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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.


77.

There were five of them in the car: Ethan sat next to Rupert in the front, with Adrienne and the two strangers in the back. Neither of the strangers had yet said a word.

"Pull up over there," Adrienne said. "I need to use the phone."

They were in the outskirts of some small town that Ethan hadn't taken in the name of, parked outside a shopping plaza of damp concrete and long shadows. It was still too early for any of the shops to be open. He watched Adrienne get out of the car and step towards a telephone box.

It was so quiet in the car that Ethan started to count the seconds ticked out by Rupert's watch. When he reached sixty, he got out of the car, shutting the door behind him with a slam.

The door to the telephone box wasn't quite closed. He caught snatches of Adrienne's side of the conversation. "You yellow-bellied cowardly prick," she shouted down the phone. After hanging up, she visibly made an effort to breathe deeply before she turned and caught sight of Ethan.

"And what the fuck did you think were doing?" she said to him. "That was your diversion? You couldn't have picked something a little more low key? You couldn't manage a swarm of bees or a rubbish bin fire? Something that wouldn't get us onto the front page of News of the World? You vain, selfish, self-aggrandising git." She started to shove at him, so he moved out of the way.

Ethan didn't say anything as she stalked back to the car. His jaw and ribs ached and he didn't actually feel capable of speech. He briefly considered walking into town and getting a bus back to London, but it was starting to rain, so he got back into the car.

The rest of the drive back was punctuated by Adrienne's bouts of vociferous swearing. When they got closer to London, she said, "They'll have to stay in the attic until I can sort something out." She seemed to expect someone to argue, but nobody did. The two strangers turned to look at her silently. Ethan didn't see if Rupert reacted because he was refusing to look at him.

Traffic slowed to a crawl as they reached the edges of the morning rush hour. Rain slid over the car windows. Ethan got angrier and angrier with every passing minute. When they paused near a zebra crossing he got out of the car. A Royal Mail van almost ran him over.

A few streets away, he found himself near a school. Mothers with pushchairs guided their damp older offspring towards the gates. A parcel of less supervised children thronged outside a nearby sweetshop.

He'd done everything that he'd been asked to do. He'd done a good job of it. He'd been so fucking pleased that the gryphon had walked exactly as it should. He'd done everything right.

He found a block of flats overlooking the school playing fields. He unlocked a door that led onto a balcony and summoned the gryphon. He got it to clamber over the grass, its eagle claws and lion's feet in an awkward rhythm, and then he beat its wings. How much more graceful it was in flight than on the ground. It soared and circled. He lost track of the time and he did not really hear the shouts and screams of the people below and those who looked out from the windows of the flats.

The rain had drenched him by the time he ended the spell; he was soaked to his underwear and with his socks squelching inside his old leather shoes. He felt calmer, but not very well. He hadn't slept since the night before last and his reflection in the window now sported a darkening bruise. He should go home.

He found a flat that looked empty and cast the spell to unlock its door. Inside he found some dry clothes that fit him very badly and a pair of boots that fit him rather better. There was an old raincoat but no umbrella. He also grabbed a plastic M&S bag to carry his wet clothes.

When he got home, there were muddy footprints all over the kitchen floor and arguing voices coming from the attic. Randall's door was ajar but he wasn't in. Ethan decided he might as well wait there. He sat on a beanbag and instantly fell asleep.

When he woke, it was evening and Randall was just placing the needle of his demonic record player onto a copy of Pearl. Randall had this ghastly interest in the last records of famous musicians who'd died. He'd play them sometimes for days, over and over: The Cry of Love, L.A. Woman, King and Queen, and arguably Europe '72. Ethan had started out liking all of those albums but now he hated each and every one. He wondered sometimes if sharing a flat and then a house with Randall had forever killed his mild interest in music.

Randall looked awful. "I've had a bad day too," he said.



78.

After Ethan left the car, Rupert drove Adrienne and the two strangers towards Camden. He glanced at them in the mirror. They looked pale, foreign and thirtyish. One was cleanshaven and one had a beard. Their eyes flickered but their faces were closed down and almost expressionless.

"What went wrong?" he asked Adrienne, who had taken the seat next to him.

"Two fuckwits," she said. "One fuckwit didn't turn up in the carpark with the van. The other fuckwit summoned a fucking gryphon."

"It was the illusion of a gryphon, strictly speaking."

"You couldn't have talked him out of it?"

"I didn't know what you'd asked him to do."

"God," she said.

Rupert kept thinking of the woman who'd been shot. She'd looked older, maybe forty, and had a thick plait of pale hair to her waist. She'd been wearing a seagreen dress. The inside of her mouth had been very pink and her blood very red. The WPC's arms had been soaked. Perhaps the bullet had hit the femoral artery?

"They can stay in the attic until I can sort something out," she said. "Thank you for not asking who they are."

No-one was in the house when they got back. They took the two men up to the attic and Adrienne gestured for them to sit on the elderly sofa. It was only then that Rupert realised that the men did not have any luggage.

"Can you get them something to eat?" she asked him. "I have to make some more phone calls."

He didn't like leaving them in the house alone, for Diedre or Randall to stumble upon, but he didn't seem to have much choice. So instead he ran to the nearest open shop, a bakery, where he bought hot pork pies, and a pair of iced buns. He took them up to the attic, where the men ate them, albeit without much enthusiasm. He had the distinct impression that he shouldn't speak with them at all. He wondered if they even spoke English.

He fell asleep sitting on the attic floor. He woke when one of the strangers started tapping him on the shoulder and, through a series of rather obvious gestures, indicated that he needed to be shown the loo. It was lunchtime, well past the hour when he should have rung in sick; he wondered if he would lose his job. Adrienne still wasn't back and there was no sign of anyone else. He wondered where they all were. It was pouring with rain, so it wasn't as if they'd be out at the cricket.

Diedre and Randall came home first. You could always tell when it was Diedre as she was the only person in the house who ever wore heels. Her footsteps made an unmistakable clack-clack sound on the wooden floor and stairs. Rupert endured twenty minutes of listening to her move around the house, from kitchen to bedroom to bathroom to kitchen again and then to the drawing room. Randall had his record player on and Diedre was talking. All the while the strangers did nothing and said nothing. Their expressions were without curiosity.

Where was Adrienne? Why wasn't she back?

Diedre came upstairs to the attic. She had a glass of gin and a paperback novel with her. She took one look at the sofa and recoiled. "Who are these people?" she asked.

"I don't know," Rupert said, truthfully. "Adrienne brought them home." As Diedre's expression was somewhat disbelieving, he added, "Ah, not like that."

"Are you friends of hers from the shop?" Diedre asked them. Her smile evaporated when they did not reply.

Adrienne arrived home then. She was sopping wet from the rain, her normally curly hair flat and straggling. "They're going to have to stay here for a couple of nights," she said.

"What?" said Diedre. "Adrienne, who are these people?"

Adrienne looked at Rupert. "I haven't said anything," he assured her.

"Sind Sie aus Deutschland?" Diedre asked. "Ich kenne ein paar Worte."

The two men looked at each other.

Adrienne grabbed Diedre and Rupert and pulled them out of the attic and onto the stairs.

"I can't tell you who they are," she said. "It's safer if I don't. None of you are supposed to have met them."

"Safer?" said Diedre, sagging down onto a stair.

"They have to stay here a couple of nights, but after that they'll be gone, I promise."

"Just what have you got yourself into?" Diedre demanded. "What exactly are you doing?"

"Only a couple of nights," Adrienne repeated. "Dee, how could you tell they were German? Had they said anything?"

"They look German," said Diedre. "It's the face, particularly the chin, and the way they're dressed. When we went on holiday in Trieste, we'd always play Spot the German, or Spot the Italian or whatever."

"If anyone asks, say they're hitch-hikers from Alsace. Tell Tom that and Stan. Randall-- I'm not going to ask you to lie to him."

"Randall's not going to care today," said Diedre. "Randall's not going to even notice that they're here."

"He's not well?" Rupert asked.

"He got some bad news. It's old news, but he only just heard. A couple of his friends died last year."

"That's terrible," said Rupert, sincerely. "How did it happen?"

She shrugged. "'In the line of duty'," she said.
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