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Chapter Four

WINDEMERE PASSED THE ornate silver-and-ivory pipe to Gibson. "The problem with contemporary culture is that it suffers from the metallic KO, so to speak."

Windemere had a definite tendency to pontificate, but Gibson didn't mind. In the hour that the two of them had been together, it had become very obvious to Gibson that Gideon Windemere had a decidedly superior mind, and if he tended to become a little arrogant in the way that he delivered his ideas, the quality of the ideas certainly entitled him to a degree of self-congratulation.

Gibson sank into the deep leather armchair. He was exhausted, but the Methedrine that Smith had shot into him just before the plane landed wasn't going to let him sleep for a while, if at all. Apparently they thought that he still ran the risk of succumbing to psych attack if he closed his eyes. Sprawling was the next best thing. He applied the flame of a Bic lighter to the bowl of the pipe and sucked hard. The smoke went deep into his lungs and filled him with a sense of heavy-limbed well-being. It was a mixture of premier Lebanese hashish and opium, and it did a great deal to take the edge off the speed. He and Windemere were alone in the man's crowded study. He passed back the pipe. Windemere took it and relit it without missing a phrase.

"The industrialized society thinks in terms of metal. Cans and containers, generators and dynamos, magnetism and electricity, even chemistry is aggressively mundane. We take a trip to the moon in a steel-and-plastic container while the gossamer wing is relegated to the realm of song and fantasy. Everyone can drive an automobile but few can astral travel and almost no one can levitate. Not even the medical arts can be raised above the knife, the isotope, and the pill. The metal mind is so bloody unyielding. It doesn't flex. It entertains no alternative to its hammer and anvil. Even simple bioenergies are all but ignored, and advanced bioenergies are still looked on as witchcraft."

Smith, Klein, and French were in some other part of the house inspecting the security with Windemere's two live-in minders, Cadiz and O'Neal. The house was Number Thirteen Ladbroke Grove, a threejstory detached town house that from the outside looked perfectly normal, apart from the way the small front garden was heavily overgrown, but on the inside was anything but. Windemere's home was also museum, a chaotic jumble of art and objects. Warhols and Mondrians rubbed shoulders with models from the various productions of Star Trek. In the hallway, an Edward Hopper was mounted next to a framed original poster for the show that Hank Williams had been due to play the night after he died,"if the Good Lord's willing and the creek don't rise." Gibson could only stand in awe. Windemere's home was even more crammed with junk than his own apartment on Central Park West. It was quite understandable, though. Now in his mid-fifties, Windemere was not only fabulously rich and extensively traveled but he was also one of the great unsung outlaws of the sixties and seventies. He was unsung because he had always avoided being caught. Gideon Windemere was the one, above all, who had been too smart for them. He'd made his first fortune by being one of the great Owsley Stanley III's major subdistributors during the acid summer of 1967. The very few photographs that remained of him from those days were paparazzi shots of the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, or Morgan Luthor, in which he could be seen blurrily lurking in the background. During the seventies, he surfaced again as the inventor of the designer hypnotic Mandrake but almost immediately had to vanish, one step ahead of the DEA and the Hell's Angels. Rumor had it that he'd hidden out on the private tropical island of a legendary movie actor. Somewhere along the line, he'd also acquired an intimate knowledge of the back hills of Afghanistan that greatly exceeded that of the CIA, a fact that later insured his liberty during a brush with the Roy Cohn Justice Department in the mid-eighties. His studies of the occult and allied subjects, the reason that Casillas had entrusted Gibson into his care in the first place, went back to even before his acid days, and he had, according to Casillas, delved in quite as deep as Sebastian Rampton. He had certainly been on nodding terms with the Manson Family, but fortunately nothing had rubbed off. Unlike Rampton, he had never courted publicity, although it virtually went without saying that there had been times when he'd behaved with equal weirdness. As a consequence, nobody went around calling him the Great Beast or the Antichrist. Gideon Windemere simply lived in strange semiretirement in his large house at the smart end of one of London's traditional rock 'n' roll neighborhoods, just up the street from the local police station.

Gibson and the streamheat had driven in from Luton in another white Cadillac that was almost identical to the one that they had left at Kennedy Airport. After the UFO, Gibson had ceased to sweat the details or worry about how the streamheat could find identical cars in strange cities at a moment's notice. He was doing his best to learn relaxation, to float on the stream of events. The banana boat had left, and he was irreversibly on board with no chances of swimming back to shore.

It had been some years since he'd been in Ladbroke Grove, and at first he had scarcely recognized the neighborhood. There were still reminders of glory days when it had been the stronghold of hippies and punks, rudies and dreads, and a large assorted population of the down-at-heel and plain crazy, but all over there were the same signs of creeping gentrification common in so many once-bohemian enclaves in the big cities of the west. It was no longer the place were Gibson had once lounged around smoking ganja with a bunch of Rastafarians and a couple of guys from The Clash. Sometimes it seemed that the whole world was going to yuppie hell.

Windemere began carefully refilling the pipe. Gibson wasn't sure if it was the excellent dope, but he felt perfectly relaxed around the man. The retired swashbuckler was the kind who, having done most everything, had nothing left to prove. He was open, assured, seemingly very generous, and Gibson was left with the feeling that, if he was safe anywhere, it was here at Thirteen Ladbroke Grove.

Windemere leaned forward and again handed the pipe to Gibson. "Why don't you light this while I find us something to drink? You do drink, don't you?"

Gibson nodded. "Oh, yes."

Windemere stood up and left the room, and Gibson had a chance to look around the man's study. It was the dense epicenter of the clutter, the heart of the anarchic museum, and Gibson marveled at how trusting the man was to leave someone he'd just met alone with his treasures. The study was literally bursting at the seams. The only empty space in the room was the smoke-stained ceiling, and even that had its complement of elaborate cherub moldings. All four walls were lined with dark mahogany shelving. Three were filled with books and dozens of small pictures and knickknacks-a lava lamp from the fifties, a set of impossibly large crystals, a human skull from God knew where- while the shelves on the fourth wall contained records, CDs, tapes, and electronic equipment. Gibson stood up and ambled over to look at the record collection. He noted with satisfaction that Windemere had a copy of everything that he'd ever released, both with the band and the later solo albums. At least that put the two of them at about level pegging, egowise.

Windemere returned with a dusty bottle that had no label and a pair of brandy snifters. " How do you feel about cognac?"

Gibson smiled. "I feel pretty good until the hangover sets in."

Windemere held up the bottle. "This is almost a hundred years old."

"No shit."

Both men sat down again, each in an old leather armchair, on opposite sides of Windemere's antique desk. A mellow golden light came from a Tiffany desk lamp, endowing the study with a rich, shadow-filled comfort. Windemere carefully poured one cognac and passed it to Gibson. Then he poured himself one and raised his glass.

"Your good health."

Gibson returned the toast. "Thank you. I'll do my best to keep it."

He slowly inhaled the fumes in the top of the balloon snifter and then took a first experimental sip of the cognac. "This is very fine."

Windemere nodded with the agreement of a proud host. It was no empty compliment; the brandy was truly remarkable. After allowing a decent interval for contemplation of the liquor, Gibson went back to the original conversation.

"You know, all this stuff you've been saying about bioenergy. It sounds an awful lot like Wilhelm Reich's orgone theories."

Windemere nodded enthusiastically. "Of course, it is. It's exactly that. Old Reich was coming very close to grasping the handle. Why else do you think the man was impaled so quickly and efficiently by the FBI, the guardians of capitalism and the transactional universe? If indeed it actually was the FBI."

"Who else would have busted his ass?"

"A lot of people over the years have tried to hang it on the Men in Black."

"The Men in Black who show up after close UFO encounters and tell Vern and Bubba to shut the fuck up or else."

"The very same."

"Does anyone really know who or what they are?"

Wtndemere shrugged but his eyes twinkled. Beneath his English gentleman's veneer, he was all piratical rogue. "The only time that I crossed paths with them, I got the distinct impression that they were something other than us."

The twinkle had started Gibson wondering just how real Windemere really was and how much of his act was master-class put-on.

Windemere's thoughts took a sudden, sideways, grasshopper leap. Either the hashish or the brandy was getting to him. "Talking of impaling, did you know that the idea of incapacitating a vampire with a wooden stake was actually an invention of Bram Stoker?"

"I always thought that it was just poetic justice for Vlad the Impaler."

"The real tradition was iron stake. What does that suggest to you?"

"That they were grounding the vampire?"

"Exactly, dear boy. Running its energies to an earth. Isn't that a nice phrase? Grounding the vampire."

"What do you mean by the transactional universe?"

Windemere was sucking on the pipe. "It's just another phrase."

Gibson had enough Meth in him not to settle for any Zen double-talk. "Yes, but what does it mean?"

"Simply that our metallic world's other great error is to look on everything according to a capitalist model. Everything is a transaction. The sun shines and the crops grow. Everything's a deal. You do a deal to cop some fossil fuel and your car carries you to Birmingham. You smoke too many cigarettes and you get cancer. We look at energy as a transaction, as a commodity. Almost no one except Albert Einstein ever thought of it as an interface with the universe, as a dialogue, so to speak. We release energy constantly without a clue to its possible effects-sexual energy, philosophical energy, the massive jolt that comes with the moment of death."

"Death?" Gibson didn't like the word.

"Yes, death. This century in particular can be viewed as little more than a sequence of death cults."

"You mean the Manson Family and stuff like that?"

Windemere laughed. "Charlie? Oh, dear me, no. Old Charlie was nothing more than a very lowly servant of Abraxas. All he did was snuff that Polish movie director and his starlet wife, and a bunch of other decadent rich folk. He just got too much media coverage. No, I'm talking about the generals who ran World War I or Adolf Hitler or Pol Pot or Edward Teller, the father of the H-bomb, and all the others who babble about limited nuclear war."

"Surely they aren't cults, though, are they? Monsters but not cults?"

Windemere's face became grim.

"What do you think World War I was but a conspiracy by old men to maintain power and potency by the mass sacrifice of the young? In one afternoon on the Somme, the British general, Haig, lost almost twice the American casualty list for the whole of Vietnam. Think about the trouble that the Aztecs caused with just one sacrificial victim and a pyramid amplifier and then think of the power that Auschwitz must have put out in a single day."

Gibson wanted to ask what trouble the Aztecs had caused, but Windemere was still running.

"That is exactly the kind of stuff that wakes Necrom."

"You know about Necrom?"

Windemere nodded. "Oh, yes, I doubt that Carlos Casillas would have sent you here if I didn't."

"Do you have any idea why I'm getting so much attention? Do you know that we were followed by a UFO on the way over here?"

Windemere's eyes narrowed.

"No, nobody told me that. All I heard was that a bunch of tontons tried to ice you and Don Carlos."

"I think they were actually trying to take us alive."

"Every dark cloud has a silver lining."

"With tontons, dying may be the decided lesser evil.". Windemere topped up Gibson's drink. "You have a point there, old son," He paused to fill his own glass and then changed the subject. "You say that you saw a UFO over the Atlantic?

"We didn't just see it. It played tag with our plane and put us out for something like ten minutes."

"Out?"

"Gone, unconscious, dead to the world, everyone on the plane."

"You really do seem to be attracting attention."

Gibson twisted uncomfortably in his chair. "But why me, goddamn it?"

"Maybe someone thinks that you're a threat."

"I doubt I could be a threat if I tried."

Windemere laughed. "That's something you really can never know."

"I'm glad you find it amusing."

"If you can't see the cosmic joke, you're liable to go crazy in the process."

"I can't help feeling that I'm still waiting for the cosmic punch line and I may be the one falling over on the cosmic banana peel."

"That's the chance that you take."

"Thanks."

"Lighten up, Joe. You're in safe hands right now."

Gibson sighed and sipped his cognac. "I'm sorry. It's been a hard day."

"Tell me about the saucer. What did it look like?"

Gibson wondered if Windemere was really interested or whether he was merely decoying him away from his latest attempt at self-pity.

"In fact, it wasn't a saucer, it was more like an egg."

Windemere grinned wryly. "Shades of Mark and Mindy."

Despite himself Gibson also had to grin. "I hadn't thought of it that way."

"So what did this egg do?"

Gibson shrugged. "Up until it put us out, nothing very much. The captain said it was zigzagging a lot when he first picked it up on the radar. Then it came alongside and mostly just kept on changing color."

"And what happened when it put you out?"

"There was a blinding light, like a massive burst of radiation, and that was all she wrote. Next thing, we're waking up ten minutes later. You have any inside track on UFOs?"

Windemere shook his head."Not much, aside from what I've read, and, as far as I can see, about ninety percent of that is pure bullshit."

"That's pretty much what the streamheat said."

Windemere looked at Gibson questioningly. "The streamheat claimed that they didn't know anything about UFOs?"

Gibson nodded. "That's what they said."

"I thought they knew everything."

"Apparently not."

Windemere leaned forward and lowered his voice. "Maybe I shouldn't say this while they're in the house, but I don't altogether trust your newfound chaperones."

It was Gibson's turn to look questioning, "Why not?"

Windemere frowned. "I don't know, it's just a feeling. They're a little too… metallic, if you know what I mean."

Gibson nodded. "I know what you mean."

Windemere held his brandy glass, warming it between his cupped hands and staring thoughtfully into the amber liquid.

"It could be that someone out there believes that you're some sort of catalyst or pivot, that somehow some minor action of yours is going to trigger major events."

"William Storm Eagle said something of the sort."

"He's a wise old bird, Storm Eagle."

Gibson winced at the terrible pun. Windemere spread his hands. "It just came out."

"What makes you think I'm a catalyst?"

Windemere inhaled the fumes from his glass. "It's one explanation of all the shit that seems to have come down on your head since you hooked up with Casillas. You certainly don't seem to have done anything to merit it, unless there's something that no one's telling me. I very much doubt that UFOs are chasing you because some alien doesn't like your old records."

"Are you telling me that all this is happening to me because of something I might do in the future?"

"You have to remember that telling the future is a big deal in what, for want of a better term, gets called the paranormal. Projection's a growth industry, and there are a lot of people, not only in this dimension, that are very hung up on plotting the future. You should talk to your streamheat friends. From what I've heard, their dimension has made a high-tech science out of trying to figure out what's going to happen. They've got data banks from here to Thursday chock-full of nonlinear projection models and societal convection rolls and ways of suppressing the sensitivity to initial conditions. It's all very grand, but I have a sneaking feeling that it's all just fortune-telling when you get down to it, and I've never really trusted fortune-tellers. Even Nostradamus tends to fuck up. It's hard enough to predict a crap game, let alone the whole of everything interacting. If Lorenz's butterfly proves anything, it's that there's only so much you can do to constrain chaos."

Gibson put his brandy glass down on the desk. He had lost Windemere about three sentences back, but he didn't really care.

"How does all this affect you and me?"

"You mean in terms of your remaining here when it seems like half the multidimensional universe is down on your ass?"

"I'd hate to find myself out on the street."

Windemere gestured dismissively, as though his continued hospitality went without saying. "There's no chance of that. I gave my word to Don Carlos that I'd take care of you, and I don't intend to go back on it. On the other hand, though, if it gets hairy we may have to come up with some sort of backup plan."

"Do you have one?"

"Not yet, but I'm thinking about it."

"Do you mind if I ask you something?"

Windemere laughed. "It doesn't seem to have stopped you so far."

"Why aren't you one of the Nine?"

Windemere hesitated before answering. "I guess basically because I didn't want to be. I didn't want to be involved in something that also involved Sebastian Rampton."

"That's been puzzling me ever since I was at that place on Greene Street. How did a sleaze like that get to be one of the great guardians of the Earth?"

"Rampton may be a very unpleasant individual, but there are areas about which he knows more than any living human. When the Nine were selected, nobody was talking morality or even likability. They were dealing in terms of knowledge and power and, God knows, he's got both."

"But can he be trusted?"

Windemere's expression was matter-of-fact. "I doubt it. It's always been my opinion that he was a power-crazed geek who fancied himself as ubermensch. I never thought that it was just coincidence that he wore exactly the same glasses as Heinrich Himmler."

"Isn't his being one of the Nine downright dangerous?"

Windemere nodded. "We'll just have to hope that his interests go on corresponding with those of the rest of them." Windemere swirled his brandy in the glass. "It's not just Rampton. I doubt that I would have joined the Nine even if he hadn't been one of the other invited candidates. I don't exactly share all of their principles. I guess when it comes down to it, I'm too much of a nihilist. The Nine are altogether too strong on preserving civilization as we know it. Me, on the other hand, I'm not even sure that I like civilization as we know it."

"I thought that if Necrom woke up, it'd be the end of everything, that he'd eat us alive."

Windemere shrugged. "That's more fortune-telling."

"So what will happen?"

"Damned if I know. It could be that Necrom will usher in a whole new golden age, although, having lived through the sixties, I'm not sure we'd recognize a golden age if it jumped up and bit us. The only real hope I can see is that we survived the last one and maybe we'll survive again this time round."

"Survived the last what?"

"The last influx of superbeings."

Gibson blinked. "When did that happen? Did I miss something?"

"This planet was occupied for about ten thousand years by Necrom and his kind."

Every time Gibson thought that he was starting to get a handle on the events that had been thrust at him from the moment that Casillas had come knocking on his door, someone or something came along and kicked all previous logic out from under him.

He took a deep, cleansing breath and then spoke slowly and carefully. "There were superbeings actually living on Earth?"

"Right."

"Right here on Earth."

"Right."

"For ten thousand years."

"That's correct."

"When was this?"

"From about 25,000 to 15,000 B.C."

"How come we never heard about any of this?"

"It's just another of those little things that metallic science doesn't like to think about and therefore refuses to believe ever happened. The evidence is there if we care to look."

"Where?"

Windemere picked up a small rope of worry beads from his desk and twisted them between his fingers.

"It's actually the lack of evidence that's the most overwhelming factor. For the whole of this period, there are no conventional human archeological remains. That's a hell of a period just to misplace. And we know that man was around during that time. It wasn't that he hadn't appeared on the scene yet. Jesus, the Leakeys have found bones in Africa that go back five million years. It's just that we appear to vanish for about ten millennia."

"Are you going to tell me about it?"

Windemere applied a lighter to the pipe. "Don't have much else to do."

"So what happened?"

"Really I don't know that much. Just bits and pieces that I've gleaned along the way. Otherzoners can become amazingly tight-lipped when it comes to telling us stuff that we don't already know."

Gibson nodded. "I've noticed that."

"Anyway, for what it's worth, it seems that round about twenty-seven thousand years ago a bunch of superbeings showed up and colonized this planet in this particular temporal reality."

"Huh?"

"This dimension, if you like. A bunch of parallel dimensions, too, for that matter. Superbeings don't do that kind of stuff by half."

"What did they want here?"

"Who the hell knows? Why does anyone go out and colonize anywhere? Why did Columbus risk sailing off the edge of the world? To prove a point? Maybe all sentient beings are possessed of insatiable curiosity."

"And what did they do?"

"Usual colonial power stuff. Dragged us monkeys out of our caves and forced their idea of civilization on us. Used the place as a playground and probably as a staging point for their inexplicable adventures elsewhere."

"How is it that no trace remains of them?"

Windemere grinned. He was warming to his subject.

"That's the point, there are traces. It's just that we either don't recognize them or we make excuses for them. The whole planet is covered with improbable objects, roads, pyramids, giant structures that may have been constructed according to some big superaesthetic: the Great Pyramid, the Black Stone at Mecca, Easter Island. We're up to our ass in superbeing stuff."

"Superbeing art?"

"Why not?"

"No reason, I guess."

"Artifacts aside, by far the greatest traces of this occupation remain in our own minds."

"They do?"

"Sure. Our gods, ancient and modern, are certainly nothing more than a handed-down memory of Necrom and his kind, although saying so, up until comparatively recently, could get you burned at the stake."

"You don't believe in any kind of religion?"

Windemere looked almost angry.

"I don't believe in gods, full stop. We have quite enough troubles of our own without inventing more. I used to agree with Einstein that the need to create gods was an aberration of our species, maybe a by-product of being at the top of the food chain-how did he put it, 'fear or ridiculous egotism'? Now I suspect that it's all the result of trauma. The arrival of the superbeings left us with a dent in our ego that we still haven't worked out. Our collective consciousness took a terrible hammering. First these superior entities show up and we have to admit that we're no longer number one with a bullet, and then, to add insult to injury, after ten thousand years, just as we're getting used to the idea of being the pets of giants, they dump us and fuck off. We've never recovered. We still keep watching the skies, straining to get up there, promising ourselves that we'll go there when we die. The later pyramids, the spires of cathedrals, Stonehenge, the lines at Nazca, are all appeals to the gods to return. Daddy come home. The truth is, we're a bunch of bloody cargo cultists."

"But how come there are no human remains left for that period? There were plenty of us running around, right?"

"I'm not sure that we were running around. I have a feeling that we were rather more doing what the superbeings wanted. We may have been in reservations or zoos or we may really have been pets inside the residences of the gods. They may not have approved of wild humans, violent and inquisitive, and generally an all-round fucking nuisance. I'm also pretty sure that they left the place as they'd hope to find it, underpopulated and primitive, and they did one hell of a job clearing up, too. They must have practically leveled everything. The catalogue of disaster in legends would seem to confirm it. All the floods, the earthquakes, the nuking of Sodom, they're all likely memories of the superbeings wiping the place clean. The few survivors crawled off to lick their wounds, A few may have struggled for a while, trying to hang on to a little of what they learned, but the majority were too dispirited by the whole business to do anything but head back to their caves and start over."

"You're saying they almost wiped out humanity."

Windemere raised an eyebrow. "Plus all surface trace of their having been here. Does it surprise you?"

Gibson shook his head.

"Not really. It must have been something of a task, though."

"Not for Necrom's bunch, believe me."

"Just how super are they?"

"It's inconceivable. It's like a poodle contemplating Bertrand Russell. Don't let it get you down, though. The point is that we did survive. A pack of angry poodles can bring down a single philosopher if they have a mind to. Don't forget that. Of course, why they should have a mind to and the ethical questions contained therein are a whole other can of worms. That's maybe another reason I didn't join the Nine."

There was a quiet knock on the door. Windemere looked up.

"Yeah, come on in."

The woman who came in was in her mid-twenties and moved with a grace that immediately appealed to Gibson, who automatically rose from his chair. Windemere made the introductions.

"Joe, this is Christobelle Lacey. Christobelle, this is Joe Gibson."

Gibson turned on the charm. "Christobelle is a lovely name."

Christobelle smiled. "Thank you. You know, I saw you play once."

"I hope you enjoyed it."

"Oh, I did, but you rather fucked up later, didn't you?"

Gibson put on his rueful face. "So they tell me. I think I was a little mad at the time."

"We all get twisted at one time or another."

Gibson maintained the rueful smile. "Not all of us do it so publicly, though."

Christobelle nodded. "You did rather make a production out of your paranoia."

He was already wondering about the relationship between Windemere and Christobelle Lacey. What was she? Wife, mistress, employee, friend? Gibson found her exceedingly attractive. The bone structure of her face was solid and patrician, but this was offset by a full, sensual, and very generous mouth. Her white-blond hair was cut punk short and combed straight back. A short leather skirt revealed a pair of very good legs, and even the man's white dress shirt couldn't hide the hard points of her breasts. Christobelle had that same provocative British androgyny that Annie Lennox of the Tourists had exploited into a career. He wondered if the androgyny was limited to style or if androgynous was as androgynous did. You never could tell about the English.

Windemere smiled and half answered the question without being asked. "Christobelle is my secretary. This house would fall into total disorganization without her."

Gibson realized that he'd been staring with this fatuous expression on his face. "I'm sorry, I think the speed is starting to wear off."

Windemere was suddenly very businesslike. "Well, we won't have to worry about giving you any more for the moment.'"

"I don't think its a good idea for me to fall asleep. The last time I tried it, it was very nearly permanent."

"You're quite safe here."

Gibson looked a little uncomfortable. "I don't want to insult your hospitality or anything, but that's what they told me back on Greene Street. When it came down to it, the psych attack ran all over them."

Windemere slowly nodded.

"I think you'll find that you'll be a good deal safer here from dream invasion. They do rather tend to live in the material world, what with their Mafia rent-a-goons and Muslims straight out of Attica. We tend to be a little more organic over here. Why do you think I've been feeding you hundred-year-old cognac and good opium for the last couple of hours?"

"I thought you were showing me a good time."

Windemere grinned. "Well, that, too, but I was also hardening up your dreams. An opium dream is practically inviolate on its own, but surrounded by a layer of good booze, it's rock steady. They can psych away all they want, but you'll be in blissful oblivion. I don't really approve of amphetamine as a way of life. Without sleep, you just grow less and less sane. Just to be on the safe side, I have some heavy-duty blockers built into this humble abode that are, although a little more funky than the stuff they have in the Nine's little Disneyland on the Hudson, a great deal more effective."

Gibson was still a little doubtful. He wanted to think that Windemere was okay, but it was taking a hell of a risk. The rats and the Nazis were still horribly vivid in his memory.

"I have to take your word for all this?"

Windemere nodded. It was almost casual. "That's right. You do."

"I need to talk to Smith, Klein, and French about this."

This time Windemere shook his head. "I'm afraid that here in my own small magic kingdom I call the shots, and the first one is that you have to make your own decision. As far as my protecting you, it'll be done my way or not at all. Don Carlos knows this and the streamheat know it. It's really a case of take it or leave it, Joe."

Gibson thought hand about this. He really was exhausted and would like nothing better than to stretch out and go to sleep. "If there is an attack, will you have people on hand, ready to pull me out?"

"Of course,"

Gibson took a deep breath. "Okay, then. I'll try and get some sleep."

Windemere looked at Christobelle. "Would you mind showing Joe to his room? I have some thinking to do. I fear the multidimensional universe is going to a war footing sooner than I expected."

Christobelle stood up and smiled at Gibson. "Would you like to come with me? "

At the door, Gibson turned back and grinned at Windemere. "Thanks for the hospitality."

Gideon Windemere waved a hand in airy dismissal. "You're more than welcome."

As Christobelle closed the door, she winked solemnly at Gibson. "You should take Gideon's bullshit with a pinch of salt."

Gibson was surprised. It seemed like a decided lack of loyalty. "You mean all that he was telling, he was just making it up?"

Christobelle quickly shook her head. "Oh, no. I don't know what he was telling you, but Gideon always tells the truth as he sees it. The bullshit's in the presentation. Do you want a Valium?"

Gibson thought about both the statement and the question. "No, I don't think so. The opium will more than do it for me."

Windemere's study was in the ground floor of the house, and they were out in the main hallway that led in one direction to the front door and in the other to an imposing staircase. Christobelle started toward the staircase. As she began to climb, she glanced back at Gibson.

"Did you really kill your roadie?"

Gibson wearily halted. How many times did he have to go over that old, old story? "You know, that whole thing has been blown out of all proportion. We were all drunk and the gun went off. Damn, he was out of the hospital and back on his feet inside of a week."

"But you did shoot him?"

Gibson sighed. "That's right. I did shoot him. I pointed the gun and shot the son of a bitch. "

Christobelle seemed to realize that she'd gone too far. "I'm sorry. I wasn't making any kind of judgment."

' "You just wanted to hear from the horse' s mouth if the stories were true."

"Something like that. I suppose a lot of people ask you the same thing."

Gibson nodded. "One or two."

"I really am sorry."

"That's okay. Don't worry about it."

The sound of footsteps was coming down from the second floor, and he and Christobelle were confronted by Smith, Klein, and French and Windemere's two minions on the first-floor landing, Windemere's minions were a choice pair. Gibson had no difficulty figuring out which was Cadiz and which was O'Neal without any formal introductions. Cadiz looked fresh out of a Cuban maximum-security prison. He was a small swarthy man with a flat nose and broad cheekbones. His black hair was slicked straight back, and three tattooed tears ran down his cheek from the outer corner of his right eye. The mythology was that each tear represented a homicide. If Cadiz was from the joint, O'Neal looked as though he'd learned his business in some extreme faction of the Irish Republican Army. His hair was shoulder-length and his features were hard and florid, and both men faced down the world with expressions that were totally devoid of the normal signs of either humor or pity. Gibson wondered how a seemingly cultured individual like Windemere stood living with this duo of cold killers hanging around.

Smith stopped on the landing and looked questioningly at Gibson. "Are you okay?"

Gibson nodded. "Yes, I'm fine."

"What are you doing?"

Gibson scowled. Smith continued to behave as though she were his goddamn governess or something.

"Windemere suggested that I should get some sleep."

"Is that a good idea after what happened in New York?"

"I'm prepared to take the chance."

"We're responsible for your safety."

"I thought Windemere had taken over that role?"

Smith glanced back at Cadiz and O'Neal.

"I don't think this is the time or place for this discussion."

Gibson stood his ground.

"And I don't think that it's a good idea to be shooting me up with any more speed. I'm going to wind up crazier than I am already. So, despite your misgivings, I'm going to avail myself of Mr. Windemere's hospitality and go to bed." He stepped past Smith and looked at Christobelle. "Would you like to show me to the guest room? "

Christobelle eyed Smith, Klein, and French coldly.

"Of course, whatever you want."

The two of them started up the next flight of stairs. Nothing more was said, but Gibson had the distinct feeling that somewhere along the line Smith would make him pay for his demonstration of independence.

The guest room was on the top floor. In the days when the house had originally been built as the home for a well-to-do Victorian family, the room had probably been part of the servants' quarters. On one side, the ceiling angled down, following the line of the roof. Most of the floor space was taken up by a king-size brass bed and a small bedside table. On the table there were two twelve-ounce Cokes cooled in a bucket of ice, and a copy of Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time appeared to be set out as suggested bedside reading. How the hell did Windemere know that Coca-Cola was Gibson's favorite hangover cure? There was a framed print of Andy Warhol's Electric Chair hanging above the mantel. The room wasn't exactly cheerful, but the bed looked comfortable, and right at that moment it was all Gibson cared about. As they entered the room, a very large black Persian cat with the amber eyes of a demon jumped up from where it had been sleeping and streaked past them and out of the door. Gibson started but quickly recovered himself.

"What was that? Windemere's familiar?"

"That's Errol. He shares his home with us and we feed him. He's a bit neurotic and doesn't altogether trust strangers."

Christobelle closed the door behind the animal. "You think you'll be okay here?"

Gibson was a little surprised when she closed the door; he couldn't really believe that she intended to remain through the night with him on so brief an acquaintance. He picked up the book and leafed through it, doing his best to look casual. "I'm sure I will. I could sleep on a cement floor if I had to."

Christobelle dimmed the bedside light and turned back the covers; then she started unbuttoning her shirt. Gibson glanced up and raised a questioning eyebrow. "You look as though you're planning to stay?"

She grinned at him, "Unless you have an objection."

Gibson sat down on the bed."No objection at all. I just didn't expect it."

Christobelle wasn't wearing a bra.

"Didn't you think that well-brought-up English girls did this sort of thing? "

Gibson chuckled.

"Hell, no, I've met a few well-brought-up English women in my time. They didn't act any different to anyone else."

"So why the look of amazement? You must have had girls throwing themselves at you all the time."

"Windemere isn't going to be put out by us being here like this?"

"Why should he?"

"I was wondering how he might feel about a total stranger debauching with his secretary."

"Listen, Gibson, Gideon Windemere's secretary debauches with whom the hell she wants. Don't you forget that."

She was sliding the leather miniskirt over her hips. Her panties were plain black cotton. She sat down beside him and put her lips close to his ear. "If you want to, you can look at it as just a little more dreamstate reinforcement. Or put it down to the tact that, when I was little, I always wanted to be a groupie."

Gibson could reel the warmth of her breath, and he needed no further urging.

After all that he'd been through, making love to Christobelle Lacey was close to a hallucinatory experience. He was beyond exhaustion and far from certain that he'd be able to respond at all. Fortunately, Christobelle seemed to have no reservations about taking control, and Gibson was more than happy to relax and leave himself in her capable hands, lips, arms, mouth, and all the other parts of her body that continuously drifted in and out of his soft-focus opium half-dream. She moved against him sinuously. She stretched and writhed. There was muscular, feline joy in each slow variation of her movement. She was a jaguar crouching over him, purring and sighing, hot breath on his face. Momentarily, her teeth clamped into the flesh of his shoulder, and he later tasted blood on her lips. As if from a great distance, he could hear his own gasps of pleasure, and despite all that he'd been through, he found himself rising with her, coming up for annihilation, drawing a strange new strength from somewhere in the depths of complete unreality. The only disturbing part was that each time he opened his eyes he found that he was looking at the Warhol Electric Chair on the wall that faced the end of the bed. Who was it who said that there was only a fine line between orgasm and death? You said a mouthful there, Jack.

When they were both finished, Gibson lay on his back, panting, watching red explosions beneath his eyelids. Christobelle rested her arms on his chest and looked down at him in the gloom with a wicked but contented grin on her race,

"Did you like that, Joe Gibson?" He noticed that she had very sharp little incisors. He opened his eyes and smiled.

"That would be an understatement. I feel like a violin that's been played by a master."

"Or maybe a mistress?"

Gibson laughed. "Top-of-the-line, five-thousand-dollar hooker couldn't have done better."

Her teeth were very white in the darkness.

"You really know how to sweet-talk a girl."

"Were you ever a top-of-the-line, five-thousand-dollar hooker? Maybe in another life?"

Although Gibson knew that it was probably the gentlemanly thing to stay awake and talk, he couldn't fight his sinking mind and wilting intelligence. Within minutes, he was fast asleep. His dreams were a procession of ragged fragmented images, weird but not terrifying and certainly not imposed from outside. At one point, he floated on his back in a warm, buoyant sea while an entire armada of stately UFOs, rainbow-colored and in an infinity of configurations, slowly crossed the jet-black sky in multiple formations. Christobelle or someone very like her swam beside him, occasionally reaching out a soft hand to touch his body. There was nothing in this part of his dreamstate to warrant any complaint.

Waking was a whole different matter. Christobelle was gone, replaced by O'Neal and a headache of Godzilla proportions. O'Neal was standing at the end of the bed. He was wearing a zipped-up nylon windbreaker that made him look like a narc.

"You'd best be getting up."

His voice had the harsh rasp of Catholic Belfast. Gibson sat up. For a few moments, he had no idea where he was. Then it all came back to him. It was hardly a pleasant sensation. Even less pleasant was the taste in his mouth. He reached for one of the Cokes on the bedside table. The ice had melted, but it was still cold.

"What's going on?"

"Windemere will fill you in. You'd best get some clothes on. Everyone else is waiting for you in the drawing room."


The White Room | Necrom | The White Room