved in a serious car accident and she was about to ask an, as yet, unnamed favour of him.

"My place is with Charlie. Henri's operation is scheduled for eight a.m. - there's a chance they won't be able to save his leg. He had to be cut from the wreckage of his car. Sorry, I'm babbling," Claire Cassidy added in more of her usual tone. "It's been quite a night."

"I can imagine," said Griffin politely, too tired to feel anything but resigned: he seemed destined to carry the Cassidy family like an albatross around his neck. "How can I help?"

"While I know Charlie doesn't approve, Henri trusts you and Josh thinks the world of you, and there isn't really anyone else who can - "

"What do you want me to do?"

"I know you weren't due to see Josh this week but in the circumstances is there any chance that you'd be free to have him today? All day. I realise it's an imposition, but until we know how badly Henri is injured we don't want Josh - "

"Of course," said Griffin, ruthlessly cutting her short. If he couldn't find a handkerchief soon he would have to resort to using the sheet. "I should be with you in under an hour."

"That would be wonderful! Josh is asleep, but I can - "

Griffin gently got rid of her and crawled out of bed. Staring into the foggy, deserted street he shivered, yawned, and trailed off to the bathroom.

 

"I still don't see why we had to get up in the middle of the night," complained Terry from the back of the ancient transit van.

"You never see anything," said Peter, as he drove through the suburban streets which, except for the odd milk float, were deserted at this time of morning. "We've been watching the brat for weeks and he's never let off the leash. We could spend the rest of our lives waiting for a chance to snatch him. So we take him today - good and early. It'll be easier now he's staying with his gran."

"What do we want her for?" yawned Terry.

"We don't, you dozy bugger," said John, turning in the front passenger seat with an impatient glare. "We've been over and over this. She stays put, we snatch the kid and make his snooty mum pay through the nose to get him back. This early on a Saturday most people'll take one look out of the window and crawl back into bed for a couple of hours - by which time we'll be long gone."

"What's the plan?" asked Terry truculently. "I mean, it'd help if I knew what I was supposed to be doing."

"You will," said Peter confidently. "We'll have a good look round first. If it's all quiet, we go in. You said yourself, her locks are an open invitation - especially to you. Right, there's no point wasting time. Let's get it over with." Setting the handbrake, he frowned at the misty windscreen, which was already fogging up. "Hang on, who's that arriving? I don't bloody believe it! I ask you, who goes visiting this time of the morning?"

Terry leant forward. "That's the bloke I saw here a couple of weeks ago. He took the kid to the Planetarium, remember? He's got a tasty line in motors."

"Sod his car," snapped Peter in frustration. "Wait, let me think." There was a very short pause. "Bugger it, we can take him out as well as the old lady."

"More like take him with us," corrected John, rubbing the windscreen. "Yeah, it is him!"

"Who?" demanded Peter. "The law?"

"Nah. Griffiths, or something like that. No, Griffin, that's his name."

"Who's he when he's at home?"

"I dunno, but he's bloody well loaded. Probably worth more on the hoof than that kid."

"How can you be so sure?" asked Peter, a thoughtful look on his face as they watched Griffin walk up the U-shaped drive, which was blocked by a scarlet Metro parked outside the front door.

"Saw him when I met Annie at her fancy office. This bloke was there, seeing her boss, Kilroy - on a social visit. She's always bending my ear about her bloody job and the wonderful people in it. She reckons this bloke is really something, just because he sweet-talks her."

"Are you sure he's loaded?" checked Peter as Griffin was admitted to the house.

"Positive. Well, look at his car. And according to Annie he's been living at a hotel in Mayfair for months."

"I don't like it," muttered Terry. "A kid and an old lady is one thing. We haven't catered for a bloke. It's not on."

"The hell it isn't," growled John. "I keep telling you, Griffin's rolling. A businessman. A soft target. We'd be crazy not to take advantage of this chance."

"I don't like it," repeated Terry, but with less conviction.

Peter rolled and lit a cigarette, cupping it in his hand. "I don't know. It seems a shame to pass up on easy money. We've wasted weeks on this already. How much trouble can one bloke be? Shut it, Tel," he added, hearing the indrawn breath behind him. "If you want out, say so. John and me will manage, and we've got nothing against some easy money. Right, John?"

"I didn't say I wasn't interested, just that we'll need to be careful," said Terry doggedly.

"We will be. Hey up, the old lady's leaving by the look of things."

"Which just leaves the kid and Griffin," added John. "Well?"

"He's a businessman, you say," said Terry, watching the Metro drive down the quiet street.

Peter and John exchanged satisfied glances.

 

Griffin turned at the sound of feet thudding down the stairs to eye his charge for the day. "I thought you were supposed to be having a bath?"

"I thought you might want help with breakfast. We have sausages and fried eggs on Saturdays," said Josh, who had taken this change in routine as no more than a pleasurable treat. "Shall I show you where everything is?"

"I expect I'll be able to cope. What are you eating now?"

Josh poked out a purple-coloured tongue, from which hung a piece of translucent gel. "A wine gum. Would you like one?"

"Repellant brat. No, I wouldn't. Go and have your bath so I can enjoy my coffee in peace." Watching Josh thunder back up stairs, Griffin huddled deeper into his thick, padded jacket, lit a cigarette and devoted himself to his cup of coffee in the hope of revitalising himself. It was going to be a long day.

Remembering only after his second cup of coffee that he was supposed to be cooking breakfast, he got up to search the refrigerator. Wondering how much a ten-year-old boy would want to eat, he ignored the scuffling sound outside the kitchen; filled with boundless energy, Josh seemed incapable of doing anything quietly. Pain exploded in the back of his head and Griffin dropped like a stone, the eggs he had been holding flying from his nerveless clasp to smash on the floor.

 

The salt-sweet tang of blood thick in his throat, it was a while before the pounding in Griffin's head permitted thought.

"James! Wake up, please."

Griffin forced his eyes open and saw a blurred image of Josh's worried face beside him. "I'm awake." His croak wasn't as reassuring as he had intended. "What happened? Where are we?" he added, realising he seemed to be propped against a wall with one arm restrained over his head; he didn't feel equal to investigating yet. It was very cold and the air had an unfamiliar acrid stench.

Josh eyed him uncertainly, then gave him a quick hug before drawing away self-consciously. "Three men broke into Gran's house. We've been kidnapped. They were indoors when I came downstairs. I don't know how they got in. They'd already knocked you out and when I struggled they kicked you. I'm sorry I got you hurt," he muttered in a small voice.

Coughing, Griffin winced, tasted fresh blood and abandoned his attempt to stand. "Don't be silly, it wasn't your fault. I'm fine. What happened then?"

"They tied us up, wrapped you in the rug from the sitting-room and carried you out to their van. The man called John kicked you again when you groaned."

"Luckily I don't remember that," said Griffin, localised soreness along his flank telling him where the boot had landed. "You look frozen. Do up your anorak. Did they hurt you?" he added, as the full sense of what Josh had been telling him penetrated the dizzying pain in his head. It was disconcerting to see two of everything.

"No. Peter stopped John and Terry from being too rough with you once we got here. I don't know why they were so cross. They'd already stolen your watch, money and things." Josh's voice held a distinct wobble.

"Probably because they're scared," said Griffin as prosaically as he could, grateful that Josh hadn't broken down completely. Using the wall as a prop, he inched to his feet and discovered that his left wrist was cuffed to one of the sturdy bars which were set in the semicircular window above him. He gave the chain a disgusted tug: the handcuffs looked brand new.

"Let's be grateful they underestimated you enough to leave you unfastened," he added, the knowledge sinking in that after all his years of care he had been kidnapped again; and worse, that he was responsible for seeing Josh came to no harm.

"There's an awful lot of blood on you," said Josh shakily.

"Heads always bleed a lot," dismissed Griffin, resisting the urge to close his eyes and sleep. Fumbling for a handkerchief, he discovered the shredded pockets of his jacket and gave Josh a questioning look.

"John did that. He was angry when he found your mobile phone. It was me who took your earring out. He was going to - "

"I can imagine. Did you hear the men say much?" asked Griffin, doing his best to reduce the kidnap to a prosaic level as he mopped his blood-encrusted nose.

"Not really, except John said you were worth six of me. Why have they done this? Do you know them?"

"No. But I expect they intend to hold us until a ransom's paid. I'll find out exactly what they want and sort it out. How long have we been here?" Griffin added, rubbing the wrist bruised by the metal cuff before he gingerly probed the bloodied lump on the back of his head.

"It seems like ages."

Griffin gave him a sympathetic look. "I bet it did, particularly with me in a heap at your feet. Could you see anything when they brought us here? Were they driving for long? And can you describe the van at all?"

"It was a brightish blue and rusting. I couldn't see much because they'd wrapped me in a blanket. They didn't carry me far. We came down two lots of steps. There's only that door there and this window. It doesn't let in much light."

"Cellar windows don't," said Griffin absently, failing to see out of it even when he stood on tiptoe, an action which renewed the thumping in his head. "If you climbed up onto my shoulders, do you think you'd be able to see out?" he added, squinting against the pain.

Josh gave him a doubtful look. "I'm heavy."

"Cheeky brat. I'm not that old," retorted Griffin. His smile faded when he moved. "Don't say it," he warned Josh, winning a small grin.

"I won't. You look awful," Josh added candidly.

"You don't look that great yourself. Up you go. Hold on tight. I haven't had much practice at being a human ladder."

After a painful interlude for Griffin Josh slid down to report that the window was on a level with a surface of broken cement which, Griffin thought, probably led to the back door of the building. There were no sounds of life, except for a dog Josh had heard barking somewhere in the distance and the rumble of what might be a train.

Josh wrestled with a sturdy wooden crate, which was the only item of furniture in the cellar, while Griffin checked the area. Despite crumbling plaster the brickwork was sound, the cement floor offering no hope of an easy escape. Pipes along the far wall, above the coal heap, suggested a boiler room was next door. The logic of the design escaping him, Griffin didn't feel equal to worrying about it.

"Sit on this," puffed Josh, pushing the crate under the window. "It'll save you having to stretch your arm so much. Your wrist is bleeding."

"Thanks. There's just room for you. It's lucky neither of us is fat," added Griffin, wishing his skills included lock picking.

"Why do those men expect us to pay them? I don't have much money. Nor does Mum."

"I've enough for both of us. Don't you believe me?" Griffin added, when Josh mumbled into his scarf.

"Yes, of course," said Josh with a simplicity which added to the burden of responsibility Griffin carried. "But what if those men - ? There was this lady. I heard about her on the news. She was kidnapped. Only she was killed."

"She was unlucky. Perhaps she wasn't rich. I am."

Josh wriggled closer. "I'm glad you're here."

"So am I. Did the men search you?" Griffin thought to add, slinging his free arm around the boy's shoulder to offer the reassurance so obviously required.

"Me? No, but I'm starving. Aren't you hungry?"

"Not really," said Griffin, the prickle of stubble on his chin making him wonder how long he had been unconscious. "But I'd kill for a cigarette," he added, tantalised by the three which remained in the crumpled packet which his kidnappers had somehow missed.

"I've got some matches," Josh announced.

"I owe you a Big Mac for this," said Griffin, taking the box from Josh with gratitude. "Why are you carrying matches?"

"I thought they might come in handy," said Josh with small-boy vagueness.

"You were right. What else do you have in your pockets?" asked Griffin, hoping for something he could use to pick the lock of his handcuffs. If Hannibal Lecter could do it with a part from a pen, so could he.

"About five pounds, a handkerchief..."

Mesmerised, Griffin watched as a rubber, a mummified apple core, a felt-tipped pen, three elastic bands, a short piece of waxed string and two pebbles appeared, wishing Josh had included a fountain pen, penknife or piece of wire amongst his treasures. That was the trouble with children of the computer age, he thought muzzily.

"What's the matter?" he asked, jolted back to life when Josh clutched his arm.

"There's something in here! In that heap of coal."

Getting to his feet, Griffin peered the fifteen or so feet to where the heap began. "I can't see... Ah. It's all right, it's only a small rat," he said reassuringly.

"A rat!" Josh retreated to the box, where he sat with his knees tucked under his chin.

"He'll be more scared of you. Damn, it's cold. Snuggle up close," Griffin commanded, pretending to believe that was why Josh was shivering. "Is that better?"

"A bit. You're not as soft as Mum but you're lovely and warm," mumbled Josh from within the security of Josh's arm, but his gaze remained on the coal heap. "What's that?"

"Just lumps of coal moving. The sound echoes because the cellar's empty. Nothing to worry about."

"There is when it's getting dark."

"You could have something there," admitted Griffin.

"I don't think it's very funny," said Josh accusingly.

Griffin glanced down. "I was smiling because you remind me of myself. I used to be afraid of the dark when I was your age. Do you know the poem about things that go bump in the night?"

"I don't like poetry," said Josh crossly; his nose was turning pink and his eyes were overly bright.

Cassidy guts, thought Griffin, wondering how he would have stood up to this experience at the same age. "Oh?" he said, respecting Josh's privacy by ignoring the quiver of his chin.

Josh huffed grumpily. "That one you told me about the moon wasn't bad, I suppose," he conceded, his chin steadier now.

"This poem's even easier to remember. See what you think of it.

Things that go 'bump!' in the night/Should not really give one a fright./
It's the hole in each ear/That lets in the fear,/That, and the absence of light."

"That's silly," said Josh with scorn, after a pause for thought, but those few moments concentrating on something else had helped him to relax. "The rat isn't as big as I first thought he was," he admitted, when it emerged on top of the coal heap. "Though he doesn't look very scared to me."

"Nor do you, yet you must be," said Griffin matter-of-factly, giving Josh a quick hug when he glanced up, half ashamed, half relieved. "It's a perfectly natural reaction and nothing to feel ashamed of."

"But you're not scared," said Josh accusingly.

While it was tempting, Griffin did not contradict him; the truth was the last thing Josh needed to hear right now. "I'm older, that helps. Also this happened to me before - over twenty years ago now. I'll tell you about it another time," he added, when Josh opened his mouth. "We've lazed around for long enough. It's time we started searching for a way out of here, although I'm afraid you'll have to do most of the looking."

"All right," agreed Josh equably. "I wonder how the rat got in," he added without much interest.

Griffin's head shot up fast enough to make him giddy. "I should have thought of that sooner. Even rats can't live on coal dust and he wasn't to know you'd be here with your apple core. So..." He left the logical conclusion dangling temptingly.

"So he must have got in through a hole somewhere. So what?"

"If he can get in, he can get out again. We need to find that hole to see if we can make it large enough for you."

"Oh, I never thought of that!" Jumping down from the box, excitement faded from Josh's face. "But what about you?"

Griffin rattled his handcuffs. "You'll have to rescue me," he said lightly, making an adventure of it. "Once you get to a phone box, the police will soon be here to get me out."

"I'd better start looking." Josh paused, looked self-conscious and began to fidget.

It took Griffin a moment to identify the nature of the problem. "Do you want to go to the bathroom?"

"How did you know?"

"You aren't the only one with a bladder. Use the corner, the one away from the coal heap as you'll probably have to look through it."

"I want to - um," Josh toed the dust, making a sharp gritty sound on the uneven concrete floor, "you know."

Having been equally self-conscious about bodily functions at that age, Griffin did. "I'll give our guards a call. It's time we had a chat." Getting to his feet, he paused when he felt a tug on his jacket. "Yes?" he asked encouragingly.

"You will be careful, won't you?"

"I won't let them hurt you."

His promise met with a look of wounded dignity. "I wasn't thinking of me. Only you aren't very patient, are you."

"Er, no," admitted Griffin, swallowing his grin. "And I should have realised what you meant. Sorry." It was some time before his shouts gained any response.

"John," whispered Josh, when the door was flung back to reveal the intimidating bulk of a man.

"Any more noise and you'll be gagged. Shut it."

"Joshua needs a toilet. And you and I should talk," said Griffin, his tone as conciliatory as he could make it, his expression schooled.

"The toilet yet. And I suppose you think I'm going to let him waltz out of here?" John came down the steps, one clenched hand raised.

"Don't hit him!" cried Josh, darting forward.

Griffin pushed the boy behind him. "Of course he won't," he said calmly.

"I wouldn't bet on it. What d'you want to talk about?" Between the greasy baseball cap the man wore and his dark, heavy stubble, it was difficult to see much of his face.

"Money for you and your friends and freedom for Josh and me. Let me make one phone call and you'll be rich. The money will be credited straight to your bank account by telegraphic transfer."

"Yeah? Well we don't have a soddin' bank account, so you won't transfer anything. But you'll pay us all right. You both will if you want to get out of here. Two million quid each. You're worth two million, aren't you?" John demanded of Josh.

"I d-don't have any m-money."

"Don't give me that. With your old lady shacked up with a banker? We've been watching you, Sunny Jim. You and your fancy house and your chauffeur-driven car to your private school. And your classy mum who thinks herself a cut above the rest of us. I don't suppose this is what you're used to, is it?"

"N-no. I want to go home."

Griffin stepped in front of Josh again, wondering at the eel-like propensity of children. "If you won't allow Josh to use the bathroom, may we have a bucket? And something to eat and drink, and blankets. It's very cold in here," he added, hoping to goad the man into coming closer.

"What's up?" called a new voice.

"I'll tell you what's up. This flash git's making demands already." John bitterly repeated them.

Peter gave Griffin a considering look. "Pity you're not as clever as you think you are. You must think we're simple. You'll pay, but not in a way that can be traced straight back to us. Hard cash, that's what we want."

"You can have it. All Josh and I want is to go home."

"You'll want it even more later. John, there's a couple of buckets next door. Fill one with water and bring them both in. We'll talk terms when we're good and ready and not before. Give it forty-eight hours and there'll be a lot of worried people ready to pay the earth for you two." Taking the buckets from John, he left them at the bottom of the steps. "If you behave yourselves you'll be fed in the morning. If you don't, you'll go hungry." The cellar door clanged shut behind the two men.

"Well, at least we have these," Griffin said to Josh. "With a bit of luck you won't be here for much longer. Use the pail while I check these bars. Then we'll find how the rat got in and see if you can get out the same way." Their encounter with their kidnappers had only increased his determination to get Josh out as quickly as possible. If the men were capable of forming a coherent plan, it hadn't been apparent. Given their uncertain temper, Griffin had no intention of trusting Josh to their dubious mercies.

 

Having spent a nerve-racking day at the hospital, Charlie Cassidy accompanied her mother back to Ealing, euphoric that Henri was expected to make a full recovery from his injuries. The crisis having thrown every other thought out of her mind, she took her mother's confession that Griffin had been looking after Josh calmly.

"I suppose you think I've been overreacting where James Griffin is concerned," she said with resignation, as she pulled up outside the house her mother had bought while Charlie had been in Australia.

"A little," said Claire with caution. "Josh thinks the world of him. I like him myself."

"You don't know him," said Charlie grimly, before she sighed and gave a tired grimace. "Though after last night somehow he doesn't seem as important as he once did."

Her composure cracked when they found no trace of Josh or Griffin in the house, only two broken eggs splattered on the kitchen floor. It was then that Claire realised what was different about the sitting-room.

"Oh my god," she moaned.

"Don't panic, Mum," said Charlie, in a tone of brittle control. "This is probably James' idea of a joke." But her anger didn't last long, fear for her son growing when she realised it was almost ten o'clock.

"There's blood on the kitchen floor. That isn't a joke. We have to call the police," insisted Claire, her face haggard. "You don't know what's happened here. James wouldn't do this for a joke."

"No? You don't understand what he's capable of. And he's got my son! There's no sign of a break-in." The tale Henri had concocted when he hired Kit Kilroy to take revenge on Griffin returning to haunt her, Charlie sank down as if her legs would no longer hold her. "Mum, I daren't call the police. Not yet."

"But what could he possibly want with Josh? He wouldn't hurt him?"

Charlie stared at her tightly-laced fingers, the pressure she was exerting easing when she remembered Griffin with Josh and Rose Wu. "No," she agreed dully. "But he'd have no compunction about paying me back. Josh is probably having the time of his life holed up in some hotel, staying up far too late and eating all the wrong things." Her mouth quivered before it steadied. "We'll wait a bit longer."

 

"James, there is a hole. The wood's rotten. If I pull it..." After a prolonged effort there were a series of cracks as the wood gave way; the sound echoed through the cellar but no-one came to investigate the noise and Griffin relaxed.

"There's some kind of a chute," said Josh excitedly. "I'm going to take a look. I'm sure I can climb up it." He had obviously forgotten the rat completely.

"OK." Griffin swallowed a warning. It seemed a long time before Josh reappeared, tripping over the coal heap as he ran back to Griffin.

"I got out! Right out! I couldn't see much because there's no lights, not anywhere I looked. But I got out!"

"Great! Next time you won't be coming back," said Griffin, who hadn't dared hope it could be this easy. "You know what to do, don't you?" he checked, having given Josh his instructions for the third time.

Josh gave him a patient look. "You fuss worse than Mum."

"Maybe I do, but promise me you won't stop for anything. And remember, no accepting lifts from anyone but a marked police car, not even a taxi. You get to a phone box and dial nine nine nine."

"I promise," Josh sighed, looking hard-done-by. "What if those men find I'm gone before the police get here to rescue you?"

It was a point Griffin preferred not to dwell on; he had no intention that Josh should start to do so. "You heard Peter say they wouldn't be back until tomorrow morning. I'll be fine. Now will you get out of here."

Josh unwound his scarf. "I'm leaving you this," he said stubbornly. "You'll need it until - "

"OK," said Griffin gently.

"And here's the last match. You'll be able to have your other cigarette now. I've got the cigarette packet with the notes you wrote zipped in my inside pocket," anticipated Josh.

Griffin gave a reluctant grin. "So I'm a nag. Now get out of here."

Having wriggled through the hole he had widened earlier, Josh's head reappeared, a small patch of light in the gloom. "I'll be as quick as I can," he promised, and then he was gone.

The scrabbling sounds soon faded, until Griffin could hear nothing. Worrying that he might have thrown Josh from the frying pan into the fire, he leant against the wall. Blanketing his mind to what would happen before the police arrived if his kidnappers discovered Josh had got away, he fatalistically lit his last cigarette, noting with a detached portion of his brain that his hands were shaking.

 

Griffin never remembered much about the few minutes after the men discovered Josh had escaped, stubbornly silent when they demanded to know when that had been. He managed one satisfying kick before they overwhelmed him. After a while, he began to regret that kick. It seemed possible it might kill him.

When he recovered consciousness it was to find himself gagged with a heavy application of elastoplast, trussed like a turkey and wrapped in something which prickled and stank of vomit. Lurching from side to side, with no means of protecting himself, he realised they must be in the van. The drive was a nightmare of pain, the whine of the engine audible above the pounding of his hurt body. Eventually the angry voices began to make more sense.

"The bloody bastard! A soft target, you said!" A blow to his kidneys made Griffin arch, his eyes watering, before the van took a corner too fast, slamming him into the wall.

"Christ, slow down!"

"With the law on our tail?"

"We don't know that. I reckon the kid wasn't long gone," said John. "Griffin wasn't cocky enough."

"We should have looked," insisted Terry, his voice tight with panic.

"And got caught like rats in a trap? No way," said Peter, equally edgy, but he slowed the van's speed. "This way we've still got a bird in the hand."

"You think he's going to co-operate?" demanded Terry.

"He'll co-operate," said Peter. "I'll see to that. I owe him one for that kick in the balls."

It was Griffin's last moment of satisfaction for some time, the voices fading as he struggled to breathe through his blocked sinuses.

"...are we going?" asked Terry, sounding calmer.

"My sister's cottage," said Peter. "She's just flown off to Tunisia for ten days. Gave me the keys and asked me to keep an eye on the place."

"What about her neighbours?" asked John, his voice still tight with tension at the ruin of their plans.

"She doesn't have any. That's the beauty of her place. It's in the middle of nowhere. No-one'll know we're there - except him, and he won't be in any state to tell."

Certain they were going to kill him, Griffin waited for the van to reach its destination because it was the only option he had. Admitting the mistakes he had made with the men, he mentally prepared an argument that would convince his abductors to allow him to make one phone call.

Dropped without ceremony onto the floor, which action jarred every hurt back into virulent life, Griffin blinked when a weak fluorescent light flickered on to reveal his new prison: a brick-built garage. Trying to focus on his surroundings, seeking an escape route, he flinched when John roughly ripped the elastoplast from his mouth, springing water to his eyes as it took stubble with it and reopened the cut on his swollen bottom lip. Gasping for air, Griffin gave a lush sniff, winced and sniffed again, revelling in the chance to breathe unhindered. Apart from getting free, his greatest ambition was to have his hands unbound and for five minutes alone with each of his captors.

"Who'll pay to get you back?" demanded Peter, reopening the cut on the back of Griffin's head as he locked a hand in his hair. "Your price has gone up, mate. Five million, in used notes. Small bills."

Their lack of organisation was an added insult. Bad enough to be kidnapped and beaten up; that it should be by incompetent opportunists was the final straw.

"Then I hope you've got a pantechnicon to take them away in," Griffin said acidly. "Do you have any idea how much that many five pound notes will weigh?"

"Less mouth," warned Peter. "Or maybe you don't want to get out in one piece. You've got one more chance before I lose my patience. Who'll pay to get you free?"

"My lawyers," Griffin said instantly.

"No lawyers. Give us a name."

Prudence prevailing, Griffin began the task of persuading them to let him call Claire Cassidy, certain she would have the sense to arrange the necessary transfer of monies through Henri Langlois' bank.

 

Both women haunting the front windows, it was Claire Cassidy who saw the marked police car first, but Charlie beat her to the front door. She never remembered spilling out onto the drive, her every sense locked to Josh as she hugged him to her. He was talking nineteen to the dozen, and in the background she could hear the calm voices of the two young police constables who flanked him, but all that mattered was that Josh was safe and unharmed.

Shaking with relief when she finally got to her feet, one arm hugging Josh, the other around her mother, Charlie headed blindly back into the house. The policeman followed to await the arrival of the Chief Inspector. All her senses focussed on her son, Charlie automatically picked up the receiver when the phone next to her began to ring, absently noticing that Josh was filthy.

"Hello?"

"Charlie? It's James Griffin. Has Josh got home safely?"

Her euphoric bubble of relief burst, venom erupting when she recognised the husky voice she had learnt to hate. "If he has, it's no thanks to you, you bastard!"

It was only when she had slammed the receiver down that what Josh and the police had been telling her sank in. "Oh god, what have I done?" she whispered aghast, her fingers flying to her mouth.

"Charlie!" exclaimed her mother in horror.

"Mum? Mum, was that James? You can't have cut him off! You can't. They'll kill him!" cried Josh, his voice high and tight with panic.

"Mrs Cassidy, who was that on the telephone?" asked the taller of the two policemen.

"James Griffin," she admitted, meeting the accusation and disbelief in four pairs of eyes.

 

The mouthpiece of the mobile phone Terry held still pressed to Griffin's jaw, the dialling tone was clearly audible to everyone in the garage. Griffin just had time to draw a stunned breath before John, his face congested, hit him. Curled in an anguished ball, Griffin's face contorted as he coughed until he thought he must choke.

"That wasn't very clever, was it?" remarked Peter, his control more frightening than John's rage.

"Was expecting to speak to Charlie's mother," Griffin croaked. "Charlie was hysterical with relief at getting Josh back. And she hates my guts. Let me ring again. Josh will have explained." He hadn't expected his request to be met with enthusiasm, but Peter's kick shocked a cry of agony from him.

"No more phone calls," hissed Peter vindictively before he turned to John. "What was that you were telling us in the van about that mate of Griffin's?"

"Kilroy. We can't use him as a go-between. He's a specialist at finding people who've been kidnapped!"

"Then we'll just have to be a bit trickier."

"Would this Kilroy pay?" asked Terry.

"Search me. But it's worth a try. He's supposed to be a good mate of Griffin's."

Peter gave Griffin a speculative look. "Will he pay?"

Wondering how it was that John knew about Kit, Griffin raised his cuffed hands to wipe his running nose, smearing them with blood. While common sense insisted co-operation was vital, he'd had enough.

"I've told you. Let me call my lawyers and you'll have the money by tomorrow morning. I'm not in the habit of confiding in them. They need never know what I want it for."

"You must think we're stupid." John lurched forward when Griffin's expression answered for him.

"Leave it out. I've got a better idea," said Peter. "Read about it in the Mirror. Is the tool-box handy? Pass it over, Tel, then unlock his cuffs. John, stick some more plaster over his mouth and hold him down. You're right-handed, aren't you," he said to Griffin with a chilling matter-of-factness. "Then that's the one I'll have."

His eyes widening with horror when his right arm was pinned under Peter's knee, Griffin watched as the man fished in the tool box, producing a lethally sharp lino cutter.

"s little piggy went to market,id Peter jovially, just before he severed the little finger of Griffin's right hand above the second joint.

Chapter Text

EIGHTEEN

"Get us another drink," said John. "It was bloody cold in that garage."

"All in good time. But we'll have to replace the bottle - and keep this place tidy. Pauline'll go spare if we wreck her house. Have you finished with that parcel, Tel? I found some stamps in the other room and the postbox at the junction has a Sunday collection. I'll get shot of it so it'll be at the agency first thing Monday morning."

"Hang about," said John, his expression changing. "We can't send this there. Annie opens the post. While she's a dozy cow, she doesn't deserve that."

"Bloody hell!" exploded Peter. "I didn't say 'no', did I?," he added when John rose to his full height and glared at him. "Where would you suggest we send it then?"

"Kilroy's home. That'll get his attention," suggested Terry.

"How do we find out where he lives?" asked Peter sarcastically, frowning when he saw the flecks of blood on the cuff of his sweater.

"He's in what's-its-name street. Give me a minute and it'll come back to me. We can check the number in the phone book," said John.

"Only if Pauline has one for London. I was just saying," added Terry defensively.

"She does. Has to, because she's always losing her address book. Let's see... K-I... Kilroy! You sure you boarded up the window in the garage?" Peter added to Terry.

"Positive."

"Don't forget. We check on him every hour, on the hour. You've got a point, a delivery like this should get Kilroy's attention. The finger'll convince him we mean business. We'll ring him Monday morning."

oOo

Knowing he was in a state of medical shock, Griffin painfully edged himself closer to where the dripping tap was situated, his handcuffs clinking against the six-inch diameter pipe around which they were chained. Even breathing seemed to ripple agony from the ragged stump of his finger. Gritting his teeth, he forced himself to try and clean the wound under the tap, binding it clumsily with a cleanish handkerchief. Slumped against the wall, it was beyond him to move from the pool of water he was sitting in, his hand cradled in his lap. His head against cobwebby plaster, he clenched his teeth in an effort to stop them chattering and willed the post to arrive on time at the agency on Monday morning.

oOo

The next twenty-four hours were a nightmare for Charlie Cassidy, not least because of the accusation in Josh's eyes. He had told the police all he could of the waste ground he had stumbled over in the dark and the vandalised telephone boxes he had found until eventually he had staggered into a half-derelict street of housing and knocked on the first door.

She had reluctantly allowed Josh, who was almost frantic with worry, to be driven round the area in the hope of identifying the derelict building from which he had escaped. This he had done, but she knew from the police that the building had been empty. Where before the combination of recent events would have broken her, the knowledge that she wasn't going mad, that she had been watched and followed, probably by the part-time gardener she had dismissed when he had propositioned her, had given her a strength she had forgotten she possessed.

The notes Griffin had jotted onto the cigarette packet, combined with Josh's evidence, suggested one of the men matched the description of their ex-gardener, Peter Hawker. His address in Hammersmith proved to be a betting shop and CRO had no record of him. While Josh had done his best to work with the police artist regarding the other two men, they all suspected that the final composite pictures would bear little resemblance to them. Not surprisingly, extensive enquiries failed to gain any information on rusting blue transit vans moving through the outskirts of London at speed on Saturday night.

Grateful for the police protection afforded to Josh, Henri and herself, Charlie concentrated on convincing her son that she hadn't intended to abandon Griffin to his kidnappers.

oOo

By the time his captors brought him his first meal, a paper plate containing cold tinned spaghetti, Griffin knew the darkened garage intimately. Large enough to accommodate two cars, it was bare except for a large oil storage tank. The window in the far wall, set four feet off the ground, had been boarded over and the lights left off. As the switch was ten feet out of his reach, he had to remain in the dark.

The assessment and manipulation of others something Griffin had been skilled at for years, he tried to apply that skill to his kidnappers, knowing it was essential to try and establish some kind of a relationship with them. Failing dismally, it took him a while to realise why. It wasn't so much that they consciously dehumanised him as the fact it never seemed to dawn on them that he was sentient. When they looked at him they saw only a passport to easy money. Their first fury dissipated, the kicks and blows they delivered were dispassionate: automatic gestures of contempt. Chilled by the realisation that his life held about as much relevance to them as a cockroach, he tried not to dwell on his new-found knowledge because it offered no hope and he had little enough of that as it was.

Because it took all his courage to move his hurt body at all, it was some time before he investigated the extent of his freedom, which consisted of the length of the pipe his handcuffs were chained around; one end disappeared into the brick wall, whose rendering was depressingly hard, the other into the metal storage tank. As yet any attempts to use his injured hand resulted only in some agonising minutes while he fought not to faint. Conserving his strength, he meticulously checked his surroundings for anything which might help him to pick the lock of the handcuffs. Bending to drink from the tap, for the first time he noticed the strand of heavy-duty wire wound just below the handle.

At first he marked the passage of day into night by the change in temperature from cold to freezing and the sporadic visits from his sullen captors. His attempts to pick the lock of his handcuffs had been singularly unsuccessful, due in the main to the fact he was clumsy with his left hand and unable as yet to use his right.

His physical condition deteriorating as the chest infection worsened, it took him a while to appreciate that his kidnappers should have heard from Kilroy by now. He had been told the ransom demand had been posted, and had seen at first hand how efficient the agency was. His attempt to question Terry earned him a battery of blows.

Alone in the dark once more, trying to staunch the blood from the cut above his right eye, a possibility Griffin had tried to avoid thinking about refused to be ignored. Given the lies Henri Langlois had fed Kilroy, it was conceivable that Kit would believe this scenario was something he had set up to clear himself while the ransom was paid by others. The more Griffin considered the prospect, the more likely the explanation seemed for the fact the agency had made no attempt to respond to the kidnappers' ransom demand.

It was then that he came close to giving up.

oOo

Having spent the last ten days in Holland advising senior executives in the petrochemical industry about personal security, Kilroy flew back to London on Wednesday in a more positive frame of mind. Just for once, he felt he might have done some good. He went straight to the agency, arriving in good time for the weekly partners' meeting. His mood was such that he shrugged off Paul's sly innuendos about the gay life in Amsterdam and steered the conversation back to business. Allowing the debate about a new case to range, he answered the telephone in the boardroom. Chief Inspector Franklin gained his total attention in one sentence, Kilroy's peace of mind a thing of the past as he waited for Franklin to arrive.

"Why wasn't I told James had been kidnapped before now?" Kilroy demanded, glaring at Franklin.

"Because until this morning no-one thought to tell me of your involvement with Mr Griffin. We've been trying to establish how one of the kidnappers might know him. Given the number of visits Mr Griffin's been making around the country to timber merchants and machine tool makers, we've had our work cut out. But I've just been able to speak to Mr Langlois for the first time. He was more forthcoming about Mr Griffin's involvement with the Cassidy family. He also indicated that you may have a personal interest in Mr Griffin's safety."

"I do. Has there been a D-notice on the press?"

"For obvious reasons. To be frank, I'm worried. Someone close to Mr Griffin should have received a ransom demand by now. We've checked every friend we've been able to track down, his lawyers, bankers, stockbroker. I had hoped... You're sure nothing has been received at the agency?"

"I'm positive. I would have been notified the moment - Christ! My flat! I haven't been home since last Tuesday." Kilroy was at the door before Franklin had got to his feet.

Aware of the undignified spectacle he must present, Franklin ran after him, calling to one of his sergeants on the way. The small package, about the size of a large matchbox, was the only obvious item of interest in the post spilling across the hall floor of Kilroy's flat.

"Better let my men check that out, sir."

"No way," said Kilroy, heading upstairs with it, where he forced himself to slow down, putting on surgeon's gloves before he took out a Swiss Army knife.

Unable to fault the care with which the younger man opened the package, Franklin could see nothing for moment, alerted by the choked sound Kilroy made as he swung away. Using the end of his pen, Franklin ignored the ransom note made up from newspaper cuttings, stirring the crumpled, stained newspaper which lined the small box until he saw what sat amongst it. His mouth tightening, he glanced up at his sergeant. Ten minutes later Kilroy's flat was swarming with efficient-looking men.

oOo

"You really are an unpopular bloke, aren't you," said Peter, his eyes bright with frustrated anger as he leant over Griffin. "No-one seems to want you back. Well, you'd better pray Kilroy speaks to us tomorrow, or we'll be sending him more than a finger."

As the heavy metal door dropped down behind Peter, Griffin fumbled in his pocket for the piece of wire and resumed work on the lock of his handcuffs, disgusted with himself for wasting valuable time wallowing in self-pity. Having cause to take Peter's threats seriously, he had no intention of losing any more of his anatomy; a one-handed man had no life as a craftsman.

Blinking the sweat from his eyes, working by touch alone, he tried to will the pain to the back of his mind, persevering because self-help was likely to be the only kind he received.

When he heard and felt the tiny click, shock almost caused him to re-lock the bracelet of the handcuffs, before he slipped his scarred wrist free, leaving the cuffs dangling from the pipe. Inching to his feet, his left arm tucked around the pain in his side, he limped stiffly to the boarded up window, investigating it with his uninjured hand. The hardboard had been inexpertly nailed into place with what felt like tacks. A wolfish smile crossing his swollen face, Griffin stretched upwards, gasped, and tightened his grip, the pain the action caused weaker than his determination to take back responsibility for his own life.
oOo

 

Having lost track of how long he had been waiting, and cursing the fact it was the only option he had, Kilroy pushed himself from the institutional green wall when he saw Chief Inspector Franklin, flanked by two officers, striding down the hospital corridor, his coat tails billowing out behind him.

"Did you catch them?" Kilroy asked, stepping in his path.

Visibly crackling with rage, it was a moment before Franklin recognised him. "Did we hell! They've got the luck of Old Nick. Their beds were still warm. There's an APB out and I've got roadblocks in place. They won't get far. If only Mr Griffin had been conscious when that farmer found him. I want those bastards. They're killers in the making. It's no thanks to them Mr Griffin's still alive."

"How bad is he?" asked Kilroy with a desperation he was finding it difficult to conceal. The medical staff had proved immune to charm, bluff and outright intimidation; only the fact one of the uniformed sergeants recognised him had saved him from being banned from the building, his status as Griffin's lover giving him no rights at all.

"The doctors seem to think he'll be all right, although he got a thump on the head which would have killed someone with a thinner skull. They want to keep a close eye on him for that alone."

"Alone?"

"All right, Dave," Franklin snapped, when one of his sergeants looked up from his RT and muttered something. "In layman's terms they beat the shit out of him. And his chest infection is giving cause for concern. Luckily he's tough as old boots - though the jacket he was wearing must have helped. Probably saved his life, although a prolonged cold snap would have finished him. You can add approximately seventy per cent bruising to his body, three broken ribs and some stitches for a cut over his eyebrow and you've got the worst of it. Much longer in their 'care' and Mr Griffin wouldn't have lived to tell the tale."

Kilroy inhaled deeply several times, avoiding the older man's uncomfortably penetrating gaze.

"That said, my money's on Mr Griffin. He's too bloody furious at what's happened to think of turning up his toes. I doubt if he was the ideal prisoner."

"He wouldn't have been. Can I see him? I won't disturb him if he's sleeping, I just want to see him."

Pursing his lips, Franklin eyed him thoughtfully for a moment, then gave a judicious nod. "I don't see why not. Though if you fall foul of any of the medical staff you're on your own. They don't seem to realise it's vital we speak to him. He's in intensive care at the moment, but he seems to be responding to treatment. They're hoping he'll be able to be moved into a private room tomorrow. A place like this, with all these outbuildings, is murder to try and secure. It's due to be closed in the spring. You can see why." He gave the dingy paintwork a disparaging glance.

"If you need help securing the place - " began Kilroy.

"We don't," said Franklin, his manner uncompromising. "This is no time for amateurs, no matter how well-meaning. Clear? I know you're worried about your - Mr Griffin, but we'll keep him safe. Hawker and his friends will be too busy trying to save their own necks to spare him a thought. Damn, look at the time! I've got to be in London for the press conference in an hour and a half. Now Mr Griffin's safe I want all the publicity I can get." With a wave of his hand, he continued on his way in another swirl of camel-haired overcoat.

 

Remaining motionless on the hard plastic chair, afraid that if he moved someone would remember his presence and eject him, Kilroy received his reward when Griffin finally stirred, the IV cannula in his left wrist shivering against the metal pole. Rising from his seat, Kilroy remained motionless, watching the sturdy back of the nurse who was at Griffin's side. After a minute or so the man turned to him.

"He's asking about someone called Josh," he murmured.

Edging closer, avoiding the machinery which scared the hell out of him, Kilroy leant over Griffin, whose eyes were still closed. "Josh is safe and well. But he's been worried about you. We all have."

While Griffin's eyes opened it was difficult to gauge his lucidity; he smelt of antiseptic, and between his beard, the discoloured swelling and the stiches over his right eye, his face was almost unrecognisable.

"Kit?" He gave a slight frown. "What are you doing here?"

"Just sitting around. So you'd have someone of your own when you came to."

"No," said Griffin, a flat finality in his thread-like voice, "I have no-one." His eyes closed.

Flinching, Kilroy slowly straightened, met the enquiring gaze of the nurse and silently resumed his vigil.

 

 

Griffin made no attempt to announce his wakeful state to the nurse leaving the room. Having been wrapped in a protective medical cocoon for the last twenty-eight hours, the fact he had been moved into this private room, which reassuringly lacked most of the impedimenta in his previous quarters suggested he was about to be thrown back into the real world. There would be questions in plenty there: too many questions.

A dull, blunt pain sawed through the remnants of sleep. Raising his weighted head, he gave his bandaged right hand a brief glance. While he had done his best to keep the wound clean, he doubted if he had been successful. His memories since his arrival at hospital unreliable, he wondered how much of his hand was left. It didn't seem as important as it had. He would adapt, just as he was accustoming himself to other losses.

The next time he awoke it was to an appallingly cheerful nurse young enough to be his daughter, a bedpan, tea strong enough to trot a mouse on, medication and increasing physical discomfort. This not quite the freedom he had envisaged enjoying, Griffin survived the morning rituals and avoided eating any of the breakfast brought to him while he waited with a well-concealed anxiety for the medical rounds.

Propped high against banked pillows to aid his breathing, he tried to make sense of events since his escape from the garage. He could remember only pain and the icy air searing his lungs as he lurched across frost-rutted ground, his one thought to avoid the roads, where he could be easily recaptured, while getting as far away as possible.

His day improved immeasurably after the nature and extent of his injuries were explained to him. Having learnt there was every likelihood the antibiotics for his chest infection would clear the infection in the stump of his little finger, which had been left intact, Griffin lost interest in the lengthy catalogue of his injuries. The rest was nothing if he had full use of his hands. His next question was when could he leave; he wanted to put the last week behind him and get back to his workshop and a semblance of normal life. Unfortunately that burst of adrenalin drained away, leaving only depression and an overwhelming desire for sleep.

Franklin arrived with the mid-morning tea, ushered in by the appallingly young-looking P.C. Thomas, with whom Griffin was establishing a rapport in the hope of persuading him to buy a packet of cigarettes.

While wishing to give the police every assistance, Griffin found the first session of questioning more taxing than he had imagined. That was only the beginning. Although the sessions were geared to his depleted reserves of strength, his debriefing during the next forty-eight hours was mercilessly thorough as the police tried to reconstruct every moment of his captivity. By the time they left each day Griffin was shaking with exhaustion, drained by emotions he would have preferred to forget.

 

A hovering nurse having foiled his plans to avoid the appalling food, Griffin choked down a few mouthfuls of the first course. She left him staring with revulsion at the stringy, over-sweet rhubarb and bright yellow custard. When the door opened, he greeted P.C. Thomas with relief, the young constable having disposed of most of his meals to date. Griffin's smile faded when he heard the identity of the special visitors waiting outside. Because it was impossible to turn Josh away, he steeled himself for a difficult meeting with Charlie Cassidy.

When they left, after an emotional forty minutes, Griffin inched out of bed to pace stiffly around the confines of his small room, willing his legs to stop shaking while cursing his gluey lungs with each wheezing breath. Feeling edgy, claustrophobic and alone, he was soon forced to rest. Propped against the wall, drearily watching raindrops slide fatly down the darkened window-pane, he glanced round at another tap on his door, wary that Charlie Cassidy might have returned. Instead, he found himself staring at a nervous-looking Kilroy.

For a moment Griffin's face was illuminated, as if someone had lit a lamp behind his eyes; that light faded almost immediately and he smiled politely, as if to an acquaintance.

"Don't say it," muttered Kilroy, as he closed the door.

"What?"

"That I'm not invited. Your 'no visitors' embargo is being taken seriously." It took some effort to keep the bitterness from his voice; Kilroy had been waiting for three days for a chance to see Griffin again.

"And yet you're here."

"The nurses think I'm part of Franklin's team."

"And P.C. Thomas?"

"You've got a fan in him. He thinks you wanted to see me."

"I'll enlighten him." Griffin pushed himself away from the wall.

"I just needed to see that you're all right. You look better."

Griffin frowned. "Than when?"

"Your first night here. I hung around for a while. In case you woke up," Kilroy added awkwardly. When it became obvious Griffin had no memory of that night, he went on to his major cause for concern. "Franklin was saying you're talking about discharging yourself."

"That's my business."

The snub no more than he had expected, Kilroy didn't even blink. "Yes. Where will you go?"

Glancing at the rain-splattered window, it occurred to Griffin that his only option was a hotel. "Somewhere sunny. I don't know. There hasn't been much time to think about it."

Kilroy eyed the drawn face intently, knowing how many hours Griffin had spent with the police. He had shaved since Kilroy had seen him last, which revealed the extent of the cuts and bruising, although the swelling had gone down. His newly washed hair hid the small patch shaved so that his head wound could be cleaned, and the crimson silk pyjamas and dressing gown he now wore certainly weren't National Health issue.

"No, I don't suppose you have," he agreed, feeling the distance between them increase with each passing minute. "You're not sleeping, are you."

"I'm fine."

The puffy eyes, with shadows dark as bruises beneath them told a different story. For the first time Kilroy allowed his gaze to drop to Griffin's right hand and the light dressing, which was all he now wore on it.

"Is it just the phantom finger playing up?"

Giving only a view of his profile, Griffin shrugged and tucked his hand from view. "They tell me the nerve endings take a while to get the message."

"Josh owes you a lot. It was good of you to agree to see him," Kilroy added, aware that everyone but him seemed to have been given access to Griffin.

"Goodness had nothing to do with it. I like Josh."

"And Charlie Cassidy?"

"Hardly, but it was necessary."

"So she could feel better about hanging up on you?"

"No, so Josh could. He's been through enough. How did you know about that?"

"Franklin told me, Charlie confirmed it." Kilroy's control failed to camouflage his anger.

About to reply, Griffin began to cough.

Ramming his hands into his pockets Kilroy tried not to think what those tearing spasms would be doing to cracked ribs.

Finally silent, Griffin leant against the wall, trying to regularise his breathing. It took some time, the hectic colour bleeding from his face.

Judging that any invitation would be a long time coming, Kilroy sank onto one of the two armchairs. The small room was devoid of any real comfort except that of privacy, which seemed a dubious luxury for a man who had been held in solitary confinement for nearly a week. Decorative aids were minimal, although Kilroy knew from the medical staff that Griffin had been inundated with flowers, gifts and messages of goodwill, many from members of the public. The wards outside looked like the hothouse at Kew.

"You're very forgiving where Charlie's concerned."

"It wasn't her fault I was kidnapped."

"She has a lot to thank you for."

"Bollocks."

"I hear you saw Raoul Langlois, too."

"Have you been keeping a visitors' book?"

"It gave me something to do while I was waiting to see you," retorted Kilroy, with his first trace of acid.

Having hoped to avoid this meeting, mistrusting his own vulnerability right now, Griffin did not allow Kilroy's need to touch him. His composure too fragile to withstand much battering, he felt as if he was about to shatter into a thousand pieces.

"Find yourself another interest in life."

"How can I? It's my fault no-one knew of the kidnap demand until Wednesday."

"What?" said Griffin blankly, having forgotten his own ignoble doubts, before his eyes narrowed in comprehension. "Franklin told me Hawker sent the demand to your flat instead of the agency. How can that be your fault? If that's all that's worrying you, you can stop looking like a kicked spaniel and leave. We said all we had to say weeks ago. Don't you understand English?" he added tiredly, when Kilroy did not move.

"You really want me to go?"

"Read my lips."

"That was a horrible George Bush impersonation," said Kilroy with a forced flippancy. "Why did Raoul Langlois visit you yesterday?"

"Why don't you ask him."

"Are you lovers?"

"Naturally you would think so." When Kilroy flinched and looked away Griffin heard himself add, "It was he who suggested Henri hire you, and he who provided the bait to tempt you into taking the case."

"So I discovered." Kilroy stared at his feet. "I wasn't sure if you knew."

"So you thought you'd mention it. How kind. But then you've had plenty of practice at passing on unpleasant home truths."

His eyes lightless caverns, Kilroy looked up. "Such as the fact I love you?"

"I love brandy, so what? It's an overused word. Next time think twice when you're hired to fuck someone. That's a deadly game these days."

"Which is why you chose to sleep with Raoul? Damn." Kilroy shook his head. "I didn't mean it like that. I don't want to see you hurt again," he added in a low voice.

"No?" Griffin's face recorded a polite amazement. "Then there's an added inducement for you to leave."

They both turned at the knock on the door, which opened to reveal Dave Collier, Frankin's sergeant.

"Sorry, Mr Griffin, you must be sick of the sight of us. I've a few more questions, if you feel up to them? Mr Kilroy."

"Of course. And he was just leaving," said Griffin, eyeing Collier with something approaching relief.

Because he had no choice, Kilroy left to spend another uncomfortable night at the motel down the road.
oOo

Oversleeping because he had several broken nights to make up, the first Kilroy knew about Griffin leaving the hospital was when he switched on the TV in his room to listen to the mid-morning news. Griffin's press conference and a rehash of the hunt for his kidnappers was the main news feature.

Franklin sitting beside Griffin, steady as the Rock of Gibraltar, the whirr and click of cameras provided a constant background. Griffin's impassive delivery as he answered questions could not disguise the extent of his ordeal; it was evident from his gaunt face and the stiff set of his body, although his right hand was not on display.

Muttering imprecations under his breath, Kilroy made a couple of phone calls. When he learnt the press conference had taken place in London, he began to pack.

oOo

"What do you mean, he's vanished!"

"Just what I said," replied Franklin tiredly. "Two constables escorted Mr Griffin from the press conference. Because he looked like death warmed over, they thought nothing of it when he said he needed to rest. He gave them the slip, left Brown's hotel, and we haven't seen him since."

"Are you looking for him?"

Franklin gave him a weary look. "In case you've forgotten, Mr Griffin was the victim. We can't force him to see sense and accept police protection. And don't say what you're thinking," he added with asperity. "I've seen to it that my men got the bollocking they deserved. One was taking a slash, the other had gone out to collect a pizza. Reading between the lines, your Mr Griffin had been giving them a hard time."

Kilroy swallowed the first three replies which came to mind. "That sounds in character. How did you persuade him to give that conference? He loathes publicity."

"It wasn't easy. We pointed out that experience has shown us it's the only way to get the press off a kidnap victim's back. We need the help the publicity will give us. Those bastards might try to snatch the boy again. That was the argument which seemed to clinch it for him."

"That was a low blow but you've obviously got James' measure. Is Josh all right?" Kilroy added without much interest, mentally cataloguing possible bolt-holes Griffin might use.

"Better than Mr Griffin, that's for sure. But then he got the boy out. Did you know Mr Griffin refused counselling?"

"No, but it doesn't surprise me. Why did he choose Brown's?"

Franklin shrugged. "He said it was the nearest thing he had to a home at the moment." He gave Kilroy a shrewd look. "Seemed a bit unlikely to me."

"Thanks for keeping me informed," Kilroy said as he got to his feet, ignoring Franklin's hint.

Franklin gave a rare smile. "It seemed less trouble that way. While I don't believe in allowing amateurs to interfere, I owed you a favour for your agency's help on that matter last year. Besides, I'm sure you'll keep an eye on him."

"It's always a pleasure to co-operate with the police," murmured Kilroy blandly, prepared to admit nothing but anxious to be gone.

"Yes? Well, when you track down Mr Griffin, try and make him see sense about accepting police protection."

"I don't intend to give him any choice in the matter," said Kilroy grimly, blowing the pretence of uninterest in one sentence.

Wasting no time, he drove straight to Whitehaven but found no trace of Griffin at the home so few people knew he owned. Returning to London, he called in at Brown's, where he drew another blank. He knew he was grasping at straws when he went to his flat; there wasn't a snowball in hell's chance that Griffin would come here. Sinking onto the window-seat to drink the coffee he had made, he fought the temptation to use the agency's resources to track Griffin down. Having won his own freedom, Griffin had the right to do whatever he wanted, but the knowledge that his abductors were still at large was not reassuring.

oOo

The following morning Kilroy went to the agency and announced that he would be taking a few weeks' leave. No-one, not even Paul, attempted to argue with his decision.

"You'll want some quality time with James. We all saw the press conference on the news. He looked...under the weather. Give him our best wishes," added Paul awkwardly.

"Thanks. I need to organise a few things. Can I borrow Lisa for an hour or so?"

"Of course," said Paul expansively. "If there's anything I can do you only have to name it."

The temptation to give the man the agency, which was what Paul had been after for years, was acute. Instead, Kilroy shook his head. "I'll only be a phone call away if anything urgent comes in, but thanks," he added ironically.

Nodding, his mouth compressed, Paul backed out of the room.

Chapter Text

NINETEEN

 

It was late evening when Kilroy returned to Whitehaven, fog reducing visibility to a few yards by the time he pulled onto the drive. Despite the damp chill, the house felt oddly welcoming as he fell into bed.

Needing hard physical work to help blank out the need for thought, he spent the next day clearing debris from the soggy garden. Hunger reminded him to go into the village to buy food. Becoming increasingly conscious of the echoing emptiness of the house as the evening crawled by, he decided to go to the pub. Going upstairs for his wallet and wondering if he had imagined the gleam of light through the bank of conifers which separated the house from the stable block, he shrugged into his sheepskin jacket and went to investigate.

His breath hung in white streamers on the still air as he loped down the lane, the ridged, muddy track already hard with frost. His old training standing him in good stead, he checked the front door and windows for any sign of forced entry, knowing the sophisticated security system he had recommended would defeat amateurs. The moment he slipped round the side of the workshop, he relaxed; the vast, uncurtained windows gave a clear view of Griffin bent over a workbench. Anger followed hard on relief when Kilroy realised what an easy target Griffin made. He waited until his temper had cooled before he let himself in with the spare set of keys Griffin had left behind.

While the workshop looked much as it had the previous day, there was a chair Kilroy had not seen before. Unfastening his jacket in the warmth, he inhaled the spice-sweet fragrance of the various woods, the sharp pungency of glue and sealer, and a hint of polish: scents that had come to mean Griffin to him.

Abruptly Griffin began to cough, harsh, tearing spasms of moist sound which seemed to go on for ever. Swinging away from the workbench, his face congested, he slowly unfolded when the fit had passed and tensed, obviously sensing the presence of someone else in the room.

"It's only me," Kilroy said quickly, stepping into the light.

Griffin's left hand unclenched from the gimlet he had grabbed. "So it is," he acknowledged, his voice still husky. The unnatural flush of colour continued to drain from his face until under the artificial light his skin seemed a greenish-grey, circles of black beneath his eyes.

"I've no right to be here, I know," continued Kilroy, "but I was worried. No-one knew where you'd gone after you gave the police the slip."

"So you thought you'd come snooping. It's all right, I'm used to that by now." His breath catching, Griffin fell silent, holding his right arm unnaturally still.

"You bloody fool," sighed Kilroy, recognising the signs. "If you had to discharge yourself from hospital, a press conference and a stint in here weren't the wisest things to do next."

"I didn't think I had much choice about the press," said Griffin shortly. Sweat was springing up on his temples and upper lip.

"You didn't have to swan down here alone. How d'you know the bastards won't come after you again, but for revenge this time?"

Griffin stared at him for a moment. "What a happy thought. It would never have occurred to me."

"Sorry. Franklin didn't know you'd bought this place," Kilroy added more moderately.

Griffin looked up from studying the polished floorboards. "Did you tell him?"

"I should have done," said Kilroy grimly. "When I didn't find you here yesterday I... Where were you?"

"I arrived sometime in the early hours."

Kilroy frowned. "You knew I'd check here first?"

"I didn't give you a thought."

It was so obviously the truth that it silenced Kilroy. "Why bury yourself down here, never mind getting back to work so soon?" he asked after a while, fiddling with the edges of his jacket. His gaze slid to Griffin's motionless right hand. "I didn't think. Will you be able to work?"

"Of course." But the flicker in Griffin's eyes betrayed him.

"How bad's the pain?" asked Kilroy quietly.

"I'm fine," dismissed Griffin, who was still standing with unnatural rigidity.

"And if you were bleeding to death you wouldn't tell me. I suppose it's the phantom finger playing up?"

Giving an infinitesimal nod, Griffin sank onto a chair in a careful movement obviously designed to avoid jarring his hand. "It wears off."

"In how many hours? Alcohol's out because you must still be on antibiotics for the chest infection. Can I make you a coffee or something?"

His eyes closing, Griffin shook his head, then gave an involuntary grimace.

"Bugger this!" exploded Kilroy in frustration. Three impetuous strides took him to the phone.

"Who are you calling?" asked Griffin tightly. "I'm not going back to hospital."

"My doctor. He'll be able to prescribe something for the pain."

"No need. There are tablets somewhere."

Tossing the cellular phone onto the sofa, Kilroy wheeled round. "Then why the bloody hell don't you take them!" Uninvited, he checked the pockets of the jacket slung over the high back of the upright wooden chair. "They're not here. Would they be in the bathroom?"

"It's all right, it's easing up," said Griffin, his voice confirming the truth of the assertion. "My fault for pushing it, but I needed to know - " Shrugging, he stopped.

"That you'll still be able to use your hand. Will you?"

"Of course. I might have to adapt my grip for a couple of techniques, but I doubt it. It's early days yet. I'll make it work." Flat conviction coloured Griffin's tired voice.

"I bet you will," said Kilroy, beginning to relax. "You must have been worried sick about it."

Griffin's mouth twisted. "You could say that." The unconscious glance he cast at his hand was more eloquent.

To cover a rush of emotion he could not express, Kilroy took his time in removing his jacket, hanging it over Griffin's.

"You're staying then?"

"Uh, I..."

Taking no pleasure in the sight of Kilroy floundering, Griffin made a gesture in which resignation and apology were combined. "There's tea and coffee in the kitchen if you want any."

Looking as if he was grateful for an excuse to escape, Kilroy disappeared out of the door which led down the hall.

Exhaustion washing over him, Griffin sat back in the chair and closed his eyes. He would have given almost anything to be alone. There were too many unresolved questions between Kit and himself and he wasn't equal to thinking about any of them at the moment. He'd had a gutful of everyone trying to control his life. The press conference had been the final straw, his picture plastered over every paper in the land. He had been recognised at both garage and motel as he drove down, and Alan at The Anchor had treated him like a long-lost brother. Yet to adjust to the interest of strangers in his welfare, and hoping it wore off quickly, Griffin could have done without company tonight.

A clink of china made him open his eyes to see that Kilroy had returned; a cup of Earl Grey tea had been placed at his feet, the saucer holding two bullet-shaped painkillers. Unaware that he was under surveillance, Kilroy was crouched beside the chair which Alan had been storing for Griffin. Watching the near-reverence with which the blunt-tipped fingers examined a scrolled hand rest, Griffin's eyes rose to Kilroy's profile. Abruptly their bitter exchange in his hospital room returned to him.

"You have nothing to blame yourself for," he said into the silence.

Kilroy visibly jumped, then self-consciously rose to his feet. "Don't I?"

"The fact I was kidnapped wasn't your fault."

"Just everything else."

Avoiding the uncomfortable intensity of Kilroy's gaze, Griffin shrugged, swallowed the tablets and continued to sip his tea.

"This is beautiful," murmured Kilroy, delicately touching the carved chair back before he lifted the chair to face into the room and seated himself. "Comfortable, too."

"There isn't any point in having a chair you don't want to sit in."

"No, I suppose there isn't. This is your work, isn't it. When did you finish it? I haven't seen it before."

"You wouldn't have. It's twenty-three years old. I saw it in the window of Raoul Langlois' gallery. He sold it back to me."

"Ah," said Kilroy with monumental restraint. "Your style's changed over the years."

Inexpressibly cheered by that example of Kilroy tact, Griffin set his cup down. "So I should hope. I was seventeen and still experimenting with form and style. I was going through a Gothic phase. The carving owes more to Grinling Gibbons than Griffin, not that Gibbons would be flattered by the comparison."

His gaze on the severely modern lines of the octagonal table he had watched Griffin complete, Kilroy nodded. "I'm glad. If I thought I'd done anything to fuck this up for you..."

"Leave it."

"James... OK," Kilroy accepted, belatedly drinking his own coffee. "Where are you staying tonight?"

"Here, of course." Griffin began to cough again. Despite the dust extractors which hummed in the background, inevitably a certain amount of fine wood dust floated in the air.

"Here! The flat isn't habitable yet."

"The sofa's comfortable," croaked Griffin, conveniently forgetting how little sleep he'd managed to snatch on it.

Kilroy's mulish expression made it plain he didn't agree. "You must be mad," he said with precision. "How did you get down here?" he added, having arranged for Griffin's Jaguar to be collected from the police pound; it was parked in the garage.

"I hired a car in London. It's round the side."

"You drove! No wonder your hand's playing up. You need a bloody keeper."

"Not now," murmured Griffin tiredly.

"No," agreed Kilroy, shooting a quick glance at him. "I'll drive you to the hotel of your choice."

"I'm staying here."

"You're too exposed. If you won't stay at a hotel, come to Whitehaven. I'm not leaving you here alone."

Recognising the stubborn set of Kilroy's chin, Griffin gave a dispirited nod and got to his feet, too tired to argue. As he approached the workbench, Kilroy waved him back.

"Out," he said firmly. "I'll make sure everything's switched off. What shall I do with this?"

"Junk it. It's only a practice piece. But I should - "

Kilroy handed Griffin his jacket. "Even I can switch off power points and put covers on," he said, making good that claim as he spoke. "We'll take your car. It's already three below outside and foggy." Setting the burglar alarm, he locked up, appropriated the car keys and drove them down the lane.

"Have you eaten recently?" Kilroy asked, as he closed the front door of Whitehaven behind them, the sound echoing across the immensity of the almost empty hall. Despite the rumble of the central heating, the house felt cold and dank after the warmth and light of the workshop. It belatedly occurred to him that Whitehaven was probably dustier than the workshop.

Shivering despite the jacket he wore, Griffin shook his head. "I'm not hungry, just tired." He headed for the stairs.

"Give me five minutes to make up the fire in my room."

"I'll use mine," said Griffin. The message was unequivocal.

"I thought we'd swop rooms. Mine's warmer and the chimney doesn't smoke." Kilroy slowed his pace when he realised Griffin was out of breath. "'Rentokil' seem to have done the trick. I haven't seen any of our four-legged friends for a while."

"Maybe you haven't been looking," said Griffin, as something scurried out of sight when the landing light went on.

"Oh, fuck."

Kilroy sounded so despondent that Griffin felt his mouth twitch. "Maybe you should think about buying a couple of ferrets."

He stopped dead in the doorway to Kilroy's bedroom, the atmosphere reeking of the sour-sick stench of rotting plaster where Kilroy had stripped away most of the layers of wallpaper. "The other room will be fine," Griffin managed, fighting not to gag.

One look at his face killed any argument Kilroy had intended to make. While Griffin was in the bathroom, Kilroy did what he could to make the room more comfortable.

"Maybe this wasn't such a good idea," he muttered unhappily, looking up from the sullen fire he was tending when Griffin came into the room. "I'll take you to a hotel."

Leaning against the door jamb Griffin was beyond any prolonged discussion. "I'll be fine."

"The clothes you left behind when you... They're in the wardrobe. 'Night," added Kilroy awkwardly, leaving because it was obvious that was what Griffin wanted.

 

Still awake at two a.m., thoughts worrying and chasing one another, Kilroy heard antiquated plumbing betray the fact Griffin was awake. Creaking boards announced the direction he took after the bathroom. Fighting an inner battle, Kilroy held out for nearly half an hour before he went downstairs. A thread of light directed him to the kitchen, which was blissfully warm thanks to the open door of the gas oven, which was on full. Griffin sat at the table, a mug between his forearms.

"I couldn't sleep," Kilroy said apologetically, as if Griffin had commented on his presence, or given any indication he had noticed it.

Making himself a mug of instant coffee, he sat opposite Griffin. "This house is too cold and damp for you. If you don't want to go to a hotel, you're welcome to stay at the flat. You'll have all the privacy you want because I'll be staying down here for a few weeks."

The idea of Griffin in London was preferable to this out of the way spot while his abductors were at large. Kilroy tried not to notice how Griffin's dressing-gown gaped, or that the flesh it revealed was mottled in varying shades from yellow to green according to the age of the injury.

"I'm not hiding from anyone," said Griffin, his voice containing the flatness of total fatigue. "I have a life to get back to and I don't propose to waste any more of it. But I'll move out as soon as I can find another workshop."

"What's wrong with this one?" asked Kilroy, rubbing his gritty-feeling eyes. He looked up to meet Griffin's sardonic gaze. "Ah, the fact I'm your neighbour," he recognised.

"More the fact that I don't enjoy being reminded of my errors of judgement any more than the next man."

Leaning across the table, Kilroy lightly grasped Griffin's wrist. "Look, I know it began with a lie but I - "

"Found yourself overwhelmed by my charms?" Griffin slid his wrist free. The cynicism in his voice was shocking, his mask-like face offering few clues.

"Dammit, you know bloody well what happened!"

"And the extent of your trust in me."

"Haven't you ever been a prey to doubt? Done something you've bitterly regretted? When I heard that tape... It knocked me for six. I thought everything I'd been told about you was true. And it hurt so bloody much I could've killed you. Thank god you fought me off."

"If you think that makes a difference you must have a strange idea of me."

"Then teach me the truth."

"What the hell would be the point," said Griffin tiredly. When he got to his feet he was swaying with fatigue, but he paused, his gaze intent. "Tell me, when you first heard that Josh and I had been kidnapped, wasn't there a moment when you thought Langlois had been right all along in what he said about me?"

Trying to find the right words, Kilroy realised his delay in replying had been misinterpreted when he saw the expression on Griffin's face just before he walked out of the room.

"Shit," he groaned, sinking his head into his hands. For someone who was supposed to be an expert in counselling victims of kidnap he couldn't pretend he was making a good job of this.

oOo

His hand pressed to the dragging weighted sensation in his side, Griffin coughed, swore and slowly sat up, his eyes scrunched as he fought to subdue the spasm. Inevitably he failed. Slumping back on the sofa, sweat prickling his skin, he wondered tiredly how long it would be before the antibiotics took effect. Today had been even worse than yesterday, fatigue dragging him down. His brain was so sluggish that a decision whether to have tea or coffee required prolonged thought, and he was still jumping at shadows. A faint sound made him open his eyes. With resignation he saw Kilroy staring at him.

"Nothing to watch on TV?" Griffin asked acidly, tired of being a spectator sport.

"I wouldn't know, there isn't one down here. You look terrible."

"Thanks. Your bedside manner isn't that great either."

"Do you feel up to meeting a few people tomorrow morning?"

"The press?" A flicker of dread escaped Griffin's control.

"Not a chance. It's only a few blokes from the agency who've had a lot of experience in guarding people who hate the necessity of protection. They're discreet and good at their job and they'll be working in twenty-four hour shifts from now on. I thought it would make sense for you to meet them so you'll know who's lurking in the shrubbery."

"Don't be ridiculous. The last thing I need is - "

"You either put up with them, or I ring the tabloids and tell them where you're hiding out. Then you'll find out what being watched is really like. You're 'news'."

One glance convinced Griffin that Kilroy was not bluffing. He experienced a wave of anger so intense that it made him shake. "Do what the fuck you like. I'm long past the stage of being amenable to blackmail."

His precipitate rise to his feet was a mistake. The room tilting disastrously, a high keening sound in his ears, Griffin fainted, crumpling like empty clothing onto the sofa he had just vacated.

oOo

In the week after Griffin's collapse Kilroy saw his condition improve to a marked degree. While much of that recovery could be credited to antibiotics and his powers of recuperation, Kilroy suspected the fact Griffin had begun to eat helped. He had little chance to test his theory; they met rarely, only drying crockery in the kitchen, the empty brandy bottle in the waste bin and the sound of plumbing at night betraying Griffin's presence in the house.

After two days' enforced rest, Griffin spent all his time at the workshop. While he had made no attempt to leave the grounds Kilroy didn't deceive himself about Griffin's motives; with the hunt for his kidnappers continuing Griffin was still 'news', although he had relaxed to the point where he contacted Franklin. Kilroy hadn't felt it necessary to say he'd already done so; the police patrols were unobtrusive.

Heavy rain preventing work in the garden, Kilroy spent his time trying to clear rubbish from the attic; the activity gave him the illusion that he was doing something useful. Trying to shift a massive eight-legged table, he paused to catch his breath, making a mental note to recall Rentokil once there was room for them to get in to bait the attic properly. Realising the table would still be in the way, he braced himself for further effort.

"You'll give yourself a hernia," said a quiet voice.

Taken by surprise, Kilroy swung round to see Griffin propped in the doorway. "I didn't realise it was this late," he muttered, disconcerted by the intensity of Griffin's gaze. Wiping his face, he inadvertently redistributed some of the dirt clinging to him.

"It's gone nine. You must be hungry. I found some packets from Marks & Spencer in the freezer - chicken something or other. They'll only take about twenty-five minutes," added Griffin, burbling because he had been inconveniently reminded of Kilroy's potent sexuality.

A shadowy figure in the poor light, wearing ancient khaki-coloured trousers and a sleeveless olive green tee shirt, Kilroy's animal magnetism had never been more potent. Never fat, he had fined down to hard muscles and sleek skin since Griffin had noticed him last. Prolonged physical exertion had brought up his muscles, which a road map of blue-green veins only accentuated; he smelt of fresh sweat and dirt, neither of which Griffin had expected to regard as an aphrodisiac. His gaze straying to the sweat-darkened tee shirt and the sharp definition of the nipples thrusting against the damp fabric, he experienced a pang of pure lust.

"You're offering to cook?" said Kilroy slowly, propping himself on the edge of the table.

"Heat up," corrected Griffin. Aware of the wariness behind the fatigue on Kilroy's face, exasperated affection mingled with the heat tingling in his loins. "Have you finished for the day?" he added, willing his erection away.

"I suppose so," conceded Kilroy, dragging on an old sweater.

Trying to account for that flat note, Kilroy usually positive in all he undertook, Griffin took his first good look at his surroundings. While the light was appalling, it was obvious the attic consisted of a number of rooms. If this one was anything to go by they were stuffed with furniture, bursting sacks of brittle newspapers, mouldy clothes and rusting metal implements; Kilroy had a mammoth task on his hands.

"I had no idea the attic was so big," he remarked.

"There's no reason why you should. Did you say something about food?" Clicking off the light, Kilroy brushed past him.

Frowning, Griffin remained where he was for a moment before he closed the door and followed Kilroy down to the kitchen. Sipping the tea he had made for them both while waiting for their meal to cook, he watched Kilroy have a sketchy wash at the sink. Kilroy's hands and face spotless, there was a tidemark under his chin and at his wrists.

Kilroy meet Griffin's gaze and looked away immediately, ostensibly to locate a towel. "How's your work going?" he asked, his back to the room as he took his time to dry himself.

"It isn't. My concentration's shit so I'm experimenting with various techniques, getting in as much practice as I can. It won't hurt. I've twenty-odd years to catch up on." Seeing Kilroy frown, he added, "Like a professional musician or a dancer I need to practise my craft, ideally at least once a week. It's too easy to let sloppy techniques slip in."

"Don't you get bored?" asked Kilroy, remembering Griffin's previous lifestyle.

"I haven't had the chance, there's too much I want to do. But speaking of bored, your men in the bushes - "

"Are doing fine," interrupted Kilroy, in more of his usual tone.

"Maybe they are, but it's driving me crazy watching them watch me."

"They're supposed to be watching everything but you," said Kilroy with a severity which took Griffin by surprise. "Still, this way, if you get abducted again at least I can have the satisfaction of saying I told you so. Who knows what they might cut off next time."

Memory lurched Griffin back to the acrid coal stink of the cellar, the metallic tang of the van, and the sickly stench of oil in the garage; and all the time the fear that next time he would lose a hand, if not his life.

"You could have a point," he conceded colourlessly.

His expression changing, Kilroy briefly squeezed Griffin's shoulder in lieu of an apology. "Maybe I did, but there are better ways to make it. Let's eat."

"You go ahead. I'm not hungry," said Griffin, pouring himself some more tea before he wandered out of the room.

oOo

 

Going into the study the next day to make up the fire, Kilroy jumped when he realised Griffin stood in the shadows by the French windows, watching the rain. "We can afford to put the lights on, you know. I wondered where you'd got to."

Desperation setting in, aware that he always seemed to be under surveillance from one source or another, Griffin took a steadying breath, clamping down on his irrational rage. "I'll leave you to it," he said tightly, heading for the door.

Kilroy got to his feet. "You can't carry on like this. Why not consider talking to a trained - ?"

"Just leave me alone."

"I hate seeing you like this. I love you," blurted out Kilroy with a helpless gesture.

"Love me!" exploded Griffin, allowing his rage full rein because it was preferable to accepting the truth; it spilled out anyway. "You don't fucking well know me! You're besotted with some half-arsed romantic image you've conjured up out of your feelings of guilt. That man doesn't exist. If you want to blame yourself, or feel sorry for me, I can't stop you, but I'm damned if I'll encourage it."

"Don't mince your words, just say what you mean," encouraged Kilroy sardonically.

Griffin made a sharp sound of irritation, his left hand moving in a slicing gesture of dismissal. "What's the use! You don't have a clue."

"Then give me one," challenged Kilroy, in a tone he knew Griffin wouldn't be able to resist. For the first time in a week he knew he had Griffin's full attention.

"There's no point," said Griffin in a quieter tone.

"Then why are you still here?"

"Because I have nowhere else to go!" In the abrupt silence which followed that brutal half-truth, Griffin exhaled noisily and ran a hand back through his hair; his glare was fading before he looked at the silent man opposite him. "Well, that's one of the reasons. All right, we'd better talk."

"Then let's go into the kitchen where it's warmer," said Kilroy. Hooking a bottle of wine from the rack as they entered the other room, he took down two stemmed glasses, giving the least chipped one to Griffin. "Are you off the antibiotics?"

"Days ago."

"You didn't say."

"There was no need for a grand announcement. I'm surprised you didn't pump the doctor."

Kilroy didn't feel now was the time to admit that he had tried and gave a noncommittal grunt.

"It's time you stopped thinking of me as a victim in need of rescue," continued Griffin edgily. "Take off your rose-coloured glasses. A lot of what Langlois' dossier said was probably true. I don't take kindly to being manipulated, as Raoul and Henri both have cause to know."

Alerted by that grim note, Kilroy looked up, his expression intent. "What have you done?"

"Reminded them there's a price to pay for meddling in my affairs." His tone detached, Griffin briefly detailed the action he had taken, making no attempt to whitewash his motives.

"Why?"

"Jungle law is the only kind they understand. I used such weapons as seemed appropriate."

"Like making Raoul believe you'd fist him?" There was a poorly concealed revulsion in Kilroy's voice.

"Whatever it takes." Griffin's tone was uncompromising. "It ensured I got his full attention."

"I bet it did. Let's hope you enjoy banking now you've gone to all that trouble."

"It was no trouble."

"What do you have planned for me?"

Coldly angry, Griffin said nothing for a moment. "After I learnt the identity of your father, what could I possibly do to you that he hasn't?"

"My father? You had me investigated?"

"Would that be so unfair?"

"You cold bastard." Kilroy's chair scraped across the tiled floor as he rose to his feet. "Is that all you've done?" he demanded, leaning over Griffin.

Untroubled by the invasion of his personal space, Griffin's expression gave no clue to his emotions. "I've never seen the point in killing the messenger. I read once that there's no greater misfortune that can befall a man than to have a famous father. In your case that seems to be true."

"While you don't have a single hang-up, I suppose. Well, there's none so blind. You really do know who I am," realised Kilroy, his expression hardening.

"Christopher Fallon, second son of the self-made multimillionaire bigot whose right-wing opinions grace the tabloids with monotonous regularity and whose - "

"You're right," interrupted Kilroy, "I don't know you." He sat down with a thud.

"Hallelujah! We have breakthrough. Are you sure you want to?" Griffin's voice was tinged with a wounding mockery for which Kilroy had no immediate answer.

Because he had no intention of thinking about his own troubled family history, Kilroy sipped his wine and watched Griffin turn to seek out the heat coming from the open oven door. The raw obscenity of the amputation marred the beautiful lines of his outstretched right hand, which Griffin usually kept tucked out of sight now; whether from vanity or because it offered too sharp a reminder of the kidnap, Kilroy hadn't decided, assuming it was a little of both. Out of the blue, it occurred to him that for a man who had gone to such pains to get his message across Griffin wasn't looking happy about the success of his tactics.

"I'm positive about wanting to know you," he said with a new note of determination, having realised that Griffin had ruthlessly presented himself in the worst possible light. "From what Langlois' dossier said, in Sydney you were able to identify the hitman who was photographed with Charlie Cassidy. Is that true?"

"Yes." Giving no reaction to the pointed change of subject, Griffin's attention remained on his outstretched hands.

"The incident was intended to panic her."

"That's right."

"Did you know in advance about the car which ran her down while she was out jogging?"

"Not in advance. She was in no danger."

"That's a comforting thought. It was you who searched her hotel room, I suppose?"

"Not personally. It was essential that she move to the Malmont Marquis, where I would have easier access to her - and where she could be watched. By that time I wasn't the only one interested in Charlie. Her arrival in Sydney with her father's records wasn't a cause for celebration amongst his...colleagues."

"Politicians always make handy scapegoats, particularly when nothing can be proved either way. Charlie certainly had cause for grievance, didn't she?"

"I don't deny it."

Kilroy slammed the palm of his hand on the table, making Griffin jump. "Then why the fuck did you get involved?"

"My father told me to do him a favour."

"So naturally you leapt to do his bidding."

"That's right. Charlie was safe with me."

"Apart from the odd car trying to run her down. How was that arranged?"

There was a small silence.

"In the usual way."

"What was that?"

"I don't know."

Kilroy made an irritable gesture. "Getting information out of you is worse than pulling teeth."

"Then why bother?"

"Call it professional curiosity. Was the car your father's idea?"

Griffin's mouth thinned. "He thought it might speed things up if Charlie felt the need for a friendly shoulder."

"And you went along with it."

"I didn't find out who'd arranged it until afterwards," said Griffin in a goaded tone. "If she'd had the sense to take my warnings about my father seriously... Even after Alice's death she didn't take him seriously. Nor he her."

"When did you fall in love with her?"

Griffin rimmed his half-empty glass in the ensuing silence. "How do you pinpoint the moment?" he said at last.

"Given your contacts with hitmen, why didn't you hire someone to deal with Raoul and Henri Langlois? Or Charlie Cassidy for that matter?"

"Oh, for god's sake! You sound like a bad B movie. Why d'you think?"

"I don't know. I'm waiting for you to tell me," said Kilroy, refusing to think about Griffin's investigation of his past. "You could have imported someone from Hong Kong or Sydney. You had the contacts."

"Of course I didn't. That man was hired by - Sod it!" Stopping, there was a bitter twist to Griffin's mouth.

"Your father," completed Kilroy.

"You should have been a policeman. Your interrogation technique is as good as Franklin's."

"Not quite. Which agency did you use to investigate me?" added Kilroy, sounding calmer than he felt.

"Agency?" The change of topic left Griffin looking blank. "None."

"Then how did you discover who my father is?" Having changed his name by deed poll over sixteen years ago Kilroy knew there had been no documents lying around his flat to betray him, even if Griffin had gone through his personal papers, which he couldn't imagine.

Rubbing the back of his neck, Griffin searched his pockets for the cigarettes he no longer carried before settling for fiddling with his wine glass again. "After the purchase of the workshop had gone through I glanced through the old deeds, which were part of the package I was given. I saw Great-Uncle Percy's surname and wondered aloud why it sounded so familiar. There are more apocryphal tales about your father than mine. Harry Towson, my lawyer, had heard them all. I took him out to lunch and let him regale me with the gossip. He sent a clerk to check the various registers. I saw a copy of your birth certificate. After that I began to understand why you're so bigoted against the rich."

"Only some of them." Kilroy became uncomfortably aware that he had gained Griffin's entire attention, an expression he didn't want to interpret in Griffin's eyes. The tables were being turned with a vengeance, and while he hated it, Kilroy could think of no way to stop it happening, short of walking out.

"What caused the split?"

"Can't you guess?" retorted Kilroy bitterly, before words began to spill from him. "If my father had his way degenerates and perverts - that's you and me - would be forced to take aversion therapy. If that failed, we'd be castrated. He kicked me out. I was sixteen, so it was legal. As you can imagine from his well-publicised views, he wasn't thrilled to discover I was one of those disgusting faggots. Because I was under twenty-one, he wanted to report me to the police. My mother managed to stop that, mainly because she didn't want the scandal buggering up her social calendar."

"And since then?"

"What do you think?"

Griffin had no intention of saying what he really thought. "What about the rest of your family?"

"I see my youngest sister about once a year. Lucy's OK. The rest are...chips off the old block. Is there anything else you want to know about my private life? I've got off lightly for my part in humiliating you, haven't I. Why? Wasn't I worth your bother?"

While his tone was mild, it pulled Griffin to his feet. "Oh for - "

"Well?"

"Work it out for yourself," said Griffin tiredly.

"I already have. What you've just told me hasn't changed my mind. You knew my identity long before we split up. Why didn't you say anything earlier?"

"Because I hoped you'd tell me yourself."

The bitterness in the quiet voice brought Kilroy up sharply. "I would have, some day," he said defensively. "God, I used to hate the bastard."

"And now?"

"I've made my own life. I hardly ever think of them."

Able to imagine all too clearly what Kilroy's formative years must have been like, Griffin's expression gentled. Reseating himself, he leant his elbows on the table, but avoided staring too obviously at Kilroy.

"You've had one piece of luck, you don't look a bit like him," he offered, keeping his tone light. It had the desired effect, Kilroy's face relaxing.

"Silver-tongue."

"You've got your rose-coloured glasses back on," recognised Griffin with resignation.

"No," said Kilroy simply. "I'm under no illusions. Why would Raoul Langlois visit his would-be rapist in hospital?"

"The fact Henri made him."

"Yeah?"

"That's what Raoul admitted."

Kilroy let that pass. "And Henri? He still runs his bank, with your blessing. More, he trusted you enough to ask you to meet Josh on a regular basis."

"How do you know that?"

"He told me. Strange behaviour for a victim of yours."

"I've been wasting my breath. You haven't listened to a word I've said."

"You'd be surprised. I stopped seeing you in terms of hero or villain a long time ago. Like the rest of us, you're a murky shade of grey. The same could be said of the colour of your face at the moment," Kilroy added critically. "Are you getting any sleep?"

"Enough."

"It doesn't look like it. Do you need a painkiller?"

"Only tranquillizers to cope with you. I'm fine."

"No you're not. You're depressed, irritable and as jumpy as hell. Not sleeping, drinking too much if the empty bottles I've been finding in the bin are anything to go by, rapid mood swings. Classic signs. And they won't improve until you can put events of the last couple of months behind you. That won't happen until you accept what they meant to you. You've got to learn to let go. Come to terms with the anger. Talk it out."

"A little counselling to stave off Post Trauma Stress Disorder - or do you call it Syndrome? I don't think so." Griffin spared him a shrewd look. "Why are you so surprised I know the jargon? I've been here before, remember? Only back in sixty-nine the experts didn't have a convenient name for it. I'll handle any problems in my own way, thank you."

"How, by ignoring them? They aren't going to go away."

"Nor will you, it seems. Haven't you had enough for one day?" It was becoming obvious that Griffin had.

"No."

"Figures." Griffin took a patient breath. "Look, I know what you're trying to do, and I'm sure your motives do you credit, but I don't need counselling. I don't need babysitting and I certainly don't need to rehash the kidnap again."

"You'll have to if they ever catch your kidnappers."

"I fucking know that!" A moment later Griffin had control of himself. "Look, all I need is privacy - and some peace. A chance to deal with things in my own way. By myself."

Kilroy eyed him shrewdly. Griffin was too accustomed to emotional self-sufficiency to think of any other option, and too proud to accept what he regarded as pity.

"And what about my needs?" he asked quietly. The fleeting surprise on Griffin's face was all the spur he needed. "You've just told me what you need. It won't have occurred to you that I have needs too."

Afraid of what else he might say, he abruptly he left the room, going to the study where he busied himself with the fire, jabbing the glowing logs and creating a flurry of sparks.

"You'll bring the whole lot down on you if you're not careful," said Griffin from behind him.

"That's my choice," said Kilroy, savagely skewering a half-burnt log on the poker and having a job to free it.

"But not mine."

"I hardly need reminding again." Dropping the poker into the hearth, Kilroy got to his feet and strode from the room.

Staring after him, it began to dawn on Griffin that he was not the only one in need of some help.

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.

Chapter Text

TWENTY ONE

"I've got a bone to pick with you," said Kilroy grimly from the top of the stairs.

Leaning back against the front door, Griffin grimaced and slowly unfastened his topcoat. "I was afraid you might."

Five minutes later Kilroy was still going strong, having followed Griffin from bathroom to bedroom and into the kitchen. "Are you all right?" he suddenly broke off to say, in a completely different tone.

Beginning to laugh, Griffin sank onto a chair. "I'm buggered if I know right now. It's been an...eventful day."

"Yes." Tucking an arm around Griffin's chest, Kilroy hugged him hard, retaining the contact. "But at least it is over. With Annie's brother turning supergrass, Hawker and Terry will have to plead guilty. That should make the trial easier for you - and Josh."

"Yes," said Griffin flatly. He'd had enough publicity to last him a lifetime.

"I should have come to the station with you."

"Why? I don't need you to hold my hand," snapped Griffin, shrugging free to get to his feet.

"You never have. Perhaps I should have said, it would have been easier for me. I was worried about you. That's why I let rip the moment you appeared. This isn't the welcome home I had planned. Do you want to go out and celebrate?"

"God, no. I just want to get back to some kind of normality, without someone trailing after me the whole time." Pacing round the kitchen, Griffin paused. "Josh should be told that the gang are under arrest."

"All taken care of," said Kilroy, eyeing him worriedly.

Griffin spared him a look of disbelief but said nothing. Under the lights there was a diabolically feline cast to his eyes, a deadly grace to his prowling walk. Only the tail was missing; if present, it would have been lashing with sheer frustration at the prey who had got away.

"Do you want to talk?" asked Kilroy, after a few minutes of expecting to see electric sparks come off Griffin.

"About the meaning of life?" Exhaling sharply, Griffin waved an apologetic hand, before running it over his face and back through his hair.

"There's a meal in the oven, and a bottle of that claret you like. Let's eat, then have an early night. I didn't mean to bawl you out the moment you put your nose in the door," added Kilroy, taking out plates and cutlery when Griffin sat down.

"Going to save it, were you?"

"No, I've said enough," replied Kilroy, but something in his flattened voice penetrated Griffin's self-preoccupation.

"I asked Kevin to help me because I didn't want to worry you."

"Worry me!"

"Let's be realistic. If I'd told you about the reward and press conference you'd've gone into orbit. That smells good," added Griffin, getting up to investigate. One hand on Kilroy's waist as he leant past him to inhale, he looked up and saw the guarded unhappiness on Kilroy's face.

"I didn't mean to shut you out so completely," he said quietly as he straightened, "but I was afraid that if I didn't, you'd be marching down to the station with smelling salts at the ready in case it all got too much for me. It isn't that I don't appreciate having someone who worries about me, or that I don't take your ability to do your job seriously, but I've survived by myself for forty years. I'm not completely helpless. I need the freedom to make my own decisions, even if they turn out to be mistakes. But I should have come to you, not tried to use Kevin behind your back. I'm sorry for that."

Kilroy nudged the crisp cheese topping with the spoon he held. "I can be over-protective. Overcompensating, I suppose. It's always been a fault of mine, though I thought I'd come to terms with it by now. I know it drives you nuts, but I don't always see it in myself."

"I'll drop you a hint earlier next time," promised Griffin, returning Kilroy's faint smile. "Ours has hardly been a typical affair - if there's any such thing. You got over-protective, I'm locked in defence mode at the moment. It'll even out. It's strange, we stagger through life trying to throw off the burden of the past so we can inhabit some shiny new future and it can't be done."

"I've learnt that much," said Kilroy wryly. "Don't you believe in happy ever afters?"

"No. But that doesn't mean I'll mind if I'm proved wrong. I'm rambling," Griffin added with a brisk, unconvincing flippancy. "It's probably hunger. Let's eat before that gets cold."

Shooting him a sharp glance, recognising the tension lines around Griffin's mouth and eyes, Kilroy said nothing more on the subject.

oOo

His sleep troubled and broken, it was almost ten before Griffin came to, eyeing with drowsy surprise the loaded tray Kilroy was holding.

"What's with breakfast in bed? I'm not sick."

"Just marvel, and eat. I thought we could take the day off. I've booked a couple of horses for two o'clock. After that, I thought we could have a game of squash and a swim at your club. Oh, and I managed to get tickets for that concert you mentioned the other night - the Clapton gig at the Albert Hall. It's a blues night. Then a meal and home to bed."

"OK," said Griffin, because it required less effort than arguing, although he didn't care to be organised so thoroughly.

In the event, the day was just what he needed to regain his equilibrium. Over their meal they relived the combination of Buddy Guy and Clapton.

"I'll take you to see John Lee Hooker next time he's in London," promised Griffin, as they left the Vietnamese restaurant just before two in the morning.

"Only if you promise to try and get beyond Nina Simone," countered Kilroy, who had a passion for jazz and was sometimes to be seen playing tenor sax on his toothbrush in the bathroom mirror. "I'll try Courtney Pine first. Break you in gently."

Unlocking his car, Griffin nodded. "It's a deal." He mellowed to the point where he voluntarily mentioned Annie as they let themselves into the flat. "Is she all right?"

"I rang while you were changing before we went out. She's fine. Franklin obviously treated her with kid gloves - and John went with her. So everything seems all right between the love-birds. I feel embarrassed though. I could have sworn he was the one beating her up."

"You'll be safe enough, unless she finds out what you thought," said Griffin, shaking his head when Kilroy offered him a drink.

"Some of the partners want to sack her."

"I bet Paul's one of them."

"You'd be right. She's staying, of course. No-one's responsible for their relatives."

Reaching out, Griffin tugged him closer. "You don't have to convince me."

Kilroy absently kissed the top of his head, then sank down on the sofa next to him. "She blames herself for what happened. Technically it was a breach of security when John and Potts came into the agency to see her. Although you weren't a client of ours."

"Don't panic. I'm not about to sue," teased Griffin.

Kilroy went very still. "That bloody bastard!" he exploded.

"Calm down. Who?"

"Paul. That must have been the first thing he thought about when he realised what had happened. If I hadn't been so worried about you I'd've picked up on his hints immediately. I sometimes wonder if he's capable of thinking about anything but his cash flow."

"Probably not. He's a prick. Speaking of which, you've wined me and dined me. The least you can do is finish the night off by bedding me in style. The blues always make me horny."

Kilroy's eyes flickered, his tensing muscles confirming Griffin's suspicions. While he'd been too preoccupied to notice at first, it had begun to dawn on him that they only made love at his instigation, the experience less than satisfactory due to Kilroy's inhibitions about initiating anything.

"Or maybe not," Griffin added. "This must be off-putting." He raised his right hand, giving it a rueful look.

"Don't be ridiculous. You can't believe..."

"There's something wrong."

"Well, it's not that."

"Then it's obviously something else. Don't you want me?"

"You know it isn't that," said Kilroy irritably, but he wouldn't meet Griffin's eyes.

"Not without proof to the contrary, I don't. I do want you." Griffin watched him steady-eyed and unblinking.

Looking up, Kilroy was caught in that intense green gaze, arousal sparking along his nerve ends like static electricity.

Heavy-eyed, his pupils dilating, Griffin still said nothing, waiting.

He didn't have to wait long, although at first Kilroy was trembling so much he had difficulty coping with buttons and catches. Even when they were finally naked, residual anxiety made him needlessly cautious, until passion overtook nerves, Griffin's uninhibited and vocal encouragement the final reassurance, had he needed more by that time.

 

Sprawled wide, the echoes of Kilroy's possession still reverberating through him, Griffin finally managed a slightly dazed smile.

"That," he announced, in a voice drugged with pleasure, "was more like it."

"Yes, it was, wasn't it," agreed Kilroy, with no discernible attempt at modesty. Nuzzling salt-slick flesh, his fingers moved lightly over Griffin, relearning familiar territory as if it was quite new to him. "You set me up, didn't you?"

"Only partly. You just needed a reminder that I don't break. The rest was...natural talent. To put it bluntly, that was the best fuck we've ever had, if not of my life."

"Such eloquence," snorted Kilroy, before he kissed the lush mouth. Unhurried, his confidence was total.

"You're lucky I can talk at all."

Rooting through the pockets of his discarded jacket, Kilroy wiped away the excess oil seeping from Griffin's body. "The sofa arm wasn't quite the venue I had in mind, though. Your back must be aching."

"It probably won't be the only thing by morning," said Griffin realistically. Finally stirring, his forearms slid over Kilroy's shoulders. "Stop worrying and let me enjoy the after-shock in silence."

"Shouldn't that be glow?"

Flicking Kilroy's nose with the tip of his finger, Griffin shook his head as if despairing of him. "Just take me to bed."

"Sure you wouldn't like me to carry you?"

Griffin opened one eye. "You couldn't."

"Given that I'm not convinced I'll be able to stand up yet, you're probably right. We should have a shower first."

"Don't let me stop you, but I'm going to bed as I am."

"You talked me out of it," said Kilroy with gratitude.

oOo

Neither man was particularly talkative as they returned from visiting Annie the following day.

"She's serious about resigning, you know," said Griffin at last.

"Maybe she'll get over it once she's over the first shock. With John out of work and a mortgage to pay..."

"Her choice," Griffin reminded him, lighting a cigarette from the packet Collier had given him two days ago. Catching Kilroy's glance, he added, "Don't even think of saying it."

"I wasn't going to. You want to get back to your workshop, don't you."

"Was I that obvious?"

Parking the car, Kilroy twitched the cigarette packet from Griffin's hand and pointed to the rough sketch on the back.

"Ah. Well, you see, I've had the offer of a seasoned yew, and it's just what I want for a table for the sitting-room," explained Griffin, sounding defensive even to his own ears.

"Of course it is," soothed Kilroy understandingly, patting him on the arm.

Griffin gave him the finger, then grinned. "I have had enough of London for a while," he admitted. "Thanks to the papers splattering my picture all over the front page I'm attracting some very odd looks when I go out. I swear one assistant in Fortnum's thought I was one of the kidnappers."

"Maybe you should start tying your hair back again," suggested Kilroy, flicking the thick, unruly hair which grew well beyond the nape of Griffin's neck.

"Maybe," conceded Griffin, who had every intention of doing so.

"I suppose it's time I went back to work myself - if only to keep Paul in order. I presume you'll be staying at your flat," added Kilroy.

"That's what it's there for. Although I've nothing against commuting up to London for a few nights a week - provided you're prepared to commute the other way on the other nights."

Knowing how Griffin lost track of time in his workshop, Kilroy resigned himself to the inevitable with a good grace, having expected visiting rights at best.

"I expect I could manage that," he said with a nonchalance that deceived neither of them.

oOo

After three weeks Kilroy could imagine no other life. He wanted no other, beginning to realise how little he had known Griffin, he was enjoying his voyage of discovery. That the reverse was true did not occur to him. Kilroy's world was a golden place, despite the fact it was the wettest March for years. His mood of heady optimism even survived Griffin's virulent head cold, and the fact that where minor ailments were concerned Griffin was no believer in suffering in silence.

"It's this climate," he complained, not for the first time. "I never catch cold."

"Then this will be a new experience for you," said Kilroy cheerfully, as he tucked his shirt into the waistband of his slacks.

Griffin's air of dignified martyrdom was ruined by a sneeze of cataclysmic proportions.

"Well, at least that proves you don't wear dentures," remarked Kilroy, handing him a fresh handkerchief.

"Go away and leave me to die in peace."

"Misery's supposed to love company."

"Don't overdo the sympathy, will you."

"You've got a cold, not bubonic plague. You're moaning far too much to be really ill."

Indignant, Griffin sat a little straighter. "What's this then?"

"A cold. When it's anything serious you don't say a word. On the whole, I'd rather have you complaining."

Griffin grimaced, then fumbled for the handkerchief again as he sneezed three times in quick succession. "I suppose I have been going on a bit," he conceded thickly. "Only I hoped I could get started on Tom's screen."

"I thought you were stuck on what to have in the last panel?"

"I still am. What's that got to do with anything. I'll drive down to the workshop later and leave you in peace. As a nurse you've been a sad disappointment," Griffin remarked in disillusioned tones. "What's that smile for?" he added with suspicion.

"I was just thinking of when we first met. There was a wonderful elegance about you then. Now look at you."

"Thanks a bundle."

"Don't bare your teeth like that. Your eyes are watering too much for you to be able to do any decent work, stay in town. It's more fun to be miserable in company."

Griffin gave a reluctant grin. "With a bit of luck I'll be able to pass this on to you. God knows I've been breathing over you enough."

"Not me. Too much virtuous living. There's orange juice in the fridge and aspirins in the bathroom. Here, I got you this." Kilroy tossed a book at Griffin's side. "It might help make the world seem a brighter place."

Griffin eyed the lurid artwork with disdain. "I'm not interested in the occult."

"This isn't. Or not really. It's a mixture of comedy, fantasy, with a pinch of homespun philosophy. I know it sounds a horrible combination. Trust me. Do you want me to call a doctor?" added Kilroy, struck by how ill Griffin looked.

"What? Of course not. This red-eyed look will soon wear off. Go to work. I'll be all sweetness and light by tonight."

Kilroy looked sceptical.

Pretending not to notice, Griffin picked up the book.

oOo

Inhaling the heady fragrance of garlic and mixed herbs when he got home three days later, after an unscheduled trip to Amsterdam, Kilroy left his bag at the top of the stairs and headed hopefully for the kitchen. "You're cooking."

"Don't panic. All I had to do was put it in the oven," Griffin assured him, pouring Kilroy a glass of wine.

"I thought you were on your deathbed?" said Kilroy, raising his glass to toast him.

"I was, since when I recovered enough to go and buy everything Terry Prachett has ever written. I'm in love."

"He's married," said Kilroy promptly.

"How do you know? No, don't tell me. My passion is for Greebo - amongst others. The description of him reminded me of you in a lot of ways. Come to bed?" Griffin added, with nothing in his tone to warn of a change of subject. "It's been a long three days. And I can breathe through my nose now."

"Which just shows how talented you are. And I'd love to. Only...could we eat first? Greebo..." Kilroy paused. "No, you're the one more likely to be broadcasting a kind of greasy diabolic sexuality in the megawatt range. Or a butcher, unshowered version of you," he added with a grin.

Griffin dangled his wrist thoughtfully. "So you want butch, do you?"

"After dinner. A man's got to get his priorities right."

"That might be all you'll get. I may have gone off the boil by then. It'll be at least half an hour before everything is cooked," murmured Griffin persuasively, running his hands up and down Kilroy's flanks.

Kilroy just looked at him, and if it wasn't a broadcast in the Greebo range, it had a certain conviction.

"Maybe not," Griffin conceded, ruffling the hair at the nape of Kilroy's neck the wrong way before smoothing it again. "Tell me about Amsterdam before I forget my good resolutions and take advantage of your weakened state."

Kilroy's recital saw them safely through their meal. He was still chewing his last mouthful when Griffin got to his feet.

"Not on a full stomach! I'll get indigestion," Kilroy warned, when Griffin's hand closed around his wrist. "Besides, I've haven't had pudding." His protest was ruined by the speed with which he stretched out a hand to Griffin.

"You haven't washed up, either," Griffin pointed out sweetly, placing a bottle of washing-up liquid in his outstretched hand.

Kilroy eyed it without enthusiasm. "We need a dishwasher."

"True. I did suggest it. You turned the idea down," Griffin reminded him.

"I've changed my mind."

"That's good. But until it's installed, you're it," said Griffin, sauntering out of the kitchen.

While the speed of Kilroy's response was gratifying, it came as no surprise.

oOo

Unkinking his back as he straightened to switch off power from the mains, Griffin slipped down his face mask, smiling when he realised he had company. As usual, Kilroy was occupying the chair made twenty-three years ago, but tonight, rather than being sprawled in a comfortable slouch while wearing a look of interest, he wore a brooding scowl, palpable waves of anger emanating from him.

"Hello, you're back early," said Griffin.

"Obviously."

"You must have skated through your meeting faster than you anticipated."

"That's right."

Griffin concentrated on clearing up. "Is everything al right?" He could have kicked himself for his clumsiness the moment he voiced the query he had always found to be amongst the most aggravating.

"Terrific. D'you fancy a spot of nightclubbing - that casino you used to go to in Berkshire, for instance?"

It took Griffin a moment to place the reference. Aware that Kilroy could know of the club only through the surveillance his men had maintained on him early last autumn, Griffin's mouth thinned. He reminded himself that it was a positive sign that Kilroy was willing to refer to it.

"Why not?" he said evenly.

The evening was a disaster, the aura emanating from Kilroy causing total strangers to give him several feet leeway. Constantly on edge because he expected detonation at any moment, Griffin reached the stage where he wondered why he was bothering when every conversational foray was murdered at birth.

Leaving Kilroy losing heavily at the blackjack table, he headed for the bar. Only when he was about to order did Griffin remember that one of them had to be sober enough to drive the seventy miles home and Kilroy was already well over the limit. Unenthusiastically sipping a Perrier, he bought a packet of cigarettes and tried to ignore the gnawing ache where his little finger had been.

Watching the ebb and flow of people behind him in the glass over the bar, it dawned on Griffin how much his life had changed in the last few months, and for the better. The problem wasn't to fill the empty hours, but how to find enough of them to spend time with Kilroy. It did not occur to him to resent the degree to which he accommodated his work-schedule around the less flexible demands of Kilroy's work, because Griffin had taken his own freedom of movement for granted for years.

But something serious was worrying Kit. While he was far from being all sweetness and light, this suppressed savagery wasn't typical; what was in character was the fact Kit wasn't talking about it. Staring bleakly into his glass, Griffin knew the failure for that must be his. Perhaps his previously solitary lifestyle had given him too little practice at communicating, perhaps it was just a flaw in his personality. Whatever it was, he was failing. Theirs wasn't an equal partnership. Kit gave and he took, and it seemed the reverse wasn't under consideration.

"You should have said when you'd had enough," said Kilroy from behind Griffin's shoulder, having approached him from behind without attracting attention. He made an accusation of the remark.

Turning on the barstool, Griffin caught the stump of his little finger on the ornate metal decorating the lip of the bar. Whatever retort he had intended was lost in a sickening flare of pain.

"Yes," he managed. "Shall we go?"

"Why not? I've collected my winnings. My luck changed as soon as you left the table."

"Figures," muttered Griffin, before he stalked away.

A severe and elegant figure in a black Versace suit and white silk shirt, he was unconscious of the heads which turned his way as he progressed through the various rooms. Moving smoothly down the wide, ornate steps which led from the club, trying not to jar his hand more than necessary, Griffin welcomed the blessed darkness and relative quiet as he waited for one of the valets to retrieve his car. Even the cold was a welcome distraction.

"Here," said Kilroy, sliding Griffin's overcoat over his shoulders. "You're shivering."

"It's hardly surprising, there's heavy frost." Griffin slid into the car, his movements awkward as he tried to avoid jarring his hand. Leaving the engine idling, he lit a cigarette and stared through the windscreen rather than at Kilroy. He didn't want another argument.

"It's been a long evening. We could spend the night at the hotel down the road instead of going home," said Kilroy, who was exuding more whisky fumes than a distillery.

"Past your bedtime, is it?" enquired Griffin, tension ebbing from him as the pulsating surges of pain faded to a grumbling background nag.

"It was just a thought."

Griffin leant across him to retrieve and fasten his seat belt for him. Staring at the unsmiling profile, Kilroy recognised that Griffin was wearing the suit he had stated a preference for months ago. He fought against a maudlin rush of emotion.

"It's lucky they water the drinks back there," he offered, his manner as conciliatory as a small child guiltily trying to make amends without actually having to apologise.

"On the grounds you'd be unconscious, or puking up your guts otherwise?" said Griffin tartly, as he drove down the sweeping drive and paused before joining the main road.

"That's right. I didn't mean to drink so much. I've been lousy company. I didn't even notice what you're wearing until just now," Kilroy mourned. "And I love that outfit." He gave a bleary smile, without much hope that it would be well received. James didn't have any patience with drunk, despite his own occasional lapse.

"Save the charm," Griffin advised him, softening despite himself. "The best you can hope for is that you don't throw up in my car. You're going to have a terrible head in the morning after mixing your drinks like that."

"I think the hangover arrived early," said Kilroy with some pathos, his eyes closing.

"Then go to sleep. I'll wake you when we get home," Griffin promised him tolerantly.

"And will you put me to bed?" Kilroy's hand settled on Griffin's thigh.

Griffin sighed. "I have to. Don't worry about it. Just go to sleep."

oOo

Resigned to the fact he would never be told what had been bothering Kilroy, to Griffin's relief the next morning, apart from a hangover far milder than he deserved, Kilroy was almost himself again.

Griffin had learnt that attempts to get Kilroy to talk when he didn't want to only led to fierce spats and so he spent Saturday helping him to move furniture from the attic, after which neither of them had the energy for anything but a quiet evening.

Feeling inadequate and depressed by his inability to help Kilroy, Griffin spent much of the time staring into space, oblivious to the music he had put on, or when it finished.

After giving him several sideways glances, Kilroy abandoned his attempts to pretend nothing was wrong and sat doodling around the edges of the crossword he was supposed to be trying to complete.

Griffin got to his feet. "Coming to bed?"

"Sure."

Griffin's flat had only one bedroom, even if it was as large as many flats, and so at least one of Kilroy's doubts were resolved, even if he couldn't stop himself from worrying over the others.

oOo

"James?"

"Mmn?"

The light was flicked on, making Griffin squint. It was a moment before he could focus on Kilroy's half-puzzled, half-desperate face. When he recognised the expression he was abruptly fully awake. "What is it?" he asked quietly, one hand travelling in comforting swathes down the powerful back bent over him. "You can tell me. Let me help."

"I don't want to talk. I don't want to think at all. Just..." The hungry longing on his face said what he would not.

"By the time we're finished we'll have a job to remember our own names," Griffin promised him, keeping his voice light and pretending not to notice Kilroy's desperation because it was what Kilroy wanted. "Do you want to take over?"

"No. You."

"My pleasure."

Griffin took his time, lavishing all his expertise and the emotions he couldn't voice as he made love to Kilroy with a thoroughness which ensured they both slept until mid-morning.

 

Griffin started awake to find Kilroy sitting on the edge of the bed, holding out a mug of coffee to him.

"I thought we could walk down and get the papers before the Post Office shuts," said Kilroy, by way of a greeting.

"Sure," nodded Griffin, supposing it was a good sign that Kit wanted his company.

On automatic pilot, Griffin swallowed the too hot coffee and crawled out of bed, heading for the bathroom.

Because it was pelting down with rain, they took the car. As he emerged from the Post Office, the papers tucked to his chest to protect them from the weather, Kilroy slid into the car and dropped two packets of crisps into Griffin's lap.

"To stave off the dreaded pangs," he explained.

"Why don't we enjoy instant gratification and eat at the pub?" asked Griffin. "Though I don't know why they open the restaurant during the winter, they might have a river outside but it's hardly a tourist attraction."

"Probably for the benefit of slobs like us who can't be bothered to cook. Well, don't just sit there looking decorative - though you do - drive. I'm starving."

Griffin watched with appalled fascination as Kilroy set about proving as much, to the point where he ate two helpings of treacle pudding, before sitting back to study a couple of ducks struggling against the current, the river outside the window an unattractive shade of mud.

"I'm thinking about packing in the agency," Kilroy said, out of the blue.

Griffin forced himself not to react to that bombshell. "To do what?" he asked, setting down his coffee cup.

"I'll think of something."

"I'm sure you will. This is a bit sudden, isn't it? Are there problems with the cash flow?" Griffin added casually, having suspected as much for months. Kilroy's fierce pride had prevented him from offering to help. The obvious solution was rarely the best solution.

"No more than usual." Kilroy's expression assumed the stubborn, closed-in look Griffin had grown to hate.

"I thought you enjoyed the work for the most part."

"I do."

"I suppose you haven't had many interesting cases recently," pursued Griffin, struggling almost as hard as the ducks.

"Not many. If you've finished, shall we go home?"

When they were comfortably settled in the sitting-room, Griffin abandoned any pretence of reading the Sunday papers. Aware of the restless fidgeting next to him, he couldn't shake off the feeling that Kilroy both wanted and needed to talk. The trick was in persuading him to start. With seeming inconsequence Griffin steered the conversation through every possible permutation, finding each one a dead end.

"Is everything all right with your family?" he asked finally, having exhausted every other possibility.

He felt like a man who lit a sparkler only to find the world exploding in his face. But at least he'd got Kilroy talking. It didn't take long to realise why Michael Fallon was such a sore point, or why Kilroy, all bruised pride, wanted nothing more to do with the agency which he had built up and stamped with his own personality. While hunting in Archives for some useful material for a talk he was due to give a group of senior managers, he had come across the report of the senior partners at the time of his initial interview for a job with the agency.

"It made interesting reading. They didn't want a failed soldier with a streak of yellow down his back. They wanted a queer stupid enough to be out of the closet even less. All these years and they never fucking well wanted me! You know why I got in? Because Lessingham knew who my father was and pushed my appointment through. He obviously hoped some of the money would rub off! Christ!" Kilroy was pacing the room, as if finding its confines too small. He suddenly stopped dead, his back to Griffin.

"I've experienced a similar sort of thing myself," said Griffin after a moment, feeling his way with care. "Both positive and negative discrimination, because of who my father was."

Kilroy wheeled around. "My family might have their faults but at least they came by their money more or less honestly. Our situations are hardly comparable."

That snub, combined with the contempt Kilroy hadn't attempted to hide, tightened the muscles in Griffin's face. He swung his legs from the sofa and lent forward to retrieve and light a cigarette from the pack on the floor.

"No, I don't suppose they are," he allowed. "For one thing, I'm a bastard, while you, of course, are not."

In the silence which followed Kilroy's angry breathing was clearly audible.

Griffin had almost finished his cigarette by the time Kilroy's expression changed from blind fury to comprehension, then remorse.

"Shit, I didn't - " He sank onto the sofa beside Griffin and touched his arm. "You know that was just temper talking. You must know I don't believe that."

Griffin glanced at him. "Why shouldn't you. It's true. I've known it for years."

"That's no excuse for taking it out on you. You're the one person I know who accepts me for what I am. Everyone else looks past me to my father, or wants me to be something else. Straight, for one!"

Griffin stubbed out his cigarette with inordinate care, then lit another. "It hasn't occurred to you that there might be some room for improvement?"

Kilroy nudged Griffin's knee with his own. "The only bastard in this room is me. But I'm still selling my interest in the agency."

"It's your right, and nothing to do with me."

Kilroy looked sceptical. "When has that ever stopped you from voicing an opinion about anything?"

Griffin took that for an invitation and let him have it, knowing from experience that self-pity solved nothing. "You want my opinion, it's yours. Though I doubt if you'll like it. You were hired because you're your father's son. You feel used, humiliated, belittled. Tough! That's life. It happens all the time, and to better men than either of us. Get used to it. The only surprise is that it's never happened to you before. It's one of the penalties of having a famous father. You can't run away from it for ever, even if you have changed your name. Face up to it, accept it and get beyond it."

There was a short silence.

"Sez you," muttered Kilroy, rubbing the back of his neck in an embarrassed fashion. He loathed whingers.

"Is that going to be your excuse of making the same mistakes I've made? Believe me, they aren't worth repeating. It's thanks to you, not the Fallon fortune, or your father's influence, that the agency is the success it is. That it has the reputation it possesses. How many of the partners who were around eight years ago are still there? Lessingham apart, I bet most of them. Certainly enough to mean that if all they'd wanted was the injection of Fallon money you'd have been out on your ass years ago. You can't seriously imagine Lessingham would have let you take over if he hadn't been convinced you were the right man for the job? I've got to know half a dozen of the partners quite well over the last few months. You've only got to hear the way they talk about you to know they've got no complaints. I've seen the signs of discontent too many times not to be able to spot it.

"You claim everyone wants to change you. Who? Exactly," Griffin added immediately, before Kilroy could even open his mouth. "As for homphobia, it's open knowledge at the agency that you and I are lovers. I haven't noticed that causing anyone but Paul problems. And you aren't going to pretend his opinion counts for spit in the wind."

"That's not what I - "

"I haven't finished," said Griffin fiercely, rounding on him.

"Sorry," said Kilroy, with a wholly spurious meekness which Griffin was beyond noticing.

"Then there's the most important thing, the work itself. What you do best. Are you going to pretend it doesn't matter? Or to deny you've saved lives, not to mention mental stability with your expertise? Like it or not, you're good with people. They find it easy to trust you. To talk to you. Try and tell me your kind of expertise and dammit simple human kindness, is easy to find in one package. Stop feeling sorry for yourself and think about what you've already achieved, and the work you still have to do, instead of harping on about something that's years in the past. And what the fuck are you smiling at?" Griffin demanded belligerently.

Kilroy shook his head and pulled him into a fierce embrace before he kissed the angrily parted mouth, stealing away what little breath Griffin had left before releasing him.

"When you rebuild a bloke's ego you don't muck around, do you," he said wonderingly.

"Don't kid yourself," muttered Griffin, disconcerted by his own vehemence. "You over-reacted because your pride was bruised. Just because it smarts there's no reason to - "

"All right, all right. Don't start again," begged Kilroy. He cupped the side of Griffin's face, his thumb caressing the side of Griffin's mouth with a telling tenderness. "In all the months I've known you I thought I'd seen you in every possible mood. I knew you were a passionate bugger under that smooth exterior but..." He took pity on Griffin's embarrassment and changed tack. "Considering you haven't been to the agency that often you've picked up one hell of a lot."

"It's what I'm trained to do," shrugged Griffin, at something of a loss to explain his impassioned outburst.

Kilroy nodded and gave another irrepressible smile. "The training paid off. You're right. I was wallowing. But if made me so bloody mad. I didn't want to tell you because it's so...childish...to be so insecure."

Griffin stared at him in astonishment. "What's that got to do with anything? Since when have I wanted to live with Superman? Christ, if you trust me so little what - Never mind, it doesn't matter."

"Oh, yes it does. And I do. Trust you, I mean. You've just proved I was right to. You might supply an unorthodox elastoplast for war wounds but it works. By god it does. I feel ten feet tall. Have you finished lecturing me?"

"Why?"

"Because I'd like to kiss you again, properly. Only this time I intend to have you full attention. I'm sorry for being such a prat."

"Kit, you don't need to - "

Griffin committed the basic error of looking up and was lost even before Kilroy's mouth found his own.

oOo

While Griffin made a conscious effort to keep his end of the bargain and commute to London in the evenings, his good resolutions lasted exactly one week. Kilroy's involvement in his latest case had reassured Griffin that Kit had relegated recent events to their proper place. Seduced by a new consignment of wood, Griffin was soon lost to complex mental calculations.

Because he had recognised all the signs that morning, Kilroy left the agency early and arrived back at the workshop just after six in the evening. Propped in the doorway, he stood watching Griffin, who was studying length after length of what Kilroy was reliably informed was yew, looking uncharacteristically indecisive.

"What's the problem? Not got enough wood?" asked Kilroy, of the view there was enough for at least one ark.

"You can never have too much yew. Look at these knots."

"They're beautiful."

"They're a royal pain," said Griffin irritably, even as he stroked the knot in question. "But then that's the beauty of working with yew. While they look wonderful, too many knots in the wrong place results in a hole instead of a knot. So I'm trying to... You don't want to know. I've sent you to sleep once this week already."

"That was about grindstones. And I'm still none the wiser why you prefer ones from Japan. But wood... There's a faint chance I might understand what you're talking about with that."

"Mmn," said Griffin absently.

"Why don't you just cut it instead of standing here dithering?" asked Kilroy, ten minutes later. He had made himself comfortable in his usual seat. "You're not usually like this. Isn't your design for the table right?"

"My design is perfect. It's me. You've probably never been around at the point where I need to start a piece. It's the worst part," said Griffin, looking harried.

"In what way?"

"This is going to sound as pretentious as hell."

"I'm used to that," Kilroy assured him. He had spent hours in here, sometimes helping with simple tasks but most of the time content to watch Griffin work, intrigued by his commitment and concentration and astonished by the quality of the finished product, despite having seen most of the stages involved.

Griffin spared him a brief glance. "I need to channel my belief in what I'm about to create, so that I can make the commitment of the first cut. That's the vital one. The hardest one. It dictates everything. It's like starting an affair. One you know will matter and that you hope will last for ever."

Aware that he had only a tiny proportion of Griffin's attention and seduced by his voice and the movement of his hands as they absently caressed the wood, Kilroy wanted him with an intensity so great that it made him shake.

"I never thought I'd be reduced to envying a piece of wood," he said wryly.

"What was that?" His mind obviously elsewhere, Griffin did not look up from the length of wood he was studying, a frown in place.

"Tired of the missionary position? Test your physical fitness, stamina and versatility on the new, improved Kit Kilroy."

"In a minute."

A quarter of an hour later Griffin sighed, shook his head and looked up. His bewitching smile made the wait worthwhile. "Hello. You've had a hair cut."

"You don't like it," said Kilroy with resignation. It had seemed unlikely that Griffin would.

"I'll love it, in a couple of months. Why are you looking at me like that? Oh. Sorry. I'm a bit slow tonight," Griffin recognised, looking rueful.

"A bit. It's the first time I've ever been spurned in favour of a piece of wood."

"Have you been here long?" Griffin glanced at his watch and pulled a face. "I didn't realise how long I'd been... As I've lost the plot, I'll clear away. All right?"

"I'll let you know later. We could always christen one of those planks you've been fixated on. Wet its head. So to speak." Kilroy got to his feet in a hopeful manner.

"No, we couldn't. Damp is the last thing untreated wood needs. Anyway, think of the splinters we'd collect."

"Where's your spirit of adventure?"

"Different sex isn't necessarily better sex."

"The voice of experience?" asked Kilroy with interest.

"There was a time when I felt obliged to try out most things. Most of them worked. But then I was younger. Suppler. Even then I put my back out once. I damn nearly ruined myself with another position." Griffin was busy switching off power points and covering the heavy-duty jigsaw, before he replaced various hand tools and switched off the large dust extractor. "It was a long time ago now. Why don't you opt for something less energetic than acrobatics and go in for a fetish?"

"If I choose wood I might have a hope of getting your attention," grumbled Kilroy half-heartedly.

His face impassive, Griffin turned to him. "You want my attention, you have it. If you want games, we'll play games," he added, in a honeyed voice that was as seductive as silk sheets. His face came alive. "Any game you want, any position. Aerobics? Toys? Mind games? Or something even more basic? Would you like me to use you? Here? Now?"

Held by that unblinking gaze, Kilroy's breathing accelerated as Griffin padded across the room, his predatory stride heading inexorably in his direction. He was projecting a heady, if intimidating, sense of power, broadcasting his sexuality with the blinding intensity of a flare in the darkness. His body tightening, Kilroy searched the unsmiling face, mesmerized when he met that devouring gaze again. Griffin only inches away by this time, Kilroy was vaguely grateful for the support of the wall at his back.

"Alternatively," murmured Griffin in a different tone, "you may prefer to use me. I'm here to serve." He sank gracefully to his knees, his beautiful hands parting as he awaited Kilroy's pleasure.

"Bloody hell," croaked Kilroy, who was sporting an impressive erection by this time. "You didn't learn this from reading Terry Prachett."

The illusion of submission fled when Griffin grinned up at him, but he was as aroused as Kilroy. "Not quite. Hong Kong could teach Soho a thing or two. Well, what takes your fancy?"

"Both options. All of them. But maybe nothing too athletic for a few years."

"What happened to your spirit of adventure?" teased Griffin, as he stroked Kilroy's inner thigh. It began to quiver.

"You rotten... I must be a simple soul at heart. I don't need to gild the lily to enjoy myself with you. Or not yet anyway," Kilroy added realistically.

Griffin took the hand extended to him, rising with an ease Kilroy could only envy. "Have you ever made love up a ladder?" he asked, allowing himself to be led upstairs.

"No, and I plan on keeping my virginity. I've unleashed a monster."

"Yes, I can see the idea's worrying you."

Making it plain he needed no help, Kilroy began to undress him, taking his time. Finally naked, the brush of Kilroy's fingers against his shoulder was enough to make Griffin shiver with longing.

"That's better," whispered Kilroy, giving the bed a fond look. "Now, how do you feel about missionary men?"

"Love 'em," said Griffin promptly, as he unzipped Kilroy's fly.

 

Quiet together as they recovered their second wind, Griffin drifted, loving the sense of Kit within him.

"What was that?" he murmured, hearing Kilroy mutter something.

"And happily I have arrived at last Unto the wished haven of my bliss." Kilroy repeated his party piece, then looked expectant.

"Well, there's no need to sound so smug. Anyone would think you've never been here before. Hang on, where' that from?" asked Griffin, raising his head.

"Don't ask me. I read it somewhere."

"Which, knowing you, means anything from the back of a packet of cornflakes, to the Boy's Book of Knowledge."

"I've been saving it for the appropriate moment," said Kilroy, sounding very pleased with himself. "Ow! What was that for?" he complained, his bottom tingling from Griffin's slap.

"It comes from The Taming of the Shrew." Griffin managed to keep his face straight long enough to watch consternation dawn on Kilroy's.

"No..." A moment later Kilroy buried his face in the junction of Griffin's neck and shoulder, his laughter sending delicious ripples through Griffin. "I give up. I'll leave the quotations to you. I suppose you can think of something more appropriate."

"I have a noble cock..." said Griffin obligingly.

"No arguments about that. But shouldn't I be the one telling you that?"

"What I'm trying to indicate, although I'm obviously being too subtle, is that you've been resting on your laurels - and me - for far too long. You've got superb pelvic thrusts. How about demonstrating a few?"

"Like this?"

A soft sound escaped Griffin. "You wait," he gasped, cradling the side of Kilroy's face.

"Say please."

"Dream on." A wicked smile crossed Griffin's face.

"I can feel an insult hovering."

His eyes wide and innocent, Griffin kissed him on the chin and intoned:
"The way was long, the wind was cold,/The Minstrel was infirm and old;/
His withered cheek and tresses grey,/Seemed to have known a better day...
"

As he hoped, that provided the desired impetus.

 

"Follow that," mumbled Kilroy, blinking exhaustedly up at the ceiling.

"Not for a while." Griffin rubbed the top of his right leg, as if he needed to check it was still joined to his body.

"I meant that the evening can only go downhill from now on," explained Kilroy, heaving himself from the bed to fetch a damp flannel and a towel.

"Anticlimax is the word you want." Griffin was touched by the endearing concentration with which Kilroy cleaned and dried him.

Kilroy groaned and kissed him. "All right?"

Glimpsing a flicker of uncertainty, Griffin swallowed his flippant reply, given an insight into the tightrope of insecurity Kilroy still walked, thanks to the unorthodox start to their affair and his own failure to give Kit what he craved.

"Very," said Griffin, kissing Kilroy back and hoping that be would reassurance enough for now. "What's that noise?" he added moments later.

"My stomach rumbling. I'm starving. I don't suppose you remembered mundane details like buying food?"

"Funny you should say that."

"Don't you get hungry like normal people?"

"Stop complaining and pass me the phone. I'll ring that Indian restaurant in Langley and see if I can bribe them to deliver."

Kilroy listened to the call with disapproving admiration.

"I sometimes think you could sell the man in the moon green cheese."

"More like the corrupting influence of money. Speaking of which, I don't think I've got any." Griffin gave him a hopeful look."

"You need a secretary to organise you," grumbled Kilroy. He got up to investigate the contents of his wallet. "You've already missed a couple of meetings."

"I know. And I'm working on it. And an assistant, too."

Kilroy paused in the bathroom door. "Annie and John?"

"Can tell you're a trained investigator. How did you know?"

"I saw the love-light in your eyes that day we visited Annie and you saw the furniture John had made for her. You'll organise him whether he likes it or not."

"Given what he's achieved without training or proper equipment, he deserves a chance. I just want him to have that chance. I don't manage people."

"Have it your own way."

"I'd like to," said Griffin sadly. The hint wasted, he moved on. "To make up for the lack of food, the TV and video were delivered this morning - with a supply of video tapes, so we can laze in front of something while we eat." He eyed with surprise the trousers Kilroy tossed at him. "What are they for?"

"One of us has to dress for when the food arrives. You've been nominated."

"I don't need to dress to go to the front door."

"Given the temperature outside, I think you should. Oh, I'll go," sighed Kilroy, knowing full well that Griffin would have no qualms about going to the door naked.

 

His head propped on a cushion against Griffin's thigh, Kilroy stretched as the credits rolled and surreptitiously wiped his nose on the back of his hand.

"I wish Alan Rickman would haunt me," he said wistfully, using the remote control to switch off the television.

"Which one was he?" asked Griffin provocatively.

"Very amusing."

"Still, I can't say I'd mind comforting Juliet Stevenson. Though I draw the line at sharing my home with rats. Mice are bad enough."

"I keep forgetting you're used to what I'm told is the best of both worlds," Kilroy said colourlessly.

Griffin dropped a handkerchief on his chest. "Blow your nose. No, you keep it."

"About Juliet Stevenson," began Kilroy, before he thought the better of what he had been about to say.

"She's a marvellous actress."

"That isn't what I meant."

"No. You were wondering about women in general. If it's all right for you to lust wistfully after Alan Rickman, why can't I be allowed the same indulgence with the woman of my choice?" asked Griffin without heat, knowing what was worrying Kilroy.

"Nothing, I suppose. But at least I keep to the same gender. Men and women, they're...different." Becoming aware of a gentle shaking under his head, Kilroy sat up and discovered Griffin was convulsed with silent laughter.

"You know what I'm asking," Kilroy added, with a mixture of chagrin, amusement and a dogged need to know.

"Yes," said Griffin, sobering, "I do. And the answer is... I don't know."

"You might have lied," grumbled Kilroy, making himself comfortable again against the prop of Griffin's body.

"If anyone else had asked me I probably would have done. I won't make you a promise I can't guarantee I can keep. Who can predict how they'll feel in a week, or a year, or twenty years from now?"

Kilroy gave a pleased smiled as he absorbed the implication behind that statement but all he said was: "Did you remember to buy Casablanca?"

Chapter Text

TWENTY TWO

 

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?"

"At school."

"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."

"London?"

"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.

"Really?"

"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 can."

"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.

"Months!"

"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.

oOo

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."

"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."

"You noticed?"

"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."

"Not necessarily."

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."

"Believe it."

"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."

"Try again."

"Me?" suggested Kilroy soulfully.

Unimpressed, Griffin stared at him before a slow, untrustworthy smile formed. "Yes, I'll have you," he agreed silkily.

"Eh?"

"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."

"What?"

"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.

oOo

"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.

oOo

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.

Marius Melville.

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?"

"Of course."

"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.

"What observatory?"

"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.

"Fine."

"In private."

"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.

Chapter Text

TWENTY TWO

Griffin sat at the breakfast table in his kitchen above the workshop, resignedly sifting through the stack of papers Goring had sent him. "This isn't even the tip of the iceberg," he complained. "Most of the stuff has gone straight to my lawyers."

Licking strawberry jam from his fingers, Kilroy made soothing noises. "It won't take you long to sort out."

Griffin snorted. "In case you've forgotten, it's taken weeks to get this far. This Trust I'm setting up is turning into a royal pain in the ass. Between meetings for that and my trips to Hong Kong and Paris..."

"That'll teach you to be altruistic," teased Kilroy.

"Realistic, more like."

"Are you sure you want to give most of it away?"

"I knew it, you only wanted a sugar daddy," mourned Griffin.

"That's right. Speaking of which, could you lend me twenty pounds before I go out? I forgot to go to the bank and it's about time we paid the paper bill."

"The world of high finance in which you live," sighed Griffin. "I paid the papers yesterday and my wallet's in bedroom. Help yourself." Muttering darkly to himself, he continued to work his way through the stack of papers in front of him. "You needn't think you're going to get away with doing nothing. Here!" He tossed a catalogue towards Kilroy. "See what you think of those."

"We could do with some pictures for the house."

"I don't think you'll want any of those. There's nothing older than the beginning of the century - and no 'pretty' landscapes."

"There's nothing wrong with my taste," defended Kilroy automatically.

"No, there isn't," agreed Griffin.

Kilroy shot him a suspicious glance. "What do you want?" he asked warily, before he returned Griffin's grin. "You'll have to wait till I get my strength back after last night. It's a big catalogue."

"It's a big collection. And too much responsibility for me to think of keeping it. It'll be far less trouble to give them to a gallery to worry about. Do you think the Tate would take them?"

That query woke Kilroy up fully. "We're not talking any old tat here, are we?"

"I wish you would speak the kind of English I was taught," complained Griffin mildly. "There's a Klee, a Pollock, Mondrian, a couple of Bacons, three Freuds, I think - I like those incidently - and - "

"Mondrian. Is he the bloke who went in for black and white with the odd primary splash?"

"That's the one."

"Give them to the Tate," said Kilroy with decision. Riffling through the catalogue, a range of expressions crossed his face. "'Strewth, imagine waking up to that one."

"Probably Francis Bacon," said Griffin through a mouthful of toast and marmalade.

"Blimey, there are prices given underneath. Two point four million dollars for that! It's daylight robbery," exclaimed Kilroy in outrage as he pointed to another illustration. "Look at it."

Leaning across the table to study the upside-down image, Griffin's forehead wrinkled. "I don't remember that one. I could live without it," he conceded. "Shit!" he added in disgust, as the cuff of his white knitted jacket dragged over the butter dish. "You don't mind fluff with your butter, do you? I never used to have these mishaps till I took up with you."

"All part of life's rich pageant. What are all these worth?" asked Kilroy, dropping the catalogue back on the table.

"I've no idea," said Griffin, getting up to make more toast. "About twelve or thirteen million, I suppose. I haven't got a clue about current prices."

"Stop pissing about," said Kilroy severely. "I'll have some more toast while you're there."

"It's already in the toaster. As for the collection, my father bought most of the pictures years ago - before the prices went crazy. He loved them, could talk about them for hours. More time wasted while I sort out where the collection should go. It doesn't deserve to be broken up, so it needs somewhere prepared to do them justice. I want a guarantee of total anonymity from whoever they go to. Anyone who knew my father well knew this collection. I wouldn't want the wrong people adding two and two together and getting the right answer."

"Christ, no. I hadn't thought of that. You'd better keep it quiet from Goring, too."

Griffin ran his hand back through his unbound and uncombed hair. "It's all right for you. I know how much time gets wasted setting these things up. Sod it. And I've got a stack of things I want to get on with."

"Life's hell for the rich," mocked Kilroy affectionately. "Though I hadn't realised how much work would be involved. You've been cloistered with what's-his-name for days."

"You didn't think about it at all," Griffin scoffed. "And some of that toast is mine. Reminds me, I must have a word with Marcus about some refinements to the observatory. It's a pity there's so much light pollution this far south. It ruins the viewing."

"More changes," Kilroy groaned, before he brightened. "It'll screw up your deadline for completing work on the house. You've only got four months left. You'll never make it," he crowed.

"You've been sneaking round there badgering the builders again," recognised Griffin, a resigned note in his voice.

"Me?" Oozing virtue from every pore, Kilroy looked wounded.

"I knew it! I just knew you wouldn't be able to hold out. It was while I was in Paris, I suppose?"

Kilroy gave a guilty nod. "I didn't mean to."

"I bet," snorted Griffin. "Well, now you've had a good look round at what they're doing, what do you think?"

Glimpsing the imperfectly concealed flicker of concern, Kilroy forbore to tease. "That it's going to be fantastic," he said honestly. He sighed when Griffin relaxed. "Look, I'm not totally stuck in the nineteenth century. The house certainly needed some work, I just didn't expect it to be virtually taken apart and rebuilt. I was a bit surprised by some of the refinements I saw on the plans too: the gymnasium, indoor pool and sauna to name but three."

"You needn't use them," said Griffin blandly. "Don't panic, the pool won't bear any resemblance to the public baths."

"That was my last thought. Though while we're on the subject, am I right in thinking there's going to be a floor missing?"

Griffin's expression of angelic vacuity was answer enough.

"I suppose you thought I wouldn't notice," mused Kilroy with gloom, aware that he wouldn't have but for a chance remark from the site foreman.

"Hope sprang eternal. I didn't think we needed all those extra rooms, given how many we'll have anyway. And there were problems with the foundations."

Kilroy's head rose. "What sort of problems?"

"There weren't any," admitted Griffin in the tone of one making a clean breast of things.

There was a small silence.

"I was right all along. They are taking the house apart and rebuilding it."

"They've done that part," offered Griffin.

Kilroy's mouth quivered before a grin escaped him. "You're impossible. And mad. This must be costing you a fortune - and not a small one either. You've got an army working on the place - evenings and weekends as well, which means paying double time."

"Eat your toast," commanded Griffin irritably.

"All right. I won't even say you shouldn't have. But there's no way it's going to be finished by the middle of October. I can see that tattoo now."

"Dream on. Work's ahead of schedule. I'll meet your deadline," said Griffin, with a confidence he was far from feeling after his discussion with the site foreman the previous week. Licking butter from his fingers, he caught sight of the time. "Damn! I meant to make an early start," he exclaimed, getting to his feet.

"But it's the weekend," protested Kilroy.

"Some of us don't work a five-day week. Besides, I've been stuck in town until today and I'll have to come up with you next week for at least two days. I want to make the most of what time I do have. You can come and watch, if the novelty hasn't worn off."

"You know it hasn't. But spring is springing, the birds are tweeting and it's too nice a day to be stuck indoors. It's been a while since you've had much exercise. You don't want to get middle-age spread."

Griffin cast an involuntary look down at himself before giving his grinning companion a cold look. "You wait," he promised.

"Come for a run," wheedled Kilroy. "Or we could hire a couple of hacks. You can put in a few hours at the workshop tonight - there's a match on the box I want to watch."

"Thanks."

"James?"

"Switch off the charm," said Griffin wearily, having made the mistake of looking into coaxing blue eyes. "You know I'm hooked."

"Or I could take us away from it all. Fly us up to Scotland," said Kilroy, as if the idea had only just occurred to him.

Undeceived, Griffin sat down again. "So you could. And I suppose if we were to turn up at the airfield, we might find that a plane just happens to be tanked up and waiting for us - complete with the appropriate flight plan."

"It might be," conceded Kilroy with caution. "You know I need to build up my flying hours if I'm going to get my licence. You can fly us back," he added generously.

"You're all heart. It sounds great," Griffin admitted, conceding defeat with a good grace. "What time's the plane booked for?"

"Nine o'clock," admitted Kilroy, just before he groaned. "Suckered again."

"No, that happened to me when I took up with a devious sod like you. We'd better get a move on then. I'll drive," Griffin added firmly.

oOo

What was supposed to be a peaceful weekend over the second May Bank holiday was disrupted early on Saturday evening, when Kilroy received an urgent call regarding a kidnapping in Spain.

"Political?" asked Griffin as he topped up Kilroy's wallet from his own, while Kilroy checked his emergency bag, which was prepared for times like these.

"I hope not," said Kilroy in heartfelt tones. He packed his inside pocket to make sure he had his passport. "It sounds a right balls up. This could take a while."

"Then don't talk to any strange men, particularly not Basque separatists. I like your body the way it is. More or less."

Inured to such insults, Kilroy just grinned as Griffin escorted him to the car.

"Are you sure you don't want me to drive you to the airport?" Griffin checked.

"Positive. I'm collecting Tony on the way to Heathrow. Sorry about buggering up the weekend."

"Liar," said Griffin amiably. "I take it you've shelved any thoughts of selling your interest in the agency?"

Kilroy's look of surprise spoke volumes. "I'd forgotten about that," he admitted sheepishly.

"Good." Griffin gave him a swift, hard kiss, straightened and stepped back to wave him on his way.

oOo

"Kevin," murmured Griffin, as he strolled into the younger man's office, which looked as if a bomb had hit it, paper covering every surface. "Can you spare me a minute?"

"If I must. What do you want this time?"

"Is that any way to speak to a client?" Griffin chided, making himself comfortable on a chair on the other side of the heaped desk.

"No. I repeat, what do you want?"

"To give you some money."

"That'll be a novelty around here." There was a telling grimness to Kevin's voice, although he had yet to look up from whatever he was reading.

"I thought it might be. I need help to pay a bill and I refuse to deal with Paul Douglas. Kit isn't here."

"Funny that," said Kevin, giving Griffin his full attention.

"You might give me some credit."

"After the way you dropped me in it with Kit last time? Dream on. Right, what's this about? I'm up to my eyes."

"Then I'll keep it brief. The Langlois assignment, I think it was called. I'm here to pay the bill."

"Don't even mention that horror story. It was one of Kit's projects - the biggest loss-maker in the agency's history - and all Kit will say is that is was a personal job. You should have heard the shit hit the fan when some of the partners found out about the costs involved. There were no files, no records, no nothing to explain the level of man hours. Kit being Kit, he'll be paying this one off for the next thirty years. Shit! Forget I told you that," said Kevin, the moment his mouth and brain reconnected.

"It's forgotten."

"If you can shed any light about the case Paul will probably genuflect as you pass. Hang on, how do you know about it?"

"Kit. He was working on my account," said Griffin, flirting with the truth. "I'm here to pay the bill. It should never have been left for so long, of course. Also, my bill for the cost of bodyguarding me after the kidnap."

"No way," said Kevin instantly. "That's on the house. We look after our own." He turned a page and scribbled a note on the margin.

"I'm not your responsibility," pointed out Griffin.

"You are for those purposes. We'd do the same for anyone whose wife went through what you did," added Kevin without thinking.

"Wife?" echoed Griffin, keeping his face straight.

"Oh shit," groaned Kevin, his face scarlet. "You know what I mean."

"No, what did you mean?" said Griffin blandly.

Consternation gave way to chagrin when Kevin looked up again. "You rotten bugger. You've been winding me up."

"And it's been pathetically easy so far. Stop gobbling. It's my fault for interrupting when you're so busy. All I want is for you to tell me the sum involved so I can write a cheque and go and have lunch. I presume there's no point asking you to join me?"

"None," sighed Kevin. "And I'm starving. Hang on. It should only take a couple of minutes to get the info you need. It's strange Kit didn't mention that you'd be settling up."

Griffin shrugged. "He probably forgot in the rush to get off."

"No-one forgets a bill that size," said Kevin with conviction. "If Kit was working for you, tell me when the job started," he challenged.

"September," said Griffin promptly, unable to remember exactly when he had arrived in England.

"Oh. Well, yes," said Kevin weakly. "Sorry. But I thought you might be trying to find a way of bailing Kit out without him knowing."

Griffin gave him a look of dislike. "I knew I should have seen Paul," he sighed. "I am. Does the agency have other loss-makers?"

Kevin snorted. "Does a dog have fleas?" His eyes widened. "No way. Kit will go spare."

"Not if one of the partners can show they went on a debt-collecting spree. Miracles do happen."

"Not of this size. You can't do this behind Kit's back - and you know it." Undeterred by the warning blazing from Griffin's eyes, Kevin stared him down. "Don't you?"

"Oh, for - ! Buggeration, yes, of course I do," said Griffin, goaded. "But someone's got to do something. How bad is the cash flow?"

"Terrible," said Kevin frankly. "The recession's biting, bill's are taking months to be paid and Kit's fighting not to make people redundant. The business rate in this area is crippling and the rent's just gone up by thirty three per cent."

"It's even worse than I thought." Griffin rubbed his nose. "Oh, well, back to the drawing-board. I wouldn't have spoken to anyone else here about this."

"I'm flattered. I think."

"You can be."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence. Here, have some coffee, it shouldn't be too stewed. Oh, there isn't any. Sorry. While your offer's tempting, it won't do. I'm just grateful it was me you came to."

In the act of helping himself to one of Kevin's cigarettes, Griffin paused. "Paul?"

"Who else. While Kit's got a lot of friends, Paul's been.... It'll sort itself out. Given how little that's useful Paul ever does around the place his power base is founded on quicksand. Now, push off so I can get back to work. This fraud case is driving me nuts."

Griffin paused at the door. "I'm considered a dab hand at spotting certain...irregularities. Do you need a hand?"

"Does a stallion need a prick? Of course, what we really need is another financial wizard like Steve. But he can only handle so much and he hasn't got time to help train anyone else. He was wasted on the Fraud Squad." Kevin gave Griffin a speculative look. "Someone with your kind of experience in the business world, in fact. We have too many accountants and not enough ex-businessmen."

"Relax. I'm ahead of you," Griffin assured him as he strolled back into the room. "Though there's no way I'm prepared to take on a full-time job. The odd fraud is another matter," he added, as he took off his jacket and motioned for Kevin to make room for him.

"You still have to sell the idea to Kit," Kevin warned him.

"Now that miracle I can achieve," said Griffin with conviction. "Right, order some sandwiches and fresh coffee before you give me the background..."

oOo

In the three weeks which followed, Kilroy found the time for several calls to Griffin.

"You OK?" he asked, after a ten minute summary of his own doings since they had last spoken to one another. "Only you sound a bit pensive. I know Kevin conned you into helping out with that fraud case. It didn't get too much for you, did it?"

"Give me a break," scoffed Griffin. "In fact I can't remember the last time I enjoyed myself so much. It was as elegant a fraud as I've ever come across. A real work of art."

"You enjoyed it! Well, each to their own." Kilroy's tone was so eloquent that Griffin was willing to swear he knew the expression Kit was wearing. "Steve's always pushing for some expert help. You wouldn't consider doing a bit of work for the agency in those kind of complex cases, would you? When I spoke to Steve the other morning he sounded ready to adopt you if necessary."

"It isn't. Besides, I couldn't stand living with his six kids. But I wouldn't mind helping out again. You can't be lucky enough to get many cases of that kind of complexity."

"I'd love to see you as a partner for the agency," said Kilroy unguardedly.

"A partnership isn't necessary," dismissed Griffin instantly, unable to believe his luck. Seven minutes later he allowed Kilroy to persuade him otherwise and had promised to approach Paul Douglas the following day.

"I knew you'd see sense eventually," said Kilroy, oozing satisfaction that he had got his own way.

"I'd like to see you say that while you were within arm's reach," retorted Griffin, busy with mental calculations.

"I wish. There's no sign of this breaking. You still sound a bit preoccupied. Whitehaven hasn't fallen down, has it?"

"I love the way you assume that would be my first concern. Stop panicking. The last time I looked it was fine. No, it's nothing like that. It's just that I've finally admitted how much I'm missing you," said Griffin with gloom. "At first I thought it was because I didn't see many people at the workshop, but even in London.... It seems so...lonely," he added plaintively.

Kilroy gave an unsympathetic chuckle. "It had to happen one day. Don't take this the wrong way but I can't say I'm sorry. In fact it's great."

"Figures."

"I always told you I was irresistible."

"And now I believe you. I've been back here for two days and I haven't been able to concentrate enough to work on Tom's screen yet."

"Blimey," said Kilroy, impressed.

"That's right, laugh," said Griffin, smiling at his outstretched legs.

"I would, only I'm missing you too. The red-tape this end is driving me crazy. It's nice to have someone who matters at the other end of the phone."

"Yes, it is. Even better if they're closer, of course."

"They'll be asking us to do adverts for BT at this rate."

"What, lots of heavy breathing?"

"D'you want a dirty phone call?"

"I'd settle for you. Here, with me."

"Damn, my pager's going. Hang on." Returning after a couple of minutes, Kilroy said, "This could be the first break in the siege. I must go."

"Fingers crossed that it is. Love you," added Griffin, his breath catching when he realised what he had just said.

"Trust you to wait to say it until I'm stuck in the middle of nowhere," muttered Kilroy peevishly into the silence echoing down the telephone line.

"You might have the decency to sound surprised," complained Griffin.

"It isn't exactly news," pointed out Kilroy, his voice warm and deep. "I've known for ages, just never expected to hear you say it, that's all."

"No, well..."

"Don't worry about it."

"Oddly enough, I'm not. Now I think about it I stopped panicking about the idea months ago. Only I never did, think about it, I mean. It just happened. It isn't like me to be this slow on the uptake, I know," said Griffin, twirling the flex of the telephone wire between his fingers.

"Don't you believe it." The happiness in Kilroy's voice betrayed his true feelings. "I never thought I'd live to hear the day, you're burbling."

"I know," said Griffin ruefully. "I blame it on you."

"That sounds about right. James..."

"You can work on me when you get back home. Take care. You must go."

"I know." But Kilroy still didn't hang up.

"One of us has got to ring off first," pointed out Griffin, smiling indulgently into the middle distance.

"How about doing it on the count of three?"

"Kit... All right," said Griffin a moment later. "One, two, three." Gently replacing the receiver, he stared at it for a moment, then gave it a contented pat. Realising what he had just done, he shook his head at his sentimentality, patted it again and returned to his workshop. Ten minutes later he was hard at work on Tom Culver's screen.

oOo

 

"God, I've missed you," breathed Griffin, when his mouth was his own again. He retained a light clasp of Kilroy's flanks as he stepped back to study his love with a critical eye. "You look disgustingly pleased with yourself."

"Nothing that a few hours in your company won't take care of," Kilroy assured him. "Come back here so I can cop another feel."

"You're so lyrical," breathed Griffin, moving back into Kilroy's embrace with alacrity.

 

"I like this tan-line you've acquired." Griffin traced a portion of it with his finger-tip.

"Make the most of it. It's as much as I can tan."

"So much for my vision of you working until you dropped. You did bloody well to get her out," Griffin added, serious now.

"We did OK. Though a couple of moments gave us some grey hairs. See?"

Griffin sifted through the area in question. "It looks more like a bald spot coming to me."

Kilroy's expression was all he had hoped it would be, resulting in some active moments while Kilroy exact a suitable revenge.

"If you're not too busy I can take three or four days off," said Kilroy, as they settled comfortably on the sofa.

"I'll make sure I'm not." Kilroy's heartbeat echoing in his ear, Griffin moved slightly. "I thought you'd be stuck at the agency, catching up on paperwork for the case."

"I did that this morning. There was a partners meeting over lunch. It lasted longer than anyone expected. Paul's financial review was interesting," added Kilroy.

"That's good," said Griffin, who had been listening to Kit's voice rather than what it was saying.

"Paul certainly thought so." Kilroy ensured he gained Griffin's attention by taking him in an unorthodox hold.

"Careful with those," said Griffin, pensively watching Kilroy's hand, "I may want them later. I was going to tell you. I just didn't want to ruin your homecoming with an argument."

"There isn't going to be an argument," said Kilroy mildly, the backs of his fingers brushing Griffin's pubic hair.

"Good."

"Because I've got your cheque in my pocket."

Griffin covered the hand toying with him, then sighed. "So you'll try to increase your already hefty overdraft at the bank but you won't accept money from your lover."

"The agency is a business. I'm not a charity case. I'll earn any money I get, thank you."

Slowly untangling himself, Griffin left the sofa to pour another glass of wine before padding back to refill Kilroy's glass. "All right," he said in quiet acceptance. He left his glass untouched to go and stand by the window, through which the evening sun was streaming, bathing everything in apricot and gold.

"You must see that I can take your money." Kilroy felt obscurely guilty as he went over to stand beside Griffin.

"I'll have to, won't I," shrugged Griffin, his voice flat, his lush mouth drooping.

"Whitehaven was different. That was just you and me. Besides, you love the place almost as much as I do."

"Given a choice between you and the house, I'd pick you every time. But that isn't the issue. I should have had the guts to come right out and ask you to take the money."

"I would have preferred that," admitted Kilroy, giving Griffin's profile a sharp look. "Why didn't you?"

Griffin shrugged and toyed with the edge of the curtain. "Because I didn't want to hear you turn me down, I suppose."

Kilroy stared at the achingly straight line of his naked back with sudden comprehension. "Tell me on thing," he requested, sliding his arms around Griffin's rib cage in a loose embrace. "If I wasn't involved, would you still want to inject money into the agency?"

"Yes," said Griffin, without hesitation or elaboration.

"That's what I eventually realised." Kilroy nuzzled Griffin's ear. "I have many faults but I'm learning to admit when I've made a total prat of myself - if only to you. If I tear up your first cheque, would you write me another, about five times bigger?"

"Of course. What?" Griffin swung around so fast that Kilroy only just avoided bumping his nose.

"What brought about this change of heart?" demanded Griffin, his eyes narrowing with suspicion.

"My heart's got nothing to do with it. It's Paul's fault that I've been so stroppy about this. He buttonholed me the moment I got back to the office. He was so fucking smug about... Not to mention his merry quips about how I must have earned the money."

"Oh no," said Griffin with foreboding. "When's his funeral?"

"I didn't touch him," said Kilroy indignantly. "Mainly because Malcolm came in," he added, as if needing to explain his aberration.

"It's a wonder you came home at all after that." Griffin sank onto the window seat.

"It would take more than a prat like Paul to keep me away," said Kilroy, kissing him.

Griffin's expression had cleared before that reassurance. "There's an easy solution to the minor irritation of Paul Douglas. Buy him out. He couldn't even spell integrity."

A smile of pure delight crossed Kilroy's face. "Will you give me the money? It could take me a few decades to pay you back."

"Whatever it costs will be cheap at the price. I take it we'll be going to London tomorrow?"

"First thing," said Kilroy, his hand sliding up Griffin's bare forearm.

Interrupted by the ringing telephone, Griffin went to answer it. His tensing body rather than his monosyllabic replies drew Kilroy over to him.

"That was Franklin," said Griffin colourlessly. "The date of the trial of Hawker and Co. has been set down." He walked blindly into the arms waiting to receive him.

oOo

As the date set for the trial drew closer, Griffin's tension became increasingly obvious, although he did his best to disguise it. He hid his anxiety on James' behalf, rearranged his workload to ensure he could remain in London and concentrated on offering unobtrusive support.

oOo

 

The trial seemed to take for ever, the proceedings drawn out because Hawker and Castle had changed their pleas to 'Not Guilty'. In consequence there were three sets of defence lawyers trying to score points on behalf of their respective clients, who were all busy throwing the blame on one another.

With the full resources of the agency behind him, Kilroy ensured that Griffin was not tailed by the press on their journeys to and from the Old Bailey, although it was impossible to protect him from their demands completely.

It was bad enough to know that Griffin was reliving the ugly memories of the kidnap, but as Kilroy had feared, the press gave the case extensive coverage. News was in short supply, even the Royal family failing to provide any new scandal. Kidnapping was still relatively rare in Britain, the kidnapping of a child even rarer. Prevented from naming or discussing Josh, whose age protected him, the press homed in on Griffin with alacrity. Photogenic, spiky-tempered multi-millionaires were a gift from heaven. While the coverage was sympathetic and none of the quotes attributed to a silently-smouldering Griffin were too embarrassing, the pressure on him mounted.

Griffin wasn't helped by the fact the trial was having a disturbing effect on Josh, who was having nightmares again. According to a tense Charlie Cassidy he was wetting the bed and suffering from temper tantrums and fits of crying. He was obviously uncomfortable in Griffin's presence, the trail providing Josh with too graphic evidence of what Griffin had suffered after and because of his escape from the cellar.

Nine days into the trial Kevin called at Kilroy's flat late in the evening.

"It's bad news," he told Griffin baldly.

"Then tell me quickly," Griffin said, bracing himself.

"I've just heard from a journalist friend of mine that The Sun has dredged up your affair with Charlie Cassidy - from reports in the Australian press."

A muscle in Griffin's jaw twitched. "I see. And the murder of my father and the ensuing scandal?"

Kevin gave an unhappy nod.

"It was inevitable, I suppose. Well, that's that then. Thank you for coming to tell me in person," added Griffin, with the unfailing courtesy he had found to date for those guarding him.

"James, if there's anything - " began Kevin awkwardly.

"There isn't," interrupted Kilroy. "Thanks for telling us. I'll see you out."

When Kilroy returned he found Griffin in their bedroom, taking clothes from the wardrobe.

"What are you doing?" asked Kilroy.

"Packing," said Griffin in the same deadened tone.

"Why?" Kilroy projected a calm he was far from feeling. Furious on Griffin's behalf, he was also afraid what this extra pressure might do to them. Griffin's unnatural restrain frightened him because it gave no sign of cracking even when they were alone.

"I won't see you dragged into the dirt with me. You know what the tabloids are like. We've been lucky so far but it won't take them long to discover I'm living here - with you. Then it will get really ugly."

"Let it," shrugged Kilroy with genuine unconcern. "I'm not ashamed of the fact we've lovers. Besides, who's going to tell them? Charlie? Someone from the agency? Your friends?"

"It could happen." The ferocity on Griffin's face gave way to despair as he sank onto the edge of the bed, his shoulders slumped. "I've just thought. I hope this doesn't set Charlie off on another vendetta. She's bound to blame me. I'll have to ring Henri and warn him to keep Josh away from the newspapers - and television news."

"Let me do that."

"No. It's my responsibility. After all, I got Charlie into this mess."

"It's not fair!" burst out Kilroy, his frustration and anger needing some outlet.

His head turning, there was a wry twist to Griffin's mouth. "Life isn't, hadn't you noticed."

By the time he put the telephone down he had aged ten years.

"Charlie wants to wear my balls on a necklace and Henri... Well, you can imagine. I'll move into Brown's for the duration for the trial." Griffin glanced at Kilroy's set face and away again, his own mouth tightening in case he betrayed himself.

"The fuck you will," growled Kilroy, before he visibly forced himself to regain control of his temper. "I know I can't be of any real use to you but there's no need for you to go through this alone. At least if I'm around you've got someone of your own you can let off steam too. Don't leave me. Please. I need you."

"You need me?" His hands shaking, Griffin framed Kilroy's face, unable to say more.

But he made no further mention of leaving then, or later, paying Kilroy the ultimate compliment of believing him.

oOo

 

"What do you want all the newspapers for?" Kilroy stared at the pile which had started to be delivered to the flat every morning. Had he been so inclined, he could have collected an impressive set of cuttings about Griffin.

"Given the speculation there's already been about my involvement in my father's business dealings, it can only be a matter of time before someone, somewhere wonders aloud if I set up the kidnap," said Griffin, finally voicing the fear which had been haunting him since the British press had homed in one him.

It was a moment before Kilroy could speak, that a possibility which he had never considered. "Then we sue the fuckers for every penny they've got. Besides, they risk being in contempt of court as well as libellous."

"They've already been libellous," Griffin pointed out in a clipped tone. He had refrained from taking legal action only because of Kit. By some miracle the press had failed to spot that they were a couple and while Griffin didn't expect their luck to hold he wanted to protect Kilroy while he could.

About to reply, Kilroy gave the ringing telephone a look of impatience before snatching up the receiver. By the time he replaced it he was smiling.

"That was Tom Culver, inviting us up to Derbyshire for the weekend to get away from it all. That's the third invitation you've had today. Your friends believe in you. What does the rest matter?" He gestured to the newspapers.

Griffin gave no sign that he had heard as he stubbed out his cigarette. "I promise you I didn't arrange to kidnap myself - or Josh," he said, staring at his tightly clenched hands, as if afraid what he might see on Kilroy's face.

Appalled, Kilroy crouched beside him, only now realising what had been worrying Griffin to the point where he was close to defeat. That he should be the cause, rather than the gruelling hours of cross-examination by three sets of counsel gutted him.

"I never believed you had. Never," he repeated fiercely. "If it hadn't been for the fact I felt so guilty about the way I tricked you I would have been clear-headed enough to throw away that tape Charlie sent me. I never apologised properly once we got back together because I didn't want to remind myself - let alone you - of how close I came to raping you. I trust you implicitely. You aren't the one who's on trial here," Kilroy reminded him huskily. He took Griffin's cold hands in his own, nuzzling the knuckles.

Griffin slowly exhaled. "No," he said, his eyes closing as heat prickled his eyelids. "Sorry. I just..." He was breathing as if he had been running and it took a few moments before he regained control enough to look at Kilroy. "Can we get out of London this weekend? Without being noticed?"

Aware that the only fresh air Griffin had been enjoying was that inhaled as he moved from the car outside the Old Bailey, Kilroy nodded. "Of course. In fact I bought you a disguise for that very purpose."

"What?"

"Here." Kilroy reached down the side of the sofa and tossed over his purchase.

Griffin stared into the bag. By the time he had examined all the contents he was smiling for the first time in two weeks.

"I'm not wearing that Groucho Marx outfit," he said at last, before he began to chuckle. "Thanks. I needed that. It was all getting a bit much for me. You too," he realised as he noticed details about Kit which had escaped him over recent weeks.

"We'll survive. Especially now you've started to talk to me again. I know you're used to going it alone but try not to close me out completely."

Griffin briefly touched Kilroy's cheek. "Old habits obviously die hard. It's the only way I can cope with these vultures. But from now on I'll be charm itself to the press."

"There's no need to go that far."

"I meant I won't actually deck the next reporter who shoves a microphone in my face. You'd think they'd have something better to do - like reporting real news." Griffin wrinkled his nose. "Who am I kidding? That would be too much like hard work. Still, there's no point getting bitter and twisted about the inevitable. You're right. The only way through this is to try and ignore them. Besides, I'm damned if I'll let them force me into hiding. Forget Derbyshire, though remind me to ring Tom. You look exhausted. Let's go home. It's time you put in some more flying hours and I'd like to check on the builders," added Griffin, in something approaching his usual manner.

"And the press? What if they track you down there?" asked Kilroy, still recovering from the discovery of how much weight James placed on his good opinion.

Griffin shrugged. "Fuck 'em," he said, in a passable imitation of Kilroy.

oOo

Nine pounds lighter than he had been at the beginning of the trial, Griffin listened impassively as the verdicts were handed down. His unforgiving gaze travelled over each of three defendants until they were taken down.

It was over.

The realisation was slow to sink in as he made his way from the courtroom, automatically making the correct responses to those who expected some comment or reaction. Only with Annie did his mask slip for a moment because he knew how much worse the trial had been for her.

"Don't worry about Annie, I'm looking after her," said John gruffly, one of Annie's hands lost in his. "I'll be taking a few more days off, if that's OK?"

"You're your own boss. Help yourself to anything you need."

John gave him a sharp, all-encompassing look. "Won't you be in your workshop?"

"I don't know. I doubt it. I'll give you a call when all this madness has died down. Take care." He gave Annie a light kiss on the cheek and headed for the side door.

Having had plenty of practice, he walked through the jostling press contingent as if they weren't there. He was beyond noticing that he was flanked by Andy and Clive, with Kilroy guarding his back as he slipped into the waiting limousine, whose darkened windows provided a modicum of privacy as they left the photographers behind.

With Kevin driving and Andy and Clive tailing them in a second car, Kilroy sat at Griffin's side as the car eased into the stream of traffic, leaving the Old Bailey behind them.

"I know it's a bit late in the day," he said quietly, "but the press have just got wind of a new story. A Cabinet Minister and a soft porn star. It's over, sweetheart."

"I wonder if Josh thinks so," said Griffin, staring at the stump of his little finger, which provided a constant reminder of what had happened. "If the trial wasn't bad enough, inevitably he heard some of the innuendo and gossip and Charlie and me. He was afraid I might be his father," he added, willing his hands to stop shaking.

"Afraid? He thinks the world of you," scoffed Kilroy, his anxiety hidden behind his bracing tone.

"That was just hero-worship based on very shaky ground. It won't be a problem any more. He adored Sam. I think I managed to reassure him about his parentage," Griffin added in the same deadened tone. Pain bled from his eyes, which looked over-large in his drawn face, sleepless nights having taken their toll.

"When did you speak to Josh?" asked Kilroy, frowning. His faith in Charlie Cassidy's mental stability less than total, he had been trying to monitor all telephone calls to the flat.

"He rang me three days ago. While you were in the shower. There was no point telling you," said Griffin, as if Kilroy had spoken. "There was nothing you could do. You've done more than enough already."

"Did you tell Charlie about it?" asked Kilroy, treading carefully.

"Of course. Henri, too."

"What did she say?"

"What you would expect. No, that isn't fair. She absolved me of all blame - which is equally unrealistic. I haven't done her any favours. But I wish Josh hadn't had to go through all this."

They sat in silence as the car crept along, pedestrians casting curious glances at the luxurious car with its darkened windows.

"Where are we going?" asked Griffin, after a while. There was little real interest in his voice.

"Home to Whitehaven. For some peace and quiet. Pneumatic drills and cement mixers excepted, of course," said Kilroy with heavy-handed humour. He ached for Griffin, knowing his very real affection for Josh. There was a limit to how much pain one man could be expected to bear; as it was James relieved the kidnap every night, spending more time awake than resting. Some of the stories in the papers had hurt him badly, for all that he had tried to shrug them off. While the laws of libel made the tabloids cautious where Griffin was concerned, they'd had a field day with Marius Melville: the law said the dead couldn't be libelled.

Griffin stared at the man who had been his lifeline for the last twenty seven days, his brittle calm beginning to splinter. "I'm sorry. I didn't want to put you through this kind of media circus. I..." His voice breaking, he couldn't go on, appalled to realised he was crying.

Kilroy wrapped his arms around him and held on tight, willing Griffin to stop believing he wasn't entitled to betray any weakness. He continued to murmur soft love words into Griffin's ear as he felt some of the terrible tension ebb away, knowing how exhausted he must be. Night after night he had woken to find the other side of the bed empty and found Griffin in the sitting-room, the air grey with cigarette smoke as he stood staring blankly out the window.

"Shit, this is all you need," muttered Griffin, when he had regained a semblance of control.

"Don't be daft," whispered Kilroy, his own voice less than steady.

Alerted, Griffin forgot to be self-conscious. Self-contempt thawed to acceptance the moment he saw Kilroy's face. He carefully nudged away a trace of moisture from beneath Kilroy's eye with his knuckle, then shook his head and gave a faint smile.

"A fine pair we make," he mocked gently. "All right?"

"I am now," said Kilroy with more certainty.

"Why are you looking at me like that?" Griffin fidgeted uncomfortably.

Touched by how easily he could disconcert James, Kilroy gave him a reassuring pat. "Don't panic, I'll save the eulogy for later. I know now probably isn't the time to mention this, but I've just realised - today is the anniversary of the day we met."

It took a moment for the sense of what he was being told to sink in. "Yes? Well, look at it this way, it can only get better. It's really been a year?"

Kilroy nodded.

"Time flies when you're having fun."

Griffin eased from Kilroy's embrace and leant forward to help himself to a glass of mineral water from the bar, drinking thirstily. He held the crystal tumbler to his forehead for a moment, before replacing it in the highly polished walnut cabinet and sat back.

"A decent night's sleep and the promise that I won't feature in the papers in the foreseeable future and my personality will undergo a radical change for the better," he said. "I might even start to make more sense."

"You're doing fine. There hasn't been time to say this before, but I'm so bloody proud of you. And I'm not the only one who's been impressed by the way you handled this nightmare. You heard what the judge said." Kilroy knew now wasn't the time to tell Griffin of the public support he had been receiving, or his new status as a 'personality'.

"Don't be ridiculous," snapped Griffin, sounding irritable because he was obviously embarrassed. He blew his nose, drank some more water and lit a cigarette. He caught Kilroy's eye and sighed. "I'll kick the habit again, I promise. But not today."

"Fair enough," said Kilroy equably. He switched up the air-conditioning.

"Subtlety has never been your strong point." Griffin stubbed out his cigarette and glanced out the window, only then seeming to become aware of their slow progress.

"Our anniversary," he mused, taking hold of Kilroy's hand. "I wouldn't have given you good odds of this a year ago. Equally, I wouldn't change anything that's happened, even if I could."

Kilroy stared at him. "Why not?" he croaked, certain he must be missing something.

"Because you and I might not be sitting here wondering how to celebrate," said Griffin, as if the answer should have been obvious.

The expression on his face was impossible to resist. Kilroy didn't even try. He kissed Griffin gently, then with increasing hunger, his ravaging mouth fiercely demanding by the time Griffin drew back a little, his hands soothing rather than arousing, his love-swollen mouth remaining closed.

"Gently. It's all right. Save it for later. When we're private. We're in grave danger of corrupting a minor," he murmured, directing Kilroy's attention to the front of the limousine.

Kilroy gave the back of Kevin's head a horrified glance, having forgotten his existence and primly shot a good foot away from Griffin, who lost any appearance of sobriety.

"Sorry, Kevin," Griffin said at last. "I hope we didn't embarrass you." He watched with interest as the back of Kevin's neck turned red before Kevin abandoned his pretence of nonchalance, grinned into the driving mirror and gave him a discreet V-sign.

"I saw that," said Kilroy.

"I think it was intended for both of us," said Griffin, his mouth quirking again. He glanced outside again. "I've had enough of this snail's pace. The traffic's terrible. We're only about half a mile from court. Have you got any money on you?"

"Of course." Kilroy looked surprised.

"Then let's get out and find somewhere that's still serving lunch. I'm starving. Then we'll pick up my car and I'll drive us home. Kevin has better things to do with his weekend than try to pretend he's not listening to us."

"Too bloody right," said Kevin from the driver's seat. "Alternatively, why don't you take this and I'll walk?"

Griffin leant forward. "I might be under par but I'm not that far gone. You got into this traffic jam, you can get out of it. We'll let ourselves out. Thanks for everything you've done, I appreciate it," he added in a different tone, just before he slipped out of the stationary car.

"Happy anniversary," Kevin said to Kilroy. "He's back to himself and no mistake. It's looks like you're going to have your hands full."

"I certainly hope so," said Kilroy, without thinking.

"Mr Discretion," said Griffin, his face alive in a way it hadn't been for almost two months. "Come on, Trouble, before you put your foot any farther down your throat. Don't panic, Kevin, I'll keep him under control." Oblivious to the attention he and Kilroy were attracting from passers-by and drivers who, with nothing but pedestrians to look at, had obliviously recognised him, Griffin waved Kevin off and turned to Kilroy.

"Do you think anyone would mind if we held hands down Fleet Street?"

"There's only one way to find out," said Kilroy cheerfully, his fingers twining around Griffin's.

Hand in hand, they headed down Fleet Street.

oOo

Waking to a familiar buzzing sound which betrayed Griffin's presence downstairs in his supposedly soundproofed workshop, Kilroy stretched until his joints cracked, slumped, and smiled up at the sunlit ceiling as he heard the proof that Griffin had finally put the trial behind him. They had both spent the weeks since then catching up on neglected work, and in Griffin's case ignoring offers to appear on various chat shows on television and radio. But he had not looked at his workshop in all that time, a sure sign that all was not well.

Whistling tunelessly as he showered, shaved and dressed, delighted to see that the Indian summer showed every sign of lasting through the weekend, Kilroy made a healthy supply of bacon sandwiches and took the laden plate down to the workshop to see if Griffin was hungry.

"Hello," said Griffin, looking up with an untroubled smile. "I thought you were going to have a lie-in?"

"I thought I had. What time is it?"

"Ten-past-eight. It's probably the unseasonal sunshine that fooled you. Or did this wake you?" He switched off the power. "Those smell fantastic."

"Stop looking so worried, I made plenty," said Kilroy as they made themselves comfortable on the sofa, companionably sharing the sandwiches and coffee he had made. "It was a pleasure to hear you at work again. Have the dreams stopped?" he asked matter-of-factly.

"Seems like it. It's probably thanks to your unorthodox form of bedtime stories," said Griffin, saluting him with his mug of coffee. "What do you want to do today?"

"As the weather's so good, I thought I'd work in the garden next door. We'll need a decent-sized bonfire for the Hallowe'en party, and there's certainly plenty of material for it."

"How many are coming?" asked Griffin.

Kilroy gave an inaudible mumble.

"How many?"

"About a hundred and fifty or so."

"What?" Griffin choked on a crumb of bread. "I don't know that many people."

"You'd be surprised."

"I'll probably be appalled," said Griffin with spurious gloom.

"I'm glad Josh wants to come."

"With Charlie and Henri," Griffin reminded him.

"We'll survive," said Kilroy comfortably.

"Yes, I expect we will. "You realise the house is going to be overrun with kids if everyone turns up with their little darlings."

"Whose idea was it?" demanded Kilroy with spirit.

"It must have been yours, I'm not that soft in the head."

"Thanks a lot. Anyway, I'm going to be mucking around in the garden today. What about you?"

"I'll give you a hand," said Griffin easily.

Kilroy gave him a look of surprise. "But what about your work?" He gestured vaguely.

"It'll keep. There are more important things. That outfit suits you, you should wear olive green more often. Though there was no need to wear your best clothes on my account."

Everything he wore faded, torn, stained or all three, Kilroy gave an untroubled grin as he eyed his elegant silk and linen-clad companion, the lines of Griffin's designer cream slacks doing wondrous things for already promising material.

"I like that shirt. That shade of raspberry reminds me of a lolly I used to suck when I was a kid. You'd better change if you're coming out with me. You'll be getting more than your hands dirty," he warned.

"Get out of here. Five minutes," promised Griffin, finishing his coffee.

To Kilroy's surprise, he was as good as his word.

"Wasn't your work going well?" he enquired, as they walked next door. He gave a yelp of dismay as Griffin leapt into the attack, tickling him without mercy.

"Pax!" gasped Kilroy. "It's too hot."

"Pleasantly warm," sniffed Griffin disparagingly, but the fact he wore only jeans and a sleeveless tee shirt spoke for itself.

To Kilroy's relief, his much neglected garden showed no signs of damage by the builders.

"You must have put the fear of god into them," he said, as they struggled with a rotting tree stump.

"There was no deity involved, just me," grunted Griffin, the muscles in his shoulders and back cording, the firm, hard contours of his rump beautifully defined as he braced himself.

Distracted by the view, Kilroy tripped over a tuft of grass. He quickly picked himself up in the hope Griffin hadn't noticed his lapse.

"Teach you not to keep your mind on the job," Griffin remarked, just as Kilroy was congratulating himself on having got away with it. "Let's have that crowbar again," he added, renewing his attack on the stubbornly rooted stump.

"I should have thought of working off my frustration out here," Griffin said, two hours later as he collapsed onto the grass with a sigh of relief. "Either it's old age, or I'm out of condition. God, it's hot."

"I don't believe you just said that."

Giving him the finger, Griffin opened one of the cans of lager he'd been to collect from the fridge, spraying them both with cold liquid. "Still, at least we can see something for our efforts. Although I wish you weren't such a devotee of the purity of labour."

"You don't have to help," Kilroy pointed out mildly, eyeing him with appreciation.

Gleaming with sweat, Griffin wore only a pair of 501s and a suntan, having discarded his sweaty tee shirt over an hour ago. Streaked with dirt, moss and crumbling bark, his hair an exuberant tangle where it had become unfastened, his disreputable look was accentuated by the fact he hadn't shaved that morning. Only his watch and the diamond stud glittering in his ear lobe betrayed him.

"I don't mind a certain amount of rustic charm, it's the hard labour that's killing me," mumbled Griffin, his voice muffled because he was sucking a blister on the heel of his right hand.

"Let me see that. You've done enough. You need to look after those," Kilroy said.

"What?"

"You're a craftsman. You can't afford to injure your hands."

Realising Kilroy was serious, Griffin set a cold can of lager on the patch of bare stomach visible where Kilroy's tee shirt had ridden up. "You've been listening to Piers again, and he spouts more bullshit in five minutes than you usually manage in a month. Drink that and we'll get back to work."

"But what about your opening next month?"asked Kilroy, with a hint of worry.

"That sounds obscene," protested Griffin, laughing. "I thought I'd told you, I've cancelled it. That's why the answering machine isn't cluttered with the usual messages from Piers. He's too busy sulking."

Cancelled it! Why? I know the trial and everything put you behind, but you already had some small pieces finished and - " A grimy hand cut off whatever Kilroy had been about to say next.

"I should never have let him talk me into it in the first place. The idea was ridiculous. None of the furniture is for sale anyway, and the last thing I want is any more publicity."

Kilroy placed a hand on Griffin's shoulder, rubbing it gently. "Those fucking tabloids."

Turning his head, Griffin kissed the corner of Kilroy's mouth. "Don't go into protective mode again. I'm fine now. Or I would be if total strangers didn't write in asking for signed photos," he complained, remembering a source of grievance to him and great amusement to everyone Kilroy gleefully told about it. "But I'm not prepared to open a shop. Not yet anyway. Maybe in a few years, when I've had a chance to get together a decent collection of stuff we don't want. Could you face having the builders next door for a while?"

"I suppose so. But why? The house now boasts every mod.con I can think of and a few which never occurred to me."

"For workshops. While John and I get on fine in mine, he'll want his own eventually. And there are plenty of others who need help in getting started. I'm going to set up a co-operative. It seems I have an aptitude for teaching, and I enjoy it, so - "

"I bet Piers just loved that idea," said Kilroy dryly.

"Not noticeably, though he cheered up when I pointed out that one of my young hopefuls could earn him a fortune. Besides, there's no way I can off-load any more business commitments and they take up a good week a month. And you can stop grinning," Griffin warned him, without heat. "If you haven't learnt how I feel about people who say 'I told you so' yet..."

"Consider me duly cowed," said Kilroy lazily. "But will that leave you with enough time for your own work? Making stuff for the house has taken up most of your summer, even with John's help but you don't need to do any more."

"I do unless you want us to echo around the place - and I'm vain enough to think my stuff is best."

"Except for the odd antique," interjected Kilroy dryly.

"Give the record a rest. We've had that discussion and it was no fun the first time. In case you hadn't noticed, I'm enjoying myself." Taking a swig of lager, Griffin turned, needing to see Kilroy's face. "Thanks for keeping me sane during the trial. I don't think I would have made it without you keeping me on an even keel."

"Yes, you would," said Kilroy confidently.

"Perhaps, but I'm glad I didn't have to try," said Griffin simply, before he added plaintively: "And the sunlight clasps the earth/And the moonbeams kiss the sea:/What are all these kissings worth/If thou kiss not me?"

"All you had to do was hint," said Kilroy, before he obliged.

Griffin's mouth was cool from the lager. Some trickled from the can Kilroy still held into Griffin's lap, abruptly ending a tender moment.

Once over the first shock, Griffin subsided onto the grass with a sigh of contentment, if a damp groin. "I'll give you the benefit of the doubt. This time. I'm glad you persuaded me to leave the grounds alone, even if it is going to take us years to clear out all the junk. That pram we found must have been a good fifty years old."

Kilroy batted away the odd leaf with drifted down, the heat making it difficult to remember it was almost the end of October. "I'm just glad we've finally seen the back of all the workmen."

"That's right, rub it in," said Griffin serenely.

"It's a shame you couldn't meet their deadline. And you were so close, too," cooed Kilroy, all spurious sympathy.

Griffin ignored the provocation.

"I can see the tattoo now." Kilroy tweaked the waistband of Griffin's jeans, before unfastening the top button. "As we've finally got the place to ourselves, get these off. I need to decide exactly where the tattoo should go."

Griffin's head rose. "You're in a very masterful mood."

"Please," coaxed Kilroy, sliding a finger under the denim to rub Griffin's belly with the back of his index finger. "Besides, you missed the deadline by twelve days, and a bet's a bet - to a man of honour."

"I have none," said Griffin promptly, his stomach muscles beginning to twitch as Kilroy slipped another finger under his waistband.

"Then take them off anyway."

"Give me one good reason why I should," said Griffin lazily.

"Because I'd enjoy the view, and it's warm enough for you to consider humouring me."

"That's it, is it? All right."

Rising in one smoothly coordinated movement, which gave the lie to his complaints about being unfit, Griffin slipped the buttons open, eased out of his jeans and hung them over the branch of a nearby tree before slinging his boxer shorts after them. Totally at ease, he caught back his hair, refastening it in a ponytail with a silk handkerchief as he strolled back to Kilroy. His tan a deep, glorious nut-brown, only a little paler over his groin and buttocks, the sun highlighted the auburn and grey hairs at his groin, hazing the softer nimbus of hair on chest, legs and arms.

"Satisfied?" he asked, in a tone which indicated Kilroy had better be, before he stretched out on the grass again, pillowing his face on his folded arms.

"Oh, yes," whispered Kilroy, having made the request without any expectation that it would be met.

Kneeling beside the sprawled figure, he traced the passage of muscle and sinew over Griffin's shoulders. "I wish I could tan as easily as you." His hands slid down Griffin's sides, skimming the press of ribs, until his thumbs were massaging from the sun-dusted down in the hollow of Griffin's back to the resilient flesh of the small buttocks. "Are you still awake?"

"Just about. Don't stop. I'm glad you don't. Tan much, that is. I like you the colour you are. Besides, think what a contrast we make when we're fucking," added Griffin, turning his face in Kilroy's direction.

"That's a coarse way of putting it," chided Kilroy as he nuzzled a hollowed flank. "But keep that thought. We'll save it for later - have a private house-warming party. I'd like another look around. There was too much to take in yesterday."

"Mmn. Revelling in the heat of the sun and the fingers delicately exploring his rump, Griffin farther parted his legs and gave an encouraging wriggle before he tucked his knees up under him. "Why wait? I'm yours for the taking, and I seem to have been doing all the work recently."

Kilroy's shuddering sigh rippled through both of them as he eased Griffin onto his side. "I know, and it will be my pleasure. But we'll wait until we're indoors. We don't have anything to use." Sliding a leaf free where it had become caught in Griffin's hair, he stroked the nape of his neck. "I never dreamt I'd see you naked and uncomplaining in my garden."

Griffin gave a voluptuous stretch. "Make the most of it. I don't suppose it will happen often. And certainly not this side of Christmas. I'd forgotten England occasionally gets some decent weather. It's been a good summer."

Kilroy blinked. "Leaving aside the trial, it's hardly stopped raining."

"I was thinking of us."

"Oh. Well, in that case, you have a point."

Unhurried, Kilroy's mouth travelled over him, sampling the salty flesh just for the pleasure of it, rather than as a prelude to love. Griffin's altered breathing and his own body told him when it was time to stop.

"Lucky you moved, I think I'm lying on a twig," announced Griffin, as he sat up to investigate. "Told you," he added, flicking the small offender in Kilroy's direction. His gaze settled on Kilroy's groin with obvious enjoyment. "Shall we go indoors for a well-lubricated joining of our two hearts?"

"Eh?"

"A fuck," sighed Griffin, despairing of his dense other half.

"Why didn't you say so. We may as well," added Kilroy, in the casual tone of one who had nothing better to do.

Pausing so Griffin could put back on his clothes, because the prolific nettles were too tall to risk bare flesh, Kilroy propped himself against a tree trunk to enjoy the sight of Griffin's struggles to accommodate his tumescence within his jeans. A sigh escaped him as the soft denim caressed his half-erect flesh.

"Thanks for your help," he said dryly, taking Kilroy's hand in his own.

"Think nothing of it."

"That won't be difficult."

In no hurry, they strolled back in the direction of the house, which was still out of sight, stopping to kiss as they moved from sun to shadow and back again.

"I love this place," said Griffin, flicking away an oak leaf drifting past his nose, before he looked up to watch a squirrel on the branch above them.

"I know. And you've done it proud. The house looks fantastic. Even better than I expected - during my long wait."

His arm around Kilroy's waist, a hand on his flank, Griffin gave him a weary look. "Stop gloating, it's not becoming. I haven't forgotten the terms of the bet. When are you going to insist on my doing the dirty deed?"

"There's no rush. I trust you not to leave the country - or that when you do, you'll come back. I can wait. It will give me something to look forward to," added Kilroy with glee.

Griffin gave him an indulgent look. "You're basically a rotten person, you know that."

Kilroy nodded happily and began to speculate aloud what script he would choose for the tattoo.

oOo

 

Nine days later they moved back into Whitehaven, Kilroy happily commuting to London each day. His pleasure in the house was unfeigned and constant, the comfort and understated luxury something he had yet to take for granted. The high quality of the workmanship was apparent everywhere, visible in everything from door handles and light switches to the main staircase, which was a monument to the extensive work Griffin had undertaken, the old staircase having proved too rotten to salvage.

"I still don't know how you did this," Kilroy murmured, caressing the curved banister as they went upstairs.

"Slowly, and with a lot of bad language. I was learning as I worked. I would never have managed without John and those friends of his. I'm hopeless at working from scaled plans."

"You'd never know it."

Griffin smiled and forebore to point out that if Kilroy wouldn't, there were plenty of others who would. "Some of the carving isn't bad," he allowed. "'Night."

"'Night," echoed Kilroy absently, as he went into his own suite, having recovered from his initial shock at discovering Griffin had a separate suite.

 

"I wonder what Great-Uncle Percy would make of the house now," mused Kilroy, as he wandered, without knocking, into Griffin's room forty minutes later, his hair still damp from the shower.

"I think we'd have to start hoarding newspapers to gain his full approval." Griffin emerged from his dressing-room in time to see Kilroy slide into his bed. He viewed the sight with resignation. It never seemed to dawn on Kit that his presence might not be welcome and he hadn't felt able to mention the fact during the months they had been living together.

Kilroy punched up the pillows until he was completely comfortable and happily watched Griffin drift around the room as he readied himself for self. His final act was to silence the Bach concerto playing on the CD, before he got into bed bedside Kilroy.

"Hello," said Kilroy brightly.

"In case it escaped your notice, we only parted company an hour ago." Griffin gave the window Kilroy had opened a sour look and snuggled deeper under the covers.

"I know, still... This is nice, isn't it. I love being cosy in bed while it's blowing a gale and pissing with rain outside. Though I can't break myself of the habit of worrying about the roof."

"Stuggle," Griffin advised him, switching off the lights. "Do you think you could give me more room?" he added, a short time later. "This bed's big enough for four."

Kilroy obediently shifted all of six inches. "Sorry. It's just that I like sleeping next to you."

The one drawback to life with Kilroy was his dedication to the concept of togetherness, which Griffin sometimes found stifling. He gave a resigned smile as he remembered his naivety in assuming it would get easier when they had their own bedrooms. All that happened was that Kit followed him from bed to bed, wearing the martyred expression of one humouring an eccentric.

"No," Griffin marvelled. As he had expected, his sarcasm was wasted.

"You'd miss me if I wasn't here," said Kilroy flippantly.

Arrested, Griffin turned to look at him.

"What?" said Kilroy defensively, beginning to fidget.

"You're right. I would," Griffin admitted ruefully.

"Well, that's all right then." Kilroy edged closer, presumably on the grounds Griffin wouldn't notice.

When he was sure Kilroy was asleep Griffin slid out from under the arm banding him, then from the bed. He pulled on a robe and went into Kilroy's room. Experience had taught him that Kilroy rarely woke in the night, unless worried about something.

To Griffin's intense disgust sleep came no faster now he had achieved solitary splendour. Kilroy's room had an unlived- air to it, due to the fact Kilroy only used the bathroom and dressing-room. The bed seemed far larger than the one he had abandoned. Cold. And lonely.

Ridiculous, he told himself irritably, before he began to count sheep.

Several flocks and an hour and a half later, Griffin muttered his defeat and returned to his own room. He edged closer to Kilroy's relaxed figure with a soft sigh of satisfaction.

While he had not intended to betray his wakeful state, Kilroy smiled out into the darkness, then drew the hand which had settled on his flank farther over his body.

"First tame your griffin," he murmured with sleepy contentment.

"I heard that."

"Heard what?" Kilroy made the mistake of asking.

Chapter Text

The sound of a ballsy roar made Griffin look out the window of his workshop in time to see a Harley Davidson sweep up outside. The rider took off his helmet and Griffin did a double take when he saw the rider was Kilroy. He relaxed his grip on the telephone receiver and got rid of his agent by the simple expedient of agreeing to everyting Piers suggested. Griffin switched off the speaker on the telephone, opened the door for Kilroy and led him into the workshop, glad John had left early.

"What's up?" asked Kilroy, setting down his helmet.

"Several things, including my blood pressure. Just let me look at you for a minute."

Dressed in black biking leathers, boots and gauntlets, Kilroy stared at him as if he had gone mad. Do you have any idea how hot this outfit is, given the heating in here?" he asked patiently.

"Not until you hum a few bars."

"Eh? Have you been drinking?"

"That's my Kit. Thick as a brick. You're the embodiment of several dark fantasies of mine looking like this. I'm going to buy you some leather trousers," said Griffin with dreamy conviction.

"There's this shop in Milan... The leather's soft and supple as a second skin and wicked as sin. They'll cup your - "

"Save your money. They make me sweat."

Griffin gave him an interested look. "You've worn them before, have you."

Kilroy gave a self-conscious twitch and took off his gauntlets.

"Never mind, you can tell me about your misspent youth later."

"Don't hold your breath. Can I take this off now, only I'm boiling?" said Kilroy, one hand at the zip of his jacket.

"Not yet."

Preoccupied with thoughts of a shower and drink, Kilroy blinked. "Why not?"

He found himself being backed into the high-backed chair Griffin had made all those years ago. He swallowed whatever he had been about to say when Griffin dropped a cushion onto the floor at his feet and sank to his knees.

"What are you doing?" croaked Kilroy.

Griffin deftly unzipped him before looking up. "Beautiful, butch but unfortunately bloody thick," he murmured, before he bent to his self-imposed task.

Kilroy's hands tighted over the carved arm-rest, his mouth parting as he gave himself up to Griffin's care.

 

 

Hotter than ever, Kilroy was sprawled in the chair, studying the discarded clothing around his feet before he took a reviving swig of ice-cold Heineken. "Remind me never to wear black leather around you again. I've probably sweated off pounds inside this." He gestured to the open jacket, which was all he now wore, and that only because Griffin had looked so tragic when he had tried to take it off.

"I don't deserve you," murmured Griffin, rubbing his cheek against Kilroy's now bare knee, as if marking him with his scent.

"I've always wanted to be someone's bit of rough," admitted Kilroy, who was so smug he was almost purring by this time.

"Then I've just done you a favour. I didn't know you were into bikes."

"I'm not. Not really. But Chas, who was supposed to be handling the case, had a family crisis, so I took over. No-one else who was free has had any experience on a bike like this. The Harley is his."

"So it might be. Don't try and kid me you haven't had the time of your life."

"Not the least of which was my welcome home. Guilty as charged. There's a lot to be said for feeling all that power throbbing between your thighs."

Griffin sat up, all large, speculative eyes.

Kilroy shivered when Griffin delicated tongued his way up the inside of his left thigh, the brush of his hair an added torment. "Not again," he groaned pathetically. "I couldn't. I'm already a husk of my former self."

Griffin took his usual amount of notice and kept on going.

 

 

"This is the same man who lectured me about over-indulgence, isn't it?" said Kilroy. He looked as limp as his discarded leathers as he stroked Griffin's bare back.

Griffin stirred with reluctance and climbed off Kilroy onto unsteady legs. He used Kilroy's teeshirt to mop himself dry. "There's nothing wrong with a little spontaneity. Though it's lucky I made a thorough job of constructing that chair. Your complaint might be more convincing if you didn't look so pleased with yourself."

"That's right, kick a man when he's down." Getting to his feet and rubbing his thighs and backside, Kilroy straightened in a hurry. "Bloody hell! Anyone coming down the drive would have had a perfect view of us," he realised.

"Not if you remembered to close the electronic gates."

"Ah, panic over. I hope you're planning to feed me?"

"As soon as I'm dressed," Griffin promised vaguely, wearing only his shirt as he looked around.

"What have you lost?"

"Underwear, one shoe and my trousers. They can't have gone far."

Kilroy glanced up and subdued a grin. "Got a step ladder?" he asked.

 

 

"I thought you were going to work this weekend," remembered Griffin, as they finished their meal.

"So did I. But I caught the bloke red-handed as he handed over the report. One satisfied client - who settled his account on the spot, incidentally. So I'm free. Shall we celebrate in London tomorrow night?"

"Anything you say," said Griffin, with the languour of the only half-awake and thoroughly fucked.

"I knew I'd get you trained one day."

"Come closer and say that," invited Griffin, with his most untrustworthy smile.

"Pass."
oOo

Inevitably it was raining again when they left the restaurant on Saturday night.

"At least we've dried out from when we went in,' said Kilroy philosophically.

Aware of Kilroy's poorly concealed anticipation, Griffon wondered when he was going to be let in on the secret. He was comfortably certain that he would be at some point, if not necessarily the moment he would have preferred.

'Which car park did I use?" he asked, turning up the collar of the calf-length coat he wore.

"The NCP multi-storey. This way."

"Ah, the scenic route," noted Griffin, as they walked through the fringes of Soho. This close to midnight the back streets were virtually empty, the clubs they housed full because the heavy rain had driven people into shelter.

"Want to go in?" asked Kilroy, as they passed another flashing neon sign. A bored brunette propped in the doorway mumbled an invitation around the gum she was chewing; her goose-flesh was the same shade of lilac as the satin bustier she was falling out of.

"I'm tempted to say yes just for the pleasure of seeing your expression. But it's not worth it. Shall we see if we can book a couple of hacks tomorrow?"

"Hang about! Look, there's a sign for a tattoo parlour."

"So there is. Come on, I'm soaked. Oh, no," said Griffin in a different tone, backing away as Kilroy turned to him. "You've had almost three months. Why now, here?"

"Because," said Kilroy, advancing on him, "a bet's a bet."

"I know it is," admitted Griffin unhappily, "and I do owe you. Only...Soho? I might catch something."

"Me, if you play your cards right," said Kilroy, stalking him until he cornered Griffin in the doorway of a shabby newagent's. Standing close, his flat-palmed hands on the glass on either side of Griffin's head, he leant forward until their breath mingled. "Please," he coaxed in a velvety whisper. "For me. Call it an early Christmas present."

"I've already bought yours. I thought you'd found a tattoo parlour in Wandsworth?" said Griffin, who had been avoiding the area.

"This one's even better."

"That's like saying death by drowning is preferable to death by electrocution. The operative word is death. Why do you want a tattoo? Mark of possession?"

Kilroy brushed a bead of rain from Griffin's cheek with the side of his thumb. "In part. Badge of honour, too." He rubbed the corner of the lush mouth, which had begun to droop.

"You're manipulating me," Griffin heard himself say in a weak tone.

"And loving every second of it," admitted Kilroy, brushing the rain-wet mouth with his own. "Is it working? Say yes before a policeman comes along and catches us snogging."

"This doorway smells of pee. I must be mad letting you do this to me," Griffin grumbled, but he made no attempt to resist as he was led across the road. To his dismay the tattoo parlour was still open. Heavy rock blasted from the speakers inside the doorway. He took one look inside and drew Kilroy back onto the pavement.

"If I come out of there wearing a biker's logo, you're dead meat," he warned.

"You won't. I'll be with you all the time," promised Kilroy.

"Why doesn't that reassure me?" Griffin gave him an unconscious look of pleading.

"It's a far far better thing you do," encouraged Kilroy. "You don't have to," he added, when Griffin still did not move.

Griffin sighed. "Don't erode the few principles I do possess. A bet is a bet. Come on, let's get this over with."

Except for a cut-off exclamation soon after they entered the tattoo parlour, Griffin didn't say another word. The process didn't take as long as he had imagined it might, given the care of the tattoo artist. He was unwillingly impressed both with the standard of hygiene and the tattooist's skill as a copyist, Kilroy having come prepared.

When they emerged back on the street Griffin's expression was a mixture of pride, possession and bemusement, and Kilroy sported a small tattoo of a phoenix rampant on his right shoulder.

Oblivious to the heavy rain, Griffin followed Kilroy in a daze. He had yet to speak when they reached the second storey of the car park. Only when they stood beside his car did he catch hold of Kilroy's wrist.

"You're wearing a tattoo of my trade mark." Disbelief echoed in his voice.

"That was the general idea. I used two rolls of film photographing your carvings of it, and a small fortune on enlargements to ensure every detail would be clear enough to be copied. I hope he got it right?"

"I couldn't have done better myself. Does it hurt?"

"It smarts slightly - like mild sunburn, that's all. Let's talk in the car. It's chilly out here," prompted Kilroy, wondering when Griffin was going to emerge from his semi-trance. By the time he had walked around to the other side of the car, Griffin had unlocked it and was sitting behind the wheel, staring out of the windscreen.

"Was that what you had in mind all along?" he asked eventually.

"Of course. There's no way I would want a work of art like your bum obscured by a bloody great tattoo, whatever I might have said."

"Take off your coat and jacket for a minute, would you?" asked Griffin huskily, understanding now why Kilroy had worn only a sleeveless silk tee shirt under his jacket, despite the chill of the December day.

Kilroy did as he had been asked without a murmur of protest and flicked on the interior light.

Griffin stared at his trade mark, which had been exquisitely tattooed in a rich, deep blue which would wear better than black, and then touched it with a gentle finger. "It feels hot," he murmured, placing his lips to the spot. All he could smell was surgical spirit, but Kilroy's pale skin was pink around the area. "Was it worth it?" he asked abruptly.

Kilroy tilted the driving mirror until Griffin was reflected in it. "Take a look at your expression and ask me again. I think you're in shock. I've never seen you like this," he added, pulling back on his jacket and coat.

"I've never felt like this," conceded Griffin. Looking all eyes, he handed Kilroy the car keys. "You'll have to drive us home. My hands are shaking too much." But instead of moving over, he kissed Kilroy with a heart-catching tenderness, his mouth unsteady, his face wet with more than rain.

"I hoped you'd like it," said Kilroy, when they finally drew apart, although they were still touching.

Beginning to recover, Griffin gave him an aggravated look. "I like it. In fact I'm embarrassed by just how much I love the idea of you wearing... You realise you're stuck with me? No one else is going to want you while you're wearing my trade mark."

Kilroy's look of satisfaction spoke volumes. 'Can I take it that you're reconciled to tattoos?"

"Tonight," promised Griffin extravagantly, as he took back his car keys, "you can take anything you like." Switching on the engine, he slid into gear. The car still stationary a few moments later, he stared at the bonnet, perplexed.

A smile tugging at the corners of his mouth, Kilroy helpfully released the handbrake. "Are you sure you wouldn't like me to drive?" he said innocently.

The Jaguar leapt forward with a screech of tyres more reminiscent of a Hollywood car chase.

oOo

One of Griffin's Christmas presents to Kilroy was a felt-tip pen. Only when Kilroy noticed the inscription promising that the pen contained 'washable ink' did light dawn. While he never got round to inscribing the complete legend on the target he had designated as being the ideal spot, Kilroy had a lot of fun practising.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written April 1991 - January 1993