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Chapter Five

"GO TO THE window and look out."

Gideon Windemere's drawing room was on the first floor of the house. The big bay windows with their small wrought-iron balcony commanded a perfect view of the street out front. Gibson walked over to the window, pulled aside the heavy blue velvet drapes, and looked out. Windemere was standing behind him.

"Tell me what you see."

A light drizzle was falling on the town. The road surface was slick, and cars hissed by with windshield wipers flicking. Water dripped from the plane trees that lined both sides of Ladbroke Grove. Even in the house, there was a smell of dampness.

Gibson considered the scene in the street below him.

"There's a large black car across the street. An old Hudson, '51 or '52, the one with the small narrow windows that looks like a big turtle."

"Anything else?"

"There's a man leaning against the car. I'd say at a guess that he's watching the house. The funny thing is that he doesn't appear to be getting wet."

"Describe him."

"He's wearing a long raincoat of some kind of dirty off-white material-it's a bit like a duster-and a black cowboy hat with studs around the band."

"Can you see his face?"

Gibson shook his head. "No, it's hidden by the brim of his hat. Who is this guy? Is the Jesse James look big in London this year?"

"When he's in this dimension he calls himself Yancey Slide, and he's nothing to do with London."

Gibson turned and looked at Windemere. "What is he?"

"He's an extremely dangerous entity."

Gibson looked out of the window again.

"This cat in the cowboy hat is a superbeing?"

"No, but he's hardly human."

As O'Neal had told Gibson, everyone had been waiting for him in the drawing room. Christobelle was sitting in a deep leather armchair. She was comfortable in torn and faded Levis and a bulky fisherman's sweater. As Gibson walked into the room, she gave no indication that the previous night had ever happened. There was no quick smile or fast intimate eye contact. Cadiz and O'Neal flanked the door. Smith, Klein, and French sat side by side on the leather couch that was part of the same set as Christobelle's armchair. Windemere presided over the room, leaning on the mantel of the marble fireplace, in which a small log fire was burning.

"Yancey Slide is what was known in Sumerian as idimmu, a minor demon."

Gibson was still staring out of the window with his back to the others. "You're telling me that a minor demon is standing in the rain on a street in London in broad daylight, leaning on a 1951 Hudson? I don't see no horns or tail and certainly don't see no smoke rising or smell any brimstone."

Christobelle rearranged herself in the armchair. "He isn't getting wet, is he?"

"That is a little weird," Gibson conceded. He slowly turned. "At risk of sounding overparanoid and being accused of believing that I'm the center of the universe, does the fact that this guy is lounging around across the street not getting wet have anything to do with the fact that I'm here?"

Windemere half smiled. "It would be pushing coincidence not to recognize that there could well be a relationship between you turning up and then Yancey Slide arriving just twenty-four hours later."

"So what about this character? What do you know about him?"

Windemere scratched his ear and looked a little unhappy. He glanced at Smith.

"You want to field this one?"

Smith shook her head with a quick but very smug smile.

"It's all yours, Gideon. I don't do demons. They're not my field."

Gibson looked slowly from Windemere to Smith and back again. She was calling him Gideon? Had there been something going on between these two last night? What went on between an otherzone cop and a weird-ass, postmodern philosopher?

"So which of you is going to tell me about Yancey Slide? This waltzing around is making me nervous."

Smith looked to Windemere for a response. Windemere stared long and hard at the rattlesnake skeleton that was coiled in a glass dome on the mantelpiece. Finally he straightened up and went and stood beside Gideon. The gray afternoon light in the London drawing room was suddenly detached and alien, and there was a chill in the air despite the fire.

"It's funny that you should mention Jesse James. In many respects, Yancey Slide is the very same kind of morbid, psychotic, ethnopath white trash. Except, of course, that he may be as much as twenty thousand years old. He seems one and the same as Yanex, the servant of Maskim Xul during the first occupation, although it's very hard to know with idimmu. There's one theory that they're immortal, much in the manner of the vampire, while another suggests that they might be a series of entities that consecutively take up residence in the same personality."

"Kind of like renting an apartment?"

Windemere seemed pleased that Gibson was taking it so well.

"Exactly. There's definite evidence that Slide has always had an affinity with the southern part of the United States. He appears to have started a vampire plague in New Orleans around the beginning of the nineteenth century and later roamed the settlements along the Mississippi as a professional witch-finder. He's recorded as hanging seventy-three women and sixteen men in one summer of operations. It's also likely that he may have been present at the burning of Lawrence, Kansas, so the Jesse James connection is more than just sartorial."

"You're going to tell me next that he rode with Attila the Hun."

"Attila the Hun didn't keep records."

Gibson peered at the man in the street, but this time he did it from half behind the curtain. Slide hadn't moved.

"Can he be stopped?"

Windemere spread his hands.

"Stopped? I doubt it. Deflected might be possible."

Gibson turned to Smith, Klein, and French. "Can't you zap him with one of your weapons and send him back to where he came from?"

Smith shook her head, "It's not possible. Slide's much too complicated for that."

"Silver bullets? Stake through the heart? Holy water? Exorcism?"

Windemere was shaking his head. "None of the above."


"So I suggest we go and see what he wants."

Smith looked up in amazement. "Have you taken leave of your senses?"

Windemere shrugged. "You have a better idea? We can't zap him, and I certainly don't intend to cower in the house until he gets bored and goes away. If we talk to him, at least we know what he wants and if there's any chance of negotiating."

Gibson didn't like the sound of the word "negotiating." He could all too easily see himself as the subject of the negotiations.

"Hold up there a minute."

Windemere quickly turned. "Don't worry. We won't be giving you away to him unless we absolutely have to."

Smith still looked less than overjoyed by the idea. "Are you sure you can handle this?"

Windemere nodded. "I think so. It's my turf, after all."

Gibson stood up very straight. "I'm going with you."

Windemere and Smith responded in unison. "Don't be ridiculous. "

"I'm going."

Windemere was busily shaking his head. "Your being there is just the kind of distraction that Slide could use to pull something."

"I don't want to argue about it."

Smith fixed him with a look that should have left freezer burn. "We're not arguing. You're not going out there."

It may have been the look that snapped it or it may have been the tone of her voice. Gibson wasn't sure which. All he knew was that he was suddenly as mad as hell. He jabbed a ringer at Smith.

"Listen, lady, we had the start of this discussion last night. I'm getting mighty tired of being told what to do and being expected to obey without question. I don't do that sort of thing. I spent a lifetime not doing that sort of thing and I'm not about to start now. I'm extremely grateful for you pulling me out of the shit in Jersey, but nobody appointed you either my babysitter or the custodian of my life. If they did, they were acting well outside their authority. I'm a grown man and I make my own decisions, and here's the one for today. I intend to have myself a very large Scotch-" He glanced at Windemere and made a slight bow. "-if I may-" He returned his attention to Smith, "-and then I'm going to walk out of the front door and find out what this Yancey Slide wants with me."

Windemere laughed. He went to the sideboard and started pouring from a decanter of amber fluid.

Christobelle's voice came from the depths of the leather armchair. "You'll need a raincoat. It's raining out and you don't have Yancey Slide's power to mysteriously remain dry."

Windemere handed Gibson what had to be a triple Scotch.

"She's right, you know. You came in with what you have on, dressed for autumn in New York. This is London and it's damp and chilly. Besides, you'd attract attention walking round soaking wet in a lightweight suit." He turned to Christobelle. "Joe and I are roughly the same size, why don't you have a look in my wardrobe for something suitable?"

Christobelle stood up. "Whatever you say, boss."

She left the room. Smith, meanwhile, seemed to be in the grip of high, controlled fury. "I still think this is a very bad idea."

Gibson was halfway through his Scotch. "Your protest is noted. If things fuck up, you'll have the satisfaction of having told me so."

"Maybe we should leave you altogether."

Gibson could have sworn that, in her own icy way, Smith was pouting. "That's for you to decide."

Smith shook her head angrily. "Unfortunately, I can't just dump you. I made an agreement."

"Then there's nothing to discuss. All you have to realize is that protecting me is not the same thing as holding me prisoner."

Christobelle returned with a black Italian trenchcoat over her arm. She held it out to Gibson. "Try this. It ought to be appropriate for the occasion."

"Aren't you worried that I'm going outside to get myself killed or worse?"

"I'm sure you'll do whatever you have a mind to."

There was still not the slightest intimacy or warmth. Gibson downed the rest of his Scotch and slipped into the coat. Christobelle looked him over and nodded.

"Yeah, that'll do. Turn your collar up in the back like a hood."

Windemere took Gibson's empty glass. "Take care of that coat, I'm quite fond of it."

Gibson pulled a wry face. "I'll try not to get blood on it."

Smith looked from one to the other of them. "How many of us are going?"

Windemere glanced quickly at Gibson and then faced Smith.

"I thought just Joe and I. We don't know how much Slide knows. It hardly seems like a good idea to give him the gift-wrapped chance to look you three over. We are hoping this isn't going to be a confrontation."

Smith nodded curtly, "We'll be watching from the window."

O'Neal stepped forward. "You want me to come with you?"

Windemere nodded. "Now, that might be a good idea, a bit of terrestrial bulk." He looked from O'Neal to Gibson. "Okay, so it's the three of us. Shall we go, gentlemen?"

As Windemere was putting on his own raincoat, he suddenly grinned at Gibson. "You seem to be getting the measure of our streamheat friends."

"I just don't like to be treated like that. I never cottoned to be nursemaided."

"Just don't underestimate them." He placed a dark-brown fedora with a wide black band on his head and tilted it at an angle."By the by, I don't think this is a very good idea, either."

Gibson started for the front door. "Then you'll be able to say You told me so, too."

Windemere followed him and O'Neal brought up the rear. Outside on the pavement, they waited for a break in the traffic. Even in a neighborhood that had its fair share of odd sights, the three of them must have presented a fairly bizarre spectacle. O'Neal looked like a terrorist; Windemere, in his fedora and Burberry, had turned into Sam Spade; and, for himself, Gibson had the distinct impression that the black coat made him look like an Italian pimp circa 1972. And they were all off to see the eighteen-thousand-year-old demon dressed like a refugee from the Civil War. Good-bye cruel sanity.

When Ladbroke Grove was clear, they walked straight across the road, straight toward the figure leaning against the big black Hudson. Yancey Slide didn't move. They were only halfway across the street when Windemere called out to him.

"Mr. Slide. My name is Gideon Windemere, and I own that house behind us. I was wondering why you were showing such an interest in it?"

Yancey Slide didn't move. It was only when they were right up to him that he finally pushed back his wide-brimmed hat and Gibson saw his face for the first time. Wherever and however Yancey Slide had acquired his human form, he'd gone for dramatic impact. It had clearly been modeled on Clint Eastwood, except it was a Clint who had engaged in such a wealth of prolonged and elaborate depravity, both ancient and modern, that it hardly bore thinking about. There had been no attempt to disguise the eyes. They just weren't human. The narrow, ice-blue slits were like looking into the heart of some deep frozen hell.

"Gideon Windemere. I've heard of you. And Joe Gibson. You know, I saw you perform once? And the third gentleman I think I might know by sight. Didn't we once go kneecapping up the Falls Road? Or was that someone else, Paddy? I'm damned if I know. All you boyos look alike to me."

Slide's voice was little more than a ruined whisper, a dangerous reptilian rasp that sounded as though he might really be eighteen thousand years old. Gibson turned and looked at O'Neal. He seemed seriously taken aback. This surprised Gibson. He wouldn't have thought that the implacable Irishman had it in his repertoire of responses.

Windemere quickly tried to cover the disarray of the moment. "Perhaps we should all step onto the pavement."

It was a practical suggestion. They were standing on the off side of the Hudson with black London taxicabs hurtling past just inches from their backs.

And, with that, they were on the pavement.

With no movement or even a sense of discontinuity and in less than the blink of an eye, they were standing in another place some ten or twelve feet away. Slide was still leaning on the car in exactly the same thumbs-in-his-belt gunslinger posture, except he was now leaning on the other side of the car. His smile was a fraction less faint.

"Excuse the parlor trick, mis amgos. Sometimes I just can't resist."

Gibson was speechless. If the man-he was still thinking of Slide as a man, "demon" a hard word to use with conviction even after everything he had seen-could instantly move them through space, what the hell else could he do? Windemere, on the other hand, seemed completely undaunted.

"I'm suitably impressed. Now perhaps you'd like to tell me why you're taking such an interest in my house."

Slide fumbled in the pocket of his duster and pulled out a thin black cheroot. "You know who I am?"

Windemere nodded. "I know who you are."

"Then you're showing a hell of a lot of balls for a human, coming out here like this."

He held up his right index finger. A blue flame appeared at its tip. He lit the cigar from it and then extinguished the flame with a shake of his hand.

Windemere watched him without expression. "If you're trying to frighten us, you're not succeeding. We've seen magic acts before."

Slide slowly nodded. He tapped softly on the black glass of the front passenger window of the Hudson. The rear door swung open and a man and a woman climbed out. They were equally impressive. If Slide's human form had been modeled on Clint Eastwood's, the woman was a hybrid of Cher and Elizabeth Taylor with a liberal dash of heavy metal-a stunningly beautiful Amazon road warrior, over six feet tall with high, jet-black hair and, as Little Richard put it, "a figure made to squeeze," although anyone squeezing her right at that moment might find himself hampered by the chrome studs, the chains, the metal plates, and the reinforced, tuck-and-roll leather. The only truly feminine parts of her costume were the torn fishnet stockings and spike-heeled ankle boots. The man was a totally bald sumo wrestler in a suit that looked as though it had been constructed by a tentmaker. It was a yellow-and-black plaid, cut in a style that Gibson hadn't seen since the passing of Nikita Khrushchev.

"These are my traveling companions, Nephredana and Yop Boy."

Gibson wondered if these two had the same nonhuman eyes as Slide. It was impossible to tell since they were both wearing impenetrable Ray-Bans. Then Yop Boy let his coat swing open, and Gibson stopped wondering about the eyes. He, Windemere, and O'Neal were treated to a brief glimpse of an elaborate, ultralight assault weapon strapped to the huge man's massive thigh. It was a design that Gibson had never seen before. It looked something like a deluxe version of an Uzi that had been fitted with a weird set of gas ports under the ejector, finished in gold leaf, and then fitted with mother-of-pearl grips and a top-mounted laser sight. Gibson suspected that he was looking at a weapon that had been brought through from another dimension. He was also puzzled. Why should a demon, seemingly with all manner of supernatural powers, resort to such a temporal show of force?

Windemere seemed to be thinking the same thing. He faced Slide with an amused smile. "You want to watch that. This is London and people here are a little down on firearms."

Slide's smile had disappeared altogether, "I don't think we'll have any trouble."

Gibson wasn't so sure. He was surprised that they hadn't had trouble already. In daylight, on a street with heavy traffic and with the local police station just a block away down the hill, the Hudson alone should have been enough to cause comment. Combined with the appearance of the six of them, the sight should have been enough to stop traffic, and yet no one was giving them a second glance.

Windemere was still facing Slide. "I sincerely hope we won't."

Slide looked Windemere up and down. "There are places where walking up to a man and demanding to know his business is construed as a hostile act."

Again, Windemere wouldn't allow himself to be intimidated. "I believe there are other places where to watch a man's home is a way of making the man in question exceedingly paranoid."

Slide took the cheroot out of his mouth and spat on the pavement. "And this paranoia is the reason for all the firepower?"

Windemere's face was a picture of injured innocence. "Firepower? The only firepower I've seen is strapped to Yop Boy here."

Slide's eyes narrowed dangerously. "Don't bullshit me, Windemere. I know about the three streamheat inside your house, and your other bodyguard, standing in the doorway over there, undoubtedly has some sort of weapon under his coat. "

Both Windemere and Gibson looked across the road at the house. Cadiz was standing at the front door and there almost certainly was a weapon concealed under his loose combat coat. Gibson couldn't see anything inside the bay window on the first floor, but he knew that it was safe to assume that Smith, Klein, and French were inside watching.

Windemere shrugged. "These are troubled times. You can't be too careful."

Slide looked up and down the street and around at the nearby buildings. He flipped his cheroot away, and for some reason the butt vanished just before it hit the ground.

"I suspect that we could probably make a tolerable mess of this particular corner of merry old England if we were to fall to fighting. Is that what you want, Gideon Windemere?"

Windemere shook his head. "No, of course not,"

"So, having established the basic standoff, shall we start talking? You want to know what I'm doing here-what I want with you people-is that correct?"

"You can't blame me for being curious."

"Then you'll understand when I say that I'm here because I was curious myself. I wanted to see why the focus of so much attention should show up at your home,"

Gibson stiffened. "You mean me?"

Slide pushed himself away from the car. "Yes, you. Anyone who has what you people call a UFO chasing him across the Atlantic needs watching. I hate fucking UFOs."

Gibson wasn't buying the impartial-observer routine. "You're just here to watch? You don't want to kidnap me or kill me or anything like that?"

Slide made a sighing sound that was his approximation of a laugh. "Why should I want to kill you, Joe? I already told you.I saw you play. I enjoyed it. I like rock 'n' roll, Joe. I was a personal friend of Jim Morrison." A slow hand indicated Nephredana. "She was there,"

Nephredana's face was impassive behind the Ray-Bans and the red lipstick. Her voice was husky, down in the Mariene Dietrich range, and almost as burned-out as Slide's. Was she eighteen thousand years old, too? "He was a personal friend of Jim Morrison's. He also went on a three-day drunk with John Lennon in Hamburg when the Beatles were starting out."

She produced a stick of gum, unwrapped it, and folded it into her mouth. Although the wrapper was the same color scheme as a standard pack of Bubblicious, the lettering was in a strange alien script. She dropped the wrapper and it, too, vanished just before it touched the sidewalk. The little display didn't help Gibson in any way to accept the premise that having been a drinking buddy of both Jim Morrison and John Lennon confirmed Yancey Slide as nothing more than a curious bystander.

"There have been a lot of strange people trying to get me in the last couple of days and it's made me a little distrustful of strangers."

" You know why all these strangers should be out to get you?"

Gibson shook his head. "That's the worst part. I don't have a clue. All I know is that this old Mexican guy shows up and says this group called the Nine wants me to join up with them."

Windemere looked at him sharply but Gibson was damned if he was going to shut up on order. "Since then, all hell seems to have been breaking loose."

Slide's lip curled. "So you've become a lackey of the Nine?"

Gibson eyed him coldly. "I'm no one's lackey, friend. I'm just-"

He broke off abruptly. Two constables in blue uniforms and those improbable Victorian helmets had come down the steps of the police station, apparently at the start of a foot patrol. They were walking up the hill toward the group by the Hudson.

"What do they call them here? The Old Bill?"

Slide glanced at the two London cops. "I wouldn't worry about them,"

To Gibson's amazement, the officers proceeded to walk slowly past them.

"They didn't even see us."

Slide nodded. "I took the precaution of making us invisible."

"Invisible? You can make people invisible?"

"I'm a demon, kid, I do shit like that. If you notice, you're also not getting wet."

For the first time, Gibson noticed that the drizzle wasn't getting to him. There was no slick of moisture on his raincoat. It was as though there was a kind of force field a millimeter or so out from his body.

"I appreciate you keeping me dry."

Slide laughed. "I'm not doing it for your comfort, boy. I'd look kinda dumb if there was an empty shape in the air that the rain was going around."

It was while Slide was talking that a figure at the top of the hill caught Gibson's attention. There was a black man with dreadlocks perched on a ten-speed bicycle, on the opposite side of the street from the church, looking in their direction. He not only seemed able to see them but apparently didn't like what he was seeing. He took off on his bike with a look of considerable alarm and disappeared over the brow of the hill. No one else appeared to have noticed, so Gibson kept his mouth shut.

Slide leaned closer to him. "I think the only real answer to your fears, Joe, is that, if I'd wanted you, I would have had you by now."

This was easier to accept. Gibson was in no doubt that Slide hadn't showed them even the introduction to his bag of tricks.

Slide seemed to sense that he'd at least marginally won Gibson over, and he turned his attention to Windemere.

"It's really kind of pointless standing around in the street. Why don't we go into your house and talk in a bit more comfort?"

This was clearly the last thing Windemere wanted. "I'm not inviting you into my house."

Slide's eyes became angry slits. "Never invite an idimmu across the threshold? That's vampires, my friend."

Windemere refused to give ground. "Is there that much difference?"

"Find a vampire and I'll show you."

"I'm not letting you into my house."

"You may regret this, Windemere,"

"That's always possible."

Slide gestured to the others to get back in the car. He took a final look a Windemere.

"Don't start feeling too pleased with yourself. I'll still be around. If you make a move, I'll know about it."

" Could your being here have something to do with the rumors that your master is about to wake?"

Slide was in the process of getting into the driver's seat of the Hudson. He stopped and slowly turned. To Gibson's surprise, he suddenly looked weary, as if eighteen thousand years had just dropped hard on him. "Master? My master? You don't know what you're talking about, Windemere. You really don't."

"I heard that Necrom will soon be on the move."

"If you knew anything, you wouldn't even mention the name."

The car door closed. Then the window rolled down and Slide fixed Gibson with those alien eyes.

"You should be very careful, Joe. You're running with some people who may not be all that they appear."

The window rolled up and the Hudson squealed away from the curb, laying smoke and rubber. When it reached the top of the hill, something happened to its shape. It seemed to distort and shimmer, and Gibson wasn't sure whether it had disappeared over the hill or just disappeared. He suddenly felt as though a cold, clammy hand had closed over him. The drizzle was noticeably wet.

"I guess we're back in the visible world."

Windemere indicated that the three of them should return to the house. "I think a drink is in order."

Gibson fell into step beside him. "That could have been a lot worse."

Windemere was thoughtful. "I don't think we've seen the last of Yancey Slide."

Cadiz met them at the door. The outline of what looked like a sawed-oflf shotgun was easy to make out through his combat coat. Once, years before, Gibson had been instructed in the lore of the sawed-off shotgun. Backstage at one of the band's concerts at the Wembley soccer stadium, a bodyguard called Big Cyril, who'd been hired on for the tour, had waxed lyrical, claiming that, in his youth, he'd broken legs for the notorious Kray Twins. "What makes the sawn-off shotgun so favorite is that it appeals to the imagination, like. All you got to do is point one at a geezer and he immediately imagines himself splattered all over the wall like a Sam Peckinpah film. Me, I don't hold with killing. I use a gun to avoid killing. I want a gun that so terrifies people they do exactly what you say and no bother. You know what I mean?" Gibson had hastily assured him that he knew what he meant. Big Cyril had later been fired for his violently overzealous handling of teenage fans.

Cadiz looked a little anxious. Within the limitations of his considerable macho, he all but clucked over Windemere. "Are you okay, boss? I didn't like the look of those guys. They had this aura about them. A bad aura, like the yellow light before a storm."

Gibson was amazed that Cadiz-who on the surface seemed little more than a Central American thug who should nave been carrying an Uzi for the Medellin Cartel-talked so matter-of-factly about auras. Then he remembered that, five hundred years ago, his ancestors were probably performing human sacrifices on the tops of pyramids.

Windemere was quick to reassure Cadiz that all was well. "I'm okay. There's no problem."

Gibson wondered about the loyalty that Windemere received from his strange household. There was a great deal more to Gideon Windemere than appeared on the surface. Which was exactly what Yancey Slide had said. Windemere questioned him about this as they took off their coats.

"How do you feel about Slide's parting shot?"

Gibson looked at him guardedly. "You mean about things not being what they might seem."

Windemere nodded. "That one."

Gibson looked unconcerned. "It seemed like a crude attempt to induce a few doubts."

"And did it?"

"I've been around paranoia so long that it now takes more than a minor demon to get me going. UFOs and other dimensions are quite enough. Besides, I'm living proof that things aren't what they appear."

Although he made light of it, Slide had in fact started Gibson thinking. He had no guarantee that these people that he was with were the Good Guys. All he had was their word on it. He'd been quite impressed with Yancey Slide's style and the show that he'd put on, and Nephredana had been something else again. Slide's trio seemed as though they'd be a good deal more entertaining than Smith, Klein, and French.

"What exactly is an idimmu?"

Windemere shook his head. "It'd take too long to explain right now. One thing to remember, though, is never to underestimate them." He started up the stairs to the drawing room. Halfway up, he looked back. "Don't be charmed by them, either."

The sun went down behind the Shepherds Bush high-rise projects, the streetlights came on, and the drizzle continued. After a fairly perfunctory couple of Scotches with Windemere, Gibson found himself left alone. He was aware that things were going on in the rest of the house in which he wasn't being included. Everyone seemed to have private stuff to do and people to talk to after the events of the day, and all he could do was make the most of an evening of comparative peace and quiet.

The high point of being left to himself turned out to be making the acquaintance of another member of Windemere's staff. Rita was a large Jamaican lady who cooked for Windemere and the rest of his household and who served Gibson the best meal that he'd had in a very long time: lamb chops with mint sauce and new potatoes, a bottle of Guinness, and apple crumble with egg custand to follow. Even before the adventure had started, Gibson had eaten like a drunk, either greasy or not at all, and at the moment that he finished the last mouthful of dessert, he would have cheerfully fought with anyone who said anything bad about English cuisine. After Rita had served him coffee and cognac, this time only a mere eighteen years old, he was left alone with the television.

This suited him down to the ground. He had a great deal of thinking to do and he had always found that he thought most creatively while staring blankly at a TV screen. British TV took a little getting used to, with its impenetrably mannered comedies, ultraviolent cop shows, and documentaries that seemed determined to educate the masses whether the masses liked it or not, but it was TV and it was in English and it would suffice. He wished that he had a little more of Windemere's opium but he felt that it would be churlish to come right out and ask. Contenting himself with the cognac, he stretched out on the drawing room couch and attempted a review of his situation.

He didn't imagine that he'd make any real sense of what was happening to him, but he was getting heartily sick of the way that his ignorance was being used to constantly force him into a role of total passivity. Okay, so he was a drunk and a wastrel, and a bunch of stuff that he had never dreamed of in his philosophy was dropping on him like the proverbial shitstorm, but he had to start making his own moves. One of the few constants in the whole sorry business was that everyone he encountered went to some pains to warn him not to trust anyone else. The streamheat didn't trust Windemere, Windemere warned him against the Nine, everyone warned him against Yancey Slide, and Slide played right along with the game by telling him not to trust any of them. Let the circle be unbroken. Unfortunately the circle was wrapped around the outside of his skull and being slowly tightened. His first task was to break out and stop allowing himself to be run from hither to yon like a lab rat in a behavioral study. Independence of action had to be the next item on the agenda.

He wasn't going to achieve independence, though, until he found out why everyone was so interested in him and why the explanations of that interest were so uniformly vague. If he was playing a role in this movie, it was high time he got himself a copy of the script. Enough of all the Shirley MacLaine bullshit about fulcrums, auras, and destiny-if no one was going to tell it to him straight, he was going to have to figure it out for himself. There had to be one among this bunch who knew the score. The streamheat definitely knew a great deal more than they were telling, but he didn't think any one of them was going to get stinking drunk and spill the beans or otherwise let anything slip. He wished that he'd been able to talk to Slide for a while longer. The demon seemed inclined to boast, and after eighteen thousand years, he ought to know a thing or two. In spite of Windemere's warning about not letting himself be charmed, Gibson couldn't shake the feeling that Slide and his bunch were probably fun to be around.

The ITN News at Ten carried a small joke item about the crew of an Air India 797 claiming to have spotted a UFO over the Atlantic the previous night, and this somehow added to his general sense that nothing was quite real. After the news, he found himself faced with The Poseidon Adventure. He drifted with the ponderous stupidity of the inverted ocean liner without coming up with any fresh revelations. Sure, he knew what he had to do; how to go about doing it was the hard part. It was about the point Shelley Winters was making her heroic underwater swim that his peace and quiet started to noticeably decay.

Through most of the evening muffled sounds had drifted up from somewhere below; for a while it had been a high-pitched electronic hum, and then that had been replaced by shouts in a strange language, bursts of drumming and clusters of sub-bass harmonics. He had assumed that Windemere was doing something in the basement and left it at that. It was only when a strange smell seemed to be creeping through the house-a jungle-sweet, heavy scent like damp vegetation burning-that it became impossible to ignore. The smell clung and infiltrated and seemed to insinuate its way into his pores. His legs and arms grew heavy, and a dull weight settled on his brain. At first, he resisted, but very soon just let it drift around and over him while he listened to the increasing volume of sound that came from the basement. The random bursts of harmonics had been replaced by an almost hypnotic pulsing, and Gibson caught himself nodding in time and all but drifting into a shallow trance.

Gas! The smell was a colorless gas. He didn't want to think about gas. It was just a smell. He had to focus his eyes and concentrate. Thinking required effort, as did willing himself back to functioning reality, and, once back, he was both suspicious and a little alarmed. Was someone trying to fuck with him again, or was the effect a by-product of the party down below? Either way, he decided that he had the right to take a look. Just a glance down the basement stairs to see what he could see was hardly an invasion of his host's privacy, particularly when whatever his host was doing in private was noticeably leaking through into the rest of the house. He stood up, turned off the TV, and suddenly felt dizzy. Was the smell causing it, or just a delayed reaction to the events of the last few days? The world seemed to have taken on a greenish tinge. Indeed, the greening of the room seemed to have extended to his own face. He groaned as he caught a glimpse of it in the mirror above the fireplace.

"You poor-ass bastard, you look like the walking dead."

He leaned into the mirror and pulled down the lower lid of his left eye. The white of the eye was more than bloodshot. It looked like a color photograph of the planet Mars.

"No wonder, this shit's killing you."

He took a deep breath but it didn't help; the smell was still there, like a warm night on the Amazon. He started for the door. He was definitely going to have a look in the basement.

The pulse was louder and the smell thicker and more pungent as he stepped out onto the first-floor landing. He looked down the stairs into the ground-floor hallway. The door that led to the basement was open, and weirdly oscillating lights were reflected in the polished wood-red, yellow, and orange, like strobing electronic hellfire.

He reached the front hallway but hesitated at the top of the basement stairs, standing just outside the door, just listening to the complex weave of the outlandish rhythm pattern. It wasn't merely a pulsing hum. Rising and falling tones were punctuated by shimmering flutters and mutters that could almost have been human voices except that, without warning, they would lift through eight-octave runs like the music of an Inca Sundance and then roll away with the finality of a breaking wave.

He pushed the door open a little wider and put his foot on the first step. He knew that he was completely out of line, and he was suddenly a little scared. Windemere could be doing practically anything down there. Suppose it was something serious and bad? He took another step; now he was committed.

Going down the basement stairs, he could see only a small area of floor. The red and orange lights flashed through curls of heavy vapor that slowly undulated across it like phantom snakes.

As he reached the bottom of the stairs, he realized that he had intruded on something decidedly private. He was turning to go when Cadiz bore down on him and seized him by the arm with an angry, almost desperate whisper.

"Not here, Senor Gibson. Not here."

As Cadiz propelled him back up the stairs, Gibson wondered at what he had seen. Windemere had been sitting naked inside a pyramid in the center of the floor that appeared to be constructed out of some kind of sheet crystal. Windemere wasn't alone in there. A woman was with him. She was also naked, muscular and very black, and her body was in violent motion. Her mass of braids swung like whips each time she moved her head, and she was moving her head a great deal. Windemere and his companion were seated facing each other with their naked torsos pressed together and their legs and arms wrapped around each other's bodies, but within these confines,they writhed against each other like twining snakes. Light reflected from bodies that were slick with either oil or mingled sweat, and Windemere's back was daubed with a large single ideogram that seemed to have been painted in what looked uncomfortably like blood.

The pyramid itself was maybe eight feet high and wide enough at the base to contain the two seated people. It glowed as though it was alive with energy and the sheet crystal was somehow conductive. It stood on a solid, square platform that appeared to be constructed of alternate sandwiched layers of bright metal, polished steel or maybe silver, and strata of dark, compacted organic fiber. Some kind of supercharged orgone box? The most elaborate sex aid that Gibson had ever seen? The rest of the room looked like nothing more than a very expensive recording studio. The ceiling was filled with pulsing track lights, and the sound came from eight large speaker bins. The four walls were lined with ranked racks of electronics, each unit powered up and highlighted by its own set of rippling and flashing LEDs. If Windemere was practicing witchcraft, it was a form that could only have been developed in some dark subbasement of NASA or MIT.

When they reached the inside hallway, Gibson turned and faced Cadiz. "What the hell are they doing down there?"

Cadiz shook his head. "No questions, senor. No questions."

"What's that pyramid thing?"

Cadiz's eyes flashed with implacable warning.

"I said no questions, senor. Just go on upstairs and forget everything you have seen."

The threat didn't have to be stated. The tattooed teardrops said it all. Cadiz stood in the hallway, watching Gibson as he climbed the stairs. He hesitated outside the drawing room door. Perhaps he should have a nightcap and think about all this.

Cadiz called up to him. "It would be better if you went to your own room, senor."

Gibson wanted to snap back that he wasn't about to be ordered to his room like a naughty child, but he restrained himself. At the top of the next flight a second voice called out to him.

"Joe Gibson."

This time, it was Christobelle. What now? If she wanted to frolic again, he wasn't sure if he was in quite the right mood. One door on the second landing stood slightly ajar, and her voice was coming from inside.

Gibson stopped at the top of the stairs. He was more than a little wary.

"Yeah, right. That's me."

"Please come in here."

Gibson shrugged to himself. What did he really have to lose? The spectacle in the basement had put an end to any ideas of sleeping in the immediate future. If Christobelle had decided to be nice to him again, who was he to refuse? It sure beat brooding. He went to the door and stepped inside, feeling a little like a character in a French farce. The bedroom was large and dark, and the spacious bed was quite capable of accommodating four or five people with no effort. Christobelle sat alone in the middle of it, cross-legged with her toes curling into the black fur cover. It was a very different Christobelle. The androgynous daytime severity had been replaced by a houri straight out of some sultan's fantasy. Chiffon scarves in soft pastel colors were draped around her neck and did nothing to hide her breasts. The scarves and the collections of gold chains and bells and bracelets on her wrists and ankles were all that she was wearing apart from a gold Balinese headdress that would have delighted Mata Hari. She was backlit by a collection of a half-dozen candles in a floor-standing candelabra on the far side of the bed.

Gibson stopped in the doorway and took in the display. "What was the word the Victorians used? Odalisque?"

Christobelle nodded. "Odalisque, a female harem slave."

"Is all this for my benefit?"

"I called you, didn't I?"

"I thought you weren't friends with me anymore."

"What made you think that?"

"I haven't had a kind word from you all the livelong day."

"I like to maintain a professional distance during working hours."

"But now you're off duty?"

Christobelle slowly spread her arms. "Don't I look off duty?"

Gibson grinned. "That depends what your duties include."

"Why don't you stop talking and come to me."

He didn't immediately go to her. Instead, he peered around the room. It didn't look at all like Christobelle's bedroom. It was too masculine. Framed prints were hung along one wall in a geometric arrangement: Guido Crepax's illustration for the works of the Marquis de Sade, the ones from the notorious Private Portfolio, and a set of Robert Mapplethorpe nudes. The starkness of the prints was offset by Afghan hangings that looked ancient and extremely valuable, Moroccan wooden screens, and a large Louis Quinze dresser, but it still didn't add up to Christobelle.

"Who's room is this?"

"It's Gideon's,"

"Might he not take exception to us romping about on his bed? Some people are kind of territorial about their bedrooms."

Christobelle's eyes sparkled in the candlelight. "Gideon is otherwise engaged. He won't surface until morning."

"I know. I caught a little of the act."

The sex languor instantly drained from her face. Christobelle looked worried. "You saw him?"

"I went to the basement. I was curious about the noise and that weird smell."

"That wasn't a very smart thing to do."

"Cadiz gave me that impression."

"You also ran into Cadiz?"

"He hustled me out of there mucho pronto and sent me off to bed."

"You're lucky he didn't break your arms and legs as well, just to impress upon you the desirability of minding your own business."

"It seemed that he wanted to but someone had given instructions not to."

"Like I said, you're lucky."

"People keep telling me I'm lucky. I don't think they see it quite from my perspective."

Christobelle's voice softened. "Why don't you take your clothes off."

Gibson sat down on the edge of the bed. "What exactly was Windemere doing down there?"

"You went down there, you saw."

Gibson pulled off one of his boots. "He takes his loving very seriously. That setup must have been burning thousands of kilowatts."

Christobelle smiled.

"The electricity bills can be a little steep."

Christobelle was obviously trying to divert Gibson's queries, but he hung on like a terrier. "There was more to that than a little expensive fun."

Christobelle abruptly lost patience, "Of course there's more to it than fun. You really can be very naive at times. Gideon's generating psionic energy. He's energizing the house and everything in it. We may need all the power we can get. First you show up and then Yancey Slide. Who the hell knows what's going to come next? I wish he didn't feel that he had to do it with that black bitch but that's his decision."

It was a definite flash of jealousy. Gibson wouldn't have thought that Christobelle had it in her. It occurred to him that Windemere might actually maintain a real harem here. You never could tell with the very rich and very powerful. He started to unbutton his shirt. Christobelle was visibly working on regaining her composure. Her breasts rose and fell with each measured, regulated breath. He didn't say a word, just went on undressing. When he was naked, he stood up and faced her. She leaned over and lit a thick, yellowish green stick of incense. The smell of the smoke was the same smell that had been coming from the basement. She turned back to him and held out her arms, apparently not noticing his look of suspicion.

"Come here."

Realizing that it was far too late to back out, he crawled across the bed toward her. The fur felt good. He was about to make a playful grab for her when she fended him off.

"Just sit facing me,"

Gibson did as he was told. Whatever she had in mind was almost certainly worth going along with. He crossed his legs and sat upright with a straight back. Their faces were about eight inches apart.

Christobelle smiled. "As with many things, the secret of the tantric arts is that less is more."

Gibson had done his share of the Kama-sutra but he kept quiet and let her go on. "In the jab-yum, the key is to do as little as possible as slowly as possible. All I want you to do is to sit very still."

"Windemere wasn't sitting still."

Christobelle sighed. "He'd already been at it for over two hours. Now shut up and do what I tell you."

Her right leg snaked around him in a yogic move that brought her heel to rest against the small of his lower back. Using pressure from her foot, she eased him closer to her.

" Now put your leg over mine in the same way."

Gibson smiled and shook his head. "I don't think that I can. I've been living a life of indolence and sin, and I'm not as limber as I used to be."

Her hand was on his knee, gently guiding him. It was far easier than he'd imagined. A couple of muscles initially protested, but he found that he had his leg around her waist and the seemingly impossible had been achieved with only minor effort. The room was thick with the pungent jungle-rot smell, and Gibson was once again in the cloying grip of euphoric drift.

"Use your own leg to draw me closer."

Gibson gently flexed his calf. Their bodies were now very close; she twisted her torso in a slow, languorous undulation and her breasts brushed against his chest.

"Now the other leg. I'll put my hands on your shoulders and we'll do it together."

Once again the impossible was achieved with comparative ease. They were now in a strange double-lotus position; their upright bodies were pressed closely together, and he could feel her contours along the length of his chest. The nearness of her was quickly arousing him, and as his erection grew it eased inside her as though by osmosis, with no conscious effort on his part. She whispered hypnotically in his ear.

"Slowly.., slowly you are very, very, slow slow as the movement of mountains."

They were like one multilimbed being, a Hindu god, a child of Shiva. Christobelle's fingers performed the lightest of dances up and down his back. They felt like moths fluttering against his spine. Tiny shudders of pleasure ran up his body.

"Slowly slowly. You need do nothing you need to feel nothing. You are the world and you have all of time. Take nothing for yourself and all will be yours."

He was just starting to drift in the direction of oneness with the sensual universe when, completely uninvited and in some far-off part of his mind where logic and self-preservation still wearily held the line, a realization dawned.

"We're doing the same thing that they were doing in the basement."

Christobelle's whisper was no longer hypnotic. "Of course we are."

Alarm eased out euphoria. "So what's all this, then? A little backup ritual? "

"Something like that. Is it a problem?"

"I've got to think about this."

She leaned away from him slightly. "What's the matter? Did you think that I went to all this trouble because you were so damned irresistible? "

"It's a little cold-blooded for my taste."

"You have something against fucking for a higher purpose than simple personal gratification?"

"I thought you were enjoying this, and now I find that you're just going through the prescribed moves."

Christobelle's voice took on an angry edge, "For your information, Joe Gibson, I enjoy it very much. I was enjoying this very much until you felt the need to inject your note of crude morality. I can only believe that if I can generate energy over and above my own pleasure, it can only be for the greater good. Fun and a bonus, too. It's like gift stamps. It's also the philosophy of the Earth Goddess and that's why I've made it my calling."

"Fucking for victory?"

" It makes a great deal more sense than killing for it."

"I've really got to think about this."

He tried to disentangle himself from her, but they were too complicatedly entwined. Her legs tightened around him as if she was trying to calm his fears with her physical presence. Her voice again took on the hypnotic quality.

She crooned in his ear. "Don't think, Joe Gibson, just be. You are safe here for tonight. Don't think, just be. You are safe in my arms."

The scent was closing in on him and he did feel safe in her arms. He was also growing inside her again. Again she crooned to him.

"Let it go, Joe. Slowly let it go. You're safe. Nothing can hurt you. Slowly let it go."

Joe was letting it go. His mind was floating away, and his body was at long last taking over. The little spasms of pleasure started again.

"Go with it, Joe. Just let it happen."

Her breath was hot against his ear. His legs were so firm around her that he seemed to be melting into her.

"Slowly, Joe. So slowly. Soooo slowly."

The whisper was deep in her throat.

"So good, Joe. Sooo gooood!"

Her pelvis had started to gradually rotate.

"Slowly, Joe. Sooo slowly."

Now he could feel it. He could feel himself growing and expanding. He could feel the power flowing around him.

"That feels so good."


"That feels so right."

"So slowly."

They seemed to be rising together.

"Oh, God, that feels good."

"Sooo slowly."

Neither of them was moving a muscle, and yet there was sweat running between their bodies.

"Oh, God, that feels good."

"Soooo slowly!"

The smell of them was combining with the jungle reek.

"Oh, God, that feels so good."


"Oh, God!"

Their sighs and whispers blended together, breath mingling.


"Feels good."

"So good!"

"Too good!"


Somehow, he could feel the two other bodies in the pyramid downstairs. He could feel them also joining.

"Oh, God!"









And, at that moment, deep inside the house and deep in the real world from which they were trying so hard to detach themselves, there was a fearful pounding on the front door.

The White Room | Necrom | The White Room