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SUMMARY: Giles and Ethan, the electric Kool-Aid funky Satan groove year, in the early seventies. Rated M. Spoilers to Band Candy. Acknowledgements and disclaimers.

104.

Early the next morning, Randall's brother came to the house. Rupert opened the front door and brought him in, just as he had the police officers the day before.

Paul was a few inches taller than Randall, clean-shaven and some years older, in his mid-twenties at least. He had the same colour of hair. He was slightly better-looking than his brother, Rupert thought.

"I can't stay long," Paul said. "I'm needed back at the hospital." His accent was the same as Randall's. Mid-American? Transatlantic? He looked incongruous, standing there in his suit and tie amongst the piled-up rubbish of the hallway. Who owned the stuff in those boxes anyway?

Rupert took him through to the kitchen to make him a coffee. He had to find a mug to wash first, as the housework had rather fallen to the wayside in the last week. As the water boiled, he looked for a spoon. And then for the coffee. There wouldn't be any milk, as the power was still out and the fridge was empty.

"I hope you take it black," he said. "Sugar?" He watched Paul tip in half a cup and stir.

As he sipped, Paul's eyes flickered over filth of the kitchen floor and the unwashed dishes, but he didn't say anything about it. Instead he asked about his brother, Randall's recent moods and preoccupations. What drugs he was taking and whom he might have been sleeping with.

On the way upstairs, Paul paused on the stairwell to look at the paintings. He didn't ask whose they were. He spent some time staring at a copulating threesome of gibbons before giving a light shake of the head.

Up in Randall's room, he poked at his brother's things with a foot: his books, his records, his tubes of paint.

"He wastes his life," said Paul. He wasn't talking to Rupert, but to himself.

Rupert wanted to defend Randall. He wanted to say that Randall was generous and very probably talented and that his brother would be proud of him in time, but he couldn't.

"And how's Dee?" Paul asked. His expression then and his tone of voice were so horribly, horribly like Randall's that Rupert's skin crawled. He couldn't look Paul in the eye.

"She's desperately unhappy," Rupert said. "She's afraid he's gone for good."

"She's not here?"

"She's at Louise's," he said, then wondered if he should have. Paul nodded as if he knew who Louise was.

"He's done this before," said Paul. "Wandered off, gone AWOL. Back when he was in high school, I had to go look for him. He'd be passed out, pot-smoking somewhere. Out in the Park, or in someone's basement."

On the way back down to the kitchen, Paul asked, "So what do you do?"

Rupert found himself unwilling to admit to a doctor that he was a guitarist. He heard himself say, "I study history at Oxford."

Paul nodded, with a faint indication of approval. "Could you talk to him then, if you see him? Maybe he'd listen to you more than us. He needs an education and a vocation. Can you tell him his life's going nowhere right now?"

Rupert saw Paul to the front door. Then he spent the evening getting drunk.

105.

Ethan came home to a silent house. He stood in the kitchen for a moment, trying to listen for any signs of life, but there were none. No shuffled feet from upstairs, nor chink of mug, nor refrigerator groaning, not even a gurgle of pipes.

He went into Adrienne's room first, as this was the one which opened onto the kitchen. Her leaflets were still there, and her mattress, but her clothes and her personal things were gone. She'd left the curtains almost closed. Their thin green cloth let in enough sunlight for the room to glow as if underwater. Dust motes swam in the air.

He went up the painted stairs, his footsteps sounding out on the bare wood. He paused on the landing to note the holes in the teetering piles of paperbacks, where someone had seized fistfuls while hurrying away. Tom and Deirdre's room was empty, little left in it now except the mattress and the torn bits of newspaper that Deirdre liked to use as bookmarks.

Up in the attic, no-one was there either, apart from the blind blank eye of the television set. Only Ripper's room looked recently occupied, with cigarette ash in a saucer and his clothes piled on the floor.

Ethan's hand shook as he turned the handle to the drawing room but it wasn't until he was inside that he realised he'd somehow expected to find Diedre there anyway, sitting on a chair next to the fireplace, the way his mother used to (and no doubt, still did). No, the drawing room was empty too, of everything bar beanbags and rugs. He went to the window and saw that neither Ripper's car nor Stan's was in the street.

It was just him, then. It was only to be expected.

It had been a long time since everything had felt so simple and clear. But how normal and right and real it felt: the stars had snapped back into their true alignment.

He took all the magical books and gear from the dead man's room. He prised open the couple that Randall had kept nailed shut, works of chaos magic that Randall had been given but had never wanted to use.

Ethan sat in his room then, surrounding himself with a circle of bought and scavenged tomes. He was happy to be there.

Then the clarity left him and his head and joints were filled instead with a thick, black mud of a feeling he could neither recognise nor name. He could not think of a way to make it go away.


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