The Renegade  

The Renegade

by H. A. Covington

Copyright (C) 1999

I. Monday, September 15th

It was one of those peculiar days that occur on the eastern seaboard of Ireland at the beginning of autumn, warm and yet grey and overcast with an indefinable menace. The ancient trees in Phoenix Park and St. Stephen's Green were just beginning to change colour, the leaves drifting down into the grass and onto the sidewalks. The close atmosphere affected the people of Dublin in a number of barely noticeable ways. Car and bus headlights were turned on at half six in the evening even though there was no need for them yet. Coal and turf fires were lit in grates across the city, although it was not especially cool. The summer was over and everyone knew it.

Jacinta Kelly sat in the back of the bus taking her home to bedsitter land in Rathmines. There were a number of regulars on the bus whom Jacinta recognized from years of catching it every weeknight on D'Olier Street. There was the fat old man in the tattered greatcoat and the two giggling American girls from Trinity College. There were the young male bank clerks and civil servants in their cardigans and ties. A few of the older passengers would be riding the bus all the way out to their detached four-bedroom homes in the prosperous suburbs of Churchtown or Rathfarnham. But most of the young people of both sexes were headed for Rathmines or Rathgar, or possibly to one of the pubs along Richmond Street or Rathmines Road where they would stop for a jar before walking over to Ranelagh or Ballsbridge. The girls especially seemed largely of a type, healthy looking young lasses who came mostly from western farms or small towns in the Midlands. They wore Brown-Thomas skirts and jumpers hand-knit by fond mothers out of patterns from the RTE television guide, or else they wore the single-piece uniforms of the banks and chain stores where they worked. For the most part they wore little or no make-up and many didn't bother to shave their legs. They were employed in semi-state bodies like the ESB or Bord Failte, behind teller counters or cash registers, as secretaries or receptionists, or as shop assistants in Henry Street, the Ilac Centre, or O'Connell Street.

For most of these girls the threat of the Holyhead emigration boat or the jumbo jet out of Shannon airport had receded. The majority of them had good, steady jobs and would eventually return home to Sligo or Mullingar and marry Sean or Eamonn with the hundred acres, or else put in thirty years on the job and retire to a flat in Monkstown with a pension and a cat or two. As they grew older they would increasingly find comfort in the rituals, observances and social life provided by the Catholic church. A few of the young women who were bedsitter-bound tonight would break into acting, art, or business and make their mark, finding adventure and success. But for a few more, a stranger fate was in store. It would leave some dead before their time and others spiritually scarred for life. Something was about to enter their world which was beyond their experience or imagination, a monstrous relic of the days when folk all over Europe huddled close to flickering fires in mud-walled cabins or timbered hovels, listening in awe and terror to the night noises in the mighty forests or on the desolate moorlands beyond their little circle of light. An ancient enemy would stalk among them, a nightmare more remembered from instinct than clearly perceived. The visitation would be mercifully brief, but for a short time, Dublin would walk in terror.

Jacinta Kelly got off the bus just past the Portobello bridge. Crossing Lower Rathmines Road, she stopped at a corner shop and bought a pint of milk, a pack of Galtee gammon steaks, and several tomatoes. At home she already had eggs, rashers, black pudding, and a tin of beans. It was her turn to do the cooking tonight, and she thought she'd treat herself and her flatmate Kathleen to a fry.

Jacinta was a stocky, well-built girl with close-cropped black hair, twenty-three years of age. She differed from the thousands of other Dublin bedsitter girls only in that she was a bit more of a methodical person than most. Jacinta had a very clear idea of where she was going in life and how she intended to get there. She budgeted every penny, made her own clothes and her own wine, and saved money regularly. She took keep-fit classes twice a week and visited her parents who lived over a shop in Longford town once a month. Every three months or so she took a B & I "booze cruise" to Liverpool to visit a sister and a brother who lived there. One her way back she stocked up on duty-free liquor and bought cigarettes for her friends who smoked. Her boyfriend Liam was a barrister already earning thirty thousand pounds a year, and was being touted as the next Fianna Fàil candidate for a Dublin Dail constituency. Jacinta planned on giving him another year or so of their present enjoyable and responsibility-free arrangement before handing him an ultimatum: marry her or bow out so she could start angling for another catch as good or better. Jacinta wanted to own her own home by the age of twenty-eight, produce three children who would be all grown by the time she was fifty, and by that time be ensconced in a Georgian mansion in Wicklow or Kildare. In order to keep to this timetable she needed to be married within the next couple of years.

But Jacinta Kelly was a bad or a callused young woman who was out for the tin and nothing else. She had never experienced poverty, but she had the ingrained, virtually instinctive Irish terror of it. She regarded her material goals in life as perfectly reasonable and made no secret of them to Liam. She loved her family with deep affection and one of the reasons she wanted to attain affluence was to give her parents a fine home to live in after they gave up the shop and retired. She was ready and willing to give full measure and loyalty to Liam or whoever her future husband turned out to be. She was a good homemaker, thrifty and efficient. She was cheerful and fun to be with, and she had carefully studied a banned sex manual she had bought in Liverpool so that she and Liam could enjoy that part of their relationship. She went to Mass often, although not to confession since she and Liam had been sleeping together and she had of necessity gone on the pill, which she ordered by mail from England. When she went to church she always put a pound into the poor box and every time she came across an African famine relief box in went all her spare change. She worked hard at her job, enjoyed life, and hurt no one.

Jacinta walked up the street she lived in, Grove Park, and turned in at her gate. It was one of those red brick Edwardian houses which lined the street, almost all of them now divided up into flats and bedsitters. She fitted her key into the front door and nodded pleasantly to the landlady, Mrs. O'Sullivan, who was sitting in her parlor reading Ireland's Own magazine. As Jacinta opened the front door the little bell over the lintel tinkled. She checked the hall table to see if there were any post, and picked up a monthly statement from Allied Irish banks for herself and two letters addressed to Kathleen O'Shea. One was from her roommate's mother in Tralee and one from her boyfriend Ciaran, a tall skinny youth whom Jacinta had met on several occasions when he came up to Dublin to visit, whose mind seemed completely absorbed in the care and feeding and racing of prize greyhounds.

The house was quiet as Jacinta climbed the stairs to the first floor flat where she lived. The hall was dark, but she didn't bother to switch on the hall lights as she unlocked the door. She turned on the sitting room light and put her groceries and the letters on the table. Kathleen was not there; tonight she was meeting her brother Paddy, a carpenter who was married and lived with his family on the north side of the city. Sometimes after they'd had a drink and a chat, she'd bring Paddy back to the flat with her for a cup of tea. Jacinta wondered if he would come tonight. She went over to the fridge and the cooker against the wall and took dishes out of the cupboard, and the frying pan down from its hook. There was a slight noise behind her, and with a sickening rush of horror Jacinta realized there was someone in the flat with her. Then a sledgehammer blow slammed into the back of her head and she blacked out.

When she came to she was lying on her own bed in the dark, fully clothed. The light in the sitting room had been switched off. Her hands were lashed tightly behind her back, a gag was crushing her tongue into the back of her mouth, and a man was in the process of tying her ankles spread-eagled to the bottom bedstead. There was a sudden glow in the alley outside the window as the streetlights came on, and in the pale illumination she saw her captor as a dark figure wearing a ski mask which concealed his features.

Her heart was pounding wildly, but Jacinta knew that all costs she had to stay calm, for her life might depend on it.

This is it, she thought in anguish, fighting down the urge to vomit in sheer terror. Dear God, I thought it would never happen to me! He's got me, I can't escape or fight him tied up like this. It's going to be rape for sure, but what will he do afterwards? I mustn't panic. I've got to concentrate on staying alive and getting him OUT OF HERE GOD GOD I WANT HIM OUT OF HERE PLEASE JESUS MARY MOTHER OF GOD PLEASE MAKE HIM GO AWAY no! no! get a grip! I'll be submissive and give him what he wants but what if he kills me? Maybe he'll use my tights or a pillow case I'll feel the noose sliding around my neck and then I'll know I'm about to die Oh Mary Blessed Virgin Mother of Our Lord protect me if I have sinned and I have to be punished game ball thy will be done but please let it be rape only Blessed Virgin please don't let him hurt me I will light a thousand candles I swear I'll not let Liam touch me again until we're married whatever it was I swear by my soul's salvation I won't do it again maybe he'll use a knife oh God! the pain and the blood I couldn't stand the pain don't let him hurt me Blessed Virgin I can't die now it's too soon, I can't now please please oh God don't let me die...

The man spoke. "Can you hear and understand me?" His voice was low and resonant, like a faraway cathedral bell. Jacinta nodded. "I think we'd better have this on," he said, and he drew from his pocket a short black hood or mask which he slid over Jacinta's face, covering her eyes and mouth. It was like the black cap placed over the head of a condemned prisoner on the gallows, and Jacinta gave way to her panic and began to struggle and scream through the gag. A hand gripped her shoulder and crushed in painfully. "Be still!" commanded the low melodious voice, and she was still. "Listen to me, girl. I am going to remove the cloth from your mouth and you may speak. If you cry out for help or scream, it will be your last sound on earth. I also must remove the mask from my face, which is why I have placed the hoodwink over your head. If you attempt to dislodge it, or if I even suspect that you have seen my face, then I will strangle you to death. Do you understand?" Jacinta nodded. He reached under the hood with sinuous fingers and pulled the gag out of her mouth, making breathing much easier for her. His accent was odd and his diction stilted; Jacinta was certain he was some kind of foreigner, but she had no idea from where. Not any kind of Irishman or Brit she had ever heard, that was certain. "What is your name, child?" the intruder asked her.

"Jacinta Kelly," she whispered, her mouth dry. "I'll do anything you want if you'll not hurt me. I'm afraid to die. Please let me live. Just tell me what I have to do." She remembered an article she had read on surviving a rape encounter, which said that the victim should never argue with her attacker or defy him outright, but should present an outward show of submission while using any delaying tactic that came to hand to play for time and postpone the actual sex act as long as possible, all the while talking to the attacker and trying to show him that she was a human being rather than a prey to be hunted, trying to make him understand the terrible suffering he would inflict if he proceeded with the assault. But Jacinta couldn't think of anything to say other than to beg for her life. Her mind was a blank.

"I am sorry to intrude on you in this manner," came his rumbling voice, a low bass that was somehow soothing. "I regret the fright I have caused you, and if you obey me you shall not be harmed. You have something I need, and I am going to take it. Then I will go." Relief flooded into her. He was only a common burglar after all!

"I've got about twelve pounds in my purse," she began, but he cut her off with a laugh.

"I have no need of your money, Jacinta."

"Then what do you want?" she asked. "Are you going to hurt me?"

"A little. I am sorry, but it is unavoidable. This is the point where I must take off my mask, and I again caution you against any attempt to observe my face."

Oh God, she thought in despair, He's some kind of perverted maniac and he is going to perform some unspeakable beastly act on my body. Aloud she said softly, "Go ahead. I won't try to see you. I donít want to know what you look like. I just want it to be over."

"I oblige, madam," he returned, and pulled her halfway off the bed, holding her in the crook of one elbow. She could hear him sliding the balaclava off his face with his free hand. He's holding me up like a rag doll, she thought. He must be strong as an ox. At least my clothes are still on. Uh oh, spoke too soon, there goes my jumper! With his free hand her assailant ripped Jacinta's sweater from her shoulders and torso as if it were candy floss, and he bunched the torn garment down around her waist below her brassiere. "Ah, such a pity time is so short," he crooned. "Nonetheless, I shall leave your alabaster bosom decently covered. Now lift your chin."

"Why?" whispered Jacinta in mounting horror. "Please, tell me, what are you going to do to me?"

"Remain calm and stay still," he commanded. "Jacinta, the fact is that I am---different from you and your race. I must sustain myself in the manner that is natural for my kind. Now, I am going to bite you. It will sting a little and then you will feel warm and happy and sleepy. When you wake up, it will be over, and I will be gone."

"Bite?" cried Jacinta. She felt hot breath and warm lips at her throat, and then a sharp pain below her jaw. In a sudden flash of comprehension she understood that she was the prey of an unnatural being who meant to drink her blood. Despite his threats she began to struggle, preferring death to such degradation. But he held her tightly in his iron grip, and all of a sudden she didn't want to struggle any more. The girl relaxed and sighed dreamily as delicious warmth and lassitude filled her body, a golden glow of serenity and contentment. Deeper and deeper she whirled downward until she floated in a red and roaring but not unfriendly void. Indescribable shapes and entities flitted past her, half seen in the redness. Strange whisperings and snatches of unearthly music wafted through the shimmering chimneys of lambent crimson light. Like a faraway caress she felt the vampire's hot lips drinking greedily at her throat. It went on for what seemed like ages, but gradually she became aware of voices calling her name, of loud knockings and poundings. Then she was back in her darkened bedroom, lying relaxed and dreamy on her bed. The hood was off her face and the vampire had again donned his balaclava. Outside in the hallway she recognized the voices of Kathleen and her brother Paddy, as well as a third she did not know, calling for her to open the door. The vampire knelt down by her side and gave her a long, slow kiss on her pale lips. "Good-bye, my sweet," he whispered, and slid the window open.

Jacinta stared groggily, trying to tell him that there was no way out through the window, just a long drop into a yard surrounded by a high wall which was topped with shards of broken glass. But the sitting room door shook under a thunderous kick and she heard wood splintering. The creature chuckled. The outer door crashed open, the sitting room light came on, and a voice shouted out "Stop, you! Garda!" The dark shape flickered out the window and was gone, and then a large man in blue was staring out into the gloom after it, his shoulders filling the casement. Jacinta tried to laugh, then she tried to scream, but she could do neither before she passed out.

At eight fifty that night the telephone rang in the suburban Castleknock home of Detective Chief Superintendent Mick Molloy of An Garda Siochana, the Irish national police force. Molloy answered the ring himself. A tall, burly man with iron-grey hair and a seamed face, Molloy was fifty-three years old and had spent his entire adult life on the force. As usual, an unerring instinct told him that this call would be for him, and he took it on the extension in his study. Behind him in the lounge his wife Maureen and the three of his six children who were still living at home were watching Top of the Pops. Rock music blared through the house, and he pulled the study door closed. "Molloy here," he said into the receiver

"Conn Walsh here, Super," said the caller. Walsh was a detective sergeant, Molloy's right hand man. "Sir, there has been a very nasty attack on a young woman in her flat in Rathmines, just before seven o'clock tonight. Looks like our Count Dracula killer again. But there are two important differences this time."

"Those being?"

"This girl's still alive. Her flatmate and the flatmate's brother got suspicious when she wouldn't answer the door. Seems the landlady had seen her come in, so they knew she was home. They caught a guard on foot patrol, he kicked the door and interrupted the Count at his work. Bastard got away, though."

"How the hell did that happen?" demanded Molloy in exasperation. "Don't tell me! It was one of those bloody young gossoons right out of training depot in Templemore, right?"

"No, sir. As a matter of fact, this was a fairly seasoned man, Garda Cunningham out of Rathmines station. There's something odd about that, Super. You'll want to sort it out when you get here."

"What kind of shape is the girl in?"

"She's in the Meath hospital suffering from shock and loss of blood. Apparently she was doped as well. This whole carry-on may turn out to be a drug thing after all. She's under sedation right now, but I've got a Ban Gharda with her in case she comes around. I've also got a patrol car discreetly tucked away around back of the hospital in case the Count decides to come back and finish the job."

"Good. Did Cunningham get a look at yer man?"

"Just a fleeting glimpse," Sergeant Walsh answered. "Black trousers, black jumper, black or dark blue balaclava, the standard ensemble for night work. We're still doing a street-by-street, nothing so far. But as I mentioned, we do have a second complication."

"Kindly disclose same.

"The girl's roommate is a proofreader for the Evening Herald, and phoned her mates at the paper. Just our luck the house has one of the few pay phones in Rathmines that works. We've already had a bell from the paper and before long we're going to be knee deep in the gentry of the Fourth Estate."

"Damn!" cursed Molloy grimly. "Ah, well, if this headbanger is going to keep up this vampire act it was bound to happen sooner or later. You know, I'd always hoped that this country might be spared at least this one manifestation of the twentieth century. Rippers, stranglers, serial killers, sexual sadists, funny little men with twenty bodies buried in their back gardens. But a vampire, in Dublin? Sorry, Conn, I'm blathering. Rathmines station?"

"The very one."

"I'm on my way. "

Half an hour later Molloy sat in a conference room at the Garda station in Rathmines. He was wearing a rumpled tweed suit while Conn Walsh, tall and dapper, wore a perfectly tailored Louis Copeland three-piece outfit with razor-sharp creases and perfect press despite the fact that he'd been on duty for twelve hours already. The sergeant's catlike grooming was his trademark on the force. Canteen lore spoke in awe of Walsh's ability to do ten hours of surveillance followed by a high speed pursuit, a violent struggle to arrest one suspect and a lengthy chase through pastures and fields to catch a second, yet all without losing the shine on his shoes or getting a spot of mud on his trousers. In a chair sat Garda Sean Cunningham in regulation uniform of blue serge, fidgeting Probably feels like a fool for letting the gurrier get away, thought Molloy to himself. Did the lad banjax it? Conn said there was something odd there.

He devoted his full attention to the sergeant's report. Walsh referred to his note pad. "At six fifty tonight, Miss Kathleen O'Shea and her brother Padraig entered the house in Grove Park where she shares a flat with the girl who was attacked. The victim's name is Jacinta Kelly, aged twenty-three, originally from Longford. She's lived in the flat about a year."


"Aye, a clerical worker at the ESB office in Fleet Street. The landlady told the O'Sheas that she had seen Miss Kelly go upstairs at about six thirty and yet when they knocked on the door they could get no answer."

"ESB knocks off at five. Why was she so late in getting home?"

"Keep fit class at a health club in Mary Street," said Walsh.

"Why didn't the O'Shea girl use her key to the flat?"

"She says she lost it," Walsh told him. "It hasn't turned up yet, so it's possible the attacker got hold of it. The whole question of entry is a bit puzzling at the moment. No sign of a break-in, no one seems to have seen or heard him enter the building." This was pattern the two gardai had developed over years of working together in harness. Molloy had a flair for asking the right questions, and Walsh was good at coming up with the right answers. Together they rapidly and accurately built up a precise picture of a crime down to the last detail. Walsh continued his summary. "Miss O'Shea was sure she heard movement in the room despite the fact that she couldn't raise any response. Both of them went outside and around back to an alley beneath the window and shouted up. There was no light in the bedroom, but they were sure they saw someone moving around. By this time they were convinced it was a break-in. They came around to the front and were lucky enough to run into Cunningham here, who was on his rounds. They explained the situation, he called in a possible unlawful entry on his belt radio and requested back up, then went up to the flat. He knocked and got no answer, so with Miss O'Shea's permission he kicked the door in. The lights were off but there was movement in the bedroom, and Cunningham entered the room just in time to observe a man go out the window wearing the second-story clobber I described to you on the telephone. The victim was lying on one of two single beds in the room. Her hands were tied behind her back with a pair of twenty-four inch bootlaces and her ankles were tied to the lower bedstead with two more similar laces. The victim's purse was found on the sitting room table. It contained fourteen pounds eighty pence, and nothing seems to be missing from the flat."

"That sounds double-plus ungood," commented Molloy grimly. "He didn't take anything, and he brought ligatures to restrain his victim, which indicates to me that he isn't just a burglar mixing a little sadistic pleasure with business, but he entered the flat looking for one of the girls."

"I'd say so. Seven o'clock is a bit early for burglary; it wasn't even fully dark yet. It looks like he was waiting for one of them to come home."

"Now for the bad bit, Conn," said Molloy softly. "What exactly did the swine do to her?"

"Miss Kelly was found bleeding from two puncture wounds in the neck and showed signs of being drugged. Eyes dilated, intermittent consciousness, disorientation and incoherent speech. She was taken to the Meath hospital and the duty doctor there can give you the details. It's Andy Manion, by the way."

"Ah, now there's a break," said Molloy. "I'll get a straight story from him and not medical gobbledygook."

"She's in serious condition but no danger, and Andy has determined that she was not sexually assaulted. She's under sedation right now, as I said earlier. Andy has taken blood samples and daubed the wounds for saliva, and I've sent them by patrol car to the Technical Bureau lab in Phoenix Park. Graham Scott and his team from the TB are at the scene now, going over the place."

"Has the young one said anything useful at all?" asked Molloy.

"No. She was unconscious during the time Cunningham was giving her first aid and during the ambulance ride. Whatever dope the Count hit her with was pretty potent."

Molloy swiveled his chair to face the uniformed guard. "Right, Cunningham, you're on." The officer flushed and began to recite his report

"Yes, Detective Chief Superintendent. At 1850 hours this evening I was on foot patrol proceeding east on Grove Park when I was approached by a man and a woman who identified themselves as Padraig O'Shea, with an address in Coolock, and Miss Kathleen O'Shea who

lives in the house in question. They informed me that they were unable to---." Molloy

interrupted him in a not unkindly voice.

"Look, Cunningham, the bastard got away, but that's game ball. It happens to every cop, like as not more than once in every career. I've lost more than I care to remember meself in my time. Let's have it straight: was it your fault he scarpered?"

"Ah, not in my opinion, no sir," replied Cunningham stiffly.

"Fine, then you're in the clear, so long as I agree with that assessment. Now save all that jargon for your written report and just tell me what happened. I don't have to ask whether the sergeant's account is correct as far as it goes, him and the Pope between 'em being the only infallible human craturs on earth. So let's have your addenda."

"Well, I kicked in the door like Sergeant Walsh told you, sir. It was dark inside, but I could see a man through the open door to the bedroom bending down over a woman on the bed, then he moved to the window. I yelled for one of the others to hit the lights and one of them did. I dove for the suspect but he was out that bloody window like a lizard. It's hard to describe, Superintendent, but he sort of slithered out. I've never seen anything like it. Then I after I turned the bedroom lights on, I got a good look at the poor young one on the bed. At first I thought he'd raped her and cut her throat, because there was blood on her neck and the pillow was soaked with it. Then she opened her eyes and I saw she was still alive. By that time Miss O'Shea had come into the bedroom and she started screaming and crying---."

"Hold on, what about the suspect?" interrupted Molloy. "Didn't you look out the window to see which way he went?"

"Indeed I did, Superintendent. I was at that window not a second after he was, but he was gone."

"Gone?" demanded Molloy incredulously. "How gone?"

"Here we come to the odd part," broke in Walsh. "Garda Cunningham is six years on the force and he's got some good collars to his credit. He's also got two confirming witnesses. I don't doubt it happened just the way he says it did, but I'm blessed if I can see how. You'll have to see this flat for yourself, Super, in order to take all of this in, but it seems plain impossible. There's a fourteen-foot drop from both windows into a small yard, six feet by twelve. It's surrounded by a nine-foot wall topped by broken glass set in concrete. The door into the back yard is chained and padlocked, and the key to the padlock was lost about a year ago, according to the landlady. One look is enough to see that the door to the yard hasn't been opened. The last I heard Technical was about to cut through it with bolt cutters to get in. There's no way yer man could have gotten through the door."

"Then he went over the wall," said Molloy.

"You'd best take a look at that wall for yourself, Super. But what's more puzzling still is that we think there were two guards already in the alleyway when the Count made his getaway. Cunningham called in a possible break-in at six fifty-one, according to the station's log. A patrol car just down the street overheard him. They nipped into the alley to cover the back and called in their position at six fifty-three, and both officers got out of their car. They saw Cunningham come to the window, but they saw no one coming out."

Molloy stared, stupefied. "Cunningham, you'll understand that I have to ask you this. Did Kathleen or Padraig O'Shea see this man go out the window as well?

"They got a glimpse of him, sir," insisted Cunningham. "I'm not making this up, Super. If I'd bollixed it up I'd admit it, or sure at least I'd make up a better story."

"It's in their statements," confirmed Conn with a nod.

"Who were the two guards in the alleyway?"

"Phelim Casey and Paddy Morrissey, steady men the both of 'em, no drink or personal problems, no disciplinaries, not a reason on this earth to disbelieve what they say. They swear they saw nothing."

"Jaysus Q. Christ!" exclaimed Molloy. "You're telling me we've one guard and two civilian witnesses who saw this bugger go out a window and two more gardai on the spot outside who saw sweet feck all?"

"So we are," agreed Walsh.

"You're having me on, the lot of yez!"

"We're not, you know," said Walsh, shaking his head.

"Right," said Molloy heavily. "Let's go." There were several reporters in the foyer of the police station. Molloy bulled his way past them and ignored their shouted questions. They were harder to avoid when the gardai arrived at Grove Park in a patrol car. Several of them stood of the sidewalk outside the Edwardian red brick house and heckled Molloy with questions, while an RTE crew shoved a camera and strobe lights in his face. Molloy pushed them aside and stalked into the house, Walsh and Cunningham behind him. "Where's the O'Shea girl?" he asked.

"In the ground floor flat, Superintendent," said the guard at the door. A babble of voices came from within. "That's a Mrs. O'Sullivan, a widow who owns the place. She's a bit worked up."

"One of those old dears with eagle eyes and ears who never miss a thing," commented Walsh. "She insists that Jacinta Kelly is the only person who has gone upstairs since mid-morning."

"Back way?"

"The rear door is on the ground floor down the hall, and is kept locked. Only tenants have a key and they only use it when they take their rubbish out to the bins in the alley. If he came in that way he'd have to slip by Mrs. O'Sullivan's door and go up the front stairs. She insists that she can hear anyone going up the stairs. You'll notice there's a wee bell over the front door, and another over the back as well. Mrs. O'Sullivan likes to know when people come and go. The entry problem is a poser. It would be almost as hard for someone to break into the upstairs windows as to escape out of them, and there is no sign for forced entry. Kathleen O'Shea insists the windows were always kept closed and locked when the girls were out."

"What can you tell me about the other people who live here?" inquired Molloy.

"Luckier than most, these kids," said Walsh. "The owner lives on the premises and doesn't just show up on rent day or send a collector around. It's a nicely kept house with no drugs or carry-on allowed. There are six units other than the landlady's flat, with the upstairs apartment being the only one bedroomed accommodation. All the rest are bedsits. One of the upstairs rooms is vacant and the other belongs to an English girl named Jane Brown who works for a cosmetics firm. She's back in the U.K. for three weeks doing a company training course, so except for Miss Kelly and Count D. the upstairs was empty tonight. I checked out both rooms, using the landlady's passkey, but there's no sign of anything helpful. Miss Brown has unlawful contraceptives in her medicine cabinet, but we're after bigger game.

"Of the downstairs rooms, two tenants haven't come home yet, two sisters from County Cavan named Heaney. They both work nights, one in a pub down the road and the other in McDonald's on Grafton Street. The third ground floor tenant is a student from Uganda, a Miss Oka something." Walsh quickly consulted his notebook. "Okamunji, it is. She was studying and says she didn't see or hear anything. Her English isn't very good, and like most Third Worlders she seems terrified of policemen."

"Considering what the so-called police in Uganda do, I'm not surprised," said Molloy. "I read somewhere they've a gra for the bastinado. That's beating the soles of the feet with a whip or a bamboo rod." They went up the stairs and entered Jacinta Kelly's flat. Molloy stopped to examine the door, still hanging on its hinges from the force of the garda's boot. "Lock's ripped out," he noted. "When you kicked it, Cunningham, you may have obliterated jemmy marks."

"Sir, there were no jemmy marks," said Garda Cunningham woodenly. "The door was locked and bolted from the inside. I tried it, strongly." Inside the flat a plainclothes sergeant from the Technical Bureau was just packing up his kit. He greeted Molloy in the unmistakable accent of West Belfast. "How 'bout ye, Superintendent?"

"Tech all through, Scotty?"

"Aye," replied the forensic sergeant. "Dusted for finger marks, everything's all hoovered up, fully photographed, and the bedding and mattress are off for analysis. That's about it. We'll analyze all the bumph we've hoovered up, but I doubt there will be anything of interest. The interesting part is down in yon yard."

"You mean we actually have a clue?" laughed Molloy. "About time!"

"Not exactly, Super," Sergeant Scott replied, shaking his head. "It's what we didnít find that's so interesting. Come and look." He led them into the bedroom and pointed out the window. The yard and the alleyway were now illuminated by bright lights attached to drop cords and the headlamps of several squad cars. The door to the walled-in yard was open and a second plainclothesman was packing up his forensic kit down below, watched from the entrance by a couple of uniformed gardai.

"That's Casey and Morrissey," Walsh said, pointing them out. Molloy eyed the high wall with its ragged apex of broken glass and he immediately realized that only an Olympic athlete or a circus acrobat could get over it without losing a gallon of blood and amputating a couple of fingers into the bargain. "Exactly what is it that isn't there, Scotty?" Walsh asked.

"Footprints," replied Sergeant Scott. "Not a blessed print down there, except ours now. Nice soft mud, a fourteen-foot drop that ought to have left prints an inch deep where he landed and moved about, presuming he didn't break a leg or an ankle when he hit. But the soil was unbroken, the door locked from the outside, and the chain had to be cut so we could get in. There's been nobody down in that yard tonight, Superintendent."

"But I saw him go out this bloody window!" exclaimed Cunningham. "I'm not doubting your word, Guard," replied Scott testily. "I'm simply telling yez that no one has been down into that yard for a long, long time!"

"We'll take a look at it from ground level," said Molloy. "Anything at all in this room, Graham?"

"Blood on the pillow and the bedspread, probably all of it the poor young one's. There were a lot of smeared finger marks, especially around the windowsill, but he must have been wearing gloves, because we weren't able to lift a single clear print. Did you see any gloves, Cunningham?"

"I saw bugger all except for him going out this window," replied Cunningham morosely. They filed downstairs and out the back door, then around the corner to the doorway of the small yard. It was littered with rubbish, crushed plastic cider bottles, beer cans, cigarette packets, rusty tins and other debris. A small shed set into the wall was stacked high with bits and pieces of furniture, broken chairs and old box springs, and other detritus. "Nothing in here," Sergeant Scott told them. "It wasn't locked, but 'twas stuck shut from the wood being so damp and swollen. It took a bit of effort for us to pull it open. No one's been in there tonight, either." Molloy looked up at the window of the girls' flat. A uniformed garda could be seen looking down at them. The window and the figure in it were visible the length of the short alley.

"Right, then, here 'tis," ruminated Molloy slowly. "There are no other windows he could have gotten into. You'll recall that rain we had earlier this afternoon, which made the soil in this scalpeen so soft that a cat walking across it would have left paw prints. You two lads, Casey and Morrissey, were out here in this alley at six fifty-three, two minutes after Cunningham called in?"

"We were so," said one of the uniforms.

"And you didn't see yer man coming over this wall, or anywhere in this alley at all?"

"We didn't see him down here or in the window," replied the garda.

"We'll hold that thought for a moment," said Molloy. "All I can think of is there must be a cock-up in the time element somewhere. But the physical evidence is clear that he didn't come down into the yard. Therefore, as Sherlock Holmes said, when you have eliminated the fecking impossible whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. He went up, onto the roof."

Cunningham spoke up. "Sir, at the risk of dropping meself well and truly into it, I thought of that. I looked up as well as down. You'll notice there's a good five feet of clearance between the top of the window and the roof. There's no toehold and handhold I can observe with a torch, and the roof overhangs by about eighteen inches. There's no gutter, nothing for him to grip. He would have had to jump up and out simultaneously, grab the edge of the roof, and pull himself up. That's feasible for a very fit man, a trained gymnast, but I was at the window not a second after he went out, sir, and I swear to you that there was nothing. Surely I would have heard him scrabbling about on the roof, at least!"

"Maybe he had a rope ladder or a mountaineering line tied off at the chimney and running down by the window?" suggested Molloy helplessly.

"Ah, no, Super!" protested Garda Morrissey. "No way could Casey and I both have missed some bloke doing a Tarzan act out of that window! You can see our patrol car right where we parked it, and we were both standing beside it. The streetlights were on and it wasn't full dark yet. But if he did get up onto the roof somehow, how did he get away?"

"I'm blessed if I know, lads," admitted Molloy. "But I still think the roof is the best bet. Maybe a rope could have accounted for that slithering effect you noticed, Cunningham. We'll check it out thoroughly in the morning when it gets light."

"Maybe he changed himself into a bat and flew away," chuckled Conn Walsh. There was a sudden silence, and Molloy scowled.

"Right, let's get something straight," he snapped. "Conn, I know that remark was meant as a joke, but I think we're going to have to call a moratorium on humour during this investigation. Can you imagine what would have happened had a reporter been within earshot? The newspapers and the electronic media are going to have a bloody Roman holiday over this as it is. They're going to have us up to our necks in Dracula, Transylvania, bats, mouldering crypts and silver bullets. They are to receive no encouragement from the Garda Siochana! I have a very bad feeling about this case, men," Molloy went on. "This gurrier has killed twice and I'm very much afraid he is going to do so again before we can get a break, although God grant I'm wrong. We are after a highly intelligent, extremely dangerous criminal. I don't in the least doubt that he's a very strange individual, and I won't be surprised when we catch him if we learn that he does things like sleeping in a coffin during the daytime. But he is a man, no more and no less. God knows that's bad enough, because man is the most dangerous animal on the face of the earth. We're going to be stepping on this one, lads, and no mistake, but by heaven, we are going to grip this maniac and put him away for good! We are going to do it through careful, solid, painstaking police work by the numbers with every i dotted and every t crossed. The one thing that I will not tolerate is the injection of wild supernatural speculation or psychic fantasy into this investigation."

"Super, you've got to admit it's bloody weird his vanishing into thin air like that!" protested Casey. "Don't misunderstand, I'm not saying he changed himself into a bat or the devil carried him off or anything like that. But I've known Cunningham here for years, and I don't doubt for a second that he saw a man in black go out that window just like he says he did. So why didn't we see him down here? I've no brief for ghoolies and ghosties and things that go bump in the night either, but I'd dearly love an explanation!"

"You'll have one," Molloy assured him. "I can't say when, but you'll have one. First thing tomorrow, Graham, take a look around up on that roof. I agree that a rooftop run along this street in the dark isn't the safest or the smartest thing in the world to do, but then normal men don't break into women's flats and bite them on the throat. It could be we're dealing with somebody here who is military trained, ex-commando or SAS or Irish Army Rangers. Those gentry do obstacle courses that would make these rooftops seem like a stroll along Dollymount strand. But I want all of you to take my little homily on spectral nattering to heart, because I mean every word of it. No jokes about bats or Dracula, especially where the news media might overhear. In fact, we need to stop referring to this man among ourselves as the Count Dracula killer. Henceforth he is the Rathmines suspect. Under no circumstances whatever is anyone to imply, even in jest, that there is anything supernatural going on here, because if anything like that gets into the media we are going to have a full-scale panic in the city. If I catch anyone aiding or abetting this type of thing, then I will have that officer posted to the farthest bogs of Sligo, to some little village full of culchies and cow shit so small that there is only one pub. Do I make myself clear?" He paused for a moment to let the ghastly prospect sink in. "Right. Let us now do that which coppers do."

The next half-hour was a rugged one, and Molloy was glad finally to get away. Kathleen O'Shea was nervous and excited, her brother Paddy was upset and adamant that his sister was coming home with him and would not spend another night under this curséd roof, while the landlady was in hysterics. Mrs. O'Sullivan wanted to call her parish priest to have her home exorcised and hang crucifixes over every door to protect it against a return visitation from the right-hand demon of Lucifer's infernal host. All they managed to get out of the trio was the name and address of Jacinta's barrister boyfriend, whom Kathleen had already telephoned and who in turn had called Jacinta's parents in Longford. Also, Kathleen had finally found her flat key amidst all the rubbish in her purse. "I almost wish it had stayed missing," Molloy sighed to Walsh. "Now we've an even worse conundrum on entry than we had before." Mrs. O'Sullivan insisted obdurately that the intruder had not gone up the stairs, because even the cat couldn't go up without them old boards creaking, and after ascending the stairs on tiptoe several times Molloy agreed that it was impossible to do so in complete silence.

"The back door is always locked," the old lady sniffled, trembling. "All these gurriers and drug addicts about these days. But sure, don't thim things have powers beyond the human, like walking through walls, bein' craturs of the divil?"

Miss Okamunji's flat was next to the back door, and after Molloy was able to reassure her that neither he nor Sergeant Walsh were going to beat her feet, she swore that no one had come in the back door since she herself had returned to the house at four o'clock. Only those who had a key could come in that way, and she had not heard the bell over the door ring once. "Bloody hell!" complained Molloy. "His getting in is just as mysterious as his getting out. Nobody saw or heard anything. Two people in a fairly small house, only two possible entrances and one way up to the first floor, and nobody tumbled that he was there?" The black girl muttered something under her breath. "Eh, miss? What was that you said?"

"It is a saying in my own Baganda language, sah," she replied softly. "It means 'the dead step lightly'. I must leave dis house, sah."

"Jaysus Q. Christ!" muttered Molloy. Finally he sent Walsh and Cunningham back to Rathmines station to start writing up their reports, while he himself headed for the Meath. The duty doctor was an old acquaintance named Andrew Manion. Tall, bearded, and pipe puffing, this medico had provided invaluable forensic and medical testimony in several difficult cases. The two of them spoke in Manion's cubbyhole office just off the emergency room. Fortunately, it was an otherwise slow night. "Christ, Andy, I hope you can tell me something about this," said Molloy tiredly. "We've got to nail down this headbanger fast, or else all the publicity is going to turn Dublin into a Hammer House of Horror festival."

"I wish I could offer you a crumb or two of comfort, Mick," replied Manion seriously. "The best I can do is remind you that it's early days yet on the lab work and that the Garda Siochana has one of the finest crime laboratories in all of Europe. It's got me floothered. I can give you the bare data, all right, but it doesnít mean anything. Why don't you tell me first just what the hell happened?"

"The Kelly girl was attacked in her flat just before seven o'clock tonight, by a severely disturbed individual who obviously thinks he's Dracula risen from the grave or some such psychotic fantasy," said Molloy. "We think he's killed two previous victims, both women. I'll get their autopsy files for you in the morning. He appears to be an acrobat and something of a magician as well, since a guard burst in on him in the middle of the assault and he proceeded to do a vanishing act that would baffle Houdini. He bites his victims on the throat and either drinks or otherwise drains off their blood. Beyond that, we're in the dark. Now, what about the young one herself? He doped her up before he bit her, right?"

"No, Mick, I'm afraid it's not that simple," replied Manion, lighting his pipe and frowning. "I'll start with a basic rundown. Jacinta Kelly is now under sedation but when she was brought in here she was indeed under the influence of some kind of narcotic. We don't know what as yet, but it was some kind of depressant, a downer as opposed to an amphetamine, or PCP, or cocaine. I examined her thoroughly, and I can't find any needle mark indicating injection, so she either ingested the substance orally or else it was infused into her bloodstream directly through two extremely peculiar punctures in her throat, of which more anon. When we get the lab report tomorrow we will hopefully find out what he shot her up with. She was not sexually interfered with either normally or anally, nor were there spermatoza in her saliva. She had a heavy bruise behind her left ear consistent with a powerful blow from a blunt instrument."

"He coshed her?" interrupted Molloy.

"I'd say so, yes. The assailant was probably left-handed, although it is possible to deliver a blow like that backhanded with the right. Judging from the slightly forward angle of the bruise, I'd say she was standing up when she was struck and the assailant is about five feet eleven inches tall, certainly no taller than six feet. She had a slight concussion but I don't believe there will be any permanent damage. Without going all cranial on yez, I'd say this bloke knows what he's doing. He hit her just in the right place and just hard enough to put her out for a few minutes."

"Practice makes perfect," muttered Molloy. "I've the feeling myself that he's an old hand at living beyond the law. Go on."

"Miss Kelly was also bruised is several other places due to being manhandled, with fingermarks clearly embedded in her wrist and shoulder. Yer man has about an average sized hand and either bites his fingers or maintains a short manicure, because there were no cuticular depressions visible. He has an extremely powerful grip."

"We've already figured out that he's a fitness freak," Molloy agreed. "It would appear that he's also a bit of a trapeze artist. We're starting to think in terms of an ex-commando or para, some kind of cross between Bela Lugosi and Rambo."

"You'd best start thinking along even more exotic lines than that," Manion warned him. "I'm getting to the weird part now. There are two more triangular puncture wounds in the girl's throat, nice and neat, roughly one and five-eighths inches apart. I say again, triangular, not round. I have not the remotest idea what inflicted them. I probed them with a pipette and got them to bleeding again, and the poor child lost another half pint of blood before I could get them cauterized again with our fancy new laser. Those punctures go right down into the carotid artery, the main artery supplying blood to the brain, and the pressure sent two streams of blood spurting halfway across the emergency room."

"Sounds messy," commented Molloy.

"But dammit all, Mick, those wounds shouldn't be!" exploded the doctor in frustration. "How could the looney have made double holes in the main artery more than an inch below the epidermal surface, neat as button holes and triangular to boot, and then turn off the bleeding like a faucet when he was through? Holing an artery is no joke. The pressure of the hemorrhage should have widened both apertures and she should have bled to death in a minute or two unless someone stopped the bleeding. Yet by the time Jacinta Kelly got to the emergency room she wasn't bleeding at all. Normal clotting wouldn't account for it, and in any case I found no sign of coagulation in either wound. They just sealed up on their own, somehow. I get them started again and it takes a four million pound piece of equipment to cauterize them because they're way too small for stitching."

"Exactly how much blood to you figure she lost?" asked Molloy cautiously.

"Counting what I spilled here in the ER, a good three pints, judging from her external symptoms and blood pressure. I've transfused her with two units of O-negative and one of plasma, and her pressure's still low. The unknown narcotic may have saved her from traumatic shock and possible heart fibrillation, maybe even cardiac arrest, although I imagine the fiend administered it to make her submit and not out of any consideration for her health. But I'm damned if I can even find any explanation as to how the wounds were inflicted."

"You mean he didn't bite her?" asked Molloy in surprise.

"Oh, no way, Mick. Forget all that Hollywood rot with the big fangs coming out as Christopher Lee leans leering over the buxom beauty in the bed. Human teeth, or the teeth of any predatory mammal never puncture like that. They rip and tear with a good deal of crushing, laceration, and subdural haemotoma. This lunatic used some kind of artificial instrument on her, some kind of double-pronged hypodermic to draw the blood out of her."

"Then the crazy bastard must have taken the poor young one's blood away with him somehow," mused Molloy. "Holy Christ! I was trying to imagine even a deranged man drinking down three pints of human blood, but I'm not sure the syringe theory is any improvement! Now I've got to envision yer man running along the rooftops of Rathmines in black togs and balaclava carrying a weird weapon with a double injector needle, pint bottles of blood clanking in his pocket, and a coiled rope and grappling hook slung over his shoulder! Andy, this case is going to drive me bonkers before it's over!"

"Well, the blood drinking is nauseating but possible," ruminated Manion. "You'll recall I was two years a medical missionary in Kenya. I saw Masai tribal herdsmen cut open the vein in the neck of a cow, drink the blood like it was a water fountain, then slap mud over the wound to stanch the flow. But sure not two whole pints of the stuff. I still can't explain how this lark tonight was done. Speaking of Kenya, though, a thought strikes me. If I were back there I'd have said immediately that those two punctures were a snake bite. Some species of snake have retractable fangs, and they puncture instead of snare while simultaneously injecting venom. In fact, I think that's the most promising idea yet. It would account for the punctures and the drugged effect I observed in Jacinta Kelly."

"Bleeding hell!" raved Molloy. "Now my suspect is running over the rooftops of Rathmines with a fecking king cobra in a tow sack as well as all that other gear! What about the blood, Andy? Any snakes of your acquaintance with a gra for a sup of the red stuff?"

"No, not that I know of," said Manion reflectively, his brow furrowed. "But the snake idea is still the best one so far. How's this? He uses some sort of mechanical hypodermic syringe based on the same operating principle as a snake's jaw, which simultaneously injects a narcotic and draws the blood out of the victim? I hope Jacinta herself will be able to shed some light on things tomorrow."

"This is GUBU!" said Molloy angrily. "It's grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre, and unprecedented! Listen to this codswallop we're talking! Why on earth would any man sane or crazy do things like this?"

"Maybe someone wants us to think he's a vampire," speculated the doctor slowly. "The physical evidence we've got dovetails with the plot lines of how many grade C horror movies? Someone may be deliberately trying to start a panic."

"They may yet succeed," said Molloy in a grim voice. "The question then arises, cui bono? Who benefits from a superstitious panic in Dublin? We almost had something of the sort with that moving statue craze back in '85. Every adolescent in the country was chatting up the Virgin Mary in their local grotto, it seemed like, until the Church stepped in and calmed things down. But why a vampire, of all things? Long experience tells me that both the Provos and British MI5 are capable of some GUBU shenanigans, but I'm blessed if I can see how either the I.R.A. or Whitehall would benefit from something like this. Ever since we finally buried that hopeless Anglo-Irish Agreement there have been no major initiatives in the North, just the usual body count. No, Andy, like as not it's some lone psychopath getting his jollies by scaring the bejaysus out of the oul' town. When can Jacinta Kelly speak with us?"

"Not until tomorrow morning," replied Manion firmly. "It's been as bad a trauma for her as actual rape would have been. I didn't like sedating her without knowing what kind of drug she'd already been hit with, but she was hysterical and I had to calm her down."

"Game ball. One final question. Suppose our man is really using some kind of custom-made hypodermic that operates like the fangs of a snake? Where could he get something like that?"

"Not in Ireland, begob. You'd have to try the U.K. or the Continent. I can't imagine any reputable manufacturer of surgical instruments making such a devilish thing without a very good explanation of what it was for, but there are chancers in every business. Then again, yer man might possess the necessary skills to rig up something himself. So in addition to an ex-commando, a trapeze artist, an acrobat, and a steeplejack you may be looking for a skilled machinist and instrument maker with a high degree of medical knowledge."

"Jaysus bloody well wept!" moaned Molloy. "I almost wish it really were Count Dracula we were after! Then all we'd need would be a crucifix, some holy water, and a white ash stake!"

"Let's hope you don't end up needing those items in any case," said Manion pensively. "Look, Mick, this is a bloody strange business no matter how you slice it. Has it struck you that already the explanations we are coming up with to account for the few facts at our disposal are little short of incredible? There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, etcetera."

"I just finished threatening to send any of my men I overheard talking like that to a punishment posting in the Sligo bogs," said Molloy morosely. "Christ, Andy, don't you start!"

"Oh, not to worry, I'm still firmly in the camp of science," said Manion with a laugh. "All the same, as you know I'm something of an amateur gourmet and I like garlic on my salads, with my meat and pasta dishes, and so on. I think I'm going to trot down to Moore Street tomorrow and pick up a big long string of the lovely stuff."

"To keep the vampire away?" asked Molloy in disgust.

"No," replied Manion. "To eat. Because I suspect that soon it's going to become very hard to obtain in Dublin."

It was eleven o'clock that night, and the conference room at Rathmines station was overflowing with reporters. Every Irish daily newspaper was there as well as the correspondents from six British dailies. There were camera crews from RTE, Ulster Television, Channel 4, Sky TV, and the BBC. The publicity avalanche was about to descend.

Molloy was closeted with Walsh and Sergeant Pat Connolly from the Garda Press Office. "We can't put off a statement any longer, which is why I've called this conference," he told them. "This investigation is going to be a five-star bitch, and half our problems are going to come from those hounds of hell in there. Pat, you are on permanent assignment from the Press Office until we catch this killer. Henceforth you will handle all, repeat all task force press releases and media contacts. Misdirect them as much as you can without actually lying to them, lie to them outright if you have to, but above all your job is to keep these reptiles off our backs so we can work."

"We've got our task force then, Super?" asked Conn Walsh eagerly.

"Aye. I've just gotten off the phone with the Garda Commissioner and he's okayed it. Forty uniforms, six detectives, one uniform sergeant and one detective sergeant which will be yourself, plus one detective inspector to run the incident room, and Ban Ghardai as needed. Start making out a roster in your head, Conn. Loot the Serious Crimes Squad and the special investigation details wholesale. I want the best cops in Dublin on this."

"Game ball," said Walsh with a nod.

"Now, the main thing to remember is that this nutter wants publicity," Molloy went on. "He wants to satisfy his own inadequacies or fantasies or whatever by striking fear into the whole city, women in particular. It's the usual mindset with these serial killers, your rippers and stranglers and rapists with violence, except that this man has thought up a particularly offbeat variation on the theme. Instead of a knife or some other weapon he uses some kind of Star Wars hypodermic syringe that leaves puncture marks on the victim's throats like vampire fangs in a horror movie. He is deeply sick and terribly dangerous, and we must not for one instant underestimate what he is capable of. My guess is that he intended to kill Jacinta Kelly tonight, but he was interrupted and unable to finish the job. Now he's got his publicity, and he will be able to read about himself in the papers and hear all about himself on the telly. He'll be able to overhear people on the street and at his place of employment, if any, discussing these crimes and their fear. Unfortunately, human nature being what it is, that publicity has now become inevitable. Pat, as well as your primary task of keeping the media out of our hair, we need you to act as a sort of spin doctor on this. Ride these bastards, channel their interest away from wild and woolly sensationalism as much as you can, keep the lid on as best you can."

"I understand, Superintendent," replied Connolly with a nod. "May I ask what you're going to tell them tonight? Already I've heard some pretty strange stories about this assault in Rathmines."

"We're going to tell them as little as possible. I have to admit, privately, that there are some very GUBU goings-on here indeed. There's a lot we don't yet understand. I've already spoken to the men about giving any encouragement to superstition or supernatural rumours, and now I'm telling you, Pat---it's not on, not under any circumstances! Every item of news we release on this case is to be carefully sanitized beforehand. I'll take this conference tonight, Pat, but henceforth you are the ringmaster in charge of that circus in there, and I'll expect you to keep the monkeys and the clowns out of my way. Now let's go on in."

"Knock 'em dead, Super!" said Connolly cheerfully.

They stumped into the conference room and Molloy took his place at the podium, with Sergeants Walsh and Connolly standing behind him at parade rest looking poker-faced and cop-like. "Please hold your questions until I have finished with my statement," Molloy growled at the journalists. "Then I'll take as many as I have time for. It's been a long night and we need to get this over and done with." He fiddled with the microphone and then began.

"I've called this press conference because a situation has arisen wherein the Garda Siochana have reason to believe that a danger to the public exists, in relation to a series of crimes which have taken place in Dublin. I will begin with the most recent of these crimes. Shortly before seven o'clock this evening a young woman named Jacinta Kelly was brutally assaulted in her flat in Grove Park, Rathmines. Miss Kelly is twenty-three years of age and is employed by the Electricity Supply Board in Fleet Street. I am releasing her name because Miss Kelly's parents have already been informed by a friend of the family and are en route here from Longford to be with their daughter in hospital." Flashbulbs were popping, cameras were whirring, pads rustled and reporters coughed and fidgeted. "The attack on Miss Kelly was interrupted in progress by an alert garda on foot patrol. The suspect made a somewhat spectacular escape from the scene by leaping from an upstairs window, pulling himself up onto the roof, and running away over the rooftops. At some point he made his way back down to the street, probably along the canal in the Portobello area. We would like to appeal to anyone who was in the area of Portobello, Grove Park, or Richmond Street tonight, who might have observed anything in any way unusual to come forward."

Molloy stopped and clear his throat, then gripped the lectern and continued. "The victim sustained a number of bruises, cuts and other injuries, but she is now out of danger and resting comfortably in the Meath hospital, under police protection in case her attacker should return. During the course of the assault Miss Kelly was apparently injected by force with an unknown narcotic. A full investigation into this incident is being pursued by the gardai and we will interview the victim at length tomorrow. We have a partial description of Miss Kelly's assailant." ("Very partial!" muttered Conn Walsh beneath his breath.) "At this time I do not wish to go into any more details.

"The main reason for this special press conference, however, is that we are now convinced that there is a link between tonight's assault on Miss Jacinta Kelly and the deaths of two other women in Dublin recently. Both of these deaths received mention in the press at the time, and in both cases coroners' inquests were adjourned pending further investigation. On July the sixth of this year the body of a female itinerant, Mrs. Marie McDonagh of no fixed address, was found in a vacant lot off Sarsfield Quay in Dublin. Mrs. McDonagh, who was in her mid forties, was initially believed to have injured herself while intoxicated and subsequently bled to death. On August sixteenth the body of Mrs. Elizabeth Kenny, aged thirty-four, a housewife and a mother of three, was found in the bedroom of her detached home in Blanchardstown. Mrs. Kenny's estranged husband was brought from Dundalk for questioning, but was subsequently released and is not considered to be a suspect. Mrs. Kenny had received wounds in the throat and died of the resulting shock and blood loss.

"The similarities between the injuries inflicted on the victim of tonight's attack and the two dead women I have just mentioned indicate to us that the same person is responsible. We must reluctantly conclude that we have in Dublin tonight a very dangerous and disturbed individual. The gardai are taking an extremely serious view of this matter, and tonight the Garda Commissioner has authorized the establishment of a special task force to apprehend the person responsible for these attacks. This task force will be headquartered in the Harcourt Square Garda complex and a special telephone number will be published, which members of the public may call with information." ("Who knows?" interjected Conn inaudibly, "It might even ring when they dial it!") Molloy went on, ignoring him. "I would be less than honest with you if I were to play down the high probability that this killer will strike again. We are asking for the full cooperation of the news media in keeping the public informed of developments, in suppressing wild rumours and unsettling speculation, and in conveying the basic information and necessary security precautions for women living alone and others who may be at risk. I will now answer as many of your questions as I can." A masterpiece of bureaucratic bull even if I do say so meself, Molloy congratulated himself silently. Not one word of it was an outright lie. With any luck they'll believe we've just got your ordinary, garden-variety homicidal maniac on our hands. Now if we can only avoid that lunatic "v" word for the rest of the evening, we'll be in good shape. If I keep the Herald bloke until last, maybe I can get them sidetracked. Who's likely to be the most responsible? The Times of London, surely! "Yes, Mr. Shelley from the Times ," he said, pointing to the journalist, who stood up.

"Detective Chief Superintendent, you haven't been very explicit about the nature of the injuries to any of the victims," said Shelley. "Is it true that these women were bitten in the throat and their blood was sucked by some kind of a vampire?" Molloy barely restrained himself from cursing out loud.

"Since there are no such things as vampires, the gardai obviously do not intend to waste time on any such theory," he told the reporter in a level voice. "I'd rather not get too specific at this point, because we are still sizing this one up. I believe it is sufficient for me to say that we've got a very dangerous man loose in Dublin, a serial killer. I am asking all of you to refrain from making a bad situation worse through undue emphasis on the more abnormal aspects of this case. I do not deny that those aspects exist, but I am not a psychiatrist and I am not going to speculate on what makes this bloke tick or what has made him run off the rails in this fashion. It is my job to protect the community by apprehending this man. I really can't comment any further on the psychiatric aspects of the case, so there is little point in pursuing this line of questioning."

They refused to take the hint, and Molloy spent another twenty minutes labouring his mightiest to obscure the facts before he chased them out, still clamouring for details. After the press left Molloy gathered up the preliminary reports, stuck them in a file folder, and it beneath his arm. "The first drop in what will probably become an ocean of paper," he told Conn, hefting the file. "Tomorrow we add all the paperwork on the McDonagh and Kenny killings. Add about six civilian clerks and word processors to our task force, Conn. We're going to need them. Make sure they've got top secret police clearances and can keep their mouths shut. I will now cease worrying about this bloody mess until tomorrow morning."

"You'll do no such thing, Mick, and you know it," said Walsh with a familiar smile. "You're taking that bloody file home with you and you're going to read it in bed until Maureen pulls it away from you and throws it on the floor so you'll turn out the light and get some sleep."

"You're an insubordinate cheeky blue boy, so y'are. Besides, oul' fellas like me don't need as much sleep as lads your age. Keep the Grove Park house under guard until tomorrow and make sure a Technical Bureau team gets out there at first light to check out that roof. Nine thirty sharp tomorrow, Harcourt Square. See you then." By now they had left the building and were walking through the parking lot to their cars. The night had cleared wonderfully and the stars were out. Just above the muted glow of Dublin's lights Molloy spotted the Pleiades, the Seven Sisters. "Beware of the hours of darkness, when the powers of evil are exalted," muttered Molloy under his breath.

"Is that from the Bible?" asked Walsh curiously.

"Ah, no. The Hound of the Baskervilles, actually. Let's go home and get some rest, Conn."

"Game ball," said the sergeant.

II. Tuesday, September 16th

The next morning Mick Molloy sat at a grey metal desk in his private office in Harcourt Square. It had taken fifteen years of patient lobbying and hard pressure on Ireland's politicians to get the force this massive facility of mellow red brick, glass, and landscaped patios. Molloy would always retain nostalgic memories of his little cubbyhole in Dublin Castle, but without the elbowroom in the Harcourt complex he could never establish his task force properly. The incident room was already set up on the third floor, and he had just gotten off the phone to Telecom Eireann after arranging to have the state phone company give him the special equipment and the many lines he needed. Now he sat finishing his third Styrofoam cup of bitter police tea when Conn Walsh stuck his head in the door. "TB just called in their report on Grove Park, Super," he said. "Nothing of any value found in the flat except fibres of black wool which may or may not be from the Count's jumper. Sorry, I mean the suspect's jumper. Graham Scott says give him the original garment and he can match it with the fibres. The roof was clean as a whistle. No rope, no indication of any kind of grappling hook or pitons being used. Every roof that side of the street has been checked. Bugger all. He just vanished into thin air."

"Seen the morning papers?" asked Molloy. "I haven't had the nerve to look."

"Not too bad, all things considered," replied Walsh judiciously. "The word 'vampire' appeared in only one headline, and that was in the Sun right below the naked dolly of the day, so a lot of our strait-laced news agents who tear page three out of the Sun before it goes on the stands may take that out as well. I think the editors of our staid morning dailies in Dublin are a bit leery of this one. It sounds too much like a Halloween prank. They were fairly restrained, but the evening tabloids will be wilder and woollier. BBC breakfast TV was very brief and straightforward, about thirty seconds of you at the press conference last night and a fairly factual recap. RTE and BBC Northern Ireland radio have been fairly circumspect as well. Some of the commercial disc jockeys are having a bit of fun with it, playing 'The Monster Mash' and joking about love at first bite and so on."

"I suppose that's to be expected. Any ideas on the task force composition?"

"How about Paddy Treacy for the DI and Tom Flanagan for the uniform sergeant?" suggested Walsh.

"Two bloody good coppers," said Molloy. "I approve. Ban Ghardai?" n¦ "Six, for the phones and for interviewing and counseling. I am pessimistically assuming he will strike again, while optimistically assuming there will be more survivors. I told Mags she could come on board as one of the BGs. Is that all right?"

Perfectly," agreed Molloy. "She's a bloody good copper as well, even if I do say so meself." Molloy was well aware of the fact that Conn Walsh had been sleeping with his Ban Gharda daughter Margaret for over a year. He wished they would go ahead and get married, but having once made his feelings clear to both of them he didn't push it, although it was somewhat harder to get his wife Maureen to take a similar tolerant view.

Mick Molloy was firmly convinced that the old Ireland he remembered from the late 1940s and the 1950s had been a better, more decent, and more livable place than the modern one he had to police. But he accepted that those days were gone, and that his country could not forever isolate itself from change. That this change constituted progress in most cases he gravely doubted. Being a master of the convoluted Irish system of bureaucracy and patronage he sometimes fought certain changes with every ounce of seniority and experience at his command. Yet he took a surprisingly broad-minded view of the very questions or private sexual morality which drove most Irish people into conniption fits. Besides, it was his opinion that if Margaret was going to have an affair she couldn't have done much better than Conn Walsh. So far it hadn't interfered with either of their job performances. They were both efficient and correct with one another on duty, and kept the relationship sufficiently private so that most of their co-workers were ignorant of it.

Now Molloy said, "As long as we're making this a family affair, could we get Mick Og up from Cork? I know it's a bit irregular for a Superintendent to have his own son working for him, but a task force of this kind would be invaluable experience for the lad, and it will look very good in his personnel jacket."

"Done," agreed Walsh.

The Molloys were a police family. Mick was the youngest son of Garda Sergeant Sean Molloy, who had fought in the Easter Rebellion of 1916 as an adolescent youth, in De Valera's Volunteer garrison at Boland's Mill. He had ended up interned in the Frongoch camp in Wales, along with Michael Collins and other rebel leaders. On his repatriation to Ireland in 1918, Sean Molloy had promptly joined the I.R.A., and at one stage the Dublin Castle authorities had a price of one thousand pounds on his head. He became a company commander, was wounded twice, and captured once, but escaped from Mountjoy Gaol. On one occasion he was surrounded in a pub on Church Street by a patrol of Black and Tans, but shot his way out with his Parabellum automatic and a hand grenade, killing two Tans in the process. This exploit formed the basis for a now rather obscure rebel song, but one which Mick Molloy would overhear on occasion even today, sung in snatches at closing time as pub patrons staggered home through Dublin's rainy streets.

Sean Molloy was a veteran of the Civil War of 1922 as well, but curiously enough, to this day Mick did not know on which side his father had fought. It was the one forbidden subject in the Molloy household on South Circular Road. Since Sean joined the Garda Siochana in 1923, when the smoke had barely cleared away, it would seem a good bet that he was a Free Stater. Yet on the other hand, Mick knew that his father had invariably voted Fianna Fàil in every election until his former commander Eamonn De Valera was made State President, and after that he had voted Labour. His own son Mick Og had once asked about his grandfather's Civil War record. "I suppose I could find out, even today," Mick Senior had told him. "But I take the view that Da never spoke of it because he wanted it forgotten. If he thought there was anything we needed to know or anything we could learn from that period of his life, he would have told us. But he never did. I have respected his wishes all these years, and I hope that you will too." He was proud that the younger Mick had done precisely that, and inquired no further.

But one thing everyone did know about Sean Molloy, and that is that he was a born community police officer. Although he never rose above the rank of sergeant in the force, (Mick learned later that his father had turned down repeated offers of promotion over the years), Sean ruled his patch in the Liberties like some benevolent feudal despot, an iron hand encased in a velvet glove of compassion and concern for his people's welfare. Sean Molloy patrolled the poorest slum in Dublin, and yet it was one of the safest and most orderly places in the city. Bullies and villains, burglars and shopbreakers, sneak thieves and pickpockets, pimps and prostitutes, strong-arm goons with their protection rackets, gamblers and razor fighters, all the perennial low-life of urban poverty learned to avoid Sean Molloy's beat like the fires of Tophet. He scorned to carry a truncheon or brass knuckles, but relied on his fists and occasionally on a rolled-up newspaper. With these he roundly thrashed every man who ever tried him on, drunk or sober, never losing a fight in thirty-six years.

Yet Sean Molloy was more than just a street brawler in a uniform. He was a friend, a father confessor, a one-man employment agency, a marriage counselor, a housing officer, a social worker, a baby-sitter on occasion, a tribune of the people who did battle with the bureaucrats in Dublin Corporation and the politicians in Leinster House itself when community interests were at stake. When he sent a criminal away for a stretch in Mountjoy he looked in on the man's family, made sure they had at least the bare necessities so that the children wouldn't have to go out on the streets to steal or the wife to sell her body. When he caught a youth breaking into a shop or drinking in an alley with other delinquents he would slap some sense into the boy then and there, and three days later would appear at his cottage or tenement flat with a job offer from a factory or a building site. When a girl living in one of his streets got into trouble, all a distraught parent had to do was whisper a name into Sean Molloy's ear, and next Sunday the banns would be published.

Sean Molloy retired in 1959, began quietly drinking himself to death in 1961 when his wife died, and completed the task in 1963. His funeral was one of the most astounding ever held in Dublin. A good two thousand people attended the graveside service in Glasnevin national cemetery. Half of these were Ireland's rulers and legendary heroes from the time of struggle. The current Taoiseach, Sean Lemass, was chief mourner along with President Eamonn De Valera himself, plus Dan Breen, Tom Barry, Frank Aiken, Maire Comerford, Liam Cosgrove, Sean McBride, Conor Cruise O'Brien, and virtually the entire sitting Dail Eireann and Seanad Eireann. The United States ambassador to Ireland came as a personal emissary of President John F. Kennedy. Every surviving member of the Boland's garrison was there, and a firing party was provided by members of the Old I.R.A. Association. The coffin was carried by six pallbearers, all gardai. One was the Commissioner of the force, one the commanding superintendent of the Dublin uniformed force, and the remaining four were the sons of Sean Molloy. The other half of the mourners came from Dublin's underworld, men with records as long as their arms, hoodlums who came from as far away as London and Glasgow and Manchester to pay their final respects to a man who more often than not had put them behind bars. Some were even currently wanted for criminal offences, but on that snowy day at Glasnevin there was an unspoken truce between the gougers of Dublin and the long lines of Garda blue that filed past Sean Molloy's coffin. No one in the crowd even had their pocket picked; such a disrespectful act would have earned any enterprising chancer who tried it several broken fingers.

Mick Molloy was Sean's youngest son. Sean Og was now retired and living in the old place on South Circular, a regular guest at Mick and Maureen's Sunday dinner table. Cathal had died of cancer the previous year, after a long illness. Eamonn had been killed in 1984 while disarming a bomb planted in a British-owned Dublin department store by the present-day, Marxist-Leninist I.R.A. (no relation). It took Mick five months to track down the two Provos responsible. One was now serving a life sentence in Britain for other crimes, on foot of evidence provided by Mick Molloy. The second was known to be hiding north of the Border. Mick traded a whole box of confidential Irish Special Branch files from Phoenix Park to a contact of his in the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and a week later the RUC obligingly kicked in the door of a rural cottage in South Tyrone and shot his brother's murderer dead. Of the new generation of Molloy children, three were already on the force. Mick Og and Margaret were assigned, and Tim was in training at the Templemore depot. Of the three still at home, Enda intended to apply as soon as he got his Leaving Cert and Cathal was probably destined for the blue as well. Eleven-year-old Orla presently wanted to be a veterinarian.

"I'll get Andy Manion appointed as medical examiner for the task force," Molloy was telling Walsh. "That way we don't have to deal with a different doctor on each case, again assuming pessimistically that there will be more attacks. We need someone who's familiar

with yer man's M.O. and the whole file. I'll square it with the Park later today."

"Manion's got a pathology qualification?" asked Walsh.

"Royal College of Surgeons. Of course, all our lab reports will have to come from the State Pathologist at Trinity. Andy's an old school chum of his, which will be an additional help. I've always found the man to be a supercilious West Brit who talks down to us native chappies." "Has Manion given us the OK to speak with Jacinta Kelly yet?"

"He said to call in this morning," Molloy told him. "Come on. Let's go."

"Let's stop by Operations and bung this personnel roster for the task force onto them first," said Walsh, and then he grimaced. "Oh, bloody hell, Mick, I clean forgot. You've got a V.I.P. visitor down in the day room waiting to see you."

"Jaysus Q. Christ, who is it? Some TD wanting me to fix a drunk in charge or something? You know I haven't got time for that lark this morning, Conn!"

"It's Monsignor Ignatius Hogan," Walsh told him. "S. J., no less. I don't know if you've heard of him, but he's the Archbishop's personal gofer and troubleshooter. He speaks with his master's voice, and he says it's about what happened in Rathmines."

"What the hell can that be, if you'll pardon the expression? All right, bring him up." Molloy relapsed into his swivel chair. Monsignor Hogan proved to be a short, rotund little man with a balding head, a pink pear-shaped face with dewlaps that flowed over his clerical collar and blue eyes which might have been pixie-like but which were now cold and grim. He looked like a caricature of the stereotypical whiskey-bibbing Irish priest with a rosary in one hand and a bingo card in the other, but Molloy understood that diocesan politics was a snake pit of Borgian dimensions, and the man who sat at the right hand of the Archbishop of Dublin would be no fool. "Good morning, Monsignor," he greeted him courteously. "Please take a seat. Can we offer you something, coffee or tea?"

"No thank you, Detective Chief Superintendent," replied Hogan. Walsh sat down as well and Hogan made no objections. "You're quite busy and I shall take up as little of your time as possible. The first thing I want to make clear is that this visit is officially unofficial, that is to say that the Archbishop knows of my presence here and has approved of it, but we ask that you keep confidential the source of the information which I am about to disclose to you."

"Understood," said Molloy.

"What I am about to do involves something very close to infringement on one of the most sacred laws of the Church. I refer to the absolute inviolability of the secrecy of the confessional. I am not going to violate that secrecy in the specific, but nonetheless I have information which both the law of man and simple common decency require that I place before you." Hogan paused, the undivided attention of both gardai now riveted on him. "For almost a year now, priests throughout County Dublin have been reporting a series of very disturbing incidents. A number of women have revealed in the confessional that they have received repeated visits from a---well, from a vampire-like creature, or so they claim. During these nocturnal visitations these women say that their blood has been sucked and that various indecent sexual acts have taken place."

The two gardai were stunned. Molloy was the first to recover. "Excuse me, Monsignor, you said repeated visits?" he asked in amazement. "You mean he comes back time after time, and they let him do it?"

"Yes. These reports came to us from priests all over the diocese, each independently of the others, asking us as their superiors for guidance to help them deal with a problem they found baffling and completely outside their experience. We didnít know what to make of it all. We thought it must be some kind of strange underground wave of contagious sexual hysteria, some kind of repression fantasy which had become an emotional chain reaction, maybe even temptations of a psychic or paranormal origin. We didn't say anything to the gardai because it never occurred to us that these women might be telling us the literal truth, even though some of the penitents displayed to their confessors what appeared to be bite-marks. I mean, really. A vampire? Now, however, we learn that an actual evil person is responsible for this horrific abuse, presumably the same man responsible for the two murders you are investigating and the assault on that poor girl in Rathmines last night. If there is any chance that this man may kill again, and I would guess that there is a strong possibility of that, then we cannot hold back information which might save lives. The Archbishop has sent me here today to tip you the wink that the problem is far more widespread than you may be aware."

"And you can't give us any names at all?" asked Walsh urgently.

"The priests involved didn't give us any names, Sergeant," said Hogan. "We didn't ask them to do so, nor would they have complied if we had asked. The confessional must remain inviolate, in the specific case."

"I appreciate that, Monsignor," said Molloy. "But if nothing else, can you give us some general information of a demographic nature? Have you been getting these reports only from the Dublin area, or from anywhere else in Ireland?"

"Only Dublin thus far."

"And can you tell us approximately how many women have been involved in this type of, begob, what to call it, ritual abuse?"

"I don't see why not. We don't really know the full extent of the problem, of course, but to date it would appear that about two dozen women are involved. The actual figure is probably higher than that."

"Two dozen?" shouted Molloy in utter astonishment. O "Jaysus Q. Christ on a raft! Oh, saving your presence, Monsignor!"

Before leaving for the Meath hospital, the two gardai worked out an arrangement with Monsignor Hogan. The priests who had reported female parishioners being molested by the vampire would be instructed to go to the women involved and urgently counsel them to come forward to the police, under the strictest guarantees of confidentiality. The task force would meanwhile announce that it had reason to believe other attacks had occurred which had not been reported, and that any woman who had suffered such an assault should contact the gardai. Their identities would be protected, and they might save others from injury and death. "Bloody hell!" groaned Molloy as they walked down Harrington Street. It was a fine morning and he decided he needed to stretch his legs and think. "This gouger has been operating in Dublin for almost a year now, and nary a whisper of it did we get until July. And even than the Murder Squad thought the McDonagh woman had been done in by her fellow knackers!"

"Let's not be too hard on ourselves, Super," Walsh urged him. "I mean, good God, how many coppers look for vampire bites? No law enforcement agency in the world has ever had to deal with anything like this."

"Have they not?" ruminated Molloy. "Have they not indeed? So this bloke just this last autumn decided that he was Dracula risen from the grave and it was time to start biting women on the neck? So he went out and began victimizing dozens of women in this atrocious manner with such practiced skill that until last night we had no idea of his MO and until this morning we had no idea of the extent of his activities? Doesn't ring true, Conn. You know as well as I do that sex offenders start young, with small things, peeping into windows, exposing themselves, talking dirty to women on the streets. If they aren't caught and treated they move on to dirty phone calls, then breaking into women's homes and stealing knickers, then rape, then maybe murder. But by that time they always have form."

"The one sure thing we already know about this lad is that he doesn't fit any known pattern," remarked Conn.

"Conceded. But what if our man's juvenile offences and other form were in another country? Look, I'll admit that we gardai can make some major cock-ups, but I'll stake my reputation that the man we're after is an old experienced hand at this kind of thing, and if he was Irish we'd surely have some record of him by now. You may damn me for a green chauvinist or whatever, but he's just not acting like an Irishman. It's the sex angle. Thanks to Mother Church we still have probably the most sexually ignorant and inhibited population in the world. We've forty year old spinsters who still call themselves girls, and I've known farmers who grew up around animal breeding and didn't make the connection, who literally had no idea what to do on their wedding night. Ireland produces political murderers and sadists in plenty, but not this kind of nutter. The bastard is behaving in a bloody un-Irish manner. He has to be a foreigner!"

"I understand exactly what you're saying, Super!" laughed Walsh.

"I hope Jacinta Kelly can help us. What we don't know about this case would fill a book. But when we get back, let's play my hunch. Start sending out telex inquiries. Begin with Scotland Yard and Interpol, then query the FBI in Washington, the RCMP in Canada, and every police records office in the EC. Ask for anything similar to our man's MO., but cross-reference it with Satanism, black magic, cults and cult-related crimes, etcetera. Let the media get hold of that and I'll have your guts for garters, but our man may well be into that kind of occult rigmarole and we might pick up on his trail that way."

At the Meath they spoke with Dr. Andrew Manion in the corridor before they entered Jacinta's room. "The parents and the boyfriend are with her," Manion told them. "She's OK physically and she can be released in a couple of days, but the mental and emotional trauma is bad and frankly I'm afraid she might yet have a breakdown. She's terrified that she's going to turn into a vampire herself, like in the movies. She insisted on calling her parish priest this morning, and he's been by. He left her holy water and a crucifix. I imagine you're going to see a run on those two items in Dublin as well, not just the garlic in Moore Street."

Jacinta was sitting up in bed when the two gardai entered the room, and the first thing they noticed was the new silver crucifix twinkling against her blue hospital smock. They were introduced to Jacinta's parents, an elderly and worn-looking couple who were totally shattered by the whole thing, and to a handsome young man of about thirty in a Louis Copeland suit whom Molloy recognized from a number of Fianna Fàil functions. He was Liam McDaniel, as of this morning Jacinta's official fiancé. After becoming a blood-sucking demon of the night, Jacinta's second worst fear had been that Liam would turn away from her in revulsion, as some men did after a rape. Instead, the knowledge that he had nearly lost her brought a proposal from Liam, and so Jacinta's happiness this morning sufficiently counterbalanced her fear to enable her to give a precise account of what had happened the night before in her flat.

After some soothing general small talk, Molloy suggested that Liam and the Kellys step out for a cup of tea while the gardai spoke with Jacinta privately. When they had left, Molloy gently and skillfully took her back over the whole incident, step by step. A Ban Gharda sat unobtrusively in the corner; she had been there all night, watching the patient. Then Molloy went to work on specific points. "I think the most important thing you've told us is about the accent, Jacinta," he said. "Could it have been some kind of Irish country speech, or one of the less common British dialects like Cornish or Sunderland?"

"No," replied Jacinta firmly. "I've been all over Ireland and the U.K. as well on holiday. I work with girls from all at ESB, and I'm the only one in our office who can distinguish between Belfast and Derry or Derry and Donegal, so I've a good ear for speech. I'm pretty sure it wasn't any kind of EC accent, not French or German, certainly. The best guess I could make would be Russian or Scandinavian, although I'm not sure I'd recognize those if I heard them."

"Was it a Bela Lugosi kind of accent?" asked Molloy. "Stage Transylvanian, so to speak?"

"You mean was he putting it on to confuse me? I thought of that, but I'm sure he wasn't. He speaks excellent English, but it's not his first language." Walsh shook his head at Molloy in admiration.

"Maybe African?" continued Molloy. "Was he a white man? Could you see his skin at all, around the eyes of his mask or at the wrists of his gloves?"

"Oh, yes, he was a European. I saw his hands. He wasn't wearing any gloves."

"That's impossible!" exclaimed Walsh. "We found no fingerprints, only smudges. He must have been wearing gloves of some kind. Maybe he wore very thin latex surgical gloves?" n¦ "He wasn't wearing any gloves at all," insisted Jacinta. "I can't explain the lack of fingerprints, but I'm not likely to forget those hands. Small and pale they were, but terribly strong!" The girl shuddered at the memory. She insisted that her attacker had in fact drunk her blood and had not siphoned it off into any receptacle. She was dead certain of this even though she had been hooded, and the memory of those burning lips at her throat was almost too much for her. The two gardai concluded the interview and told her that a statement would be typed up later and brought for her to sign. Before they left the Ban Gharda took Molloy outside and told him that she had already had to fend off several attempts by reporters to get into the room. n¦ On the walk back the two police officers digested what they had learned. "Begob if you didn't call it right!" said Walsh admiringly. "A foreigner, she says, and I believe her. Is it a crystal ball you have, Super?"

"No, I've just been policing the oul' town for thirty years and I've a pretty good idea of what belongs here and what doesn't."

"What about her statement that the attacker wore no gloves? Could Scotty have banjaxed the dusting?"

"Good God, don't ever suggest that to his face or he'll dust you! No, just leave the fingerprint business for the time being," Molloy advised. "There are two types of clues, Conn. Type A helps you actually track down your man. Type B falls into place once you've got your hands on him, proves your case in court, and helps put him away. Always concentrate on the Type A clues at the beginning of any investigation. Once you've gripped your criminal, the Type B will come right. This fingerprint funny is Type B. We're just going to have to file it away with all the other funnies this case is throwing up, until we can make some sense out of it."

"Then what have we got in the way of Type A clues?" asked Walsh moodily. n¦ "Precious little, I'll admit. We're looking for a male Caucasian, medium height and build, probably left handed. He's a criminal jack of all trades, a skilled housebreaker and second storey man, he maintains a fantastic degree of physical fitness, and he's crazy as a coot. He may have gotten that way from watching too many video nasties, or he may be involved with some kind of Satanic cult. I think we can accept Jacinta's word that he is a foreigner, of some not so usual antecedents. She's an intelligent lass and I'm impressed with her as a witness. He's been victimizing women in Dublin for almost a year, and if we can credit Monsignor

Hogan, committing serious sexual offences."

"And where does all this leave us?" asked Walsh.

"Square one, me bould blue boy, square one. That's where we always start with any investigation. The foreign accent is our most tangible lead. Before you start on that telexing I asked you to do to the overseas police, drop downstairs to the Aliens Office in Harcourt Square. Tell them what little we've got and asking them to start pulling files on all male aliens who are registered with them, who match the very general description we've got, say all male Caucasians between the ages of twenty and fifty."

"If he's on an EC passport he'll not be registered," Walsh reminded him.

"I know, but Jacinta seems to think he's some off-brand nationality. Of course, he could be in this country illegally. We both know that immigration control in the Republic is for all practical purposes non-existent, and anybody who wants to come here can get off the boat from England or come in by road from the North and not even be asked for ID. So long as they don't draw unnecessary attention to themselves they can stay forever and no one will know they're illegal. I rather doubt the man we're after is a legally registered alien. Call it a hunch, but still the basic legwork has to be done. We have to check. Nine times out of ten it's the basic donkey work which pays off."

"I'll get on it."

"Game ball. Now, when you get all that done, and get that first batch of overseas telexes sent off, I want you to send very carefully worded requests for assistance to the criminal police authorities in Russia, in the Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Croatia if you can get through to Zagreb, Serbia if you can get through to Belgrade, and Romania."

"You're a newspaper junkie, Super. You know what the chances are of getting any response from any Eastern European country right now, and you know that their police aren't exactly what you and I would call police."

"Yes, I know. The Croats are killing Serbs, the Serbs are killing Croats and Bosnians and Kossovar Albanians, the Albanians are killing Serbs and Macedonian Greeks, the Bulgarians are killing ethnic Turks, the Romanians are killing ethnic Magyars, the Hungarians are supplying arms to the Croatians and the Kossovars, the Russians are killing Georgians and Armenians, the Ukrainians are killing Russians, the Turks are preparing to kill everybody, and everybody's killing the Jews. Nonetheless, let's see if we can diplomatically get some of their police to take some time away from the torture chambers and the firing squads to assist us with a bona fide criminal investigation. The results will probably be mixed, to put it mildly, but try anyway. Especially Romania. They've been fairly stable since they hanged their last premier and his cabinet."

"Begob, we ought to try that here in Ireland some time! It couldn't hurt, anyway. Why Romania especially?" asked Walsh.

"Because Transylvania is a province of Romania, or will be until Hungary invades and tries to grab it back. The original model for Bram Stoker's Dracula was a gent called Vlad the Impaler, who liked to stick sharpened wooden stakes up the bums of those who displeased him, a habit his descendants seemed to have inherited. I understand old Vlad is now something of a national hero in Romania. The real Dracula, Vlad, was a Wallachian. Wallachia is also a part of Romania."

"And may I ask who's going to post you to the Sligo bogs?" asked Conn in exasperation. "That sort of talk is supposed to be off limits, remember?"

"Do as I say, dammit, not as I do! Look, you heard Jacinta describe her assailant as a foreigner. For some reason, Eastern Europe seems to be a centre for vampire mythology, although I understand there are similar folk legends the world over. It's my experience that more often than not, old wives' tales have at least some tiny grain of truth at their core. It's a long shot, but it's an angle that has to be covered."

"And I will so. I notice you said nothing to Jacinta about the possibility that her attacker may return?"

"Nor did I, but it doesn't mean I'm not plenty worried," replied Molloy grimly. "She was in an awful state of nerves, and I didn't want to make things any worse for her than they already are. She's going back home with her parents when she's discharged in a couple of days. I'll have a word with the gardai down Longford way and see to it that she's discreetly placed under protection. I think she'll be safe enough. Yer man's theatre of operation seems to be County Dublin, or at least Monsignor Hogan hasn't heard of any priests down the country getting weird confessions. Hopefully she'll be out of his range in Longford."

"You figure she might agree to a set-up?" asked Walsh. "Maybe go back to Grove Park and act as live bait?"

"I think he'd twig to it," said Molloy thoughtfully. "I think he's smart enough to be suspicious of any girl he knew had talked to us. But if we can find some of the women Monsignor told us about, his harem girls I suppose you'd call them, and get them to agree to a stakeout in their homes, now that might be worth trying. I'll be straight with you here, Conn, I've scruples about putting a woman's life at risk until we get some better ideas of what we're dealing with here. There's just too many unanswered questions and GUBUs piling up in our funny file. I don't like this case, Conn, I don't like it at all, at all."

Late that afternoon Jacinta received a special visitor, none other than Monsignor Ignatius Hogan, S.J. Monsignor Hogan brought a huge floral offering and a fruit basket from the Archbishop of Dublin. They took tea together, Jacinta sitting up in her bed, and while they talked and munched grapes and satsumos from the fruit basket Hogan artfully, painlessly, and comprehensively interrogated her. Within an hour's time he drew from her the entire story of her life to date, including her relationship with Liam, and an account of the attack in her flat which was quite as detailed as the one she had given the police. She also spoke of her terror and her anguish as she faced the future. Sundown was coming, and Jacinta was quietly sick with superstitious fear for her sanity and her salvation.

"What if it's true, Monsignor?" she whispered in despair. "What if I'm doomed to become a thing like the one which attacked me last night? Monsignor, I know the Church forbids suicide, but surely it would be better to kill myself rather than let myself taste human blood and serve Satan?"

"Stop that at once!" rapped the priest in a voice of command that brooked no opposition. "You are never to let such an idea enter your mind again, Jacinta! As for what you fear, God does not permit such things to be. I know you're telling the truth about what happened to you, the whole truth as you recall it. But as cruel and as horrifying as your experience has been, you were assaulted and hurt by a man, a human only. Oh, make no mistake, my dear, the devil may take a hand in human affairs, but he does it through men of flesh and blood who choose to serve him, out of wickedness or overweening pride or anger at God. You had a close encounter with evil last night and no mistake, but you survived it. Now your must learn to draw strength from it. Let what has occurred to you strengthen your faith, not weaken it."

"But Monsignor, the most terrible part about it is that deep down inside, part of me wants this to happen! Part of me wants him to come back, part of me wants to go flying through the night sky with him in the shape of a bat and drink the blood of my victims!" Jacinta's voice was shaking with horror. "Do you understand, Father? Part of me wants this vile thing! I have glimpsed a terrible truth that I never before knew existed, it's driving me mad and yet I can't make myself forget it. I've been lying here thinking about what happens now, about my future. Marriage to Liam, endless days of processing forms at the ESB sitting behind that little desk of mine with dozens of other girls just like me, and then babbies and a mortgage and holidays and birthdays, Mass and the Sunday joint, bills to pay and every now and then an evening of pointless banal chatter in the pub. Eventually I'll come to a place like this, and they'll stick tubes in me and change my nappies, and I'll lie here for a while and then I'll die. I accepted all that before, Monsignor. I even thought I wanted it. But now I don't know if I can ever accept it again, because now I know there is a night world beyond what we can see in the daylight, a world of mysteries and secrets. As evil as I know that world to be, part of me desperately yearns to journey there. I don't know if I'll ever be able to suppress that desire completely. Am I making any sense at all, Monsignor?"

"I understand what you are saying, lass," replied the police soothingly. "That part of you which wants to enter the night world has a name, you know. It's called Original Sin, that flicker of taint upon the soul of even the best of us, the legacy of the apple and the sly words of the serpent in that garden long ago. The fact that you were attacked by a crazed human does not invalidate the impression you received of that attack as a psychic experience. In a sense, it was. The night world, as you call it, most certainly does exist. It exists in the dark recesses of the human soul when men or women allow that little fleck of taint to grow and possess them. The same old serpent is there, constantly pricking a prodding at us, urging us to bite the forbidden fruit once again, to peep and pry into things that don't concern us. This is why the Church forbids things like tarot cards, ouija boards, fortune-telling and seances and whatnot. There's nothing to them, of course," Hogan went on. "No more than the depraved man who attacked you last night is really a vampire. It's the presumption wherein lies the sin. God has told us all that He wishes for us to know about the supernatural realm, in Holy Writ and through His holy Church. To go digging about, experimenting, peeping and prying and looking for more information is defiance and an insult to God. Yet the temptation is always there, Jacinta, because of that tiny little bit of original sin in us all. You are experiencing that temptation now. Resist it. And I hope you'll do better than you've done thus far in resisting more earthy temptations," he concluded primly. Jacinta blushed in embarrassment.

A good sign, thought Monsignor Hogan. Perhaps she's falling for all this specious codswallop. I half believed it myself until I read that top secret file in the Archbishop's office this afternoon. Pray God the Vatican sends this Eye-tie priest His Grace told me about. If we bungle this business then all Hell just might break loose.

Twilight was falling across the city of Dublin, and the streetlights were coming on. In a room with a high scrollwork ceiling an old man sat in an armchair and stared into the embers of a coal fire in an ornate wrought-iron grate. The room was a library on the third floor of a perfect Georgian town house that fronted on a small, leafy square. It was one of those isolated little squares one stumbles across in the older quarters of Dublin, surrounded by lean iron fences and rows of eighteenth-century buildings in every state of repair from collapsing decrepitude to full restoration by An Taisce or by wealthy private owners who bought them and did them up with hundreds of thousands of pounds which they cheated from the Revenue Commissioners.

One sometimes has difficulty in finding these little squares a second time. This particular one, named after an obscure Viceroy from the early nineteenth century, was not even on modern street maps. It had somehow vanished from the city ordnance survey about 1900, and does not appear in any city directory after that. Once some students at the Bolton Street College of Technology were doing a cartography course, and they spotted the old square in an aerial photograph and set out to find it, and learn why it wasn't on any map. They got lost and ended up doing a pub crawl down Baggot Street.

The curtains in the library were drawn tightly to keep out the daylight, and a lamp on the table beside the old man's chair cast a pool of yellow light. The old man was tall and rangy, and his pale face was seamed and craggy. His longish hair and his ferocious sweeping moustache were white, his eyes a sullen lambent blue. The walls were lined with bookcases that rose up into the deepening shadows. The air was still and stuffy. At the far end of the room a door opened and a handsome blond young man entered, quietly and with deference. He approached the armchair where the old man sat, his feet noiseless on a priceless pile carpet of immense age. He wordlessly held out copies of the Evening Herald. The old man carefully read the lead articles and their inside page continuations. The Herald headline bawled out "VAMPIRE ATTACKS DUBLIN GIRL" with a subhead, "Has Killed Twice, Say Gardai". The Press howled "VAMPIRE KILLER STALKS DUBLIN!"

"What do you command, grandfather?" asked the young man.

"Summon the others," replied the old man, his voice a powerful bass. The language they spoke was not English. "Tell them to use care in their coming, to be on guard against anything. I must speak with them. We are in terrible danger."

"Such a thing has never before happened in Ireland," said the young man worriedly. "Not in Ireland, no. We have been incredibly lucky for a very long time, but it would appear that our luck has run out. You are too young to remember the old country, Radu. You have never seen the fear, the rage, the unappeasable hatred that a renegade inspires among men. I was not so fortunate. I saw my mother and my sister roasted over a slow fire one night by a mob of peasants who overran our carriage. A wounded Brother lashed a horse fifteen miles to give warning, and my father arrived just as I was about to be cast into the flames myself. He came with a troop of Cossacks, Brothers to our clan. They cut out the peasants' living guts and heaped the entrails in the snow as a feast for the wolves, and then my father flayed the skin from the village priest's body like you would peel an onion, and hanged his still writhing body from the beam of his church, head downward. After that my father burned the village to the ground, and then tracked the renegade for weeks, over six hundred miles of steppe and forest. When the renegade finally turned to fight, my father split his body in two from the crown of his head to the groin with one blow of a battle-axe. Go now, and summon the others. Bid them use care."

"Yes, my lord," said Radu with a bow. He left the room and went to his office on the second floor to begin making the necessary coded phone calls. He stopped momentarily at one door and looked into the room beyond. Beds and divans were scattered throughout the chamber, and cushions, silk sheets, and soft duvets were draped and piled over the furniture. Golden plates were heaped high with food. Goblets of wine and liqueurs stood on tables or on the floor. A dozen men and women lay sleeping or talking drowsily. Some were listening to music on headsets or playing cards or chess. One couple was making love in a corner. All of these people were young looking, slim, athletic and handsome. They looked up at Radu and waved or murmured a greeting.

Unlike the young man in the doorway, the people in the room all had twin puncture marks on their throats.

III. Wednesday, September 17th

Ban Gharda Margaret Molloy muttered an obscene word under her breath, and slammed the phone receiver down. "How are the lines doing?" asked her father as he entered the task force incident room in Harcourt Square. His daughter was one of three women officers sitting at a long table along one wall of the room, handling calls that came in on the special telephone number which had been published that day.

"About sixty-forty operability, Chief Superintendent," she told him. As always, she remained totally correct in addressing him while they were on duty. "That was a girl on the phone just now who said she'd heard somebody scratching at the window of her bedsit in Phibsborough last night. Probably nothing, but we were cut off in the middle of our conversation. Bloody Telecom Eireann!" The phone rang again, and Margaret picked it up. A loud crackling and hissing came from the receiver. Margaret hung up. "That was probably her trying to get through again. Jaysus, Super, I know we've got the worst telephone service in the Western world, but we're the law, for heaven's sake! Surely Bord Telecom would make just a little bit of extra effort to give us lines that work, considering we're trying to catch a serial killer? What if we miss that one vital clue because of a phone cock-up?"

"Sixty percent first-dial connection is about the Dublin average, I think," observed Molloy. "Just thank your lucky stars weíre not trying to do this down the country somewhere. Remember that task force I took out to Mayo a few years ago, after those knackers who were attacking isolated old people in their cottages and robbing them of their burial money? At one stage not a single phone in Belmullet was functional, not even the priest's, and on another occasion I had to drive ten miles into Northern Ireland to make a phone call to Dublin from a kiosk. Almost caused an international incident."

"I doubt we're even at the sixty percent mark in Finglas," put in another one of the Ban Ghardai sourly, a dark little girl named Alice. The phone in front of Margaret rang again and she picked it up. The caller from Phibsborough had managed to get connected again, and the two resumed their conversation. Margaret's father watched approvingly, noting the swift and professional yet sympathetic technique with which she reassured the frightened woman on the other end, while skillfully extracting all the essential details and noting them down in neat order on the pad in front of her.

A tall and athletic Irish redhead, Margaret played championship camogie and ran in the Dublin marathon every year. She had proven her mettle as a police officer time and time again, calming down pub brawls, bringing in aggressive drunks of both sexes, and doing decoy on anti-mugging duty in Phoenix Park and the poor areas of the city. She was one of the best rape interviewers and victim counselors on the force, and she had once dived into the freezing river Liffey in January to rescue a would-be suicide. She succeeded, almost at the cost of her own life, and for this she had been awarded the Garda medal for heroism.

The high point of her career thus far had come when she arrested a fifty-year-old itinerant woman known as Granny Power. Renowned as the matriarch of Dublin shoplifters, Granny was a legend in the old town's underworld. She was reputed to have a six-figure annual income from her thefts, and she also earned princely tuition fees from all the other traveling families, who sent their most promising daughters to Granny for instructions in the intricacies of the art. Her pupils were scattered through the British Isles, a few in women's' prisons, but most of them merrily looting department stores and supermarket chains from the Lakes of Killarney to the posh boutiques of London's Oxford Street. Granny Power's painted caravan was towed by a Rolls Royce, and when she sat drinking with her cronies in the alleyways of by the campfires on waste ground her tipple was Chivas Regal or vintage champagne.

Margaret Molloy had caught Granny Power coming out of Roche's Stores in the city centre, carrying half the kitchenware section and enough groceries to feed an infantry platoon concealed in the many specially tailored coats she wore. The traveling woman had decided she didn't feel like getting arrested that day, at least not by a "chit of a girl". (Margaret was no elf, but Granny stood six feet one and weighed almost twenty stone.) The two of them had fought a pitched battle down Henry Street, to the cheers of hundreds of joyful onlookers. Margaret finally knocked her opponent unconscious with a frozen leg of New Zealand lamb that had fallen out of one of Granny's carrier pockets.

When Margaret finished the call from Phibsborough and rang off, she wrote out the caller's and address and a brief description of the complaint, which she tore off and stuck on a spike which held seven or eight similar slips. "I don't think there's anything to that, but the lad will have to check it out." she told Molloy. "Here comes Inspector Treacy." A plainclothes Garda detective in a baggy suit and tie entered the incident room and greeted Molloy, then took the slips of paper off the spike and riffled through them quickly.

"How's it look, Paddy?" asked Molloy.

"Just got the phone lines in this morning, Super, and already it's descending on us thick and fast from a dizzy height. Thanks for getting me assigned to the task force. I'd really like to help nail this bastard."

"It was Conn's idea, but I approved," Molloy told him. "You're an all-round sort of chap, and we've got no idea where this investigation may lead." Paddy Treacy was a ruddy, balding man of middle age with a waistline comfortably upholstered from many pints of Guinness and a diet of substantial fry-ups and mixed grills. In contrast to Conn Walsh's razor-sharp creases and gleaming freshness, Treacyís suits were generally seedy and soup-stained. He looked like a bookie or a used car salesman. But appearances were deceptive, for Treacy had one of the sharpest analytical minds on the force, and his personnel file bulged with commendations for bravery and ingenuity in hunting down every type of Irish criminal from purse-snatchers to Provos, con men to cocaine dealers. He was a crack pistol shot and rifle marksman, he was trained in bomb disposal, Customs work and hostage crisis management, and once on a trail he was a bloodhound impossible to evade. "I presume you're familiar with the case by now?" asked Molloy. "The funny file as well?"

"Aye," said Treacy. "My gut tells me this is going to be a long and complex case, Super, and I'm projecting on that basis. I want to talk to you about a few things, but first, can you tell me if there's anything from the State Pathologist on Jacinta Kelly?"

"I've just come from there," said Molloy, taking out his notebook to refer back. The telephone rang, and Alice answered it. Conn Walsh walked into the room holding a sheaf of papers. "Ah, there you are, Conn. I was just about to run down the patho report for Paddy, but I presume those are answers to our overseas inquiries. Any joy?"

"Sweet Fanny Adams," sighed Conn. "F.B.I. and R.C.M.P. and Interpol all came up blank. Scotland Yard's still checking out their occult weirdo files, but I spoke with one of their people on the phone just now and he told me it didn't ring any bells. Nothing from the more exotic climes yet. Anything useful in the patho?"

"Not very, no," said Molloy, glancing over his notes. "The ass won't commit himself on what kind of dope yer man shot into the Kelly girl, although he was able to isolate it from her blood samples. He says it was an organic neurotoxin of unknown properties, which apparently functions as a powerful depressant but is subsequently almost one hundred percent metabolised, making quantitative analysis impossible from the specimen provided, pax vobiscum and ishkabibble."

"In other word, he hasn't got a clue," commented Treacy.

"Got it in one. Manion told the State Pathologist about all the medical funnies, the lack of blood clotting, the triangular wounds, etc. He seems to think we've lost our minds. Can't really blame him, I suppose. We do at least know what our laddie's little Love Potion Number Nine is not. It is not heroin, morphine, or any known opium derivative. It is not any known barbiturate, amphetamine, or prescription tranquilizer. The description he gave of the substance sounds a good deal like simple alcohol, which is an organic neurotoxin. The thought occurred to me that he might simply have shot her up with a large vodka or Jameson, but the quack assures me that any direct intravenous injection of whiskey or spirits would have killed her outright. Drug Squad have no idea what it might be, nor has anyone ever heard of a two-pronged syringe. Whatever his dope is, let's hope the bastard doesn't start flogging it to addicts on the streets of Dublin. How are things going here, Paddy?"

"We've had over fifty phone calls already. I've got men out looking into them, and when they get back I'll start them in on this lot," said Treacy, waving the latest crop of telephone slips from the spike. All three Ban Ghardai were now speaking into the telephones in front of them. "Tom Flanagan has the rest of our uniforms over at Store Street picking up patrol cars and equipment, and he's organizing them into beats for tonight. I'm putting as many mobile patrols as I can on the streets during the hours of darkness, and saving the detectives for running down leads during the day. The Ban Ghardai are on twelve hour shifts, three on days and three on nights. I'm concentrating on the period between sunset and sunrise because I think that's when our man will be out and about. I know we're not to encourage supernatural gibberish, sir, but my guess is that we're dealing with a deranged man who really believes that he's Dracula or some similar fantasy, and so he will conform his behavior to that scenario. He will stay indoors and sleep during the day, possibly in a coffin or a crypt or something equally melodramatic. At sundown he will come out to walk the streets, seeing himself as the undead monster stalking his beautiful prey, moving like a demon shadow among the living, you get the picture."

"I agree with that analysis," said Molloy. "Now that he's finally gotten the publicity he desires, he probably won't be able resist grandstanding, playing to the gallery so to speak."

"Aye," said Treacy, nodding. "Hopefully the limelight will get to his head, and he'll start taking stupid chances, making stupid mistakes."

"Our day shift needs to start checking out funeral parlors, vendors of caskets and cemetery plots, manufacturers and retailers or mortuary supplies, so forth and so on," directed Molloy. "Yer man may have his own private little mausoleum set up in his cellar or his garage, and maybe we can pick up his trail through his purchase of accessories that go with his fantasy. Also, we need to get onto all the occult bookshops in town, the one over by Trinity and that one behind the Central Bank especially. Ditto Eason's and all public and university libraries. See if anyone has shown an excessive interest in vampirism and vampire books over the past year or so. We also need to talk to spiritualists, fortune-tellers, and those weird folk down Wicklow way who call themselves white witches and dance around in the altogether under a full moon. But do not, repeat, do not let the news media get so much as a whiff of that line of inquiry."

"Understood," said Treacy.

"Anything at all promising coming in on the phones?" asked Molloy.

"Pretty much what you might expect," Treacy told him. "A lot of rumour control, a lot of women reporting strange noises and horrible faces at the window, that kind of thing. It's

four in the afternoon now, and yet we're getting prowler report. There's definitely fear out there, Superintendent. There have been two incidents that illustrate what I'm talking about. At about two o'clock this afternoon we got a call that two girls were screaming bloody murder out of a window in Rathfarnham. Tom Flanagan was in the area in a patrol car, and he got there in a minute flat and caught a sixteen year-old schoolboy running down an alley wearing a black cape and green plastic vampire fangs."

"I wondered when the yobbo element was going to start having fun with this," groaned Molloy. "I hope Flanagan put a boot up his bum."

"So he did, and he confiscated the kid's regalia and sent him home. He figured you'd not want to charge the boy and publicize the incident, because that would give other young idiots ideas."

"Good thought on Tom's part," Molloy agreed.

"But you see? Both those girls were scared out of their wits just by this gossoon gobbling in their window in broad daylight. What if it had been at night? I've already asked for more lines at Telecom Eireann and I want more Ban Ghardai for the phones as well. I can tell you right now that what we've got isn't going to be enough. We're going to be swamped, especially at night."

"Paddy, I have the depressing feeling that you are one hundred per cent right. What about the second incident you mentioned?"

"Oh, that was almost funny in a way. A little old lady in Clontarf entered the grounds of a deserted Protestant churchyard there with a crucifix, a wooden stake, and a hammer as well as assorted harden tools. She was busily digging up one of the graves when a Garda patrol spotted her and picked her up. She turned out to be the relict of the last minister of the congregation, and she swore that her late husband was coming back from the dead as a vampire. We sent her down to the rubber room in Clonskeagh for observation, and it turns out she's been in and out of there like a revolving door for the last ten years. We're also getting a lot of bat calls."

"I beg your pardon?" put in Conn.

"Bats, sarge. People are scared of bats now. Any old house or barn where bats nest during the day is being reported to us. People think one of them may be the vampire. Others call and tell us that bats have been flying around their houses at night, or into their window. Or they've dreamed about bats and they want to tell us all about it."

"Jaysus bloody well wept!" moaned Molloy softly. "Bats, is it now? All of this since just this morning?"

"Aye," said Treacy with a sombre nod. "And it's going to get worse before it gets any better."

"You're not wasting any time or manpower on this bat nonsense, are you?" asked Molloy in alarm.

"Oh, no worries, sir, we've not got bats in our belfry!" quipped Treacy. Molloy remembered the resulting laugh well; it was the last real laugh any of them had for a long while.

"I think I may have something here," spoke up Margaret Molloy, covering the mouthpiece of her phone with her hand. "A Miss Mary Halloran on North Circular Road. She says her priest has been onto her and after a long talk with him she's decided she wants to tell us about her night visitor, as she calls him."

"This may be our first real break!" exclaimed Molloy in excitement. "We'll need a Ban. You up for it, Mags?"

"I'll say! Let me get Annie Cahill's idle arse up out of the break room to take this phone and we're off!"

The bright blue door of the house on North Circular Road was opened by a tall, thin priest with horn-rimmed glasses who introduce himself as Father Joseph Cashin. He ushered Molloy, Margaret, and Sergeant Conn Walsh into a spacious sitting room. A cheerful coal fire burned in the grate and its reflection twinkled in a room full of polished brass and china. On the walls hung a crucifix, a photograph of the Pope, and a picture of the Sacred Heart. Mary Halloran arose from the settee and thanked the police for coming. Her voice as calm and she seemed to be relaxed and well in control. She was a tall woman with waist-length blond hare, a willowy and yet not unpleasing figure, and gold-rimmed wire glasses. Father Cashin went into the kitchen, and while he was making tea Molloy introduced them all and said, "Before we begin, Miss Halloran, may I call you Mary? Good. Can we get a little background information?" It emerged that she was thirty-four years old, unmarried, and a legal clerk for a leading form of solicitors in Dublin. She had been born and raised in the city and had inherited the house from her mother. It was a fine example of the late Victorian townhouse, with five bedrooms and deep bay windows fronting the street on both the ground floor and the first floor. The late Mrs. Halloran had died four years earlier in a nursing home and had left the house equally to Mary and her older brother. The brother was married bit had lived in Canada for the past twenty years and he had his own home in Toronto, so he had sold his share to Mary.

"There is one thing I would like to say while Father Joseph is out of the room," she told them. "It would embarrass him to hear me say this, but I know that your first reaction to what I will tell you will probably be very similar to his. You will believe, as he did, that I am a neurotic and sexually frustrated spinster who is weaving fantasies and getting attention by making up a demon lover. Of course, he was far too kind to put it into so many words, but that is the way he reacted. But I swear to you that everything I have to tell you this evening is the absolute, literal truth. For a time I even thought myself that I was going mad, but now that I have read the newspapers and seen you on the telly, Superintendent, I know that what has been happening to me is real. I still can't explain---him, anything about him, but he's got to be destroyed and I've got to help."

Father Cashin returned with a tea and biscuit-laden tray, poured out, and then sat down in a corner. "I shall take as little part in this discussion as possible," he told them. "It's Mary's story. Things have reached this point because I was a fool. I didn't take what Mary was telling me seriously. I believed that I knew better, that such things could not be. When she showed me the wounds it simply confirmed to me that Mary was mentally and emotionally disturbed. My response was to try and persuade her to see a psychiatrist, and after that she stopped coming to me. Thus is my own arrogant self-assurance and confidence in my superior knowledge, I handed over one of the souls in my care to a creature of Satan. For that I shall never cease to beg God's forgiveness, and hers. Tell them everything now, Mary."

"You said wounds?" asked Molloy curiously. Mary Halloran silently rolled her sleeve up high over her elbow. The two triangular stigmata of the vampire showed on a vein just below the joint. "Good God!" exclaimed Molloy.

"The first time he fed from my throat, in what I suppose you'd call the traditional manner," Mary told them calmly. "After that he fed from other places all around my body, so that the marks wouldn't show."

"I have a hundred questions," said Molloy, shaking his head in amazement. "But the first one is the most important. Can you put a name to this man, Mary? And above all, can you tell us where to find him?"

"No. He always comes to me in the dark of night, from where I never know. He has never told me his name and I have never asked."

"You surely must have called him something?" suggested Margaret.

"I called him Master," she said softly. There was a short, chilling silence as it sank in.

"How many times has he been here?" asked Molloy.

"Twelve times since last April. The last time was just four nights ago. That's when he fed from my arm, where I just showed you."

"You're absolutely certain he drinks your blood?" asked Conn incredulously. "How does he inflict those holes in you? We have assurance from an experienced doctor that it isn't done with teeth."

"Not with teeth, no, but with a kind of stinger in his mouth like a bee or a wasp sting. He calls it his serpent's kiss. I've never watched, I've always just looked the other way like taking an injection. Then his venom enters my blood and I just lie back and enjoy it. After he gets through and I come down a bit, then it's time for fun and games." With a trembling hand she now lit up a cigarette, coughing slightly. "My first in five months," she explained. "He told me to stop because it was bad for my health, which would be strained a bit from his feeding, and so I quit smoking. He told me to take a whole series of vitamins and a protein supplement to keep myself strong and replenish my blood supply quickly. I went out next day and bought them, and they're in my medicine cabinet right now. He ordered me never to wear a nightgown in bed in case he might come, and for five months I haven't done that either."

"But why, Mary?" broke in Margaret irrepressibly. "How could you let him rule your life like that, let him keep coming back to you time after time and doing these horrible things to you?"

"It will be difficult for you to understand, but I'll try to explain," she told them, slowly exhaling smoke. "I could tell you that it was sexual bondage, since drinking my blood wasn't all he did. But you can't understand the sheer overwhelming power of his presence. I donít understand it myself, and it has always terrified me. I can only say that when I am with him, I am his slave and there's an end to it. Then later in the daytime, when Iím at lunch or in the office, or at Mass or at the shops or chatting with somebody about banal, everyday things itís like I have some kind of magical power or secret that puts me above it all. Itís like I'm no longer part of this world entirely. To others Iím just an ordinary mot who work's in a lawyerís office, a face in the crowd along Baggot Street, but I know that I'm different. At night I enter the anteroom of hell and I have wild orgies with dead things. To someone like me who has never had anything exciting of different happen in her life, that is an incredible and exhilarating feeling. I know that sounds feeble and disgusting, but there it is. I really can't explain it any better."

Molloy spoke to her in a kindly voice. "Don't worry, we're cops, not judges. I think Father Joseph and I have something in common in that we both see a lot of human weakness in our work. Both the priest and the policeman have to learn to distinguish between weakness and wickedness. Now you say he raped you as well?"

"The first time it was rape, I suppose. I woke up in the wee hours of the morning one night last April and found him standing by my bedside. He was wearing a black ski mask and I thought he was a burglar, or else that I was being kidnapped and held for ransom by the Provos. I won a ten thousand pound prize bond back in January and I was afraid they'd come to hear of it. But before I could scream he was at my throat and he'd shot me full of his venom, and then I went off into this sort of long weird dream. I really can't describe it. I've never been on drugs or had an LSD trip, but I would imagine it's a similar kind of experience, only you feel very relaxed and happy and you see and hear strange things when this stuff is in you. Then he took off his clothes, all the time whispering to me what he was going to do to me, telling me what he was going to make me do. He ripped the nightgown off my body like tissue paper and then he did every bit of what he said he'd do, every conceivable variation a man and a woman can physically do together."

"You offered no resistance?" asked Molloy gently.

"No. The simple and shameful truth is that I loved every filthy minute of it. It's like that every time. H puts me through my paces like some kind of animal trainer. It's not normal lovemaking or even casual sex, it's a pure power and domination thing. He dishes it out and I take it. He uses me and degrades me and for some reason beyond my understanding my body responds with ecstatic pleasure. Somehow he knows how to rake up every last spot of dirt in my soul and make me wallow in it. Sometimes by day I swear to myself that I'll slash my wrist or take pills, that I'll kill myself before I allow him to touch me again. Yet when the sun goes down, I always hope against hope that this will be one of those special nights when he comes to me. If you have to know all the details or what we do, then I'll tell you. But I tremble to consider what you'll think of me when you know. I tried to tell Father Joseph some of those things in confession but I only managed to convince him that I was crazy and I had a mind like a sewer." Silently glistening tears were rolling down Mary Halloran's cheeks now, and the priest's eyes were moist as well.

"Mary, I am so deeply sorry that I did not believe," he began, but she cut him off.

"It's all right, Father. No one could have believed."

"It's all over now, anyway," Molloy firmly assured her.

"But it isn't over, Superintendent," Mary contradicted him quietly. "He is my Master still. If he were to come to that window right now and beckon for me to come to him, sir, and you were to handcuff me to the radiator in order to stop me from going to him, I genuinely believe that I would cut off my hand in order to escape and do his bidding. I can betray him now because he is not here, but in his presence I am his, body and soul. Am I making this clear? Do you believe any of this at all?"

Molloy realized with a sudden rush of horror and pity that she was indeed telling the truth. "I'm afraid I do believe it, Mary," he told her quietly. "In a way I wish I didn't. I wish I could just write you off as a neurotic spinster, like you said earlier. Even now I can't quite assimilate what you said about him stinging you like a bee. But in the past two days the guards have been confronted with a growing string of facts that we simply can't explain. We've been constructing all kinds of elaborate and bizarre theories to explain those facts but it just can't be done." Molloy sighed heavily. "Let's just catch him. Then we can worry about explaining him. Right, now we get down to basic police procedure. You have seen this man with his mask off?"

"Yes, sir. He never wore it again after the first night."

"Can you give us a description, please?"

"I can. You may think I am being fanciful, Superintendent, but he looks like the devil, I mean the way the devil is portrayed in old pictures and miracle plays. He is about six feet in height, I should say. His body is very slim and hard, his face is white and lean, and he has jet black hair and a sort of goatee of Imperial style beard, pointed at the chin. His nose is slim and aquiline, and his eyebrows connect in the center over the bridge of his nose and curl upwards on both ends. His eyes are very blue, and sometimes in the dark they glow sapphire, or so at least it seems to me. Maybe I just imagined that. When you find him you must kill him, because I know without a shadow of a doubt that he will not let you capture him alive. Whether he can be killed in the normal way or whether you will have to use a silver bullet or a wooden stake or something of the kind I don't know. The crucifix certainly doesn't help."

"Eh? How do you know that?" asked Molloy.

"The second time he came I tried to ward him off with it," Mary told them with a wan smile. She took a crucifix out of a drawer and showed it to them. "This is what he did with it."

"May I see?" Molloy took the crucifix and turned it over in his hand, The cruciform and the figure of the Saviour were of cast bronze, originally about eighteen inches long, heavy and solid work. Someone or something of immense strength had twisted the sacred emblem like a pretzel, and one arm of the cross had been pulled out and twirled like toffee. The face of Christ was smashed flat, as if by a gigantic thumbprint. Father Cashin gave a visible shudder at the sight, and both he and Margaret signed themselves with the Stations. Molloy stared at the desecrated artifact with utter loathing. In his years as a policeman he had seen everything. Death, mutilation, hatred, greed and anger had been his daily fare. He had seen the victims of murder, rape, and incest; he had seen mangled bodies in automobile and airplane crashes. He had seen a five year old girl with both legs blown off by an I.R.A. bomb; he had seen the husks of young people destroyed by AIDS and heroin addiction and elderly people destroyed by drink. But never before had he felt so close to the very essence of evil. It made him sick with anger and revulsion. "May I keep this?" he asked Mary in a steady voice.

"I wish you would take it away," Mary replied. "It frightens me every time I look at it. After he did that, laughing all the while, he told me that this was a good a time as any to teach me obedience and what would come of defying him. Then he punished me."

"He beat you up?" asked Margaret.

"Yes, a good old fashioned flogging with a wire coat hanger from my closet while I was tied to the bedpost. But that was only for starters. He stung me in the throat with that thing in his mouth, whatever it is, only this time he sort of nicked my larynx. I couldn't speak above a whisper for several days, but most of all I couldn't scream." Mary was now shaking uncontrollably. Her teacup was filled with butts and her fifth cigarette was quivering in her fingers; Walsh tried to light it for her but she couldn't get the tip of the flame to his lighter for long moments.

"Go on," prodded Molloy gently.

"After the beating he got creative. I still carry some of the marks on my body, even though he was careful not to leave anything that would be visible in street wear."

"He tortured you?" cried Margaret, angry and upset.

"Yes. The sex was his carrot. Now I got the stick, or rather I got the coat hanger, some ordinary straight pins, a paring knife, a cigarette lighter, and a pair of pliers. For the rest of that night until just before dawn I learned something of what hell is like. I never dreamed there could be such pain. You won't grasp this, but somehow he had a trick of talking to me inside my brain. When the sheer agony would subside for a moment my mind would scream to his for mercy, and I could feel him laughing inside my head and telling me that there would be none. I could feel his thoughts. He enjoyed the suffering and pain he was inflicting on me and he meant to break me absolutely, destroy any will I might have to resist, and so he did. I never tried to fight him again." The woman was rocking back and forth in her seat in sheer misery now. "I'm his now. You're my last chance ever to be free of him! I don't want to be his slave, but I can't escape on my own. He'll find me wherever I run to, he told me so and I believe him. Please save me!" She couldn't continue and finally buried her face in her hands and began to sob.

"He won't touch you again, Mary, I swear it!" said Molloy with iron in his voice. "Mary, have you any idea when he might come back here? We want to be waiting for him when he does. You needn't be here, you can stay with a friend or we'll put you up in a guest house."

"I'm sure that I'll have to be here," Mary replied, getting a grip on herself with an effort. "Maybe you don't believe what I said about our minds being in contact, but I honestly don't think he'd come near if I wasn't in the house. I know it sounds strange, but I truly believe he has created some kind of a psychic link between us and that he would find me wherever I wasn't. I have to be in on this to the finish, Superintendent. I can't just walk away from it. Tell me what you want me to do and I'll cooperate fully."

"We'll have to hammer out some details," said Molloy. "Mags, go get on the radio and have Harcourt Square send over an artist with an identikit. I know we've got that blasted computer yoke but I always prefer an artist; she can capture the spirit of the man we're after. That girl from UCD will be ideal for this one, I think. Mary, I want you to describe this man to our police artist as best you can. She will make what we call a photo-fit, a composite picture of your attacker, and from that a portrait, Give a verbal description to Paddy Treacy as well, Mags, and make sure all our mobile patrols have it before they go out tonight. How old would you say he was, Mary?"

"He is ageless," said Mary tonelessly. "Oh, he looks about thirty, I'd say."

"Say thirty, then. And Mags, once you're through using the radio, move the car down the street about a block. From now on the gardai and to approach this house in unmarked cars only, and we enter and leave through the back. Our man may be watching. Our stakeouts here are to lie as doggo as Lord Lucan. He probably scouts this place before he moves in at night and I don't want him to twig that there's law around. Mary, what do you think this man will do now that there has been publicity over his latest attack? Is there any chance he might up stakes and leave Ireland altogether?"

"I can't imagine," said Mary.

"Now that we have a description we can watch the airports and ferry terminals and authorized Border crossings," remarked Walsh. "But it would still be dead easy for him to slip into the North by a back road. Does he have a car, Mary?"

"I've never seen one. He just comes to the door and I let him in, or else I wake up and there he is in my bedroom and me without a clue how he got in. There's never any windows broken or forced or anything like that. I've never seen him leave, either, I've always been too fagged out from the night's, ah, activities. He always leaves before dawn, though."

"One last question, Mary," asked Molloy. "Has he ever mentioned anything about other women he was visiting at night and victimizing in a similar manner?"

"Never. Father Cashin tells me he has been doing this to other women, but he never said anything about them to me, or about this girl in Rathmines he attacked." Molloy was disturbed to discern a distinct undertone of jealousy in her voice.

Several time zones away, a small muscular man who still managed to look dapper in a worn astrakhan coat and fur hat knocked on an oak-paneled door in a dacha. Outside, the last rays of the sun were setting through a small forest of pines and larches. The smoke and high rise concrete apartment blocks of suburban Moscow were visible in the distance. The city had encroached on the area since Stalinís time when the dacha had belonged to a series of high-ranking Party members, each one in turn yielding tenancy to the next occupant as he perished in the purges. "Vkaditye!" came a gravely voice from inside, and the small man opened the door and entered a large dark paneled study, littered with weapons and military maps and hung with old photographs and display cases of Soviet decorations. A huge, shambling bear of a man wearing a rumpled civilian suit arose from an armchair before a roaring log fire, a battered pipe hanging from his lips. His face was seamed and mottled, his watery blue eyes bright with intelligence, and his abundant shock of hair snow white. He lurched towards the small man, hand outstretched, already half drunk. "Dobriy vyecher, Comrade General Semyonovsky," said the newcomer courteously. "Good evening."

"Dobriy pazhalavat, Nikolai Yefremevich Rozanov," said the bear, gripping the visitorís hand in a grip still strong despite the manís age. "Welcome, young feller! It has been too long a time since we have seen one another. Have a drink!" Without waiting to be asked, the newcomer went to a table groaning with bottles and a buffet, poured two large tumblers full of dark Russian pepper vodka and handed one to his host.

"To absent friends, Comrade General," said the younger man formally, raising his glass.

"Kanyeshna." The general and the visitor downed their vodka in a single gulp and the old man began pouring seconds. "You still call me Comrade, Rozanov? I thought we were all citizens now that we have seen the error of our Bolshevik ways and become part of the global village, all that rot."

"With some it was never Comrade, Pavel Ivanovich," said Rozanov with a smile. "With you it always will be. I admit that I was surprised to receive your invitation after all these years, but very pleased."

"In other words what does the superannuated old fool want?" laughed the elder man. "I will tell you. I want to do me a very great favor. I have pulled every string I could still lay my hands on after all these years and I have gotten permission from your service, from your superior General Krestinsky, for you to do me this favor if you so choose. It will not be an official government mission, but I personally will pay for your transportation and provide hard currency for your expenses to Ireland."

"Er, Ireland? You know I would be glad to be of assistance to you in any way, Comrade General," replied Rozanov, intrigued. "I have never forgotten that I owe you my life from that time in Afghanistan."

"Pakistan, actually," corrected Semyonovsky.

"Yes, thirty miles inside Pakistan, where officially we had no business to be. You risked a full-scale war coming in there with your Spetznatz team to extract me. I will be proud and honoured if I can in some way repay part of that debt."

"Not just a debt to me. You did well to open with a toast to absent friends, Rozanov." He face suddenly became serious. "It is of one old friend I wish to speak. The old friend for whose sake I risked my career and risked war to save you, because I know her spirit would never have forgiven me had I abandoned you." Quietly he stepped to the mantelpiece and took down an old photograph of a blonde, elfin-faced young woman, smiling, holding a violin case under her arm.

"Zina," whispered Rozanov. "Comrade General, I want you to know that I still think about her. I have never forgotten."

"You need not tell me that, my young friend. Although you're not so young, now, are you? Well, younger than me at any rate. I never stopped looking, you know. Never stopped hoping. Finally it has happened. A friend in the militia headquarters sent me a report he received from the police in Ireland. He is there, Rozanov! The beast in human form who murdered my daughter is in Ireland, in Dublin, roaming free and killing again!" The generalís glass shook in his hand, so great was his suppressed rage and hatred.

"You are sure it is the same man, Comrade General?" asked Rozanov, stunned. "It has been over well over twenty years!"

"Oh, yes, it is he. The time that has weighed on us like a chain and anchor since her death is but a passing moment to him. They are immortal, you know, unless properly disposed of." Rozanov shifted uncomfortably, uncertain what to say. "You recall our conversation some years back on the subject, I see? Of course, you think I'm senile. Or maybe crazy."

"You must admit that you were extremely drunk that night, Comrade General," said Rozanov tentatively. "I would never doubt your word, sir, but....I confess I have never quite known what to make of what you said on that occasion."

"I donít blame you," said Semyonovsky, pouring himself another vodka. "I know it sounds mad." He went over to a desk and opened a drawer, pulling out several bulky files of documents. "I wonít even attempt to recount to you what it cost for me to get these files, down all the years, in hard currency, in corruption, in political favors, sometimes a few dead men as part of the favors. I was only told of the very existence of this information some years after Zina died. I had to shove a pistol barrel into a bureaucrat's ear and let him hear the hammer cock before he would talk. Once I knew this material existed, I moved heaven and earth to get it. Now I want you to read it. If you are convinced when you are through, Rozanov, that I am not mad and that what I told you on that night is true, then I want you to go to Dublin and destroy the thing that killed my daughter. Your wife."

The Garda presence on the streets of Dublin was visibly heavier than usual that night. The command centre in the Harcourt Street incident room carefully monitored all communications from the units on the street, while Molloy sat upstairs in his office drinking thick black coffee and worrying. He was waiting for two things: any sign of the vampire attacker, and any sign of the mass panic or hysteria that he so dreaded. He was also fuming over the ridiculous code name that the Garda Commissioner had designated for his task force: "Gossamer". To the amusement of the entire incident room he had loudly threatened to gossamer the Commissioner next time he saw him.

The night was fairly quiet thus far. The Garda radio net carried only normal traffic, stolen cars and pub brawls, break-ins and vandalism, drug related offences and domestic disputes, plus a missing four year-old child who was found after an hour. Around eleven o'clock Conn Walsh and Margaret Molloy wandered in. They sat in Molloy's office eating fish and chips and batted the breeze with him. "How's the situation on North Circular Road?" asked the Superintendent. "What kind of set-up has Paddy devised and how is Mary Halloran holding up?"

"She gets twenty-four hour protection by a Ban Gharda and at least one guard, Conn told him. "She insists that there is no danger during the hours of daylight but we have got to be sure. She's got some leave coming at work, and that makes things a lot simpler."

"Good. BG in civvies?"

"Yes. Wherever she goes, Mary Halloran will be accompanied as if by a friend. Only unmarked cars will pass within two blocks of the address after dark. At night there will be two male gardai in the house itself, in addition to the Ban who will remain with her at all times. We have set up observation posts in an empty flat across the road and next door in an upstairs room from which we can see the back entrance to he house through the rear alley. Luckily the house next door is owned by retired Inspector Tim Henessey who is totally chuffed to lend a hand and be back in harness for a bit, so to speak. He sends his regards to you, by the way, and when I left he was regaling the lads on duty with tales of the good old days when gardai were real men and risked life and limb to preserve the Republic for thirty shillings a week and all found."

"Thirty shillings?" exclaimed Molloy. "Milad, I'll have you know that when I first wore the blue on a beat we got one bare guinea a week! How many men in the OPs?"

"Two per post, so if yer man shows we'll have seven cops on him in thirty seconds and a dozen more from mobile patrols as quick as may be after that. Walkie talkies all around with extra batteries for communications."

"Excellent. Who took over from you, Mags?"

"Annie Cahill," replied Margaret. "Her first plainclothes assignment and she's tickled to death. Thinks she's Cagney and Lacey combined. Know what she rocked up in? A punk rock outfit, complete with purple wig! Mary and I both nearly died laughing."

"I ask again, how's she holding up?" asked Molloy with some concern.

"She's so scared she can barely keep from shaking, and I'm not sure she'll keep her nerve if and when," said Margaret seriously. "I think if I can work with her for a few days I can get her to relax a bit and get her into better psychological shape to handle a confrontation with this bastard. I was helping her pin down the times when this animal comes to her, and it seems to be every eleven or twelve days. If he sticks to that pattern he's due in about a week or so."

"Yes, but he's been interrupted in his routine," said Molloy, holding up the artist's portrait. "And when he sees this, he'll know that one of his mots has shopped him. That might alter his schedule."

The police artist, the girl from UCD whom Molloy has asked for, had spent over an hour that night at Mary Halloran's home carefully piecing together the face of the vampire killer from her large selection of facial features, until she got what Mary swore was a precise matchup. But rather than turn in this patchwork photo-fit to the gardai and then leave it at that, she had performed a meticulous freehand drawing in pen and ink, both full frontal and profile views. In this drawing she tried to capture on paper the essence of evil and terror she had sensed in this house and in this shattered woman who lived in it. She determined to surpass herself as her own individual contribution to the capture of a man who made all women go in fear, and she succeeded so well that when she showed her finished sketches to the victim Mary Halloran had whimpered and hidden her face in her hands. The waxen, bearded visage with eyes that seemed to move was the portrait of a demon. Molloy was delighted. "Surely anyone who has ever seen this face will remember it," he said approvingly.

"Sure that ought to rattle him when he sees it in the papers tomorrow," agreed Conn. "Jaysus, it rattled me the first time I saw it! Super, do you think it's wise to give this out? It might spook him into leaving Ireland or hiding out somewhere down the country. Shouldn't we wait and see if he walks into the stakeout?"

"And when might that be?" asked Molloy. "Margaret says another week if he sticks to his MO What will he be up to in that time? How many more women will he victimize? No, we need every break we can get on this. We need to know his name, what kind of car he drives, what pubs he drinks in, anything at all. Monsignor Hogan says at least two dozen women are involved in this. Once he sees this picture he won't know which one of his harem has grassed on him, it could be any of them. It will make him jumpy and nervous, and that's how I want him, because when that's when criminals make mistakes."

"Maybe he holes up with one of his sex slaves," speculated Conn. "If he's that many women giving him bed and blood, so to speak, then maybe he's got a very special mot or two who shelter him. Like a pimp. By the by, I've been wondering about this Jacinta Kelly affair."

"Share your wonder with me, me bould blue boy," invited Molloy.

"Why was Jacinta Kelly attacked at seven o'clock in the evening, when he was likely to be interrupted, as indeed he was? If he's got two dozen women all over County Dublin who service him voluntarily, if you can call it that after what we heard from Mary Halloran, then why does he take the apparently inane risk of attacking Kelly?"

"I hate to sound flippant," put in Margaret, "Because believe me, I know this case is anything but funny. But maybe he was just feeling peckish, if you'll pardon the expression. Judging from what little we know the attack on Jacinta Kelly sounds a poorly planned, spur of the moment kind of thing."

"Which is another place where criminals tend to make that fatal slip," agreed Molloy. "Extemporaneous, off the cuff crime leads to unforeseen complications. Also, one thing that all habitual criminals have without fail is pattern. We need to start figuring out what yer man's pattern is. I think I can safely say we will get more data as the case progresses. Conn, tomorrow get me a huge piece of cork board and the biggest map of Dublin you can lay hands on. Hang it on the wall of the incident room and start sticking pins in it, red ones, for everywhere we know that he's been for sure. I want to look for pattern. I am especially interested in the location of his two dozen living victims and any others we find,. We don't have enough data to extrapolate yet, but I would be willing to bet they spread in a radius around his bolt-hole."

"Maybe he has more than one hole," suggested Conn. "Maybe he lives down the country someplace and comes up to town by car or train for the night."

"Mmmm, no, I don't think so. Irish country towns are still very parochial. Everybody knows who belongs and who doesn't. It would be impossible for a foreigner to hide out there if there were any heat, and I believe yer man is smart enough to realize that. Dublin is the only city in Ireland large enough to remain anonymous in. For that matter, most Dublin housing estates and flat blocks can be eliminated for the same reason. Everybody knows everybody else's business. Where the devil does he get to in the daytime, I wonder?"

"How does he live?" asked Conn. "I presume he has to pay rent and ESB bills like the rest of us. He must eat something other than the blood of young damsels. Does he have a job? Draw the dole? Does he get money through robbery or petty crime?"

"Damn and blast it all, we're just guessing!" snapped Molloy, pounding his fist into his palm. "Sherlock Holmes said 'I never guess, Watson. It is a shocking habit, destructive to the logical faculty.' Sign of the Four, if you care to look it up."

"And what would Sherlock Holmes say about a man who bites people with a bee stinger concealed under his tongue, Mick?" asked Conn quietly.

"Don't think I haven't been thinking about it," replied Molloy tiredly. "All night. Look, everything in Mary Halloran's story, including the bizarre sexual aspect, is consistent with an assault by a highly skilled, intelligent, and dangerous sexual sadist. Even the drinking of blood, however many reservations we may have about that. I'm putting the bee stinger into the funny file and I'll worry about it when we catch the bastard. We don't really have much choice, do we?"

"Type B clue?" asked Conn with a smile. "Just like the non-fingerprints?"

"Type B clue, me bould blue boy."

"Bloody hell, has he been giving you that type A and B clue speech, Conn?" laughed Margaret. "I first heard that when I was five years old and looking for a missing kitten!"

"Which feline you found, as I recall, through the application of correct police procedure on a five year-old level," her father reminded her. "Right, kiddies, let's off to bed so we can be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed tomorrow morning. Want a lift to your flat, Mags?"

"I'll catch a ride with Conn, Da. You get home and let Ma get to bed. You know she never sleeps until you're in for the night." Molloy knew quite well that they were going to spend the night together, either at Margaret's place in Rathmines or Conn's in Drumcondra. He had even gotten used to calling his sergeant at seven in the morning and hearing his daughter answer the telephone, and vice versa. Not for the first time Mick Molloy breathed a silent prayer that Margaret had broken sufficiently with her convent training to use the pill.

IV. Thursday, September 18th

Molloy spent a restless night, tossing and turning, waiting for the telephone beside his bed to ring. Somewhat to his surprise it didn't. When he awoke in the morning he lifted the receiver to make sure it was still working and he got a dial tone, so he assumed it must have been a quiet night. He got up, showered and shaved, and walked down to the corner shop for newspapers. Molloy was a newspaper junkie and every morning he bought the Irish Times, the Irish Press, and the Independent as well as the odd Guardian or occasional Daily Telegraph from the U. K. When he retired he'd have to watch himself or he'd develop a dozen newspaper-a-day habit. He'd been forced to go cold turkey on crossword puzzles many years ago, because he found that once he started one he became obsessed by it and couldn't work, eat, or think about anything else until he completed it. This ridiculous failing embarrassed Molloy as much as another man might have been ashamed of past alcoholism.

The stories on the vampire were simply rehashes and there was nothing else new. The Irish papers evidently has not received the portrait of the suspect in time, but Molloy knew it would be in the evening tabloids. He read the papers over the breakfast table to the sound of Morning Ireland on RTE Radio One , chattering from his adolescent children, and the smell and sizzle of bacon and sausages. Then his youngest girl Orla shouted out, "Daddy, daddy, Mick Og is here!" and his eldest son Mick entered the dining room, his blue-uniformed bulk filling the doorway and his head ducking under the lintel. "Drove up from Cork early this morning for the Great Vampire Hunt," the young officer said after kissing his mother and sisters and shaking hands with his father. "Thanks for getting me in on this, Da. Now, I know the Molloy family rule about no cop talk at the table, but I've just got to ask you what on earth all this is about? Surely it can't be as grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented as I read in the papers?"

"Sure, they don't come any more GUBU than this, son," his father assured him. "Task Force Gossamer assembles at ten this morning in Harcourt Square, and then you'll know as much as any of us know."

"Task force what?" bellowed Mick Og with a laugh.

"That, my son, was the brainchild of our illustrious Garda Commissioner. Just be thankful he didn't pick Task Force Transylvania or something even sillier. Can you fry us is some more rashers and make us some sandwiches, Maureen love? I don't know or when we're going to get a chance to eat today."

By ten o'clock the conference room at Harcourt Square was filled to overflowing with gardai make and female, uniformed and plainclothes. They sat in the plastic chairs provided or on the edge of tables, fanning themselves with note pads, talking and occasionally hurling pencils or paper airplanes at one another. Two of the Ban Ghardai were on the phones in the incident room and Margaret Molloy was with Mary Halloran along with one male guard; otherwise the entire task force was present, probably the only time during the coming investigation when they would all be assembled under one roof. Dr. Andrew Manion had been cleared as medical guru to the task force and had been released from the Meath for the duration. Molloy entered and took the podium. "Looks like morning roll call on Hill Street Blues," he quipped, raising a laugh. "Right, let's get started."

He shuffled some papers quickly as he glanced over then, and then he looked up. "We've had a bit of luck already, which I hope is a good omen for this investigation. We now have a very detailed physical description of the suspect and as first-rate drawing of his face taken from an eyewitness and fotofit. Inspector Treacy is now passing out copies of this picture. There will be a large stack of them kept in the incident room and I want you all to help yourselves to all you need. This picture will be used on an information poster of the Have You Seen This Man? variety which garda patrols will be posting in public places, shops and so forth. It will also be published in the news media. Aye, he's a mean looking bastard right enough and he's got the modus operandi to match. That's a very distinctive face, and even in Dublin he ought to stand out like a statue. Once he knows we have this he will probably shave his beard and mustache; our computer people are working up a second composite to project what he will look like clean shaven. Hopefully the picture will jog someone's memory and help us get on his trail.

"Apropos of the media, all contacts are to be handled by Sergeant Padraig Connolly of the Garda Press Office and by no one else. All approaches from the media without exception are to be referred to him and most definitely not to me. People, I am dead serious about thus. Don't use this case to curry favour with your mates in the media, cadge drinks in the pub from reporters, or get your greens from some newshen you've a gra for. There are to be no leaks, none at all, and anyone I catch leaking can kiss his or her career in the gardai good-bye. That's not a threat, that is a promise."

Molloy paused and looked over his papers again. "Right. Moving right along here, we have received over four hundred telephone calls from people volunteering information. Most of these have turned out to be crank calls, false alarms, nonsense about bats, and so on. Some of them are still under investigation. But we have gotten one positive lead. A woman who has been victimized by this man has come forward, and it is from her that we have obtained this description and fotofit. It should state that at this point there is no real doubt that the killer of Marie McDonagh and Elizabeth Kenny was the same man who attacked Jacinta Kelly in her flat and who has been brutalizing this other woman, Mary Halloran her name is. Miss Halloran is now under twenty-four hour guard and her home is being staked out in case our man returned. We have received an extremely serious report from a senior official of the Church in the archdiocese of Dublin that this perpetrator has been repeatedly assaulting and sexually abusing women around County Dublin for almost a year. These women have told their priests what they were afraid to tell the gardai because they didn't think they would be believed. The priests mostly didn't believe them either, which is hardly surprising in view of the outlandish nature of the man's MO."

"Outlandish in what way, Superintendent?" asked Sergeant Tom Flanagan, a man of gigantic stature who was in charge of the uniformed wing of the task force. It was even money whether he or Mick Og Molloy was the tallest man in the room. "We've been hearing some very strange stories about this case, sir. Vampirism and such carry-on as that. Can ye not level with us, sir? Just what does this bastard actually do to his victims?"

"I'll get into more detail on that in a bit, Tom," promised Molloy with a sigh. "Probably in more detail than many of us want to hear, because it's evil and sick. We're in uncharted waters here, people. I again caution you that not one word of what I say is to leave this room or to be discussed outside this task force, and if any of the media get hold of anything off any of you I will flay the guilty party with my own hands. This is the strangest bamboozler of a case that I have ever come across in all my career, and I daresay it's the weirdest any of you will ever work on. At least I pray to God that the Garda Siochana never gets lumbered with anything for weird than this. To drag myself kicking and screaming to the point, the man we are after has come unusual talents. He appears to be preternaturally strong, even stronger than you'd expect in a dedicated fitness fanatic of his height and weight. He has some way of getting into the houses and flats of his victims and out again without anybody seeing him, and this does not appear to involve lockpicking or any breaking that we can detect. The one time a garda caught sight of him he literally disappeared into thin air under the noses of five witnesses. Furthermore, he doesn't leave fingerprints."

"So he wears gloves," said Flanagan with a shrug.

"Both Jacinta Kelly and Mary Halloran adamantly insist that he does not, yet the Technical Bureau has been unable to obtain a single print. You asked me what he does. In addition to committing assorted acts of sexual indecency and violence he appears to consume his victims' blood, as revolting as that sounds. In that sense he is indeed a vampire. Our two living witnesses have not been able to give a coherent account of how he inflicts two triangular puncture would into a victim's veins, but he does so. We have categorical assurances from Dr,. Manion here and from the State Pathologist as well that it is not done with teeth or fangs. He drugs his victim with an unknown narcotic and we haven't a clue as to how he does it."

Molloy stopped briefly to wipe his brow. "What we do know is that this is one of the most dangerous criminals ever to operate in Ireland and we must catch him because if we don't he is dead certain to kill again. We have obtained a lengthy description from Mary Halloran of this man's sexual practices and according to our source in the Church he inflicts these deviations on all his victims. On the one occasion when Mary attempted to resist him, he subjected her to several hours of beating, torture, and ritualistic sexual degradation. The pain and the shock broke her resistance and thereafter she voluntarily let him into the house and submitted to all his perverted demands. Somewhere in County Dublin today there are other women who are now going through this same ordeal."

"Any line of any of the others, Super?" asked Paddy Treacy keenly.

"Not yet, but I have hopes that others will come forward as their priests counsel them to do so. In addition to the picture, there will be appeals in the news media today for any woman who has been victimized by this man to call us on the task force hotline. We guarantee absolute confidentiality, and by God we will keep it! Hopefully these women as they report in will be able to give us further information on his pattern of operation, his name. his source of income, his country of origin and so on."

"Is it certain he's a foreigner, then?" asked Flanagan.

"Reasonably so, although neither of the two surviving victims far can give us any idea as to where he might come from. But they have both heard his voice and hey insist he is not Irish, and I think they are correct. It's almost unheard of for headbangers like this simply to burst into screaming full bloom without some preliminary psychiatric or criminal record indicating that all is not well in the upper storey. We are trying to determine through telex to other police forces in foreign countries whether any crimes similar to these have been committed elsewhere. If it turns out he does have form somewhere else that we can obtain and correlate, then it will be a major breakthrough.

"This task force will be divided into three shifts," said Molloy. "One day shift and one night shift of twelve hours each, and an off-shift to allow for flexible scheduling and to give you occasional days off so you don't go as mad as our suspect from overwork. Unlimited overtime has been approved." (A ragged cheer broke out from the gardai). "So get it while you can, lads and lassies, although you won't have time to spend any of it until we catch this bugger. The most important duty will be the night shift, because it is then he is out and about. Night shift will be predominantly uniformed gardai. Day shift will be more investigative with more detectives assigned, Task Force Gossamer calls will go out on the radio under the code words 'howling dog'. In addition to the regular garda patrols for each beat there will be mobile task force units on the prowl; Tom, see me this afternoon and we'll lay out our troop dispositions on the mobile units. When we hear a howling dog call I want us to zero in on his location in zero time flat. Eventually your man will make a fatal slip and I want the gardai there when he does. Inspector Treacy and Sergeant Flanagan have your duty rosters.

A Ban Gharda from the phone room quietly entered the incident room and handed Molloy a slip of paper. "Ah, a break here already, people! A woman in Dun Laoghaire just called in after a heart-to-heart with her priest. Paddy, you handle this one. Take the Ban who took the call and yon lubberly youth, what's his name? Molloy, is it? Here's the address. Conn, you run the incident room until Paddy gets back. I have an appointment with His Gossamer Self over there in Phoenix Park and with any luck I will be coming back with a blank cheque in me paw. And hey---let's be careful out there!" The task force dispersed amid more laughter.

It was late in the afternoon when Molloy finally plodded back into his office in Harcourt Square and collapsed behind his litter-strewn desk. "You look beat," said Walsh, sticking his head into the door. "What did Himself have to say?"

"Never mind that gombeen eedjit for the moment, what about the Dun Laoghaire report?" demand Molloy. "Was it him?"

"The very one. Mrs. Breda Cullinane, Gorton Avenue, Dun Laoghaire. She has the marks. I've organized a stakeout. I've the file here. Do you want some coffee?"

"Bugger coffee," said Molloy succinctly and pulled a bottle of Jameson out of his bottom drawer. "Give me that report and pull up a chair." Molloy pulled a couple of Styrofoam cups out and poured them both a generous measure.

"Ah, cheers, Mick. You were up topside a long time."

"I was through with the Commissioner in half an hour, but then he dragged me up to the Leinster House restaurant to show me off to the politicians. Look what a great job my lad is doing on this serial killer case, trained him meself, all that bilge. That latest until two, then I had to get back over to the Park and organize the first draft on our blank cheque, which we now have from the very top. I've requisitioned more men, more Ban Ghardai, more motors, plus we now have top priority at the T. B. and State Pathology lab. Graham Scott sand his team will wait on us hand and foot. We can even have the Taoiseach's Mercedes if we want."

"Let's take it," suggested Walsh. "Do the horrid wee man good to take the DART in to work of a morning. And how did you get this blank cheque from the notoriously tight fists of our lords and masters, including our own fearless leader whom you just described as a gombeen eedjit, base slanderer that you are?"

"More gombeen than he they do not come, me bould blue boy. He and I walked the same beat together in Ringsend when we came out of depot together and he was running for Commissioner even then. He is a great fat slovenly hippopotamus who headed straight for the public trough the minute the Christian Brothers in Limerick turned him loose upon the world. The only reason he ended up in the gardai is because he was too lazy to swat for the civil service examination. But he has an infinitely keen political sense which his never steered him wrong yet, always alert to the slightest whiff in the air of any danger to his perks and his position., He doesn't like the dour of this vampire carry-on at all, at all. Heads could roll if this case is not handled with expedition."

"So he gave us our head that his might not roll?"

"He has sense enough to listen to me because he knows that I am a real copper in a way he never was and never will be. I told him point blank that the only way we are going to get on top of this is to smother it in men, money, and material and then pray for a miracle, and that means right now, not next week when he kills again and the fallout starts hitting. I told him I wanted the politicians kept out of our hair, no calls every day from some minister screaming for us to pull a rabbit out of a hat. We are not trained as exorcists or fearless vampire killers and we are going to have to play this case very much by ear. He agreed absolutely and then it was off to Leinster House, where his lips kept puckering in the presence of so many well-upholstered political bums."

"And what is the reaction in the halls of Olympus to all of this lot?" asked Conn, savouring the fine malt.

"The Taoiseach has expressed concern. The leader of the Opposition has expressed concern about the Taoiseach's mental state. The Tanaiste has expressed concern over the Leader of the Opposition's parentage and personal hygiene. The Minister of Justice is keeping a close eye on developments, which I'm sure has our killer in a cold sweat of fear. The Democratic Left says it's all a CIA plot. The Labour Party says socialism is just around the corner. You know their drivel up on Kildare Street, Conn. We are ruled by fools, lunatics, and rogues."

"Of course," agreed Conn equably. "This is Ireland."

"It is indeed. Now what is to be done with this Dun Laoghaire contact?"

"Very similar to the Mary Halloran case, except that she's got two little boys aged two years old and six months respectively. One rather unsavoury twist is that he threatened to hurt them if she didn't submit. She separated, husband buggered off to England about a year ago and left her pregnant. Not a word from him since. She draws social welfare and does accounts and home and odd jobs. On the night of July 20th she awoke to find yer man standing by her bedside, whereupon he half smothered her with a pillow, bit her or whatever it is he does, and drank her blood. After he was through they had an orgy, and he's been back four times since then for more of the same. He taps on the window, she lets him in, and subsequent events read like a quiet evening at home with Caligula."

"Any name, details on him?"

"None. Breda calls him her devil. She is absolutely convinced that he is supernatural and that she has damned herself to the fires of hell for consorting with him. Treacy says she is totally shattered and headed for a nervous breakdown. No way could she handle the strain of a stakeout and besides that we can't place the two chiselers at risk, so she's taking them to her mother's home in Arklow tonight. We've got a Ban Gharda volunteer to help stake out the empty house. She's about Mrs., Cullinane's build and her silhouette on the curtains might draw him in. The setup is similar to the one we're using on North Circular Road, two male gardai in the house and four more outside observing."

"It's bloody dangerous and make sure the Ban understands that," said Molloy. "But it's got to be done. Now we've unlimited manpower I'm staking out every victim's house we can identify. Like waiting for a lion at a watering hole. Sooner or later he's bound to show up at one of them."

"Should we not be thinking in terms of transport, Super?" asked Conn. "I mean, what does he get about in? I've got the map of Dublin you requested up on the wall in the incident room and we now have five red pins where we know he's been. Rathmines, North Circular Road, and Sarsfield Quay are all in close to the center of town, bit the Kenny woman lived in Blanchardstown and this latest victim in Dun Laoghaire. The buses don't run in the wee hours when yer man likes to go a-hunting, so he must have access to a motor."

"Maybe," said Molloy. "None of the survivors mentioned a car, though. I notice Mrs. Cullinane says nothing about one in her statement here. They say he just appears by their bedside. We don't know how he got away in the Jacinta Kelly attack, but we had units on the scene when he was still on the premises and no car was spotted. I notice they all say he comes in the wee hours of the morning, except for the Jacinta Kelly incident when he struck just after sunset. Why that break in pattern, I wonder?"

"Do we have enough yet to extrapolate a pattern?" asked Conn.

"Not really," sighed Molloy. "Jaysus, I hope more of his harem girls call in and identify themselves. The more red pins we get stuck into that map, the more likely we'll be able to figure out what his pattern is. You say we're using red pins for attacks? Good. Get some blue ones for the most solid sightings in transit. I believe we'll be getting those once that picture is published, people who think they've seen him on a bus or on the street or in a pub. If you think the witness in accurate and it was genuinely our man, put up a blue pin. That may flesh things out a bit."

"How does he choose his victims, I wonder?" mused Conn. "He doesn't chat them up in pubs or approach them on the street. Our three survivors all swear they never saw him before he rocked up in their boudoir. I've gone over the available background on all five known victims, and I can't detect a single point of intersection or common ground at all in their lives or their work. None. Does he look them up in the phone book?"

"Mary Halloran has a phone but Jacinta Kelly doesn't and neither does Breda Cullinane, although it says here she's been on the waiting list for two years. Kenny had one, but the poor old knacker obviously didn't. Scratch the phone book. My guess is that he just cruises. Somehow or other he locates his potential victims, stalks them, clocks them, observes their habits without their knowing it, and attacks. But dammit all, jacinta Kelly just doesn't fit! Maybe Mags was right, maybe he was just overwhelmed with a sudden urge and made a nearly fatal mistake."

"Ah, Super, you don't suppose there could be two of them, do you?" venture Cobb. "Like the Hillside Stranglers in Los Angeles?"

"Jaysus, Conn, don't say things like that!" cried Molloy with a shiver. "We're just going to have to wait for more data. Conn, there's something else bothering me and I'm going to level with you about it. Margaret lives alone in Rathmines, and it's starting to worry me."

"And me as well," concurred Conn. "I've said nothing to her. She'd resent the implication that she couldn't take care of herself, which of course she can do perfectly well in the normal course of things. Remember how handy she is in the frozen foods department? But she's not stupid, Mick. She knows enough to take precautions and she's not one of these silly feminist bitches who is too proud or too thick to yell fro help from a man if she needs it. Besides, she's not alone that often," he finished frankly.

"So I've gathered," replied Molloy dryly. "I'm going out with Tom Flanagan tonight. I feel a lot better with the seat of a squad car beneath my bum instead of this bloody swivel chair. I want you to handle to incident room until Treacy checks in at midnight. We need one of us three in there at all times if we can swing it. When the break comes it may be some little thing and we don't want to miss it."

It drizzled intermittently that night, and the wet pavements of Dublin hissed under the tyres of the patrol cars. On the surface the city seemed no different than usual. O'Connell Street's theatres and gaming arcade were thronged with young people and the last of the year's crop of American tourists. The pubs and the chippers in Abbey Street, Capel Street, and around Grafton Street were suffering from no lack of patronage, much of it female. Dublin's women had not yet been frightened off the streets. Groups of boys and girls congregated in front of the arcades and the kebab houses and snooker rooms. Sometimes Molloy and Flanagan stopped to talk with them, and they learned that the vampire killer was considered something titillating and bizarre but not really dangerous. Like all horrors, he was something that happened to other people. Yet the phones in the incident room kept ringing.

The face of the killer stared from the front page of every newsstand which was still open. Both evening papers headlined the story. "GARDAI APPEAL TO VAMPIRE VICTIMS" was the Evening Press contribution, while the Herald weighed in with "GARDAI SEEK CALLS FROM VICTIMS". The killer's face stared out onto the streets from every newsstand and shop hoarding. Meanwhile Dublin's usual nightly round of crime came over the radio. Around nine o'clock the stolen cars began to roll as Dublin's teenage joyriders began their nightly rodeo. One Task Force Gossamer patrol car was rammed in Cabra by a stolen BMW. There were burglar alarms and chemists' shops and chippers, and more than the usual number of prowler reports. As many of the prowler reports as possible were followed up by Task Force Gossamer mobile units in case it was the vampire. They caught a peeping Tom in Rathmines and a householder in Terenure who had forgotten his key and was nabbed climbing in his own window. At eleven thirty the pubs closed and the streets were filled with homeward-staggering drunks, some of whom were aggressive and destructive and had to be dealt with. Three masked youths with knives robbed a 47A bus and got away with the conductor's coin bag. One report of a man assaulting a woman in Phibsborough turned out to be a lover's quarrel, and another in Camden Street proved to be drunken itinerants.

All in all, it was a routine night. Flanagan drove up Capel Street into the near north side, past the huge Corpo flatblocks in Dominick Street and Dorset Street where the air smelled of burning coal and frying sausages and fresh rain. Then they swung by the North Circular Road stakeout where Molloy spoke with his daughter on the radio, using a frequency which changed every hour to avoid the teams of journalists in newspaper office who were sitting glued to illegal police scanners. The gardai were all in position at their posts, and the two women were downstairs watching television. So far the only visitor was a hawker selling raffle tickets for a local judo club. At midnight Conn was relieved by Treacy, drove Annie Cahill over to Mary Halloran's house to relieve Margaret, and since his flat was closer they both spent the night at his place in Drumcondra. Mick Molloy himself called it a night about that time as well and went home. He checked to make sure his phone was still working, got the dial tone, and went to bed where he immediately fell into a dreamless sleep.

The drizzle thickened as the night crept into the morning, and an autumn mist settled

onto the streets.

V. Friday, September 19th

Maureen let him sleep until eight thirty in the morning. When he awoke, Mick Og had already left for Harcourt Square. "Anything on RTE?" asked Molloy, sitting up and grizzling his grey-furred torso.

"Somebody shot somebody else in Strabane," she said. "The usual Provo rubbish. The EC farm price commission is buggering Ireland again. The Taoiseach says we've finally turned the corner on unemployment because our monthly rate of emigration now matches our monthly job losses. Over half of June's school leavers have now left the country, and the government's economic policies have thereby been vindicated. The silly wee man is quite mad, of course."

"Jaysus wept!" muttered Molloy. "Mark my words, Maureen love, one of these days the Irish people are going to set up a guillotine on St. Stephen' Green."

"I doubt it, dear," she replied, handing him a cup of strong sweet tea. "A revolution might make them miss Dallas." The phone on the nightstand rang and Molloy picked it up. It was Treacy.

"Garville Place, Rathgar," said Treacy, his voice dull with misery. "Youíve got to come, Mick. He's been here."

"A dead one?" asked Molloy steadily, setting down his cup. He knew the answer before Treacy spoke. Maureen gasped out a small anguished cry, lowered her head and made the sign of the cross on her breast.

"Yes. Oh, Christ, Mick, it's awful!" Paddy was choking with uncontrollable emotion. "It's the worst thing I've ever seen in my life, worse than anything the Provos have ever done! He didn't just kill her, he did foul unspeakable things to her! I saw it but I still can't believe it! He left you a message."


"He wrote a message addressed to you on the wall," said Treacy. "He wrote it in the dead girl's blood."

Garville Place was a quiet cul-de-sac off the Rathgar Road. Many of the houses were newly renovated, sporting new frontages or ruddy red brick free of the ubiquitous Dublin grime and freshly painted white woodwork trim on the doors and window casements. The street was jammed with gardai and garda vehicles, curious onlookers lined the sidewalk, and in front of the house sat a single ambulance, its blue light turning and flashing silently in the hazy morning air. Molloy arrived in his own car, a Ford Sierra, but he had to park on the left side of Rathgar Road almost two blocks down and walk back to Garville Place because of the crowds. He made his way down the sidewalk and saw Conn Walsh running up the steps into the house. The building was about eighty years old, Molloy guessed, newly done up in neo-Georgian style with green hedges and a black wrought-iron fence. The fanlight over the door read Avalon House.

Molloy mounted the steps slowly, inwardly admitting to himself a reluctance to go in and face whatever horror was inside. "Where?" he asked the garda at the door, and the officer simply pointed toward the interior of the house, his face pale. Molloy turned right, then the hallway jogged left at a ninety-degree angle. A passageway of about thirty feet was illuminated by two tall, narrow windows. Several uniformed gardai were standing in the carpeted corridor outside Flat A, marked with a brass letter on the door. They weren't talking, and shock was written on their slack faces. Christ, this must be bad! thought Molloy in despair.

The apartment door opened and Conn Walsh shuffled out slowly like a tired old man, his face grey. Walsh went to a window and opened it, inhaling the warm damp autumn air outside in deep, slow breaths. Molloy thought he was trying not to vomit. Walsh looked up and saw him. "Go and see, Mick," he said bleakly. "Go and see what that thing from hell has done. Go and read what he wrote on the wall in that poor child's blood. He defies us. He defies all humanity. He defies God."

Inside the front door of the flat was a small vestibule containing a fitted coat rack, and umbrella stand, and a small closet. To the right was a compact, beautifully fitted kitchen with mellow oak veneer cabinets, a matching table and chairs, a huge refrigerator and a deep freeze locker. There was a gas cooker and a microwave oven. Nothing seemed out of order in the kitchen, and so Molloy stepped into the lounge or sitting room, where a number of gardai awaited him. Molloy took in at a glance that Tom Flanagan, Paddy Treacy, Graham Scott, Dr. Andrew Manion, and his son Mick Og were in the room. What he saw there nearly made him faint, and he had to lean against the door frame for support. For a time he simply stared in utter horror and loathing, unable to speak.

The sitting room was spacious and tastefully furnished, the lounge suite was new, and the sideboard looked like a genuine mahogany antique. There was a proper full hearth rather than the more common Irish grate, made for a full log fire and not just coal. There were logs in a brass wood-box and coal and turf in two large copper scuttles, a half-opened packet of Zip firelighters on top of the coal. Over the mantel was a large panoramic painting of Dingle Bay, and on the other side of the fireplace were large square windows with beige curtains. The sideboard was laden with bottles of whiskey, gin, vodka, assorted minerals, a soda siphon, an ice bucket, and a set of Waterford crystal glasses with a port decanter. Above the sideboard hung a trio of copper ducks in flight. In one corner of the room was a fitted stereo cabinet with stereo radio, cassette, and compact disc player as well as a large screen colour television with a VCR. The walls and carpets were a matching creamy beige, where they weren't spattered with blood.

The naked body of a young woman was hanging upside down from a ceiling light fixture. Her ankles were lashed together with electrical flex, and the weight of the corpse had half wrenched the light fixture out of its brackets. She turned slowly back and forth in an almost imperceptible motion, her fingertips reaching vainly for the carpet eighteen inches below, just out of her grasp. A bloody patch was soaked into the carpet beneath her. She had been in her late twenties or so, short and of voluptuous build. Her short coiffured hair had been ash blond but was not black and crusty with dried blood. The face was slack, the eyes and mouth open in a final mindless scream of agony. The rest of the dangling body was as white as alabaster. Two triangular holes showed in her throat, purple gaping punctures that puckered obscenely. The girl had been tortured before death. Her back, her buttocks, the backs of her legs, her abdomen and breasts showed thing white weals where she had been flogged with some kind of whip or scourge. In at least a dozen places there were patches of burned flesh, and her nipples and aureoli had been seared black and crisp. It was blasphemy sculpted in human flesh, an unspeakable defilement of the soul's mortal tenement.

Molloy's mind was stunned, blank. He struggled to pull himself together but all he could think of was to blurt out, "May God have mercy on her soul!"

"Amen!" responded every man presenting immediate spontaneous unison, most signing themselves with the Stations of the Cross. Tom Flanagan was whey-faced, and the big sergeant's fists opened and closed, craving for the murderer's throat between them. None of them had ever imagined anything like this. "Andy," Molloy choked out, "Iíve got to ask you. Can you tell if allóthat was done to her while she was still alive?"

"I'm afraid so, Mick," replied the doctor with a grim nod. "He gagged her tightly, judging from the bruises around her mouth and also by what I saw in the bedroom. It looks as if he tied her down on the bed in there. I haven't been able to do a full autopsy yet, but there is one thing of great importance that I can see already. Underneath all the mutilations and blood I've found three other sets of those puncture marks, old ones, healed over with very small dots of scar tissue. They are all located over major beings or arteries. It looks as if this was one of the women who have been voluntarily submitting to this monster's perversions."

"Then why in God's name did he kill her?" asked Molloy, still trying to take it all in. "Wait, Paddy and Conn said something about a message on the wall?"

"There," said Treacy bleakly, pointing to the wall over the settee. A long paragraph had been written there in a combination of blood and ink. A discarded biro lay on the settee. The killer had dipped the ball point pen into a teacup full of blood, like a quill dipped in a macabre inkwell, and the cup still lay on the arms of the settee, its contents now almost back and starting to crust up. The heading of the letter or message was printed in letters about six inches high, while the text was written in a firm, forceful cursive hand.


So you hope to lay your sweaty hands on me, you silly little man? I think not. I shall abide in this city so long as it shall please me to remain, and I shall amuse myself in the manner ye here find or howsoever else it shall please me. So you display my noble visage to the teeming masses and hope thereby to find me and punish my pleasures? How dare you juxtapose the lineaments of a king with the squalid snuffling of the swine who provide the meat for my royal table? Hearken, mountebank! I shall seek out she among my handmaidens whom you have corrupted from her allegiance and I shall chastise her waywardness with sanguinary and condign punishment. I shall dance over your rooftops and ride the night wind wheresoever I list, and no locks or bolts shall keep me from my tender prey. I shall make your daughters writhe in pleasure filthy and unspeakable, naked and unashamed, and then I shall drain them like wine skins. All the world is mine.

There was no signature.

Molloy read it several times over, burning every word into his mind and his memory, and then he turned back to the others. "Right. Before we get down to work I want to say something. Glad you're back, Conn, so I won't have to say it more than once. Officially Ireland has no capital punishment. But henceforth in this investigation we need no longer think in terms of bringing this man in alive. Judging by that shite on the wall he is so far gone in his madness that he will remain a perpetual threat to human life so long as he lives. Simply locking him up would not only be completely inadequate as punishment, but it would be a foolish recipe for disaster, given his skill at escape and evasion. He would break out of whatever prison or mental institution in which he was confined, and then weíd have this lark to do all over again. We are dealing with a mad dog, and he must be put down. You will understand that all of this is off the record. Normally I would never say it at all; we are police officers, not some Latin American death squad. But this is not a normal case and the usual rules don't apply. I am going to arm every stakeout and patrol. When you are absolutely sure you have got the right man, and you know there are no news media about, shoot to kill. Remember those two ironclad provisos: no media and for Christ's sake don't shoot the wrong man like we were Provos. Andy, you're not a guard, but surely you can see that this is the way it's got to be? We've got to make sure that this never happens in Ireland again!" He gestured towards the dangling corpse.

Manion stared at the dead girl. "If I got the chance I'd kill him myself," he said.

"Right, then. Let's get to work."

The swaying body was carefully photographed from every angle. as was the room and every item of furniture in the flat. Photos were also taken from the outside, through the windows. The writing on the wall was photographed and scrapes of the ink-blood mixture taken for analysis. The bloody biro and the teacup of blood were sealed in plastic evidence boxes and carefully packed away. Then at long last the murdered girl was gently and reverently taken down from the makeshift gibbet. Treacy and Walsh held her broken body while Tom Flanagan stood on a chair and carefully untied the knotted flex from around her ankles. They spread out a canvas body bag on the floor and laid her down on it, and Manion went over the remains. "Can you give us an approximate time of death, Andy?" asked Molloy. "Also a specific cause? Although even I can see she's lost every drop of blood in her body."

"Nearly total blood loss, yes," agreed Manion. "There's no post-mortem lividity at all. Judging from the beginnings of rigor mortis I feel here, I'd say she's been dead about five hours. The autopsy will make it official, but I'm reasonably sure the cause of death is circulatory collapse and cardiac arrest due to severe hemorrhaging. My God! I just noticed, the bastard ripped off all her fingernails and toenail's and he's flayed the skin from the soles of her feet! Christ!" Manion turned away, shaken, and then with a great effort resumed his inspection.

"Why didn't she scream the house down?" asked Molloy.

"Tight gag, I would guess butóoh, Jesus, Mary and Joseph! Look at her tongue! Swollen so badly it filled her mouth and acted like a gag! The swine! He burned her tongue to make it swell up so she couldn't make a sound! The Spanish Inquisition used to do that to heretics before they were taken out to be burned at the stake! That way they couldn't spoil the show by denouncing their judges or repeating their heresies before they died. That's a little bit of historical trivia I never thought I'd need to know in today's world."

"Let the ambulance lads take her away now, Andy," said Molloy in a kindly voice. "And take a break yourself. Let the State Pathologist do the autopsy. It's his job. One last thing. Can you tell if she was raped?"

"Looks like it, yes, both vaginally and anally, judging from the tearing of the skin and the bruises. Although there is the stretching apparent in the sphinctre muscles and the lower colonic wall that one usually finds in passive homosexuals, which means that she was being sodomized on a regular basis, voluntarily."

"We know from Mary Halloran and Breda Cullinane that the killer is a randy bugger in every sense of the word," said Molloy. "That would tend to confirm that she was one of his regulars. Right, Andy, take off. There's nothing more you can do here, it's our show now. Scotty, I know I don't have to tell you how to do your job, but give this flat the works like you've never given any crime scene the works before. I simply don't believe that anyone could do this and leave nothing of himself behind, not a fibre or a partial fingerprint or something. Paddy, give it to me from the top. How did we find out?"

Treacy pulled out his notebook. "At seven twenty-five this morning someone called the switchboard at Harcourt Square. Not the task force hotline, interestingly enough. The guard who took the call in the duty room said it was a man with a strange foreign accent who wouldn't give his name. My guess is that it was the killer himself."

"Did we get a recording?" asked Molloy eagerly.

"No, the switchboard asked if it was an emergency and he just said he wanted to speak to a guard. They patched him through to the day room and the call was taken by Garda Danny Brophy. The caller gave this address and flat number and said we should go there, we would find a howling dog."

"What?" shouted Molloy incredulously. The other gardai at work in the room looked up at him. "How in hell did this bastard learn our code signal?" hissed Molloy through his teeth.

"I don't know," said Paddy evenly. "Brophy picked up on it immediately and tried to keep the caller on the line while he frantically gestured for somebody to start a trace, but the bloke just laughed and hung up. Brophy told me it was the laugh of a devil. His words. He and Garda Francis O'Mahony came out here in a squad car double-quick. They couldn't get an answer to the bell so they went round the side. Garda Brophy stood on a dustbin and looked through the window. The curtains were partly open, and I've a nasty suspicion the swine left them like that precisely so we could see what he had done. Brophy saw the body, and the two guards kicked in the side door which leads to the bedroom. They ascertained that the victim was dead and then they didn't touch anything else. When I got here I opened the curtains for more light."

"What about the other residents in this building?"

"There are four flats," said Treacy. "The ground floor flat B belongs to some engineer fella, but according to the people upstairs he's off somewhere in Africa building a bridge or something and he hasn't been here for months. The couple upstairs in flat C have the keys to his place if we need to get in. Their name is Clarke, both English, both computer people. She works for RTE, but it's OK, she's in the accounting department, not a journalist. Flat D upstairs is occupied by two elderly ladies, sisters named Keady. I've got a Ban Gharda up there now talking to them, but it looks like they're deaf as posts and gaga with it. The Clarkes didn't hear anything either."

"Can the Clarkes ID the dead girl?" asked Molloy.

"If it's the tenant here, as I think we can assume it is, then her name isówas Phyllis Sheridan. I didn't bring them down here to look."

"God, no, of course not! Tom..."

"Sir?" growled the gigantic sergeant, urgently needing some work to do helping to catch the butcher.

"Get every man on the task force, including those off duty. Get as many other bodies as you need. Beg, borrow, or steal from any other station with manpower to spare and if anybody moans refer them to me. I want an army of gardai to curry-comb Rathgar inch by inch, within a ten block radius. You are to examine the ground, the sidewalks, the bushes, the yards, the alleys, and pick up anything that looks like it doesn't belong. The contents of every dustbin and rubbish tip in this vicinity are to be emptied and examined. We are looking for anything the murderer may have dropped or discarded, a footprint, a bloodstained piece of clothing, or something taken from this flat. Teams of men are to be assigned to interview everyone who lives in Garville place. Track them down at work or wherever you have to, and find out if they heard or saw anything at all unusual last night. Place especial emphasis on about four in the morning, which is probably about the time he left the premises if Andy is right on the time of death. Maybe some insomniac got a glimpse of him. Place especial emphasis on out of place pedestrians and cars. Then go back and re-interview everybody in the street about this place; we know he was coming and going from here regularly. Dammit all, someone around here must have seen him!"

"Aye, sir," replied Flanagan, and headed for his patrol car and radio.

"Conn, come with me." The bedroom was a large, airy chamber with a powder-blue high Georgian ceiling and matching wallpaper. There were several framed posters on the wall, one with a basket of furry kittens peeping out and another showing a petulant, chubby-faced infant which read, "Everything I like is either illegal, immoral, or fattening!" There was a long vanity table and a stool, a small writing desk and a chair beneath one of the tall windows which rose on either side of the bed, and a door on the right which hung open, the lock splintered where the guard's boot had kicked it in. Brick steps with a curved iron balustrade ran up to the outside door. To the left was a huge walk-in closet with fitted wardrobes and shelves, and an electric hot press. Beyond the closet was a huge tiled bathroom with a shower, a toilet, a bidet and a sink. One whole wall of the bathroom consisted of a huge mirror, and in the center to the floor was a spacious jacuzzi. A small drinks trolley stood in one corner of the bathroom containing an unopened bottle of champagne, several half-filled bottle of spirits, another ice bucket and soda siphon, and a six-pack of Guinness with one bottle missing.

The bed itself was a large five-foot king size, with an ornate headboard and attached nightstands on either side. The bedclothes, blankets, and designer sheets were torn off and tossed into a corner, and the bare mattress was stained with blood. There were blood spatters on the carpet, the headboard, and the wall above it, but nothing like the gummy coagulated mess there should have been given the massive hemorrhage that killed the girl. At each corner of the bed were two looped lengths of black electrical cord, run down below the mattress and box spring and tied off securely around below the mattress and box spring and tied off securely around the leg of each frame. "There," said Walsh, pointing to the left hand nightstand where the killer had carelessly tossed his instruments of torture. "That's what he used."

Molloy took out a handkerchief so as not to spoil any possible latent prints and gingerly picked up a Bic disposable lighter, then he examined with loathing a home-made scourge consisting of a single length of electrical flex run through a hole bored in one end of about 24 inches of helve or broom handle. The flex had been tightly tied off in the middle and the two loose ends formed twin whip thongs roughly one metre in length. At intervals each thong had been knotted, to inflict more pain. Suddenly Molloy understood. His voice trembled as he spoke. "You see this, Conn? Why did he leave it behind? It's a message to me just as surely as that filth on the wall back in there. He carefully made this weapon beforehand. That tells me that he came to this flat last night with the express intention of killing Phyllis Sheridan and torturing her before he did so. Then he left it here so I would find it and I would know. Andy Manion isn't the only one who has some knowledge of the history of torture. Do you know what this is, Conn? It's a Roman flagellum, a special kind of whip used by executioners to flog slaves and criminals. The same kind of whip that scourged Christ as He bore His cross to Calvary."

"Holy Mother of God!" exclaimed Walsh.

"I'm going to kill him, Conn," said Molloy in a conversational tone. "I'm going to find him and then I'm going to kill him. May God forgive me."

"God will probably give you a medal," muttered Conn as he began going through the closet. Molloy threw the vile object down, nauseated, and then found the dead girl's purse on the floor and started rummaging through it. He found lipstick and makeup, a crumpled letter postmarked Claremorris in County Mayo and addressed to Phyllis Sheridan, a driving license and the keys to an Audi 500, several credit cards in the joint name of Phyllis Sheridan and Tomas O'Malley, and a Dublin Transit pay slip showing that in the previous week Phyllis Sheridan had cleared two hundred four pounds and fourteen pence take-home pay. He also found a wad of ten and twenty pound notes, which he counted rapidly.

"Conn, something's bothering me," said Molloy. "This girl works for Dublin Transit, probably as a clerk or a bus conductress or something, and she takes home about two hundred a week. Yet she lives in a luxury flat, she drives an Audi, she's got a jacuzzi and a microwave and a video, a stock of drink in the place worth's half a month's salary at today's bloody prices, and her walking around money on the last day of her life was over four hundred pounds."

"And she's got a wardrobe that would do Jackie Onassis proud," added Conn, rooting around in the closet. "On the game, you figure?"

"A high-class tart? Mmmm, no, more like kept woman, I'm after thinking. And I've a suspicion who's keeping her." Molloy delved further into the handbag and came up with an address book. He opened it up half expecting to find a list of male clients and a scale of fees for their assorted sexual tastes. Instead he found a list of ordinary names and addresses, mostly in Dublin and Claremorris but a few Irish girls in London and Brussels as well as one in New York, whom Molloy was sure would be old schoolmates who had emigrated. "Mum and Dad" were listed simply by number in Claremorris. Under T there was a listing for "Tommy" with three numbers, one in Claremorris and two in Dublin, and one Dublin number Molloy recognized. "Lover boy may be trouble," he said.

"Lover boy wears a size ten shoe and he's a snappy dresser," said Conn, emerging from the closet. "Some men's clothing in here as well, Armani and Louis Copeland and Gucci shoes."

"She'd a fancy man, all right," said Treacy from the doorway. "The Clarkes upstairs provided that. They knew her fairly well. She was a clippie on the buses, of all things, and when people asked her how she could afford this gap she told them she won the lottery a while back. But she was fairly open about it all with the Clarkes. Guess who the fancy man is?"

"Tomas O'Malley," said Molloy sourly. "TD, Cabinet minister, silver-tongued orator and great statesman from the County Mayo. She's got his work number in her book; I recognized the Leinster house exchange. Plus there are some credit cards in here with his name on them."

"Jaysus!" gasped Conn. "Sure he's married, is he not?"

"Not quite so married as all that, it would seem," replied Molloy.

"Aye, the Clarkes say he was in and out all the time," said Treacy. "Phyllis was quite open about the relationship with them. They even had dinner together on occasion and O'Malley treated them to learned discourses on the New Europe. They liked him, considered the personal side of it none of their affair."

"Lucky for them the Clarkes weren't Irish or it would have been in every tabloid in the islands," said Molloy. "But there still must have been some strain. The Clarkes mention any rows?"

"No," said Treacy. "Ah, bejayz, Super, surely you don't think...?"

"No, Paddy, Tomas O'Malley is not our man," replied Molloy. "It's plain that our maniac doesn't differentiate between killing an old knacker one on Sarsfield Quay and poaching a Cabinet minister's private stock. Long as they're female they're game ball with him. But I'm worried that O'Malley may decide his reputation takes precedence over catching a killer. I'll soon disabuse him of any such notion, but he can make it rough for us if he chooses."

"The government might decide that for him," said Conn. "We've already had an abundance of scandal with this lot, what with one minister getting nicked in flagrante in a public jakes with that sixteen year old bugger boy, and the Taoiseach himself still trying to explain all those bank accounts in the Isle of Man. Not to mention that lark in the Leinster House bar with the topless dancers. This government has one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel, and they won't thank us for calling attention to Tommy's dulcinea here in Rathgar."

"The girl is a murder victim and we are damned well going to catch the man who killed her!" snapped Molloy. "If the government decides to impede us it won't be the first time, but I think they'll have sense enough to realize that blowing the O'Malley connection may be the lesser of two evils. I feel the slightest bit of pressure to back off on this and I'll be off to the media like a shot, and I'll let them know it. The slightest hint that they're interfering in this investigation to shield a colleague and they'd be out on their ear, and I think they know that."

Graham Scott appeared in the doorway. "Can we start in here, Superintendent?"

"Come on in, Scotty. Check over the bed and especially thoseóobjects there." Molloy pointed at the nightstand and Scott cursed at the sight of the whip.

"Why did he kill her, Mick?" wondered Walsh out loud. "And why the torture and the beating? There was none of that in the previous homicides. Did he think Phyllis was the girl who shopped him, I wonder?"

"I think you were right out there in the hall earlier, Conn. He did this mostly to cock a snook at us, to defy us. He threw that girl's life away as a gesture against us, but also as a warning to his other slavey girls to keep shtum. You'll recall he babbled about 'wayward handmaidens' in that raving gibberish he wrote on the wall. He knows some of his mots are beginning to grass on him, and he's probably climbing the walls trying to figure out which ones. I'm worried about that threat he made against Mary Halloran and Breda Cullinane. He knows he's got to find the informers and silence them, or else he risks walking into a garda trap one night. His only other alternative is either to start a whole new string of girls here or else leave Ireland, and if we can believe that psychotic ranting in there, he doesn't seem to want to do that. He'd rather stay and continue to bait me and the Garda, which is fine by me. I don't want him slipping away from us. I want him caught and dealt with in Ireland. Scotty, you recall that fancy graphology computer they've got in Phoenix Park?"

"Aye, state of the art software," affirmed the technician. "Once that writing on the wall has been fully photographed in situ, I'm going to cover it with plastic and then have that whole section of the wall cut out and preserved intact. A digitized copy of the message will be given to that computer and we'll be able to tell an immense amount from it. Handwriting analysis used to be classified with astrology and tea leaves, but it's amazing what you can tell about someone from his script."

"I'll leave it to you, then," said Molloy. "I'm going out for some air." He went outside and sat for a while on a bench in the garden, watching Flanagan's men comb the grounds. The words of the killer reverberated in his brain, and he had to fight down the nausea and the overwhelming rage, struggling to think clearly and logically. Conn Walsh came to him after a time.

"You realize, don't you, that if you start taking this personally you're going to go as mad as he is?" asked Conn quietly. "It's what he wants, you know. He's trying to drag you into the center of it like a spider with his web, he wants to get you worked up and so emotionally involved that you'll make mistakes."

"I know," replied Molloy. "I know exactly what his game is, but for the moment all I can think of is that someone is going to have to go to an elderly couple out there in Mayo and tell them that their child has been butchered by an animal. Praise God it isn't me! I know that's a disgusting selfish thought, but I couldn't face them. I'm a Chief Superintendent, I've got a virtual army of police and the unlimited resources of the state at my command, and I still could not protect Phyllis Sheridan from dying in mad wild terror and unspeakable suffering. You needn't bother to give me the ould 'we're not miracle workers' speech, Conn. I wrote the bloody thing and I've got it off by heart, and I have rolled it out countless times to buck up the lads. I even recall giving it to yourself once or twice. But dear God! It hurts when this happens! Was there something?"

"I spoke with Tomas O'Malley on the phone and asked him to meet us at Harcourt Square at eleven o'clock, if you'll forgive the liberty, sir. I only told him it was in connection with Phyllis Sheridan. He probably thinks we're going to try to shake him down, but I figured we needed to get to him and get him sorted out fast."

"Quite right. Liberty forgiven."

"Also, Pat Connolly wants you to call him. He's under siege. You can use the phone in the Clarke's apartment since we both know bloody well the reptiles are listening in on our cellular calls." Molloy accompanied Walsh to the upstairs flat and introduced himself briefly to a white-faced young couple who were sitting on their settee with a garda detective. He went into their kitchen and called Connolly. "Yes, Pat?"

"Super, rumour is flying on wingéd tongue that there's been another killing."

"Mother of God! Who leaked?" demanded Molloy.

"I don't think anybody did, sir. Two dozen garda cars and a hundred bluecoats sweeping Rathgar Road like the Black and Tans hunting for Michael Collins aren't exactly inconspicuous. The reptiles are depraved, but they're not stupid, and they've put two and two together. I've got people from every newspaper and telly in the British Isles howling before me door like the Banshee of the Slieve Crannin, Super. Can ye give me anything at all?"

"You may issue a short statement confirming that there has been another homicide and that there is no doubt it is the work of the same serial killer. The victim is a young woman in her twenties whose name is being withheld pending the notification of her family. Then organize a press conference for one o'clock in Harcourt Square. I'll talk to them again myself." Molloy rang off and then turned to Conn Walsh. "Conn, after the press conference is over, say two o'clock, I want the following people in my office: yourself, Paddy Treacy, Tom Flanagan, Graham Scott, Margaret, Dr. Manion, and Mick Og. I'll tell you the agenda at that time. Now I'm going to Bewley's and see if I can get some breakfast in me, and maybe even keep it down."

Tomas O'Malley sat slumped in a chair in Molloy's office, a shattered wreck of a man. Long, lean and leathery, he prided himself on his resemblance to the late Eamon De Valera, but now his face was slack with shock and grief and his Louis Copeland suit seemed to hang on his lanky body like a sail on a becalmed schooner. "You don't understand," he groaned, "It wasn't what you think. I know I was old enough to be her father, but it wasn't some squalid little back street affair. My marriage has been over in all but name for years now, Superintendent. Everybody in Mayo knows it. My wife lives in Marbella now and I see her maybe twice a year. Phyllis and I have been together since she left school and everybody in Mayo knows that too. We go home together on weekends and holidays, I have Christmas and Easter dinner with her family. It's the unwritten law of rural Ireland, Superintendent, the unwritten law that hasn't changed a damn despite the fact that divorce is technically legal now. Maintain a certain decent minimum of outward appearances so everyone can pretend that nothing is happening, don't blot your copybook with the Church or the power structure on anything important like mixed schools or the North, and Bob's your uncle."

O'Malley paused and lit a cigarette with shaking fingers. "Of course, if I'd back a bill to tax the Church or come up with some way actually to reunify Ireland and bring a million Protestants into the state, they'd have turned on the screws double-quick, you can be sure of that. The whispering would start, the filthy phone calls, the anonymous letters, the grubby little leaflets from a dirty mimeograph signed 'Christian mothers of Mayo' or some such rubbish. Opus Dei would have a quiet word with my party cumann and the Archbishop would have a quiet word with the Taoiseach, and all of a sudden I'm out of the Cabinet and my very seat is at risk. If she dared to show her face at Sunday mass Phyllis would be read out from the altar by some unctuous hypocrite in a cassock that all Claremorris knows is getting a nightly blow job from his housekeeper, her telling her rosary while she does it and all in the pitch dark so they can pretend it's not happening."

"Better than altar boys," muttered Conn.

"Aye, that I grant you. You know the drill, I'm sure, Superintendent, the thousand and one little ways they use to suppress dissent in this country."

"I know it well indeed," said Molloy sympathetically.

"If you're young it's not so bad," ruminated O'Malley. "You can save your dole money and do oddjobs until you've a few hundred quid laid by, and then you can head for Holyhead or Shannon airport and get on a boat or a plane or somewhere with jobs where they'll let you breathe. I was going to change all that, you know. I was the right firebrand at UCD back in the Seventies, going to put a boot up Maynooth's bum, so I was. Going to grip these blasted trades unions so the jobs would come to Ireland and stay, put an end to this exodus every summer when our best young people line up for the Holyhead boat or the jumbo jet at Shannon with their Leaving Certs in their hands. Going to make this a land of saints and scholars once again, so I was. That's why I stayed. Twenty years later Phyllis stayed because of me, because I begged her to even though I couldn't offer her anything real and permanent, and may dear God forgive me for that terrible weakness. By then I'd gotten mine. I had my own job, my seat in the Dail, my sinecure in Brussels, my ministerial Mercedes, my expense accounts which let me afford the pint in the pub we've priced out of reach of the working man, and all these things were too bloody sweet for me to rock the boat. And then I had Phyllis too, so I thought I had it all."

O'Malley's lips started to tremble. Molloy opened his drawer and pulled out the Jameson bottle, pouring O'Malley a stiff measure in a china teacup. The Cabinet minister took and drained it like it was water. "Ta," he said abstractedly. "I kept hoping that someday a bolt from the blue would change things. I kept hoping that somehow the celibates in cassocks would be illuminated with some kind of divine compassion and that they would be merciful, let me have a divorce without crucifying me, let Phyllis and me be together and share our lives openly and without shame. I could give her my name and my ring, and we could walk down the streets of the town that gave us both birth hand in hand, for all the world to see. But I was a coward, you see. I was afraid that the priests might be right and that I would burn in hell if I didn't obey them. And so I made a hell right here on earth for Phyllis and myself both." He straightened up. "Look, Molloy, I'm not doing Phyllis or myself any good by falling apart, nor you. I want that animal that killed her destroyed. I'll help however I can. I don't give a damn about my own reputation any more and Phyllis is gone where their squinting windows and evil tongues can't ever hurt her again. If the only way to catch her killer is to shout my name from the rooftops, then do it."

"That won't be necessary, minister," Molloy told him. "The fact is that I really don't think your relationship with Miss Sheridan has anything at all to do with the killing. We don't know for certain just why he killed her, but as I told you earlier we know he has been victimizing her for some time now. Did you see much of Miss Sheridan during the last couple of months?"

"Less than usual," said O'Malley. "Right after the Dail let out for summer recess I had to go to the EC conference in Berlin, then in August I went to Toronto with the Taoiseach, and then I had to get some things done back in Claremorris. I saw her a few times on the weekends. She seemed strangely preoccupied and rather perfunctory about certain things. Well, about sex, actually. She was rather pale and drawn, I recall. I promised her we'd be off for a week together in the Canaries just before the autumn session started and the sun would perk her up."

"Did you notice any odd marks on her body?" asked Molloy. "Specifically, two small triangular punctures?"

"Yes, once. I asked her about it the last time I saw her, and she said she'd injured herself at work with a staple gun. It was a stupid explanation now I come to think of it, but my God, who thinks to examine their lovers for vampire bites? Forgive, Molloy, but are you sure about all this stuff you've been telling me?"

"Minister, I am not one hundred per cent certain about anything in this case," admitted Molloy. "We know that she was injured in that manner at least four times before last night because her body shows these stigmata or whatever they are. All I can say is that I promise you, we'll get him. Somehow."

"I know my department hasn't got anything to do with police or criminal matters," said O'Malley, "But I'm sure there will be moments in your investigation when having a Cabinet minister in your corner will hardly come amiss. If there is anything at all that you need from any section of government, or if you feel you're not getting total cooperation from some bureaucrat, I want you to call me, any time of the day or the night, doesn't matter if I'm speaking on the floor of Dail Eireann, you get a message to me and I'll drop what I'm doing to help you. I'll get you what you need if I have to beg, bribe, or threaten to get it."

"I may well take you up on that, sir," said Molloy with a nod. "To be frank, we're already paying out a king's ransom in overtime and it's going to get worse. At the rate we're going we will have slaughtered all next year's garda pay budget for Dublin before the month is out. I am voluntarily waiving my overtime on this investigation, as are my detective inspector, both my sergeants, and my son and daughter who are also gardai and working with the task force. But we can't expect everyone to do that and the Minister of Finance is going to go into spasms when he gets the bill. I'd appreciate it if you could persuade him to do some creative juggling of the books for us. I'm sure the Justice Minister will back you up."

"You'll get your money if I have to take off me hat and do a whip round the floor of the Dail," O'Malley assured him. "I'm driving out to Claremorris now to be with Phyllis's family. The parish priest will have informed them by now, so you can go ahead and release her name at your press conference. Please let me know as soon as we can have her body back for burial. And I mean it, Molloy---anything you need from me, you've got it."

After the minister left Molloy went directly to the incident room and looked over the incoming calls, then read the task force update. Conn Walsh and Pat Connolly entered. "Showtime in ten minutes, Superintendent," said Connolly.

"Right. Conn, you look chuffed. I see a fax in your hand. An overseas report?"

"You were right again, Mick," replied the sergeant with a tight, encouraging smile. "Our man has priors."

"Well? Jaysus, lad, don't keep me in suspense!"

"At least I'm damned sure it's our man." He handed Molloy the faxed sheets on a clipboard. "All the way from Mother Rooshia. This is from Moscow militia headquarters. April through December of 1976. Eight women murdered, five in Moscow and three in St. Petersburg, or Leningrad as it was then. Triangular holes in the throat, some tortured, death through loss of blood. Never caught the bastard."

"I was also right in arming the stakeouts," remarked Molloy, running his eyes over the labored English of the fax. "It says here he packs a gun and shot it out with the Russian cops on one occasion. No name on the suspect, though. Damn!"

"1976?" said Connolly, puzzled. "That's over twenty years ago, begob! I thought our witnesses said he was thirty years old?"

"So he's a young forty-something," said Molloy. "He was twenty in Russia, he's mid-forties today and he eats his organic goodies and works out and maybe uses Clairol for Men, so he looks younger. No problem there."

"The Rooskies are no end keen," put in Conn. "Check the last page. They're sending one of their people over here to help us out, a Major Rozanov, it says."

"The more the merrier," grunted Molloy. "Maybe he's one of the cops who worked on their case and he can tell us something. Conn, give a call over there after the press conference and see if you can locate someone who speaks English and might give us some assistance, someone who knows something more about the case. Right, Pat, feeding time at the zoo."

The conference room in Harcourt Square was packed with reporters, television crews. and radio news journalists from every Irish news medium, half the British media, every international wire service and a camera crew from CNN. This time there was no clamour as Molloy entered the room, only a tense and expectant silence. The word was already out that this was a gruesome killing. Molloy took the podium and began speaking without preamble. "This morning I examined the scene of the most atrocious crime which I have ever encountered during all my years as a police officer," he said. "A young woman of twenty-four named Phyllis Sheridan was murdered at her flat in Garville Place, Rathgar, some time during the early hours of this morning. She was not simply killed outright. For several hours before her death, Phyllis Sheridan was fiendishly tortured in ways that I will not disclose at this time. After she was dead, her vicious and heartless murderer, acting upon some twisted inspiration from the depths of his diseased mind, further debased and degraded his victim's dead body by hanging her upside down from the ceiling in the nude." There was a law gasp that ran through the audience, and some of the women reporters cried out in shock and horror. "I do not believe that I am overstating the case when I describe this as the worst murder in the history of the State," continued Molloy in a grim voice. "There is no doubt whatever that the cruel perpetrator of this hideous crime is the same individual who killed Marie McDonagh and Elizabeth Kenny, and who assaulted Jacinta Kelly in her Rathmines flat on Monday night. I cannot overemphasize the seriousness of this situation. There is an insane killer of women loose in Dublin."

Molloy paused for dramatic effect. "The gardai have become aware that a large number of women in the County Dublin area have been repeatedly assaulted and sexually abused by this man over a period of months, but have not come forward out of fear of embarrassment, or because they doubted that they would be believed. We have already appealed for these women to come forward, and I now repeat that appeal in the most urgent possible terms. You see, the woman who was found murdered this morning was one such person. She had been receiving regular visits from her killer, and last night he went off the rails and killed her. Every woman who has been victimized by this man is at risk. They must come in and help us to apprehend this killer before he strikes again. I ask them to call the special telephone number that has appeared on the television and in the newspapers. They will be given protection and their confidentiality will be respected. I repeat, they are in grave danger. I will now take questions. Yes, you there from the Evening Herald. Please stand up and state your name."

"Sean Fahey, Chief Superintendent. How did the gardai come to discover the murder?"

"We received an anonymous phone call which we believe to have come from the killer himself. The contents of that call are confidential at this time but are being analyzed by garda experts." Let the bastard think we have him on tape, even if we don't, he thought. "Yes, Miss Blaney isn't it, from the Sunday World?"

"Geraldine Blaney, yes sir. Is it true that the vampire killer left a message written in blood on the wall of the murdered girl's flat?"

Damnation! Somebody's been talking to them! thought Molloy angrily. Aloud he said in a calm voice, "Yes, that is correct. I am not disposed to discuss the contents of that message for several reasons. In the first place, we need to hold back certain information so as to enable us to weed out false leads, crank confessions, and other confusing or misleading complications. Any major case such as this brings out the lunatic fringe and also a lot of well-intentioned but honestly mistaken people who might sidetrack us into time-wasting dead ends if we did not have some method of sorting out the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. Secondly, the message on that wall was the work of a sick mind and I have no intention of perpetuating it in public print or broadcasting it over the airwaves."

"But the public has a right to know!" insisted Geraldine Blaney.

"The public have a right to know that they are in danger, yes. The public have a right to know such information as may be of aid in apprehending this man. I am here because it is part of my duty and your profession to convey to the public what they need to know, but there are limits to that right and I am the one who decides what those limits are, not you and your colleagues. The public at large do not have some sort of automatic, God-given right to know everything that the police know. While we're on the subject, I would like to comment that you people in the news media are doing this situation no good at all with the type of completely irresponsible coverage you've been giving to this case."

"In what way irresponsible?" called out another reporter in the back of the room.

"I'll give you a prime example," replied Molloy. "I strongly object to your constant use of the word 'vampire' throughout your coverage, including the christening of this individual as the Dublin Vampire killer. All you are doing is giving this sick man the type of thrill he needs to keep on feeding his psychotic fantasies, as well as creating widespread fear and alarm. The result of this type of publicity has been to start a rash of nonsense. Kids scaring their girl friends by dressing up in comic-opera Dracula costumes, people trying to dig up graves, people calling the gardai and telling them stories about bats. This rubbish wastes our time and draws valuable manpower away from the hunt for the real killer."

"We have a free press here, and we are investigative journalists," insisted the woman from the Sunday World. "We don't just pass on official communiqués like some captive Third World nation's government-controlled media."

"See here, ladies and gents," said Molloy in a more conciliatory tone. "I am not denying that there are some highly abnormal aspects to this case. When we catch this person he's probably going to write a few new chapters in all the textbooks on criminal insanity. It's just our bad luck that he happened to choose Dublin as his happy hunting ground to go bananas in. But there is no purpose to be served by publishing every quirk, every sick and brutal detail of this man's crimes. They would simply nauseate and terrify the vast majority of your readers and viewers while titillating a small minority with a warped taste in entertainment. You don't print pornography or broadcast video nasties, do you? At least you Irish journalists don't as yet. Why revel in the same type of activity just because it happens in real life?"

"But in a democracy..." argued one of the journalists, and thus it went.

"A bravura performance, Mick!" said Conn Walsh as the group gathered in Molloy's office. "You hooked a red herring and played it like it was a twenty-pound salmon! That's the slickest job I've ever seen of diverting those gobshites off thin ice, turning the whole press conference into a debate on the responsibility of a free press in a democracy. I wonder of they've figured out yet that they were stroked?"

"Probably," said Molloy glumly. "We got some breathing space, but it won't work next time. We need to give Pat Connolly something every day, just a few crumbs of fact he can feed to them a bit at a time. The hell of it is that we may need their help to close the net, once we have a better idea of who we're after and what we're looking for. Everybody here? Good. I've asked for coffee and sandwiches to be sent up from the canteen, as I know some of us haven't had lunch." These arrived on cue at the door and for a minute the assembled officers helped themselves to food and Styrofoam cups full of hot chalky liquid. "Right," said Molloy, studying the munching and slurping faces. "What we have here is the inaugural meeting of an unofficial general staff or think tank for the task force. We will meet regularly and I want to hear ideas from all of you. I want to hear anything and everything you come up with, new evidence, new slants on old evidence, extrapolation, speculation, even just plain guesswork. Any ideas you have on this case, no matter how daft they may seem, I want to hear it and we'll kick it around."

"Even what you once referred to as unseemly supernatural speculation?" asked Conn in an amused voice.

"Even that, so long as it stays within this office. Conn, if you can prove to my satisfaction that we are looking for a traditional vampire as seen on the late night horror show, then we'll issue garlic and wooden stakes to the patrol units. You may take that as a sign of how bloody desperate I am getting about this thing. Up until now this bastard has been one step ahead of us all the way. We've been lashing out in all directions, there's been a lot of sound and fury but no real progress in the areas that count. We have the photofit, we have three surviving victims, and we have two stakeouts. But we don't have a single bloody clue as to who this man is, where he comes from, why he does what he does, how he does what he does, or where he will strike next. We are going to have to stop running after him, sit down, and start using our heads instead of our feet. That does not mean that routine police work will be de-emphasized; on the contrary, it will be stepped up. But we are going to have to use brains as well as brawn on this one. Conn, any more joy from Mother Russia?"

"A little. Just got off the phone with them. I was able to speak with this Major Rozanov, who says he'll be here on Monday morning. Something about some special research materials he has to familiarize himself with. I think he must mean their case files on the killings. I was able to talk to him for about ten minutes before he had to ring off. I heard what sounded like automatic weapons fire in the background, so either they're having another coup attempt as we speak or else the Georgian mafia lads were cutting the rug outside. Whatever. Before we were interrupted Major Rozanov confirmed that the description we have of the killer tallies with several eyewitnesses they had during to 1976 killing spree in his country. He also confirmed that the suspect has fired on police once and also on a mob of locals who were chasing him. The killings stopped abruptly in December of 1976 and no further trace of the killer was found. The weapon used was recovered, a Hungarian 7.65-millimetre pistol."

"Nothing supernatural about a gat," remarked Molloy.

"I noticed you didn't mention our Russian connection at the press conference."

"Nor will I unless it proves necessary. Eight more victims and an Eastern European connection would really do wonders for the public's morale in this case, do you think? Let's hope the reptiles don't tumble to it on their own. Mags, you have been fully briefed on what we found in Garville Place? The writing on the wall?"

"I have," said Margaret. "I also saw the photos of Phyllis Sheridan's body."

Molloy sighed. "I wish you hadn't, lass, but I have to admit it was in the line of your duty. Getting back to the message, you will note that the killer includes a direct threat against Mary Halloran, although not by name. He does not at this stage appear to know who informed on him, but he may figure it out. That plus the report from Moscow indicating that this person has used a firearm has given me the necessary probable cause to arm the task force."

"Are you fully convinced that the Moscow killer of twenty years ago is the Dublin killer of today?" asked Treacy keenly.

"The MO seems almost identical, our man has an accent believed to be Eastern European, and a Russian cop tells my sergeant the description matches. Probability, they're one and the same, yes. Margaret, from tonight you will carry a handgun in your purse and your stakeout team will be armed as well. Your orders are to shoot to kill. Can you do that, Mags?"

"I can and I will," replied Margaret steadily.

"Good girl. Tom, what about the search area?"

"Bugger all, sir," said Flanagan, shaking his head in disappointment. "Not one blessed thing did we find. No one saw or heard anything that morning. The two little old ladies are deaf as posts, both of 'em, and truth to tell I think they're a bit gaga with it. The Clarkes are a blank."

"Andy, interpret this autopsy report for us."

"The cause of death was ninety-nine percent blood loss. There are four other pairs of puncture wounds other than the one from last night, all located over fairly large arteries on the left and right biceps, the right leg just above the knee, and the left breast. The oldest would appear to be about six weeks old, although with these weird things it's hard to tell." Manion paused to study the file, and then went on in a voice carefully kept steady. "The torture was even more extensive than we at first observed. In addition to the beating, the burns, and the searing of the tongue small matchstick splinters were evidently inserted under the fingernails and toenails and set alight before the nails themselves were twisted off. The Bic lighter was applied between the toes, her shoulder joints were dislocated before death, several teeth were pulled out and found thrown about the bedroom, and both eardrums had burst due to percussive blows to the ears. Internal examination shows that she was enemized with boiling water and he applied a pin or needle to a number of minor nerve gangliae close to the epidermis of the skin or at the joints, a form of torture by acupuncture. He also sprinkled cayenne pepper in her eyes and broke her ankle, shins, three ribs, and several fingers."

"Merciful God!" choked out Flanagan. "And the girl lived through all of this?"

"She did," replied Manion evenly. "None of these things are inherently fatal in themselves. She didn't die until he drained her blood. Her mind probably went fairly early on in the proceedings. The human spirit can only stand so much pain and degradation and then it just short-circuits and checks out of the mortal tenement for the duration so to speak. He wasn't doing it to punish her or to get information, he was doing it purely for his own pleasure, knowing that her body still felt the pain even if her consciousness had fled. This is the essence of evil we are dealing with here."

"How about the rape part?" asked Molloy heavily.

"The autopsy confirmed that she was raped both vaginally and anally, but there were no semen deposits nor, I gather from Sergeant Scott, were there any seminal stains on the bed linen. That's a pity, because then we could get a DNA type on him. I'd say that the killer is unable to climax, which is probably at the root of his mental problem, his extreme hatred of women. The whip found at the scene was definitely the one used during the flagellation, as if there were any doubt, and judging from the angle of the strokes he is left-handed. That's all I've got for the moment."

"Forensic, Scotty?"

"No fingerprints in the flat or on the whip, just plenty of those odd fingerless smudges," said Scott, consulting his notes. "Witness or no, Super, he has to be wearing gloves!"

"Could he be one of these nutters who burned off his fingerprints on a hot stove or with acid, Sergeant?" asked Mick Og. "I've heard of that being done."

"Oh, aye, I've run across one or two cases of that kind of lark, but the eejits who do it don't realize that they are creating a scar pattern on their fingertips which is just as distinctive as a print. This isn't from scar tissue, it's just a kind of blank imprint. We did the qualitative analysis you requested on the carpet, Superintendent, the bedding and so on. There's a lot of the poor dead girl's blood unaccounted for. The amount of blood in anyone's circulatory system at any given time varies according to the age, the height, weight, size, sex, and general health of the person. We think there's about eleven pints of Phyllis Sheridan's blood missing."

"Christ!" muttered Molloy.

"There is one thing, though," continued Scott. "We found some rather unusual soil traces. Fortunately the victim was one of those housekeepers who sweep things under the carpet, and we found quite a dolly mixture in our hoover. There was a dark, moist earth that didn't come from the immediate area at all, but we can't identify where exactly it did come from because the sample is too small. There was a drier soil as well containing several microscopic fragments of pine needles. There are no pine trees anywhere in the street."

"Neither of those samples may have come from the killer," pointed out Treacy. "Tomas O'Malley or some other legitimate visitor may have tracked them in."

"Or she may have brought them in herself," added Molloy.

"True enough," admitted Scott. "I mention these two samples because they are a break in the pattern, if you get my drift. Our lab is very good on soil analysis, one of the best in any European force, and we've already matched a lot of the dirt with her garden or street dust from outside. There is another odd thing about soil sample A. Spectroscopic analysis shows a desiccated hydrocarbon chain which our computer has identified as Guinness."

"There was Guinness in the flat," put in Treacy.

"Yes, but this is much older and completely dehydrated," Scott told him. "It appears to be mixed with a dark alluvial soil, from somewhere near water, a canal or the river. We can't narrow it down any further than that."

"The hop stores at St. James' Gate?" spoke up Mick Og in sudden inspiration.

"Something like that, although I doubt he'd be hiding in the brewery," replied Scott. "Too many people in and out all the time."

"So we've got two soil samples that don't belong?" asked Molloy. "Sample A from wet ground with Guinness in it, and sample B with pine needles in it?"

"Aye, sir, and neither of them may mean a damned thing. Moving along, the electrical flex used to hang the dead girl and to make the whip was cut from the same length. It is of a common variety, and you can buy it in any hardware shop or electrical supply store. No hope of tracing it. The writing on the wall was done with the biro we found and the teacup you saw was indeed used as an inkwell. Yes, it was her blood, may the man burn in hell. The ink pen and cup bore only more of those damnable smudges. He wears gloves, I tell you!"

"How about the graphology computer's analysis of the message?" asked Molloy.

"I was after hoping you'd not ask about that, Super," sighed Scott. "Another for the funny file, I'm afraid. The profile of the writer is that of a forceful, domineering and violent personality, which we already know. He is left-handed, highly intelligent, capable of careful planning, and yet also subject to sudden outbursts of rage. He is not a native speaker of the English language but the sample provided is too small to extrapolate his country of origin from the grammar, syntax and vocabulary used."

"So what's for the funny file?" asked Conn. "It just confirms what we already have."

"He's also 180 years old," said Scott disgustedly. He raised his hands to silence the squawks of protest. "Yes, yes, I know it's ridiculous. We ran the program three times and it keeps coming out that the submitted material was written between 125 and 175 years ago. Something about the way he crosses his t's and forms his letters. I've got the printout and the analysis lists twenty-one points upon which this determination has been made. I don't have a clue as to what this means, and I'll not be so reckless as to attempt any explanation at all. Here's the printout, if anyone is interested." He tossed the computer sheets onto Molloy's desk, and they all stared.

"Is the computer programmed to analyze handwriting that old?" asked Molloy curiously.

"That's one of its main functions, Super," said Scott. "Forgery detection, things like land deeds and property titles, wills, legal documents, forged genealogies, faked letters from famous people offered for sale as genuine. There are some bloody good craftsmen in the forgery trade. They can make and chemically age their own parchment, produce their own ink from the original archaic recipes, cut their own quills and copy a monastic charter from the fourteenth century or a letter from Jonathan Swift so well that no expert can tell with the naked eye, and sometimes the fake will even pass analysis. I'm not saying the computer is infallible. Obviously something is very much out of kilter somewhere. But those are the results, and I am reporting them."

"Right, funny file it is, then," said Molloy. "Do we have anything else on the Phyllis Sheridan killing?"

"Not yet," said Conn with forced optimism.

"Then it's time to get these little grey brain cells of ours sizzling like sausages in a pan."

"That Sherlock Holmes, is it, sir?" asked Mick Og with a laugh.

"Hercule Poirot when he's feeling peckish. We need to know a number of things about this man, other than where to lay hands on him, of course. We need to know who he is, to put a name to him. We need to know how he operates, how and why he chooses his particular victims, how he manages to keep them in line and compel them to submit. Since routine police procedure hasn't turned these things up as yet, we are going to have to infer the answers through deductive reasoning. If we can figure out all of that we might be able to extrapolate the vital who and where. The how of it looks to be a real bugger, so let's start with the why, which will lend itself a bit more easily to speculation. Why the hell is he doing this?"

"I thought we knew that," said Mick Og in surprise. "He's crazy as a coot! He's doing it because he's a sadistic maniac and he enjoys it."

"I think I understand what the Superintendent is getting at," said Manion, filling his pipe. "Anybody mind if I light this up? You might want to crack a window, Conn. If this is a think tank, I think better using my drug of choice. Agreed, this man is completely insane. The clinical term would be psychopathic. But even in mind that like the old joke says, just because someone is crazy doesn't mean he's stupid. There are basically three types of mental disorder, there being neurosis, psychosis, and schizophrenia."

"Split personality?" asked Margaret.

"No, a lot of people think that, but actually schizophrenia means a deterioration of personality. Neurosis is where someone does still perceive and accept reality but has trouble adjusting to it and tries to compensate by eccentric behaviour. In some cases this entails an inner fantasy world. When the fantasy world becomes real in the person's mind, then that's psychosis. A psychopathic personality, of which our killer is an extreme example, is a type of person who bases his whole existence on a set of ideas which are unreal."

"In other words, yer man really does think he's a vampire," remarked Conn.

"Yes, and his actions are consistent with that unreal foundation," agreed Manion. "Once I accept in my own mind the basic premise that I am Jesus Christ returned to earth, or that everybody is else is controlled by invisible rays beamed down from the planet Mars, or that I am a vampire who must drink the blood of young women to survive, then I can construct for myself a behaviour pattern which would be quite logical and understandable, if the basic assumption were true."

"Then putting ourselves into this bloke's fantasy mode, what we need to do is figure out why he has committed the specific crimes he has, within the parameters of that fantasy?" suggested Treacy.

"Exactly," agreed Manion. "I'd bet that this man sleeps in a coffin and doesn't expose himself to direct sunlight, only ventures out at sunset, and so on. Yet he doesn't go so far that he recoils from a crucifix, as Mary Halloran found out to her cost. That would interfere with the prime function of his fantasy, which is to obtain sexual gratification through the torture and humiliation of his victims."

"How long had the sun been set when he attacked Jacinta Kelly?" asked Treacy.

"It was actually below the horizon about an hour before, although it was still twilight out," replied Molloy. "If he has a car that doesn't help us much. I sure wish we could get some idea of his transport situation. Andy, are we sure the violence is a sexual thing with him? Maybe he really is convinced he needs the blood to live?"

"Vampirism and the vampire myth have long been recognized by psychologists as a sexual fantasy syndrome," replied Manion. "In this case as well, or why all the bizarre sexual acts? He is an extremely disturbed personality and he has selected a particularly violent and dangerous fantasy to act out. He is obviously a sexual sadist of the worst kind, he apparently cannot ejaculate and probably like many of his kind he cannot even obtain an erection without the violence and ritualistic degradation of his vampiristic assault first. Periodically he lets his mania take over and goes wild, as he did with Phyllis Sheridan. That whole Jacinta Kelly incident smacks of uncontrolled impulse to me. He saw her on the street or on a bus, he desired her, he followed her home and somehow got into her flat ahead of her, and began his assault without proper groundwork, preparation or scouting beforehand. As a consequence he was interrupted, which was very fortunate for Jacinta. If he'd had time I'm sure that sexual abuse and possibly torture and death would have followed."

"All of that is excellent psychoanalysis, I'm sure," said Molloy. "But Andy, how about all the GUBUs in our funny file? His hypnotic power over women? His superhuman strength? Those peculiar puncture marks that we don't know how he inflicts? The unknown depressant drug? His ability to get in and out without being seen, including his vanishing act in Rathmines right under the noses of the gardai? The lack of fingerprints and the weird smudges where fingerprints ought to be? The computer report that claims he's a hundred and eighty years old, give or take a decade? Where do all those fit in?"

"Mick, I'm damned if I know," said Manion, shaking his head. "Obviously he has given very careful thought and planning to his fantasy and he has found ways to act it out in such a way as to give him the appearance of paranormal powers. Stage magicians do all of these things and more, you know. I can only assert my belief that if we keep our heads screwed on and our feet on the ground, the case will eventually be cracked and we will find out how he does it all."

"Let's try another angle," suggested Molloy. "Let's try a question and answer game. I'll throw out a question and let's hear answers, any answers at all no matter how far-fetched. What did he do with eleven pints of blood from Phyllis Sheridan's body?"

"Supped it?" suggested Mick Og with distaste.

"Impossible," insisted Manion. "Aesthetics aside, the human stomach won't hold that much liquid of such consistency at once. Blood is thicker even than Guinness, no humour intended."

"Could he have flushed it down the toilet or washed it down the sink?" asked Conn. "The idea being to confuse us and make us think he's a vampire who drank it?"

"No," spoke up Scott. "We always check drains and standpipes in an indoor homicide, specifically looking for blood or anything the killer may have tried to dispose of. Standard procedure. We found no traces of blood in the pipes, no stains in the toilet or tub or sink."

"Jacinta Kelly, Mary Halloran, and Breda Cullinane all insist that he drank their blood, although not in the quantity we're dealing with in the Sheridan case," pointed out Treacy.

"They may be somewhat confused, since they all admit that at the time they were under the influence of whatever narcotic he uses. Next question: where does he go in the daytime?"

"Quite probably to a coffin, and also probably in some suitably eerie and Gothic setting which will satisfy his macabre fantasy," said Manion.

"Paddy, did we check out all the vendors of caskets and mortuary supplies like I asked? All the funeral homes?" asked Molloy.

"Aye, sir," replied Treacy. "We're still going the rounds but nothing yet. No one recalls anyone ordering a coffin to go, so to speak, or having one stolen, but there are plenty of ways he might have gotten hold of one. The way most likely to appeal to a nutter like this would be to dig one up and dispose of the original occupant."

"Holy God, sleeping in a used coffin that had actually been buried with a corpse inside?" exclaimed Margaret with a shudder.

"Yer man ain't exactly noted for his good taste and breeding," Treacy reminded her. "A lot of old family undertakers down the country still make their own caskets, Super, and inventory control isn't tight. I mean, who's going to steal one of the fecking things?"

"But where would he hide the coffin?" asked Conn Walsh. "In a crypt or a mausoleum or a graveyard? That would be consistent with his fantasy, not to mention your average horror movie."

"It would also be a helluva risky," argued Treacy. "Most cemeteries have caretakers or groundskeepers of some kind, and relatives coming all the time to visit their people's graves."

"There are some abandoned graveyards attached to old Protestant churches which have been long since closed down for lack of a congregation," spoke up Tom Flanagan. "Like that one up in Clontarf where we caught the old wan trying to dig up her husband's grave and put a stake through his heart. Plus a lot of these old Ascendancy houses round and about the countryside have private family plots out back."

"We'd better start checking out likely places of that kind," decided Molloy. "Paddy, can you get onto the Corpo, the Church of Ireland, and An Taisce and see if they can put together a list of disused or little used cemeteries and private burying grounds, especially those with crypts and mausoleums? And start checking them out tomorrow? And please be extra careful word doesn't leak or we'll have every graveyard on the east coast of the Republic being tramped over by Fearless Vampire Killer loonies with stakes and mallets."

"What if the media see gardai poking around graveyards?" asked Paddy.

"Good point," agreed Molloy. "Everybody on any such detail is to go in plain clothes, acting like they're visiting a grave or tourists taking rubbings from the tombstones or some such. If they see anything suspicious, they don't investigate further, they call it in and we move in with full complement."

"Got it," said Treacy.

"While we are on the subject of the media, who the hell told the reptiles about the writing on the wall and more importantly, how in God's name did the killer find out about our 'howling dog' code signal?"

"Da---sorry, Superintendent, you know the first obvious answer to that one," said his son in a grim voice.

"That the killer might be a guard? I thought about it very briefly, but I honestly don't think so, and I'm not just standing up for the force. In the first place our surviving witnesses all agree that the man has a foreign accent and a beard. Only undercover detectives are allowed beards, which would narrow the gardai field. With that excellent portrait we've got and half the force in the State looking for this man, any police officer who resembled that portrait would have some explaining to do. And why would a rogue copper doing all this tip his hand by calling us wearing his serial killer hat and revealing that he knew our most secret code signal? Finally, son, you saw what this man did today. He is on the most wild and crazy power and ego trip I've ever come across. Any guard who is that bloody insane would surely have given some evidence of it by now to his fellow officers. He would have gone berserk and attacked a female prisoner or a Ban Gharda, or he would have abused his authority in some other way that we couldn't overlook."

"The wall writing might be a leak in the task force, and even the 'howling dog', God help us, and if it is we will find and punish the officer responsible," promised Treacy. "But it could be that the killer isn't spying on us, he's spying on the media. You know that the Irish media are full of garda-bashers who believe it's their duty to do us down in any way they can, especially by ferreting out information they shouldn't have and shouting it to the four winds. For all we know the killer may be making similar calls to the media, and we couldn't trust some of them to tell us what was happening. I've already asked Pat Connolly and the Press Office to be very careful about everything they release, and to monitor very carefully everything that is broadcast or written about this case. Theyíll try and catch any signs that any journalist knows something he or she shouldn't, or has sources of information within the task force he or she shouldn't have. As far as the code signal goes, these reporter bastards all have illegal scanners, and it could well be that the killer has one. I can only suggest that he overheard our traffic and put two and two together."

"Eavesdropping on us, is it?" muttered Molloy. "It would fit in. Right, radio frequency for the task force changes every hour starting with tonight's shift, according to a list you will work out for the night shift and you for the day shift, Tom. Make it random, no obvious pattern he might spot. We will also change our code signal for the killer himself every day. Tonight let's call him Rosebud. Always liked that flick, Citizen Kane. Any more ideas on tracking down his daytime den?"

"Graveyards do sound a bit risky for him," commented Margaret. "Anybody might wander and stumble across his hideout. He must be in a flat or a house, somewhere private. It would have to be secure and isolated, where the neighbours wouldn't be too nosy and where he could come and go without being seen, any hour of the day or night."

"Estate agents," suggested Flanagan. "He would have to buy or own a place. He couldn't risk a rent collector or a nosy landlady barging in and finding him sleeping in a bloody coffin at noon."

"Good idea, Tom!" cried Molloy with enthusiasm. "Paddy, get some men onto estate agents all over County Dublin with that picture. Ask about any houses or other properties sold to anyone who resembled our man or who seemed to be Eastern European. I hate to say this, because it simply complicates matters, but we have so far overlooked the possibility that he might have an active accomplice. Every good vampire has to have a Renfield, and if this man is living out the Dracula fantasy he'd be after wanting one too. Tell the estate agent boys to ask about any kind of odd or unusual requests or stipulations from any buyers at all, like only showing up to close the sale after dark, that sort of thing. Next question: with all these mots voluntarily submitting to his perverted desires, why in Godís name did he kill Marie McDonagh and Elizabeth Kenny? According to her autopsy report Elizabeth Kenny had apparently engaged in voluntary intercourse before she died, but again no residue of ejaculate. Damn, I wish he'd have it off at least once so we could get a DNA sample! Anyway, she had the usual marks on her throat, and the killer drained her as completely as he did Phyllis Sheridan, only a few drops and spatters on the pillow, but no torture or physical assault. She does fit the tentative pattern we're building in that she was young, attractive, and the killing apparently took place in the wee hours of the morning. Her children sleeping in other parts of the house were not harmed. But with Marie McDonagh we have a break in the pattern. She was an itinerant, late forties, alcoholic, diseased, and judging from the autopsy photos she had a face like the Witch of Endor. There was no sign of sexual intercourse forced or otherwise, no torture, and although it was difficult to determine the exact time of death the State Pathologist gave a time frame that was in the daytime. That's a deviation from pattern even more so than Jacinta Kelly, I'd say."

"It was also the first murder," put in Treacy.

"The first we know about," said Margaret.

"As I recollect the Murder Squad figured she'd been done in elsewhere with a pitchfork in the neck by her fellow knackers and then dumped on Sarsfield Quay," recalled Conn. "It wasn't until the Kenny woman was murdered that we realized we had a serial killer on our hands."

"Maybe we should be paying a bit more attention to that first killing," said Molloy with a frown, pulling a folder out and opening it. "Let's go over the facts. She was found on Sarsfield Quay, or rather in an alley behind Sarsfield Quay, among all those derelict buildings. She was fully dressed and had a half-full plastic jug of cider beside her body. She had fourteen pounds in notes and change on her, the proceeds of her day's begging. There wasn't a drop of blood in her body, just those two bloody puncture wounds on her throat."

"There's another break in the pattern," said Mick Og excitedly. "McDonagh was the only victim killed out of doors! If the S. P. is right about the time of death, that means that our man must have been out and about in the daytime, like no good vampire had oughta."

"But do we know for certain that she was killed on the spot?" asked Molloy slowly. "The Murder Squad who originally investigated thought she was killed elsewhere due to the lack of blood. We now know that is a part of our suspect's bizarre MO, but that doesn't invalidate the possibility that she was killed somewhere else, indoors? But why?"

"People kill for three reasons," argued Conn. "The three P's we learned in detective training. Profit, passion, and protection. I think we can rule out personal gain here. Insanity might be considered a form of passion, I suppose, but why would he get passionate about a poor creature like Marie when he's been helping himself to Dublin's most lovely lasses? Finally, there's self-protection, to silence someone or remove a threat that they pose."

"Then where was she killed?" asked Treacy. "Unless yer man grossly violated the pattern of his psychotic fantasy, it must have been indoors."

"Did the Murder Squad check out all those abandoned buildings down on the quay closely?" asked Mick Og.

"Only in a perfunctory way," replied Molloy softly. "There were convinced they were dealing with an ordinary stabbing and that she'd been killed elsewhere."

"How's this?" suggested Margaret Molloy, who had been following the discussion keenly. "Last July our vampire laddie is hiding in those old abandoned buildings. The oul' knacker one goes into one of them to get out of the rain and get drunk in peace. She stumbles onto his hideout or she catches him doing something inside the ruined building, he kills her to shut her up and then takes her outside and dumps her in the alley after dark?"

"By God, Mags, I think you may have got it!" said Molloy in admiring approval.

"I'm trying to remember what's up there," said Treacy. "There's an old warehouse, there's a couple of shops, that place that used to be a knitwear factory, and a couple of old pubs."

"Pubs!" snapped Graham Scott eagerly. "Soil sample A with the desiccated Guinness! Those buildings on Sarsfield Quay were built in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries alongside the Liffey, where the soil would be alluvial. The pubs almost certainly had earth floored cellars. Those floors would have a good century or two of Guinness soaked into them, enough to be detectable even in minute samples like the one from Garville Place!"

"Highly speculative, all of it, but it makes sense," agreed Molloy. "Mother oí God, for the first time in this ruddy case we've got a scenario which does make sense! It's certainly the best we've come up with yet! We'll go out there right now and have a look. Scotty, bring a T.B. man and full kit. Conn, you and Paddy draw a couple of handguns from the arms room. The chance that we'll find him still there after two months is remote, but if we do I want us properly tooled up for the job."

It was a bright, warm afternoon with a crisp autumn savour to it. The tide was coming in and the green Liffey smelled fresh and invigorating. Taking no chances, Molloy sealed off both ends of Sarsfield Quay and posted men in the alleys and along the front sidewalk. It was inevitable that such a concentration of Garda activity drew the attention of onlookers and journalists, and soon there were an RTE camera van and a number of reporters among the growing crowd behind the police lines. Molloy led his think tank crew in a thorough search of the deserted, derelict buildings along the quay. "I wish the Corpo would go ahead and tear down these eyesores," he said. Molloy cursed as broken glass crunched beneath his shoe.

"I'd not be so hasty about that," said Conn. "They might put up another eyesore like that beastly think on Wood Quay. Makes me sick every time I look at it."

The first pub they entered had no cellar within its ruined walls. The second, half way down the street, was in a state of almost complete decay and disintegration, the floor fallen through and the walls heavy with fungus and about to fall. There was one more pub along the quay, the faded sign still proclaiming James Cogan, Licensed Premises. "Ah, I sank the black in here a few times," Molloy reminisced as he flashed his electric torch around the gloomy interior. "This was a lovely place, sure it was. Shamie Cogan it was who ran it, a friendly oul' fella with a bald head and a belly like a barrel of stout. He died of a heart attack right behind that bar there after forty years in the trade, back during an illegal opening, New Year's Day of 1970. I was just on the force then, and one of my first official duties was to carry him out to the wagon and then take names off the customers."

"Da, you'd better come and take a look at this," called out Margaret, her voice odd. She was down on her hands and knees behind the bar, and she had pulled up an old trap door that exposed a staircase down into the cellar. Molloy crouched down and flashed his torch into the black interior. "Back in the back there," said his daughter, pointing. He saw some miscellaneous shoes, clothing, and other debris, and a stack of obviously recent newspapers. At the far end of the room were some wooden pallets, and on them rested an ominous oblong box. Brass handles glinted in the pool of yellow light.

"Jaysus, there's a fecking coffin down here!" gasped Molloy. "Call in some of the lads from outside, Tom! Mags, you stay up here and hold your torch steady, right on it. The rest of you follow me. I think we can all squeeze in." Molloy eased his bulk down the stairs. They creaked but held firm. "Looks like someone has done some carpentry work and shored this up," he commented, pointing to fresh cut timbers. The other men followed gingerly. Molloy placed his torch on a step where it shined on the casket, so his hands were free. The gardai looked at the plain, unvarnished casket of white pine. "Conn, you and Paddy cover us with the guns," ordered Molloy. "Mick, you stand by with your baton and Scotty with your rubber truncheon. Andy, you stand back. Tom, you and I are going to rip off that lid and grab whatever is inside." Then they all stood stock still for almost a minute, staring at the coffin as if mesmerised. Margaret's hand holding her torch at the top of the stairs was shaking. Suddenly Molloy became conscious of the fear and panic that permeated that dank and airless cellar. Six police officers, one policewoman, and a hardened police doctor were all so terrified that they were shaking and their teeth were chattering. Molloy himself was sweating as if he were in a sauna and he could hardly breathe. The six men grouped around the coffin could not bring themselves to approach it.

"Come on, then!" shouted Molloy, his voice muffled by the damp earth floor and slimy walls. That broke the spell.

Walsh and Treacy leveled their Smith and Wesson revolvers in two-handed stances at the coffin. Molloy and Flanagan positioned themselves at either end, and on a count of three they heaved the lid off the casket. Behind them Margaret flashed the torch light into the box.

Except for a pillow and some blankets, it was empty.

VI. Saturday, September 20th

At a few minutes past midnight the well-dressed young man called Radu opened the double doors into the long library with the high ceiling in the Georgian townhouse of the obscure square. The old man sat in his armchair by the fire, formally attired in a dark suit. On the table by his chair was a stack of newspapers. His waxen face in the pool of electric light was expressionless. A group of people filed in silently. There were eight men, not including Radu, and seven women. They ranged in physical appearance from their early twenties to their early sixties. Seven of the men and six of the women wore dark spectacles, which they removed as they entered the room. Their eyes were the clearest bright blues and greens.

The women approached the old man first, curtseying low before him and murmuring a greeting in their own language. Still seated, he kissed their hands and replied courteously. He arose as the men approached, in strict order of seniority. Each man bowed formally and said by rote, "I come at your command, my lord Casimir." Then the men seated the women in a semi-circle around the crackling fire in the grate and took their own seats. "Who guards the Young?" asked old Casimir.

"The Lady Isotta," replied Radu. "She has them studying their lessons."

"My lord Slobodan can fill her in later," said Casimir nodding at one of the blue-eyed men. "What are our security arrangements?"

"Lady Andrea's brother Francis and Lady Dorottea's brother Eamonn are on guard, one at each door of this house," Radu told him. "There are also Brothers standing watch in the houses on either side of us. All are armed with shotguns and Brother Francis has the AK-47. My own Sister Patricia is on the roof with a radio and she will warn us of any approaching garda units. All the Brothers and Sisters have pistols and so does Lady Isotta in the nursery. If the Eaters come down on us and no escape be possible, may the Spirit of the Seven Suns forbid it, then she will kill the Young before taking her own life in accordance with our tradition. I myself will kill Lady Anna and Lord Lugo who are in the Short Sleep below."

"Should the worst happen we must at least attempt an evacuation before suicide," said Casimir. "Is the tunnel clear?"

"It is, my lord, although we would be seen coming out the Baggot Street exist by any late passers-by. Five cars and vans with Brothers and Sisters as designated drivers are waiting at the Leeson Street exit should an evacuation be required. Nonetheless, my lord, it is an extreme risk having all of our Irish community under one roof."

"I am aware of the risk, Radu," said Casimir. "But in view of the threat which we face, we had no choice. We have gotten lax of late, and letting both of our long-range telepaths hibernate at the same time was an act of stupidity on my part for which I accept full responsibility. But who could predict that with Anna and Lugo both asleep we'd get a renegade amongst us? This lunatic could get us all killed!"

"Grand Duke Casimir," spoke up one man respectfully, "Are you sure it is a renegade Verdelac? Could it not be some crazed human sexual killer who has been watching too many Dracula movies?"

"I fear not," replied the old man. "In the absence of Anna and Lugo I have unlimbered by own aging telepathic powers, and on one cast several nights ago I touched the mind of a Verdelac whom I cannot identify and who does not belong in our clanís territory without my permission. I can tell you no more. As you know, even the weakest telepaths among the People can locate a fellow Verdelac who is hurt or who has been captured by the Eaters and is calling for help. It is quite another thing to track down one who does not wish to be found, and requires a specially trained thought caster of the highest order. My lords and ladies, it is impossible for me to overstate the threat that this outlaw represents to our community. For over two hundred years the Gorka have lived in Ireland, and there has not been a breath of suspicion that we even exist. All of that is at risk now."

"Could you sense anything at all about the outlaw Lord, Casimir?" asked one of the women. "His name? His clan?"

"No Lady Lamia. He is brilliant and powerful even for one of us, and the planes of his mind are sharp and shining crystal of vermilion. He threw me off, but before he did so I felt a bitter laugh and a curse against all the People. This is not just some newly awakened Verdelac who has gotten lost or separated from his Nest and must Hunt for a while to survive. This is a renegade in the truest sense, a lone wolf who Hunts because he enjoys it and who doesnít care whether he brings the Eaters down on all of us."

"No idea who he might be, my lord?" asked one of the older men. "I mean, there are only what? Perhaps three thousand Verdelac left in the world?"

"I have a suspicion as to his identity, although it is only a suspicion at this stage. I believe that this is the same Verdelac who went on a rampage and killed a number of women in Russia in the mid 1970s. I believe this to be the Lord Stepan Radek, a survivor of the Prague affair and a renegade since he escaped the Soviets in 1976."

There was a gasp of astonishment from the circle of seated beings. "But grandfather, I thought all the Verdelacs who were captured in Prague died in captivity?" exclaimed Radu.

"So did the Council, until Radek popped up in Moscow in 1976. He escaped from the team we sent to recover him, before they could nerve themselves to do what was necessary. They confirmed that he was quite out of his mind. Since then we've caught fleeting glimpses of him as he wanders the earth. He's been in the United States, Canada, and all over Europe. Every now and then he stops for a while and feed women start turning up drained of their hyma, and the Easters begin sharpening their white ash stakes again."

"He kills them?" asked one of the older women in shock. "Drains them of their hyma in violation of the First Promise, the most sacred Promise of all?"

"He does, my Sister," replied Casimir gently. "Please remember that this is not a decent and honourable Verdelac who is bound by the Law or the Three Promises. He is a criminal who has deliberately chosen to revert to our savage and predatory past. He usually sets up his own private Sisterhood and restricts his feeding to them. But periodically he gives himself up to his wild lusts and bestial cruelty, and not only drains a woman but tortures her as well, that he might savour the agony and fear of her mind as she suffers and dies. This is what he did not twenty-four hours ago, to a young woman in Rathgar who was apparently one of his own unsworn and unlawful Sisters, if such you may call them."

There was a mutter of horror from the gathering. "Abominable murderer!" said one of the Verdelac men in an untranslatable curse.

"May the Seven Suns illuminate his soulís darkness!" exclaimed one of the women.

"But if he is a renegade then surely they are not proper Sisters," argued one of the men. "Both he and they are cut off, not of the People. With no Clan or Nest they can't be true Sisters, initiated and instructed in the Law. That's no excuse for cruel and heartless murder, to be sure, but at least he's not violating the First Promise if they're only, ah, concubines I guess you'd call them."

"That's probably the same rationalization he uses himself," replied Casimir sternly. "It won't wash and you know it. The bond exists whether he formalizes it with the Promises or not, and by abusing and disregarding that bond Radek commits not only crime but sin, and not only sin but incredibly dangerous folly as well. This moral degenerate is now operating in Ireland, in our territory. He is endangering this Clan and by risking capture alive he is risking the very secret of the People's existence. We must settle this matter. We must settle Radek, if it is he."

"What is your command, my lord?" asked Radu.

"We must find this outlaw and give him one decisive chance to submit to the Law and rejoin the People. I doubt he will take it, but we are boyar Verdelaca and so is he, so we owe him that chance. If he defies us and refuses to submit, then he must die. Only once in ten thousand years has any Gorka lifted his hand to spill green blood, that Gorka being my own father who avenged his Lady and his daughter. That is one family tradition I would rather not carry on, but the safety of the Clan comes before all else."

"My lord, how did the Lord Stepan escape from the Soviets?" asked one of the men.

"I believe all of you are familiar with the story except for you, Brother Thomas, and you, Sister Ellen," said Casimir. "You are aware that four Verdelac were captured by the Russians when they invaded Czechoslovakia in May of 1968?"

"I had heard something to that effect, my lord," replied Brother Thomas. "They were put in some kind of laboratory but later they all died, did they not?"

"There is a bit more to it than that," Casimir told him. "The Council of Forty-Nine investigated the whole incident as best we could. In 1968 the KGB captured four Verdelac alive in a safe house in Prague. There were two Hunyadis, the Grand Duke of the Cordula clan, and Stepan Radek."

"Why did they not obey the Law and fight to the death?" asked Radu with a frown.

"Evidently they were all in the Short Sleep, even as Lady Anna and Lord Lugo lie in the crypt downstairs. The political turmoil had caused a lot of dislocation and they were in a temporary and very precarious Nest. I don't know all of the circumstances, but the house was attacked and everyone died fighting except for those four. They spent the next eight years in a special KGB detention facility that was turned into a laboratory, being interrogated and studied by top Soviet scientists. They wanted the secret of alchemy, which as it happened none of the four knew to tell them, and they wanted to learn how to harness Verdelac telepathic powers for the Soviet military. We know little of what went on, but we know that one Verdelac was killed in an escape attempt and we believed that the rest had eventually either killed themselves or died under ill treatment."

"Was no rescue attempt ever made?" asked Radu.

"The place was simply too heavily fortified and surrounded by troops," said Casimir. "In a way we were fortunate that our people were captured by a highly secretive and paranoid totalitarian government instead of the West. In 1976 we sent a team to extract Radek, once we realized he had escaped. We thought he was just Hunting until we could come and pick him up, but it turned out that he had become a voluntary renegade who Hunts for pleasure and has no desire to rejoin the People. Now he imperils us all."

There was a long silence. "And he has survived all these years," said one of the men finally, awe in his voice. "Think of it! How long does a renegade usually survive on his own without the protection of the People? He must Hunt by night and hide away from the sun during the daytime, with no Brothers or Sisters to watch over him or give him a peaceful meal, always with enraged Eaters on his trail seeking to drive the stake through his heart and stuff his severed head with garlic. There have been some famous renegades, we've all heard of our Verdelac Jesse James and Dick Turpins. But how long did they last? A few months, a year or two, and the priest and the peasant mob did their work. And yet this warrior of the Seven Suns has survived and prospered for over thirty years!"

"No doubt it will all make a very romantic legend someday," said Casimir dryly. "Let us hope that his lunatic irresponsibility doesn't get us all killed before we have the leisure to enjoy it later in life. Come, Milovan, think! How long do you suppose his luck will hold out? And what about the Long Sleep? So far as we know he has not had his first one yet. He may be avoiding it through sheer stamina and willpower, but eventually he'll go down for what he thinks is a few months' nap and he won't wake up again for thirty years! Where will he find a place of complete safety for that length of time, all on his own and with no one to guard him? No matter where he hides he will inevitably be found by someone digging the foundations for a new office block, or sinking a mine shaft, or moving a cemetery to make room for a parking lot. And what will happen then?" continued Casimir forcefully. "In the old days when Eaters turned up a hibernating Verdelac in a cave or a graveyard they called the priest, drove a stake through where they thought his heart should be and then killed him by fire or decapitation. Holy Church triumphed and there was an end to it. What will happen today when such a phenomenon appears? They will take Radek to a laboratory and examine him, X-ray him, take blood and cell and tissue samples, hair and skin slides, analyze him by computer. When he awakens psychologists will show him ink blots and ask him silly questions, linguists will construct our language from his chance remarks or curses, anthropologists will interrogate him about our People's past. It will take the scientists no time at all to deduce that this is not simply some kind of freak organism but the product of an extraterrestrial evolution. Such a being couldn't just appear on earth, he must have been bred, ergo there must be more somewhere. Is the planet Earth being invaded by space aliens? The military and the police and the intelligence services will become involved, a massive search will begin to find the rest of us which will eventually succeed once they understand what they are looking for, and once the mass of the Eaters become aware of our existence, our present way of life will become impossible. Given their ignorance and their tendency towards intolerance which would doubtless be fanned by the Church as always, and other self-interested groups, soon any kind of life would become impossible for us. Eventually they would find some excuse to kill us all."

"But that has already happened once, at Prague," argued Milovan. "We are still safe."

"The Russian incident occurred under one of the most repressive societies in human history, where secrecy was a way of life and where interest in us was confined only to how we could be made into a weapon for world conquest," replied Casimir. "Since the Soviet Union collapsed so much arrant nonsense has been written about so-called secret Soviet experiments that right now if the truth were to be revealed the tabloids might carry the story, right next to the dog-headed boy and the vision of the Virgin Mary on the wall of a chippy in Scunthorpe, but they would not be believed. What I fear is that Radek will get careless and get captured again, and that is a different matter, a live Verdelac being studied and put on display in a far more open time and place, where the world would learn the truth. Not to mention all these dead women with no blood in their bodies and the marks of the Serpent's Kiss on them. Make no mistake, my friends, that Russian incident was a very narrow squeak indeed. What if Radek is captured by the Irish police?"

"My lord Grand Duke, you bring up a very pertinent point," said Radu. "I refer to our immediate survival. The gardai are now turning Dublin upside down looking for a vampire.

Every day, every night there are appeals in the news media for people to come forward with information, any kind of suspicion or denunciation. How long before someone notices something odd about these three houses and the people who live in them?"

"Brother Thomas, have you observed any kind of reaction from our human neighbours?" asked Casimir anxiously.

"As senior Brother to Gorka I have lived in this Nest the longest of any human," replied Thomas. "I know all our neighbours and I make it my business to be on friendly terms with them. They are mostly elderly Anglo-Irish types, and being eccentrically inclined themselves in many cases they are generally tolerant of eccentricity in others. We make an effort, you know. We smile and greet them in the square, we contribute to their charities and give them gifts and cards at Christmas, and we ensure that all our Brothers and Sisters attend either the Catholic church or the C. of I. and cultivate conspicuous piety, wear crucifixes openly, etc. We also periodically invite them into these houses for tea and dinner, carefully planned in advance to ensure that they don't see anything they shouldn't. An air of mystery isn't good for concealment, and the best way to deal with curiosity is to satisfy it before it grows."

"What is the current perception of these three houses and their inhabitants?" asked Casimir.

"They believe they are yuppie condominiums, which explains why there are so many young people coming in and out," said Thomas. "Those who have seen you at all believe that you are a wealthy refugee from Russia who fled the Soviet Union many years ago and that you are now a reclusive philanthropist. How you made your wealth is left to the imagination. There are several stories floating around the square about that, but nothing above the level of the usual Irish interest in the financial status of one's neighbours."

"Nonetheless, in the present atmosphere of fear and paranoia who knows what may happen?" said Casimir. "From this point on all Brothers and Sisters need to start showing themselves in the daytime, circulating in the square and watching for the slightest hint of suspicion. That applies to we Verdelac as well, who will use our short-term telepathy to detect and disarm any undesirable trains of thought among our neighbours. I myself will take walks on the square as soon as the sun has set and speak with any who are about."

"What about dogs?" asked Radu. "Many of the elderly people who live in the square have little Pomeranians and such."

"I can calm a dog, Radu!" said Casimir tiredly. "I'm not senile yet, you know, and my telepathic powers aren't completely attenuated. The main problem still remains, though. Radek is loose in Dublin and he is killing women. We must find him before the gardai do. Radu, how long before Anna and Lugo awaken?"

"Lugo should be up in about two weeks, Anna in three," replied Radu carefully. "They'll be groggy for the first couple of days and not up to full strength."

"Not good enough. I will call the Royal Nest in Queensland tonight and I will ask two things of our monarch. First I shall request that he despatch to Dublin the very best long-range telepath available from among the People, to locate this renegade. Secondly, I shall ask him to give his royal assent to the complete evacuation of Ireland by Clan Gorka and our removal to Australia, should that become necessary."

"Leave Ireland, my lord?" asked one of the women sadly. "Leave one of the few places on earth where we can occasionally go out in the daytime without this alien start burning us to cinders? Every Verdelac youth and maiden prays to the Seven Suns that when mating time comes they shall be espoused to a Gorka, so that they might come here to this wonderful climate and quiet life, where we need not constantly move from Nest to Nest and always keep a gun within reach. Could we not simply change our Nests?"

"Possibly that will serve," Casimir told her. "I love this land as well, my lady, and I will command a migration only if it is necessary to save our lives. Migrations involve their own hazards and are difficult and dangerous even under the best of circumstances. But Lady Marina, in the nursery below you have a child. You will not come into season again for another hundred years or so, and you can give the People but one more birth. Your daughter will give us four. Is a patch of earth worth the risk of all those lost Verdelac lives, as every century we grow fewer?"

"Always we must run," said Marina with a sigh.

"In the old days there were times when we could defend ground that we held dear," Casimir reminded her. "My father, the Grand Duke Vasili Gorka, commanded armies of Cossacks and a thousand square miles of steppe and forest, with towns and castles and trade, village hetmen and rich merchants who owed their loyalty to him. He was a dark and powerful legend who rode by night and ruled with an iron hand. He destroyed the priests and the turbulent nobles alike, he crushed the King of Poland's army and from his castle walls he successfully defied Ivan the Terrible himself. All that is gone now. The world changes and progresses, the Eaters grown in strength and wisdom, and never again will we be able to defy the Tsar. For all his strength and his iron will, my father died at the hands of men, as did my mother, as did the parents of most of us here. Our scholars estimate that there were once almost twenty thousand of our noble People. Now there are barely three thousand remaining. Here in Ireland we have eighteen adults and five Young, supported by sixty-two of our wonderful Brothers and Sisters. We live on this island surrounded by five million humans who would kill us if they knew we were here, and in view of what Radek is doing they would feel themselves justified in exterminating us."

"What should we do in the meantime while we await the telepath from Australia, my lord?" asked Milovan.

"Return to your Nests and prepare to evacuate on a moment's notice. I hope it will not be necessary, but we must plan for the worst. Our People in England have a private jet and I will ask them to hold it in readiness. They also have a good documents section, so any deficiencies in our paperwork can be made good in London before we proceed to Australia."

"At least we will be proceeding with greater comfort and speed that when we came here," commented Milovan with a laugh. "Ninety-four days in the hold of a wooden sailing vessel from Varna to Wexford!"

"I remember, Milovan," said Casimir. "Twenty-one days of which we were holed up in Alexandria and had to remain below decks, then slip out at night to Hunt along the Nile. I've still got that musket ball you dug out of me that night we ran into the Janissaries. Gorka's last violent encounter with men. I would like to keep that record unbroken, even if it means we must flee. Do all of you know your evacuation routes?"

"Galway Nest runs for Rosslare and catches the ferry for Le Havre, then back over to London," said Miroslav.

"Donegal Nest crosses the Border and heads for Larne, catches the night boat over to Stranraer and down to London," said Slobodan. "There might be a problem with patrols in the North, my lord. The so-called peace is still shaky, and there are a lot of uniformed men with guns still roaming about."

"I see your point, but if the gardai are on alert we shouldn't all try to leave from points of departure in the Republic," said Casimir. "The security forces in Northern Ireland will be looking for Provos, not vampires, and if you are stopped then six Verdelacs ought to be able to control the minds of a small military or police unit long enough to escape. It's a risk, I agree, but I think we'd best stick to the original plan unless there is any reason to change it, in which case I will inform you. Radu, is that I.R.A. arms cache still hidden out there in Lucan?"

"Anna checked on that just before she went to sleep. The Provo in charge hadn't moved it as of a month ago, and if there were any plans to do so he wasn't thinking of them when Anna read him."

"Normally I wouldn't touch weapons that have been used in tribal killings, but our arsenal is depleted and we may have to shoot our way out of a desperate situation," said Casimir. "I want you to take a couple of brothers and one of the vans, get up there tonight, while it's still dark, and expropriate those weapons. Just the guns and the ammunition, leave behind those explosives you told me about. These homemade Provo concoctions are dangerous and unstable. The rest of you need to leave now; we will send a courier to your Nests giving each of you your share of these I.R.A. weapons for your defence."

"We don't mind staying the day," said Miroslav.

"Normally I would welcome you all with warmest hospitality, but under the present circumstances I am very nervous about having all of our People under one roof like this. Drive carefully and stay alert. May the Spirit of the Seven Suns guide and keep you all.

On Saturday morning Mick Molloy was up at half six. He put the kettle on and then called Harcourt Square to see what had happened during the night. There had been a number of false alarms and hoaxes and one especially bad related incident in Harold's Cross, but no further confirmed contact with the vampire. Phones had been added to the special number switchboard and now six Ban Ghardai were on duty taking calls. Tape recording capabilities had been added to each phone, but so far the killer had not rung back.

"I want to see Sergeant Scott from the Technical Bureau when I get in first thing," Molloy told the garda on duty in the incident room. "Tell him to bring everything we gathered up from Sarsfield Quay." Molloy hung up and crept quietly back into the bedroom where Maureen lay still asleep. He dressed quietly and quickly, then he tossed down a cup of scalding hot tea and went out to look for newspapers. He took them home and made himself another cup of tea before he opened them. They were as bad as he had feared. That normally staid old Ascendancy organ, the Irish Times, had a banner headline that screamed "NUDE MURDER GIRL VAMPIRE VICTIM NUMBER THREE". The Independent lead off with "VAMPIRE KILLER STALKS DUBLIN!" and the Irish edition of the Sun bellowed in 100-point black, "WHO'S NEXT?"

Mick Og shuffled into the kitchen in garda uniform trousers, slippers, and a vest. "Morning, Da. Papers bad?"

"Jaysus bloody well wept!" replied Molloy in despair. "Look at this lot! Just look at it! And not twenty-four hours after I practically went down on me knees to those reptiles begging them to show a little responsibility!"

"Responsibility doesn't sell newspapers, Da," his son replied, pouring himself out the last of the tea and plopping tea bags into the pot to make more. Then he began rummaging around in the fridge and brought out milk, eggs, tomatoes, rashers, and black pudding for the platoon-sized breakfast customary in the Molloy home when the children were home in any number. "The thing that worries me about all this carry-on in the media is that yer man will decide that things are getting to hot here in the Ould Sod and discretion is the better part of valour. He may pack his grip or his newest coffin or whatever and leave Ireland."

"God, I hope not!" sighed Molloy. "Slagging the gardai is a national pastime as it is in this country. I don't mind the public giving out to us when we genuinely make fools out of ourselves or when we really do fail in our duty, which I admit happens all too often. But there is a hard core of professional garda-bashers in the media and certain trendy-left political circles who encourage them out of the very worst kind of ulterior motives. They will take every opportunity to embarrass us, discredit us, and emasculate the Garda Siochana as a force which might stand between them and their agenda. They are going to be all over us soon if we don't catch this killer."

"We're not magicians, Da," said Mick Og soothingly. "We can't pull a rabbit out of a hat. Isn't that what you always told us?"

"People never understand that, son," said Molloy morosely. "Damn and blast in all, we've got to catch that bastard!" The telephone rang and Molloy ran into the study to answer it. He snatched up the receiver. "Molloy here!" He listened briefly and then slammed the phone down with a violent curse.

Mick Og appeared in the doorway of the study, teacup in hand, face aghast. "Not another one?" he asked in horror.

"No!" snapped Molloy. "A festering, fecking, goat-sodomizing reporter! Some gouger at Telecom Eireann must have given the reptile our unlisted phone number! Probably sold it for a tenner to some enterprising newshound last night in the pub! The worst of it is I can't take it off the hook, because I might miss a real call from Conn or from Harcourt Square! Damn and blast!" The phone rang again and Molloy answered it. He listened for about thirty seconds, and then he spoke in a quiet voice of unmistakable menace. It was a special voice which he had cultivated over the years and which had been known to frighten a suspect into confessing on more than one occasion, more effectively than any threats or actual force might have done. "Right, lad, now I want you to pay very close attention," he said into the receiver. "Under no circumstances whatsoever are you or any others of your kind to call this number again. If you do, within a short time your editor shall be visited by two very unsympathetic gentlemen, one of them a Revenue Commissioner and one of them an Inspector from the Special Branch. They will ask him some very pointed questions about personal expense accounts, prepaid first class air tickets, five star hotel accommodation, pocket money and monumental bar tabs provided to him and his staff several months ago by a certain unfriendly foreign power situated on a large island just east of our present location. He will not thank you for this visit, and of course I will make sure he learns who is responsible for all this unwanted attention. Do I make myself perfectly clear, lad? Before you call again or before you give this number to anyone else, I strongly suggest you check with your editor and ask him if he wants this particular can of worms opened." He hung up the phone and stared at it for several minutes. It did not ring again. Satisfied, he returned to the kitchen where Mick Og was cracking eggs into the frying pan.

"Is that true about Irish media people taking bribes from the British?" he asked his father curiously.

"Jaysus, lads, it's the biggest open secret in the profession, theirs and ours," Molloy told him. "One of our many ongoing national nettles that no one has the courage to grasp. Irish journalists are whores, son, and for that I might forgive them if only they weren't such bloody cheap whores at that. They sell out their country and their people not even for cold cash, but for a mess of pottage. They do it for a slap-up nosh in the latest chic London beanery, for a flutter in the casinos in Soho, for first class air tickets to some hype media event in the Bahamas. Sometimes it's a bird for the men or some dusky strapping Third World love stallion for our liberated lady newshens. But it's mostly for booze, son. The Irish weakness. Plain bottled in bond they get free and the sheer pleasure of cocking a snook at the tax man makes them sing to Whitehall's tune. MI5, the Foreign Office, the Northern Ireland Office, they all keep strings of tame journalists at RTE and every newspaper in the Republic. We always know when the Brits are planning on raping us in the North or the EU when the gift-wrapped bottles and cases of drink start rocking up in the newsrooms."

"You're having me on!" snorted Mick in disgust.

"I'm not, you know. Oh, nothing is actually said, just a friendly bottle of Glen Duich or a case of Harp from good old Nigel or your old mate Bert over at the embassy press office, an invitation to the latest dog and pony show, preferably in some sunny clime, five start accommodation of course. Our reptiles come back well and truly locked, fucked, and buggered according to taste and the next time some U.D.R. patrol goes berserk in the North and guns down some innocent bystander, or the next time we get slipped the shaft in Brussels the outrage is muted and calm reason prevails."

"Why doesn't the Irish government do something?" asked Mick.

"Because they are totally spineless gombeen men of the New World Order who would no more dream of standing up to Great Britain in anything that counts than they would dream of doing an honest day's work."

"Da, face it, you just can't bloody accept the fact that Charlie Haughey is gone!" laughed Mick.

"Eireann GUBU!" shouted Molloy, draining his teacup. "May I live to piss on Conor Cruise O'Brien's grave!" Maureen padded into the kitchen, wrapped in her house coat. "Ah, good morning, love! Mick and I were indulging in that fine old Irish pastime of talking treason."

"Irishmen are only supposed to talk treason in the pub, dear," said his wife. "Or else at midnight in an ancient ruin by the light of a guttering candle. Is there any tea left?"

By the time Molloy arrived at Harcourt Square both stakeouts had reported negative results for the night. No new bodies had been found, nor had there been any sign of the vampire. Paddy Treacy had taken over the incident room and was leafing through the night's accumulation of phone reports. All six of the Ban Ghardai on the phones were dealing with callers. "Morning, Super," said Treacy. "The suspect in the Harold's Cross incident died in the Mater Hospital about an hour ago. No way is he our man, I'm afraid. Description doesnít match at all, at all, and he was in England when McDonagh and Kenny were killed. We were overrun with sillies last night, but it looks like we may have three more harem girls. I have got interview teams at all three addresses now, all on the south side in the bedsitter areas, and they're marked on the map with red pins per your instructions. Do you want the full rundown now?"

"Can you get in all typed up and summarized for me, Paddy? I'll go over it later with all you think-tankers. Is Graham Scott here?"

"In your office," said Treacy. "I think he's got something, seemed very pleased with himself. Can I have some more Ban Ghardai? With more harem girls coming in they're going to need female escorts and we'll be short on the phones."

"Contact Operations. We'll draft them in from Drogheda and Wexford if we have to.

Is that coffee drinkable at all, at all?"

"It's been warming on the hot plate all night, so I'd say it's seasoned and mellowed just right for your honour's discriminating palate."

"Ah, lovely. Just what my fifty year-old stomach requires," said Molloy, pouring the dregs into a large Styrofoam cup and adding milk and sugar. He went upstairs to his office and found Sergeant Scott waiting for him, clutching a beige file folder. Molloy set the wretched coffee down on his desk and collapsed into the chair behind it. "Right, Scotty, illuminate that which is dark."

"We gave the Sarsfield Quay cellar and the whole derelict pub the works," Scott told him. "We sifted the floor of the cellar down three feet until we started coming up with archaeological artifacts, specifically a brass Repeal Association from Daniel O'Connell's time and an eighteenth century rum bottle, which we will donate to the National Museum in due course. First let me tell you what we did not find. We found no fingerprints at all, only whacks of those damned smudges. He must wear those bloody gloves at all times. We found no indications of food consumption or elimination, so he ate and shat elsewhere. We found no human hair samples, although I got eight filaments off the pillow. The lab tells me it's some kind of animal hair. They can't identify it."

"I thought they could put a name to any kind of animal hair or feather?" asked Molloy.

"Not this, they can't. Actually, they're not even sure it's from an animal at all, possibly it may be some kind of synthetic fibre, but they can't identify that either. Now, as to what we did find. We found black wool and cotton fibres that match samples taken from Jacinta Kelly's flat. The soil sample from the Rathgar crime scene definitely came from that cellar as well, so we now have connected the occupant of that den or whatever it was for sure and definite with two of the crimes under investigation."

"Good!" said Molloy with an approving nod.

"The coffin itself is a cheap wooden type of the kind which are used to bury paupers or John Does in. No idea where he got it or how he got it down into the cellar; it took three men to manhandle it out of there. We found several good footprints which were not from gardai in the cellar and some shoes we believe were his, which match some of the prints. Our man wears a size nine and the shoes are of Belgian manufacture. If we find the shoes he is presently wearing we could possibly match them with some of the other prints. There were also a whole stack of newspapers, dating from January the eighth until July the fifth of this year."

"The day Marie McDonagh was killed," pointed out Molloy.

"Yes, sir. My guess is he hasn't been back there since. I think we were right. The McDonagh woman stumbled onto his hideout and he killed her without thinking, then he realized his position was untenable and he abandoned the cellar."

"I think that's it as well. What else have we got?"

"Doodles on the margin of the newspapers," said Scott. "Very weird doodles. Definitely his, the handwriting matches the writing on the wall in the Sheridan flat. Some are in English, some are in a peculiar language the computer can't identify , and one is in Latin." Scott pulled out several plastic document protectors, each containing a fragment of faded newsprint and a clipped-out dateline from each issue. "Scribbled in blue or black biro. Very disjointed. He's crazy as a coot, as if we needed any more confirmation."

Molloy took the proffered plastic sheets and carefully examined their contents. On page three of the Irish Times for January 31st the vampire had written "Red, red, red. I shall have it lovely and red. They are mine, all mine." On page six of the Evening Herald for February 19th was scrawled "The green shall immolate the red. So mote it be." A month later the creature had scribbled something in another language across the masthead of a Guardian, which Molloy slowly pronounced. "Stasemnye kolpre yog morny ni-hyma. Podgorny yi hyma Plerny." What the devil language could it be? Sounds Russianómaybe that Russian cop we've got on the way here can enlighten us." The Times masthead for April 6th read simply "Hyma! Hyma! Hyma!" On page four of the Independent for June 1st Molloy was sickened to read a paragraph of nearly Biblical lyricism: "Yea, I shall lay the daughters of men beneath my lips and beneath my lash. They shall know the kiss of the Serpent and the kiss of the whip. There shall be the caress of leather upon backs of alabaster and thighs of cream. Fire shall lave their shapely loins and they shall sing unto the Seven Suns amid my raptures."

"Jaysus, quite the S & M aficionado, is he not?" muttered Molloy. "What's this last for July the second? Ego in nocturnam perambuli?"

"I called Monsignor Hogan at the Pro Cathedral on that one," said Scott. "He couldn't talk too long because he's got some big knob from Rome to pick up from the airport, and his Latin was a bit rusty, but he says it means 'I walk by night', only the grammar is incorrect. It should be ego perambulans or something."

"So he's as mad in Latin as he is in English. This other is probably more of the same drivel, but I'd be willing to bet it's in his native tongue, so we need to put a priority on identifying it. You say the computer couldn't tell you what it was?"

"No sir, but then there are a number of obscure Eastern European dialects that wouldn't be programmed, as we've never had need to deal with any of them. That Dutch fella that runs the computer pointed out that one significant point was that our man uses normal Roman lettering for his doodles in that language and not the Cyrillic alphabet, which probably indicates that he is not from Russia or Bulgaria or Greece."

"We know he was mucking about in Russia at one point, though," said Molloy, deep in thought. "Call up Trinity and UCD and see if you can't get some of their eggheads to tell us what it is. If we can identify where our fella hails from, we'll be a few points forrader. He seems to like the word 'hyma'; he repeats it a number of times. That should tag the language fairly quickly, so see if you can find out what that particular word means. This is almost as good as a crossword puzzle, begob! But I detect a certain restlessness, Graham. Is there something else?"

"My piece de résistance, Superintendent," said Scott, and with a flourish he produced another plastic document protector containing a small piece of paper, about three inches by four.

"What's this?" asked Molloy, examining it.

"That, mon capitan, is the torn off right-hand corner of an airline ticket, the flimsy copy that stays with the passenger. Our computer has identified it as a Sabena airlines flimsy. Sabena uses a seven-digit serial number identification on their tickets, and you will note that we have the first six digits. I've got a man on the phone right now tracking down the numbers with their head office in Brussels, and when he gets back to me we can possibly work this back to a name and a date he entered the country."

"Bloody, bloody good!" cried Molloy in ecstasy. "A lead! For the first time in this god-awful case, a real A-1 police-type lead!" The phone rang and Molloy answered it. "Yes, he's here." He handed the phone to Scott. "Detective Kiley. Our man in Brussels?" Scott nodded, and took the phone. He spoke and listened for several minutes, making notes on a scratch pad he picked up from Molloy's desk. Then he hung up and grinned at the Supertintendent. "Well?" demanded Molloy. "Jaysus, man, don't keep me in suspense!"

"I think we've got a name," said Scott. Molloy gave a wordless shout and threw a fistful of papers into the air in pure joy. "Of the ten tickets numbered 734623-blank, Sabena head office tells us that all ten were sold over the counter at Brussels International airport between September 30th and October 5th of last year. Six of the passengers in question were women, which is a real break in itself. Four were men. Of those four men, ticket number 7346231 was sold to Mr. Lee Sun on September 30th, a one-way ticket to Singapore."

"I don't think our man is a Chinaman," said Molloy. "Go on."

"Ticket number 7346233 went to a Dutch national, Mijnheer Jan Van Leemen, on

October the first. A return fare, Brussels to Stockholm and back."

"I think we can also eliminate Mijnheer, unless we can explain how his ticket flimsy from last October ended up in a disused cellar on Sarsfield Quay. Sorry to keep interrupting, Graham. We've got two left."

"Two tickets went to men on October the fifth, both for Sabena flight 602 to Dublin,"

continued Scott. "That flight is a night coach, significantly enough. 7346238 went to Dr. Brendan O'Flaherty, who as you know is Ireland's Finance Commissioner to the European Union and is widely tipped as next head of the Central Bank."

"He's a vampire, all right, but its' our purses he's got his fangs into and not young girls' throats," chortled Molloy. "And the winning ticket is?"

"Ticket number 7346239. A Mr. Stephen Raymond, traveling on a Belgian passport, here's the number."

"Belgian airlines, a Belgian shoe, and now a Belgian passport!" crowded Molloy. "I'll lay you any odds you care to name that Raymond is our man!"

Molloy immediately put in a call to the Belgian embassy. It took about fifteen minutes for the embassy staff to confirm that they had no address for any Stephen Raymond registered there, but Molloy had expected that. Later in the day he was jubilant when he received a report from Interpol in Brussels that the Belgian passport Raymond has used to enter Ireland was false. The legitimate holder of that particular passport lived in Antwerp and had reported it stolen fourteen months previously. This confirmed that vampire or not, Stephen Raymond was some kind of criminal and the gardai now had a legal reason to arrest him and hold him in custody when they found him.

"I've got a good feeling about this one, kiddies," Molloy told the afternoon meeting of his think tank. "The cops in Brussels are working on the passport angle and leaning on known forgers and traffickers in black market ID. Maybe they can get us a line of exactly who this bloke is. I very much doubt his real name is Stephen Raymond, but we'll call him that for the time being. It's so much better than 'yer man'. Even better, he may have used that alias in Dublin or still be using it. Conn, any success in tracking him from Dublin airport?"

"None, I'm afraid," replied Conn regretfully. "Dr. O'Flaherty doesn't remember him, which isn't surprising as he commutes every week to Brussels. He breezed through customs and disappeared into the night, donning his cloak of invisibility as he left the tarmac. We'll start checking hotels and guest houses as soon as we can free up some manpower."

"But at least it's a break!"' exulted Molloy. "Now we can start acting like police officers again instead of extras on the set at Hammer studios, waiting for Peter Cushing to rock up in the role of Dr. Van Helsing. Speaking of vampire expertise from the academic world, any joy from the foreign-language boffins at the university, Scotty?"

"Talked to some professorial type at Trinity College, a German Herr Doktor type who is supposed to be in the Guinness Book of World Records as speaking thirty-seven languages. I read out the fragments and spelled them, and he said as nearly as he could tell it was some time of bastard Russian or Serbian, but he couldn't understand why they weren't written in Cyrillic lettering. He gave me an educated guess on that bit on the paper, the long one. It means something like 'the eaters drink from the fleshpots of the dead, but the people drink from the fountain of life'. He was able to ID our man's favourite word, 'hyma'. He says it is a very old Magyar word which has two meanings, both 'blood' and 'life'."

"Hmmm...any idea when our Russian colleague is supposed to arrive?" asked Molloy. "Maybe he can shed some light on it."

"His plane gets in tomorrow evening, and when I spoke with him on the phone in Moscow I made a tentative appointment for him at eleven o'clock Monday morning," said Conn.

"Right, I'll make a note of that," said Molloy, scribbling on his calendar. "Right now we need to consider what is going to happen tonight, what our Mr. Raymond might do, and above all what Dublin might do. I've been looking over your summary of last night's festivities, Paddy, and I don't like what I see there. The one thing I have feared more than anything else is panic, and it looks to be starting. First of all, tell me about this incident in Harold's Cross. That look's double-plus ungood."

"It was very bad, yes sir," said Treacy. "A copycat vampire attack. At around midnight a man broke into a flat in Harold's Cross Road occupied by two young women, Miss Helen O'Meara and Miss Marie Trainor. The man was wearing a cape, a tuxedo, a top hat, and white pancake makeup with red lipstick, actually more your Phantom of the Opera getup than a Dracula ensemble. The girls were asleep and were terrified when they woke up and

found this apparition standing by their beds. He tied them up with masking tape and then took Miss O'Mahony into the bedroom where he bit her on the throat, lacerating and partially crushing her larynx. Not our man's two-hole trademark at all, at all, messy and crude. He drew a lot of blood which he then lapped up like a dog for a time, after which he beat the girl, tore her nightdress off, and raped her. The other girl, Marie Trainor, heard what was going on and figured she was next, and she was able to work loose from the tape. She ran into the kitchen where she seized a large butcher knife, then she entered the bedroom and stabbed the attacker repeatedly in the back, the neck, and the chest. He fled out the front door wearing only the top hat and the cape, and collapsed from loss of blood himself two block, but not before causing utter panic among the few passersby who were still out that late at night and saw this naked bloke with a flapping cape and white face staggering down the street bleeding like a fountain. He died in the Mater Hospital at eight o'clock this morning. His mother has identified him as Kevin McNally, aged 42, and he lived with her in Churchtown. He was a known sex offender with two convictions in this country and two in England for rape and indecent assault, done about fourteen years in chokey all told since he was fifteen."

"Any remote possibility McNally might be our man?" asked Walsh.

"None at all, at all. The newspapers will go to town over this, of course, but he was still in the nick in England back in July and August, just got out two weeks ago. Besides, the M. O. is completely different. McNally was just your common or garden variety rapist who

decided to take advantage, kind of like a jackal who feeds off a lion's kill. Let's hope more of his kind will be deterred by his example."

"How are the two women?" asked Molloy with concern.

"Miss O'Mahony is in the Mater, and she may have a permanent speech impairment due to her damaged larynx, plus the beating and the rape, and you can imagine the psychological damage. The other girl, Marie Trainor, is with her parents now in Kildare Town; I'm told she's almost catatonic with terror and remorse that she killed a man, even a rotten piece of work like McNally. Both are going to require therapy, no doubt."

"Christ!" muttered Molloy. "Tom, what about that incident in Ballyfermot?"

"Another bloody kid in a Dracula cape and novelty-shop fangs, Superintendent," said Flanagan. "That lark seems to have caught on as the big giggle among our yobbo element. Only this time the vigilantes got to him before the gardai did and beat him within an inch of his life with hurley sticks and iron bars. The kid's in the Mater and we've arrested two men for GBH. There were vigilante patrols walking the housing estates in Ballyfermot, Tallaght, Neilstown, Bawnogue, Ballymun, Clonislla, Monastery Road in Clondalkin, Finglas, and Inchicore. They were mostly all carrying weapons of some kind as well as crucifixes, rosaries, holy water, and sharpened wooden stakes. We made a total of twelve arrests for carrying offensive weapons, disorderly conduct, and threats to lone male pedestrians. Most of these vigilantes were out there because they were scared out of their wits for their womenfolk, for which you can hardly blame them, but in at least two cases the gangs were organized by known Sinn Fein members and they went around to houses demanding protection money. Sinn Fein headquarters has already issues a leaflet which we've found popping up in the housing estates, stating that the vampire is an undercover SAS soldier sent here by the British government to spread fear and panic among the Irish working class. Here it is, the usual Provo drivel."

Molloy waved the leaflet away. "People will swallow anything when they're afraid," he said grimly. "Always we've got these vultures circling overhead, waiting to dive down and feed off Ireland's misery and suffering. Our own native breed of vampire."

"We received a total of 407 calls at the task force incident room from eight o'clock last night until about dawn," Flanagan went on, referring to his notes. "Of those, there were serious assaults in Harold's Cross and Ballyfermot, which we've gone over. Three were confirmed harem girls coming to us for protection, fourteen were vigilante-related, twenty were possible transit sightings of the suspect everywhere from Rathgar to Howth, which I have marked on the map in blue pins. All the rest were false alarms, prowler calls, hoaxes, drunks, cranks telling us about dreams they had, lunatics calling about bats, calls from psychics telling us about their visions, and a lot from women who were simply terrified out of their wits and wanted to see a blue garda uniform. We were stepping last night and no mistake, Superintendent. Tonight being Saturday it will probably be worse."

"Plus weíve got all the regular crime of a major city to deal with. Lovely. Just fecking lovely. Where are the main problem areas, Tom?" asked Molloy. "What do we need to concentrate on?"

"It's very bad after dark for the girls in the bedsitters, Super. They're jumping at every noise, they're afraid to go to bed or turn out the lights, they're afraid to answer the door or the telephone if they have one that works. They brood, they start to imagine things, and their nerves get worn to fiddle strings even when there's two or three of them together, and they end up calling us and taking up our time. I'm not trying to belittle or minimize their genuine fear, sir, but do you see the problem? If we did get a genuine call I'm not sure we could get to it in time."

"And yet some of them may be real victims, tonight or later," said Molloy in an agony of anger and frustration, pounding his fist on the desk. "More manpower is all I can suggest. Conn, get onto Operations and let's start importing gardai from Louth, Meath, and Wicklow. Now to the meat of the matter. We have three new stakeouts, harem girls who have come clean. They don't seem to be able to add anything new to what we already know about Monsieur Raymond. All three addresses are located in the south side bedsitter territory. Our computer tells us those are the areas most at risk. We're talking about Rathmines, Ranelagh, South Circular Road, Portobello, Harold's Cross, they've got the highest concentrations of single women living either alone or together. After that comes the north side, North Circular Road, Phibsborough, and Drumcondra. Plus we've our odd lady out in Dun Laoghaire. It's ironic that most of these bloody vigilante activities are taking place in the housing estates where there is actually the least chance that the killer will strike.

"The first stakeout is at the bedsitter of Miss Fidelma O'Connor, aged 26, a hairdresser living in Leinster Road, Rathmines. She has been servicing our Mr. Raymond about once a month for the past six months or so. Miss Mary Duffy lives in a one-bedroomed flat in Harrington Street near Kelly's Corners. She's 32 and she works for Ulster Bank. She's been getting visitations from Monsieur for about four months, again about once a month. Miss Susan Madigan lives just around the corner in a bedsit on Synge Street. She's 23 and a secretary with an estate agency."

"Is it confirmed that these are genuine contacts?" asked Dr. Manion.

"Yes. They have the marks. Same M. O., vampirism followed by one hundred and one Levantine deviations. Miss O'Connor and Miss Madigan have volunteered to act as decoys and stay on the premises waiting for Raymond to show. I'm sorry to report that Miss Duffy was so badly upset by the experience of recounting her story to the gardai that two hours ago she attempted to commit suicide by cutting her wrists in her bathroom. A Ban Gharda stopped her and administered first aid, and she is now in the Nervous Disorders Unit in Clonskeagh. Them and the Mater are getting a lot of business out of this case and will probably get more, I'm sorry to say." Molloy put down the file he was consulting. "People, let's have a thought for what will happen to these girls if the media get hold of their names. Given the Irish obsession with even the normal act of coitus, I think we can imagine how these women would be treated by their family, their friends, and their communities in that event. Especially since most of them come from small towns up the country. I don't want any suicides, all right?"

"All stakeout teams will consist of six men and a Ban Gharda. They will be armed. Mags, I want you to start being very careful and make sure you have your weapon within reach at all times, and that your team stays alert. I'm not just saying this because you're my daughter. Mary Halloran has been specifically threatened by this triple killer, and if he sticks to his schedule I think he's coming due for a stop at North Circular Road. The problem is that all our other stakeouts are on the south side of the river and we have to weight our patrols in that direction."

After the meeting had broken up and Margaret had left to go on duty at Mary Halloran's house, Molloy approached Conn Walsh in the incident room. "Conn, my gut's bothering me. I've got this overwhelming premonition he's going to hit tonight and I think it may be North Circular Road. I'll be out with Tom Flanagan and we'll be sticking close to that area. I'd like to take Mick Og in your car and do the same, and let the rest of the mobile patrols stay on the south side. Paddy's going home to get some sleep, and he'll be back in at midnight. Margaret's not due off until tomorrow morning out there, and I don't like that. I'm staying up the night and I'll catch some kip tomorrow. Can you handle that?"

"I can indeed," replied Conn seriously.

"For heaven's sake, don't let Margaret know. She'd resent the hell out of me trying to over-protect her, and she'd be right to do so. Normally I wouldn't give her any special treatment. My father never gave his sons any, and I knew when my own children joined the force that it wouldn't do, theyíd have to pull their own weight or get out. So they have done, both of them. Tim will do as well when he hits the beat. Margaretís a tough mot, she can handle herself, and if it was ordinary gougers or even the Provos I wouldnít be worried. But the thought of my little girl going up against thisóthis whatever it is, that makes me sick with fear, Conn."

"Yes," agreed Walsh. "Oh, yes."

In Moscow the sun had long set. Wan light from a weak bulb illuminated the bedroom of an apartment in a dingy government flat block. Rozanov had a worn suitcase of heavy cardboard open on a table and was carefully inserting the last item for his trip, a wide leather belt containing a dozen long, slender, wicked knives like oversized letter openers, carefully balanced for throwing. On his person he carried two more, one in a spring-loaded sheath strapped to his right forearm and another carefully concealed in a special pocket in his trousers. His wife wordlessly handed him a glass of Russian tea cradled in a wooden holder, strong, with lemon, and a plate of containing a hunk of black bread and a length of greasy sausage. "Thank you," he said. "The General is sending me via KLM, so I'll get breakfast, but I will save anything that is sealed and bring it back with me. I will also obtain for you an Aran sweater from Cleryís department store. I promise." He stopped and looked at his wife, a tall and graceful woman of middle age, her dark hair beginning to show strands of white. "Alexandra Feodorvna, I must speak with you. You know I have never before discussed with you any of my overseas missions."

"Nor have I ever asked, Nikolai Yefremevich," she replied calmly. "That was always understood from the time we first met."

"Yet I want you to know about this one," he said. "You have a right, I think, for it concerns a matter of the heart. My heart. This is not an official government assignment. It is a personal affair I am undertaking for Comrade General Pavel Ivanovitch Semyonovsky. And for myself." She waited. "It concerns Zinaida Semyonovskaya."

"Zinaida Pavelovna Rozanova," she corrected gently.

"Yes. There is evidence that the man responsible for her death has reappeared in Ireland, where he has killed several more women. I am going to assist the Irish militia in any way I can, and if possible involve myself in the murdererís apprehension. This is something I have to do. I hope you will understand and you will not regard it as in any way disloyal or disrespectful to you. You have been a wonderful wife and companion to me, Sandy, far better than anyone in my profession has any right to expect, and the thought of you and our three children has often kept me going in times when I was close to despair and surrender. For that I thank you. The past is the past, but sometimes there are things left over from other times and places that must be concluded. My heart is yours now without reservation. You have nothing to fear from her ghost, Sandy. I would not have asked you to marry me if that were the case."

The woman looked at him. "When you find the murderer, you are going to kill him." It was a statement rather than a question.

"Yes. Does that shock you? You have always known what I do for the Motherland, Alexandra Feodorovna."

"Yes, Kolya, I have always known. You need not worry. I also have always known and accepted that you were married briefly before you met me, and that you will always love Zina, but I have never been jealous. I heard her play once at the Moscow Conservatory, and of course many times with the State Symphony. She was very beautiful. She did not deserve to die such a horrible death." She leaned over and kissed him. "Go and avenge her, Kolya. I agree, it must be done, for you and Pavel Ivanovitch and everyone who lost through her death. But if you will, can you tell me something? There were strange rumours that Zina was murdered byówell, by a supernatural creature. A vampire, of all things. Yet now you say that her killer is in Ireland?"

Rozanov sighed. "That is something I am still coming to grips with, Sandy. I have been made privy to certain confidential information that I did not know before. It is veryódisturbing. I told you something of what happened when I went to the province North Carolina in America that time several years ago, and I became involved in the situation regarding Vladimir Nakritin. That shook my perception of many things in life, I can tell you, and now this has done so yet further." He closed the suitcase and began strapping it shut; the lock did not work and he had long since lost the key.

VIII. Sunday, September 21st

RTE Television signed off at midnight, and Mary Halloran went to bed. "I feel a bit like a little girl whose Mammy tucks her in every night," she told Margaret with a wry smile as she lay down. "There's milk and lemonade and some sandwich material in the fridge. You and the lads can help yourself if you get hungry."

"We might do later on," replied Margaret. She was wearing a long serge skirt with brown boots and an embroidered peasant blouse tonight. In her purse she carried her garda ID and a Smith and Wesson .38-calibre hammerless revolver. When Mary turned out the light Margaret went over to the bay window of the bedroom and looked down into North Circular Road. Across the damp, lamplit street she saw two long flashes on an electric torch in a black ground floor window. The two gardai across the road were on the alert, and they had seen the lights go out. Margaret returned the signal with a penlight and then checked to make sure the window was locked. "I'll be back in a minute," she told Mary, and she slipped out of the room and down the stairs. Two burly gardai were sitting at the kitchen table playing cards. "She's gone to bed," Margaret told them. "The lads across the street signaled all clear."

"Let me give them a shout next door," said Garda Phelim Casey, picking up a radio handset. "Alpha Three, this is Alpha One. Come in, please."

"Alpha Three, over," came a voice from the radio.

"Alpha Three, itís the witching hour, so go to our next channel." There was a short silence as the stakeout team in all three buildings changed their frequencies to avoid possible interception. "Alpha Three, our girl just went to bed. Lights out. Stay awake and stay out of Inspector Hennessey's whiskey over there. Over."

"Roger, Alpha One. The oul' fella has gotten real cute, he locked all of the cratur up in a press. Alpha Three out."

"Alpha One, this is Wolfhound Two," came the voice of Garda Mick Molloy Junior. "We're passing by, all clear. Nothing going on around the town other than the usual Saturday night carry-on, couple of robberies and pub fights. The vigilantes have settled down a bit, no bad incidents yet. Tell Ban Gharda what's-her-name to stay on her toes."

"Roger, Wolfhound Two. Alpha One out," replied Casey.

"That's the third time tonight Wolfound Two just happened to be passing by!" said Margaret in exasperation.

"He's concerned about you, Mags," replied Casey. All three of them knew he wasn't referring to Margaret's brother alone. "Jayz, who wouldn't be? I was at Garville Place and I saw what that animal did to Phyllis Sheridan. You see or hear anything at all up there you don't like, you shoot first and scream the bloody house down while you're doing it. Paddy and me will be up those stairs in a flash."

"I'm going to do a round of the house and make sure all the windows are locked," said Margaret. "You lads do a commo check and a check around the premises every half hour. Better hit the lights." Casey placed a second Smith and Wesson on the table next to Morrisey's weighted riot baton, and then got up and switched off the lights. He flashed his torch experimentally to make sure it was working. Margaret went from room to room, turning out lights and checking windows. Then she went upstairs and did the same thing before returning to Mary's bedroom. There she sat down in a corner beside the dressing table, upon which she placed her gun and whistle. She reached over to Mary's nightstand and adjusted the goose-necked lamp so that when she turned it on it would illuminate the whole room, but leave her cloaked in darkness behind the bulb, hopefully blinding any possible intruder. "Still awake, Mary?" she asked.

"Yes. Sure you don't want to read a book or something, Maggie? I'm not sleepy, and I don't mind the light."

"He might not approach the house if he saw any lights or if he expected that anyone else was here," Margaret told her. "I know it's nerve-wracking waiting for him in the dark like this, but it's necessary."

"Do you think he'll come tonight, Maggie?" asked Mary from the bed, her voice nervous. "Will I have to face him with my betrayal tonight? I'm so scared..."

"So am I, Mary, and I'm not going to deny it. I'm half afraid that he will come and that he will hurt you or me. But he's got to be stopped. We're not alone, remember that. Casey and Morrissey are downstairs in the kitchen. Garda Morrissey was an All-Ireland hurler and Casey is a weight lifter with a black belt in karate. When they get hold of Stephen Raymond, I promise you he won't ever hurt any more women."

"It's so odd to have a name for him at last," whispered Mary. "After all the things he has done to me, all the things we have done together, and I never even knew his name. I know how terrible this sounds, Maggie, but do you know he was the only real man I ever had who could be called a lover? I lost my virginity when I was sixteen, under a bush in Phoenix Park, and my relationships all went downhill from there. About once a year or so some bloke shows a passing interest, we go to a few films and discos and a few nights out at the pub, finally there's a one-night stand at his place or maybe a quick screw in his car while we're both pissed, then maybe a couple of more encounters, then he stops calling."

"And the rape and torture Stephen Raymond inflicted on you made him a lover?" asked Margaret gently, puzzled.

"I know I'm mad to have any doubts or hesitations at all, Mags, but as utterly silly as this sounds, he was the only one who's had me whom I ever thought was really paying attention to what he was doing, the only one who wanted me. Even the violence and degradation had a purpose. During those sessions we had in this very room, he took me, every last bit of me. He took my body, my blood, he took my mind and my soul and he used them all for his pleasure. He allowed me to hold back nothing, he would accept nothing less than every last bit of me, and I find that fascinating and irresistable. For a while I couldn't understand why that was, and then I finally realized and accepted the truth about myself. I'm bad, Maggie, I am rotten to the core. He knew it and that is why he came to me. I betrayed everything for him, my Church, my faith, my self-esteem, my dignity, every last vestige of common decency. Now I have proven my irredeemable rottenness by betraying him as well."

"Stop that!" hissed Margaret quietly. "That's the worst thing of all he's done to you, Mary, worse even than the mutilation and the rape. He's made you despise yourself. Look, I'm no psychologist or scientist, but I'll try to explain what's happened to you as best I understand it. Now the Church says we're not to believe in evolution, but I'm sorry, I have a brain of me own and I intend to use it. It seems obvious to me that mankind evolved from some lower form of life. That means that for millions of years before we decided to get civilized and start cultivating crops and building pyramids and all that carry-on, for all practical purposes we were animals. Men and women lived in caves and hunted with stone clubs and ate raw meat, or later on half-cooked meat stuck over a fire on a stick, and maybe the odd berry or two. They were surrounded by danger from cave bears and mammoths and sabre-toothed tigers, not to mention the roughneck Neanderthal neighbors in the cave down the way. Under conditions like that the only way for the smaller and weaker females to survive was to seek out the biggest, strongest and toughest male they could find. In exchange for their bodies the male would provide food and shelter and protection so the sabre-toothed tigers wouldn't come along and eat the women and their babbies."

"Nell McCafferty would have fits over that idea," giggled Mary.

"If the cave women had faces like Nell's the sabre-tooths would have turned and fled at first sight. Actually, though, most feminists would agree with my analysis up to that point."

"Are you for women's liberation, then, Maggie?" asked Mary.

"No, dear, I'm for my liberation. I like being a cop and I think I ought to have that right, but I'm not a feminist who presumes to go shouting the odds to other women as to what they can and can't do with their lives, what they should think and feel and how they should act, and how they've got to liberate themselves from men by turning into lesbians and making themselves ugly and doing bloody silly things. I think women today are about as liberated as weíre going to get. We deserve a chance to control our lives insofar as anybody nowadays has any control over their lives, we've more or less got that in the west and we're never going to have it in the Third World, so let's get on with it. We shouldn't be pressurized back into the kitchen and the nursery, but neither should we be pressurized by left-wing propaganda and hysterical feminists who demand that we all march in lockstep and treat every single man in the world as an enemy, that we constantly abuse and hurt the men in our lives to prove some weird point or other. Trying to dominate men isn't liberation, because no man with an ounce of self respect is going to put up with it. We lived in those caves for a long time, Mary, and in the sense of history we've only been out of them for a very short while indeed. You can't reprogram millions of years of genetically imprinted survival instinct by raising your consciousness or burning your bra or baking veggie casseroles for the commune."

"What about the sabre-toothed tigers?" asked Mary.

"What I was getting at before I got up on me soap box was that certain men have the power to poke up the embers of the cave fire, so to speak. Those instincts are there in all of us, no matter how hard we try to deny them or suppress them, because for untold generations our ancestors survived on them. In the cops we see a lot of men who have this ability I'm speaking of, this little trick of subconsciously identifying themselves in the mind of a lonely or depressed woman as a dominant male who can provide security and warmth. Then these men abuse that trust by shamelessly abusing their women, putting them on the game or forcing them into drug pushing or theft. Some of the worst examples humiliate and degrade their victims until the women are driven to suicide. The vast majority of the women who are now serving sentences in prison are there because of a man. They made the ancient bargain of the caves, but they made it with the wrong bloke."

"I appreciate your trying to make me feel better, Maggie, Mary told her, "But I'm afraid you're mistaking the situation. My Master is not some big hairy Neanderthal who will drag me away to his cave by the hair and then keep the fridge full of mammoth cutlets in exchange for doggie-style quickies on the furs by the bonfire. Jaysus, I almost married one like that once, a plumber from Kimmage he was. No, this one we're waiting for is not a cave man. He's one of the monsters from beyond the firelight, waiting in the darkness to strike. You'd better be quick with that shooter when he comes, Maggie, because the tiger won't give you a second chance."

Time rolled by slowly in the darkened bedroom after Mary had drifted off to sleep. Margaret sat in her chair, trying to stay relaxed and yet alert, periodically reaching out to feel the reassuring hardness of the pistol butt. Several times she got up, went down the hall, and checked all the upstairs windows yet again. Casey or Morrissey periodically came up and knocked quietly on the door and she spoke with them briefly in whispers so as not to wake Mary, letting her teammates know that everything was all right.

And yet despite her best intentions, Margaret must have dozed off briefly, because all of a sudden she snapped awake. There was a clock on the nightstand with luminous digits, and she saw that it was two thirty in the morning. There was a man in the room, standing at the foot of Mary Halloran's bed and whispering to her. In the misty light that filtered through the lightly curtained window from the street lamps outside, Margaret recognized from the artist's sketch the bearded visage of the Dublin vampire killer. His eyes were glowing deep, lambent, unearthly blue like nothing she had ever seen before. Margaret claws convulsively at the light switch and snapped the goose-necked table lamp on. There he stood, dressed in black from head to toe, motionless, starting at Mary Halloran who lay in her bed wide awake, her eyes fixed on him in utter horror. "Oh, Mary," came the soft, sad whisper, infinitely grieved. "Mary, sweetest of all my Sisters, it is you who have betrayed your Lord to the Eaters."

"I'm sorry, Master," choked out Mary, weeping and half mad with terror. "I'm so sorry, please don't punish me, please don't..." Margaret lurched to her feet and snatched up the pistol, leveling it with both hands at the vampire's chest. She tried to order him to put up his hands and move away from the bed, but no sound came from her throat, dry as dust and aching with fear. Then the blue orbs turned on her.

Across the street a young garda picked up his walkie-talkie and spoke. "Alpha One, this is Alpha Two. A light just came on in the subject's bedroom. I took a peep with the binoculars and there's three people in the room. Did one of you lads go in?"

"Eh?" came Phelim Casey's incredulous response. "Negative, negative, no way should there be three people in that room! Bloody hell, that bastard has gotten inside! We're going in! All you lads get over here now! Alpha Two, call mobile back-up and get them here!"

"Wolfhound Two on the way," came Conn Walsh's brittle voice on the radio.

"Wolfhound One, did you copy all that?" asked Casey.

Superintendent Mick Molloy's bellow nearly shattered the handset's diodes. "Get off the horn and get the fuck into that room with Maggie!" roared Molloy into the radio mike of his patrol car. Tom Flanagan was driving. He floored the accelerator, and the squad car thundered up Prussia Street, siren wailing. Flanagan took the right turn into North Circular Road on two wheels, the intersection being clear by the grace of God, since he didn't bother to slow down. Molloy broke out his own revolver, checked the ammo, and snapped the cylinder shut.

Margaret Molloy was shaking with a sheer terror that coursed through her veins like ice water, and her hands shook as she tried to keep the pistol leveled at the man. The thought that he was now looking at her, aware of her presence, was intolerable. He smiled and moved toward her. "Aaaah," came his soft voice, and yet his lips did not move. It was as if she were hearing the words with her mind, not her ears. "Such a fine girl, such a lovely girl. Come to me, beautiful one, come to me!"

And Margaret went to him. To save her very soul she could not have disobeyed him. His cool tapering fingers closed over hers that held the gun, and he leaned over and gave her a long, languorous kiss full on the mouth. Her knees went weak and suddenly she was not afraid any more. Unbidden and unexpected, her loins were wracked with explosive orgasms, time and again, leaving her faint and weakened with ecstasy. His hot breath and scalding lips slid down over her chin towards her throat. Margaret threw back her head, knowing full well what was coming and wanting it urgently, mindlessly.

Several things happened at once. There was a thunder of boots on the stair as Casey and Morrissey charged up to the bedroom. Mary Halloran hurled herself shrieking and clawing onto the back of the vampire, her pink nightdress billowing, trying to pull him away from Margaret. "No!" Mary screamed in a frenzy of jealous rage. "Not her! Don't you touch her! She hates you, Master! Me, me, you want only me!" The vampire contemptuously swatted her back onto the bed, but he was distracted and his mind-spell was broken, and Margaret suddenly realized with a sickening rush what she was doing and what was happening to her. In one terrified surge of willpower she pulled the trigger of the revolver, and blew his hand away from hers, sending one of his fingers spinning into the air in a fine spray of green liquid. The monster screamed in a deafening voice like some wounded jungle beast, his lips writhed and a long, flat, bifurcated tongue-like appendage rolled out of his mouth and over his chin, writhing and squirming. Margaret shrieked in horror at the sight. Then the bedroom door crashed open, and the two gardai came hurtling into the room.

Morrissey came in first with the baton, swinging it in a crushing arc. The vampire caught it with his good hand, ripped it out of Morrissey's grasp and with a single backhanded blow smashed Morrissey's face in and knocked him flying back against the wall, where he slid to the floor with his head lolling at an impossible angle. The intruder threw the baton aside and picked up Margaret Molloy with both hands, smearing her peasant blouse with green ichor, lifting her into the air and shaking her like a terrier shakes a rat. She lost her grip on the gun and it hit the floor. Garda Casey had his pistol leveled, and he danced around trying to get a clear shot at Margaret's attacker without hitting her. "Bastard!" he shouted furiously. "Put her down, damn you!" The vampire obliged, hurling Margaret against Garda Casey with such force that the two of them rolled head over heels out the bedroom door and into the hall. Casey staggered to his feet just as the vampire slammed the door in his face.

Ordinarily a calm and seasoned officer, Garda Casey would never have fired blindly into the room for fear of hitting Mary Halloran. But his blood was up and something told him that a bullet was less risky than leaving her alone to face the wounded monster. He fired twice through the bedroom door, the bullets splintering the wood, and he was rewarded with a second scream of rage and pain from that within. The bedroom door flew off its hinges as the vampire kicked it away, and the flying door knocked Casey down again, tripping over the prone Margaret Molloy. Then the vampire was on him. The creature hoisted up the fifteen stone garda like he was a sack of potatoes and hurled him down the stairs headlong, knocking over gardai Sean Keenan and Henry Folan of team Alpha Three as they charged up from below. They all rolled down the stairs and in a domino effect they upset the officers of team Alpha Two at the bottom of the stairs, piling up five policemen in a heap.

Upstairs Margaret climbed groggily to her feet, aching all over. She saw Casey's gun on the floor and snatched it up. From within the bedroom she heard Mary Halloran scream in mortal agony, then a loud snap like a hickory stick breaking as she died. Margaret lurched into the bedroom and saw what the vampire had done to Mary, and in a panic she took a wild shot at him that buried itself in the wall. The figure in black leaped over the bed and snatched the pistol from her hand, and again he picked her up bodily, letting her toes kick about eighteen inches from the floor. His eyes glowed and twinkled an incandescent blue. He whispered again, this time with his physical voice.

"My dear, my dear," he crooned. "If only I had the time to deal with you as you deserve. I would peel your skin from your body and drain you slowly, sip by sip, that you might feel the life oozing out of you. You must die for your presumption, of course, but your friends are coming and I must perforce resort to crudities like this!" He hurled Margaret through the closed window and into the street below.

Flanagan and Mick Molloy had just pulled up in front of Mary Halloran's house, and they heard the crash from above. Looking up they saw Margaret's body burst through the window panes and frame in a shower of wood and shattered glass, twirl through the air like a broken doll, and come plummeting to earth. Ironically, she was fortunate that the killer hurled her so forcefully, because if she had come down on the iron rail fence she would have impaled herself and died instantly. Instead she overshot the fence and came crashing down on the bonnet of her father's squad car. "Maggie!" screamed Molloy in shock and horror, running to her. He cradled her bleeding head in his arms.

Tom Flanagan shouted "Mick! Look! Up there! It's him! There he is!" Molloy looked up, right into the face of the vampire who was perched on the sill of the shattered first storey window, a living gargoyle with a double-pronged serpent's tongue lashing in and out of his mouth as if he were some kind of viper made human, the black shirt front soaked in a faintly glowing green goo. He cackled with insane laughter down at the two gardai and then, in seeming defiance of the law of gravity, he leaped upward and outward. He landed on the roof of the house, where he danced jerkily like a mannikin in a puppet show, laughing and cursing and making obscene gestures into the night. Molloy belatedly remembered his gun, and drawing it from the holster he knelt and took careful aim, and then fired twice. But the range and the steep angle and the light were too uncertain for a snub-nosed weapon, and he missed. A garda car with a siren blaring screeched to a halt and Conn Walsh leaped out, followed by Mick Og Molloy who ran to his mangled sister.

"Conn!" shouted Molloy, "That's him, on the roof! Get the Uzi!" Walsh ripped the 9-millimetre submachine gun out of the patrol car's door brackets. Bracing his stance on the bonnet of his own vehicle, Walsh fired staccato five-round bursts at the capering vampire, while Molloy emptied his pistol and the frustrated Tom Flanagan picked up a pint Harp Lager bottle of brown glass out of the gutter and hurled it with all his might at the killer. The garda bullets chipped off the roof slates, striking sparks all around their target, but surprisingly enough it was the beer bottle that connected, conking the vampire in the head and seeming to bring him to a realization of his situation. With a final snarl he bounded away over the rooftops, leaping high as lights came on all up and down North Circular Road. An ambulance and more garda cars rolled up to the Halloran house, sirens screaming.

Tom Flanagan charged off down the road after the vampire and Walsh grabbed his car radio to order the other units to seal off the area. He was about to jump in his car and follow Flanagan when suddenly his brain registered what his eyes had already seen, the broken body of his lover lying on the bonnet of the car in front of him, while her father and her brother desperately worked over her trying to stop her bleeding to death from countless cuts and slices. He ran to help, saying nothing, but his tears dripped onto her wounds.

Garda Sergeant Thomas J. Flanagan was one of the force's hard men. Aged forty-two, he stood six feet five inches tall and weighted eighteen stone, all of it muscle. Flanagan was tough, in every sense of the word.

Two career anecdotes were often retold in Dublin cop shops to illustrate his legend. On his left cheek Tom Flanagan had a six inch scar, a souvenir from an encounter with a Jamaican pimp who some years before had brought over a string of girls from Brixton and set them to plying their trade on Flanagan's beat. The black was a violent man, as big and as strong as Flanagan himself, and when a proffered envelope of cash had failed to buy Flanagan's co-operation he went for a cut-throat straight razor. He got in one good swipe, and then Flanagan beat him to death with his bare hands.

On his muscular torso Tom Flanagan carried three puckered scars from a 7.65-millimetre pistol's bullets. Off duty one day in his home town of Monaghan, Flanagan had accidentally walked into a bank during an armed robbery being carried out by the Provisional I.R.A. He calmly told the Provos that they were all under arrest. While they were laughing he leaped at the leader of the active service unit, tore the Armalite rifle out of his hands, and shot him dead on the spot. Flanagan then grappled with a second Provo, ignoring the automatic slugs that the startled bandit pumped into his body, and knocked him unconscious with the butt of the rifle. The two remaining I.R.A. men threw down their weapons in a panic and put up their hands. Flanagan ordered them to pick up their supine comrade between them and then marched them at gunpoint to the local garda station, where he turned them over to an astounded desk sergeant and then collapsed bleeding onto the floor.

But Thomas J. Flanagan was not by nature a violent or brutal man. He was married and the father of six children, all of whom he loved and whom he was raising with the ideal combination of firmness and affection. He was involved in drug counseling of addicts and the rehabilitation of youthful offenders. He was the chairman of his local GAA club, a passably good guitar and tin whistle player, and a deeply committed Catholic who bore no malice towards Protestants and who tried his best to love the criminals and derelicts he worked with, because he believed it to be his Saviour's wish that he do so. Outwardly the strong and silent type, the current vampire case shocked him and agitated him to the very core of his being. Such things could not be, must not be allowed to be. The sight of Phyllis Sheridan's nude and tortured body had driven him mad with loathing and rage and now, as he thought, he had just seen Margaret Molloy murdered right before his eyes. The explanation was simple. "Stephen Raymond" was a creature of the devil, and the devil's works must be destroyed. Flanagan had no doubts or reservations at all about Molloy's unofficial instructions to kill the vampire. He, Thomas J. Flanagan, desperately wanted to be the one to kill it, to beat it into jelly, to make absolutely sure that it was dead and could never enter his world again.

Now he ran fleetly along North Circular Road, his eyes scanning the rooftops for his quarry. Once or twice he thought he glimpsed the dark figure, but he couldn't be sure. He was almost down to Phoenix Park now, well past the Old Cabra Road, and bitterness and anger welled up in Flanagan at the thought that he had lost his suspect like some rookie copper just out of Templemore. Then a slight flicker of motion caught Flanagan's eye. The big man ran lightly down a narrow side street until he came to the mouth of an alley, illuminated by a single naked bulb on the side of a garage. In elation he saw the vampire drop silently down into the alley from the corrugated tin roof of an outbuilding. There was no way out. Flanagan had him.

The vampire limped toward him, muttering to himself and clutching one hand wrapped in a handkerchief, the strange green ichor gleaming on the black wool of his jumper. The huge Garda sergeant stepped out in front of him. In his hand Flanagan held a heavy foot-long blackjack, hard rubber wrapped around a lead core. The vampire looked up, saw him and scowled, but kept on coming. "I prayed for this," said Flanagan hoarsely. "In church I prayed to God and the Virgin to give me a chance like this, just you and me alone together, with no one else to see or interfere."

"Oh, get out of my way, bumpkin!" snarled the vampire crossly. He seemed unafraid, just disinclined to put himself to the bother of fighting. He put out his good hand to shove Flanagan aside, and the sergeant wound up and unloaded his blackjack with full force on the killer's skull. It was a blow that would have killed a human man instantly, but the being in black simply grunted and staggered back. Flanagan clenched his fist and let fly with a classic right hook, connecting full power with the vampire's chin and sending him sprawling on his back in the alley. Then the vampire was up and charging, and Flanagan didn't get in another blow. The enraged monster quite literally took him apart.

Back in North Circular Road Margaret was being loaded into the ambulance on a stretcher. She was conscious now, and she held Conn's hand. "He didn't touch me," she kept repeating. "Conn, I swear he never touched me!"

"Didn't touch her?" muttered the ambulance driver. "He threw her out of the bloody window!"

"That's not what she means," said Conn grimly. "I'm going with her, Mick."

"No!" insisted Margaret through her broken mouth. "You've got to catch him! You've got to kill him!"

"It's procedure, darling," said Molloy distractedly. "Someone always goes with an injured guard to hospital. My god, to think I'm supposed to be in charge of this freak show! Mags, can you tell us anything at all?"

"I shot him in the hand, and I think Casey hit him with one round as well when he fired through the door," Margaret gasped. "Da, you've got to understand. he's not a human being! His blood is green! He has a forked tongue like some kind of horrible snake. He's not human!"

"I think we've all known that for some time," said Molloy heavily. "We wouldn't admit it to ourselves. I wouldn't admit it, and now this!" As the ambulance pulled away Dr. Andrew Manion staggered down the steps. He was pale.

"Morrissey's dead," he gasped. "So is Mary Halloran. Broken necks, the both of them. But that thing in the middle of the floor is worse, Mick. You've got to go up. I can't look at that thing any more, I'll start screaming. It's insane! You mustn't ask me to touch it. I'll go mad!"

"Casey?" asked Molloy urgently.

"I don't know, but he looked bad," said Manion. "He should be at the Mater by now." A garda materialized out of the darkness. His voice was shaky.

"Chief Superintendent, a patrol car just found Tom Flanagan," the guard told him.

"He's in an alley a few blocks from here. He's dead, sir! Hisóhis head was torn off!"

"My God, my God!" moaned Molloy. "Two gardai dead, the woman we were supposed to protect dead!"

"What about that thing upstairs?" demanded Manion. Mick Molloy entered the house and climbed the stairs to the bedroom slowly, like a very old man.

The dead body of Mary Halloran lay on the bed, her nightdress billowing in the breeze from the smashed, open window. Her body lay stomach down on the sheets, but her face stared up at the ceiling, her neck twisted like toffee where the vampire had snapped it clean. Blood dribbled down her chin and her tongue protruded from between her teeth. She had bitten into it deeply during the final convulsion, and as her body died piecemeal her bladder and sphinctre had relaxed and the mattress was soaked with stinking faeces and urine. The blue wallpaper was splattered with wet droplets of uncoagulated green liquid, and in the middle of the floor lay a single severed finger, pale and tapering to a manicured nail.

Like a blind maggot it writhed, slowly and sinuously. Molloy just made it to the bathroom before he vomited.

IX. Monday, September 22nd

The remnants of the Task Force Gossamer think tank reported to Molloyís office at ten thirty on Monday morning. Outside it was dull and cloudy, the onset of autumn now obvious. Conn Walsh arrived last. "Whatís the latest?" Molloy asked him.

"Sheís off the dope for a bit, but before I left she had to ask the nurse for another shot because the pain was too much. The broken arm and broken leg will mend but the hip probably wonít. She wonít be running any more marathons. Sheíll probably have difficulty walking for the rest of her life, probably crutches, but with luck and Godís help, it will be just a limp. Her face will be scarred, but not too badly. All in all, the doctor tells me itís a bloody miracle, especially after yesterday morning." Nine oíclock on Sunday morning had been the low point. After she came out of surgery, as a precaution Margaret Molloy had received the Last Rites of the Catholic Church from the familyís priest, Father Aidan Brennan. The sacrament had been administered in the presence of both Margaretís parents and her lover Conn, and although in excruciating pain she had been sufficiently conscious to understand and respond feebly. It was a terrible moment that had stamped itself indelibly into the minds of all of them. Maureen Molloy was still prostrate with grief and anguish. "Sheíll live for sure, then?" asked her father.

"Aye," replied Conn.

"Praise God!" gasped Molloy, his eyes filling with tears and his head bowed. There was a murmur of relief and thanks from the others, Manion and Treacy and Mick Og and Sergeant Scott. Molloy looked up, having visibly gotten a grip on himself. "Right. Weíve got to get back to work. Morrissey and Tom Flanagan would know that and understand it."

"Before we do, have you seen the papers, Mick?" asked Treacy. "I ought to warn you, theyíre pretty bad."

"They crucify us, I suppose?"

"Scourge, crown of thorns, and all, so they do," confirmed Treacy. "The Garda Siochana are trigger-happy, incompetent, cold-blooded and cynical for using Mary Halloran as live bait, so forth and so on."

"I damned near took a dig at a reporter at the hospital this morning," said Conn.

"Well, that reaction is to be expected," said Molloy wearily. "Whoís to say theyíre not right? We mucked this up big time, so we did, and we neither can nor should try to cover up that fact."

"Thereís worse," said Treacy in a grim voice. "Mick, someone told them about the severed finger and the green blood. The Irish Press ran an article speculating outright that the vampire killer is an extraterrestrial alien from another planet."

"Oh, my God!" rasped Molloy, his face suffusing red with rage. "Gentlemen, I am expecting a call any minute now from the Minister for Justice. Officially he is calling to express his condolences over Margaret and Morrissey and Flanagan. Unofficially, he is calling to ask me just what the fecking hell happened on North Circular Road, and he is not going to like what he hears. When that phone conversation is over, there is every likelihood that I will have been given the sack, and since I blame myself for that fiasco Sunday morning I wonít be surprised or angry. But if I am still in charge when the Minister hangs up the phone, I want that leak! Somebody told them about the handwriting on the wall at Phyllis Sheridanís flat, and now this. Andy, has the State Pathologist or that crew of science boffins in from London come up with anything on that blasted finger or green stuff?"

"Mick, youíre not going to like this," said Manion, shaking his head. "The head haemotologist at the Royal College of Surgeons says it does appear to be blood of some kind, but it has a cellular structure like nothing he has ever seen. The finger doesnít have a bone inside it, it seems to be just a mass of shaped tissue, but the tissue is still alive and it seems to be reconstructing itself, and thatís something no one has ever seen before outside of certain forms of invertebrates and rudimentary reptiles, i.e. worms and salamanders. We now know why this killer doesnít leave any fingerprints. Itís because he has no fingerprints to leave; the tissue at the fingertip is absolutely smooth and the fingernail isnít really a fingernail, itís just a kind of outgrowth of the finger itself, something trying to look like a fingernail, almost like camouflage of some kind. The scientists from Cambridge arrived early this morning and they are working on this over at Trinity, all very hush-hush and protected by armed gardai. The S. P. himself is so fascinated that he has almost forgiven me for dragging him off the golf links on a Sunday morning."

"What does he say about it?" asked Molloy. "Itís his official opinion I have to report to the Minister."

"Just for the Ministerís ears only and absolutely not for public attribution, he thinks the killer may be from another planet. His body tissues and apparent metabolism are certainly like nothing that has ever existed on this one." Dr. Manion stopped and stared at his styrofoam cup of cold coffee. "Mick, I think itís obvious we are now in a whole new ball game, as the Americans say. Everything we thought we knew about this case is going to have to go right out the window. My mind is completely boggled and wonít unboggle for a good while, I daresay."

"I will tell you one thing for certain," said Paddy Treacy, "We are going to have a full-scale panic. Itís already starting. Before I came up I heard a news item on my car radio saying that hundreds of women in Dublin arenít going to work today. Theyíre packing their suitcases to flee, go home to the country, go visit friends, emigrate to England, anything to get out of Dublin. The fear out there last night was palpable. People are staying in and locking their doors after sunset, and I donít mean just single women. The city was like a ghost town last night, the streets deserted, like All Hallows Eve must have been in the Middle Ages. This E. T. business is going to add fuel to the fire, but one way or another people have become convinced that there is something supernatural stalking and killing women here."

The telephone rang. Molloy picked it up and nodded to the circle of men, signaling for them to stay while he spoke with the Minister for Justice. "Yes, thank you, Minister. My sergeant just came from the hospital, and although she will have some ongoing medical problems for a long time, she is going to live. Very lucky indeed, sir. She had to have over two hundred stitches all over her body where she was sliced up going through the window. Thank you, Minister. Maureen will appreciate that. Sheís resting at home now, but sheíll be back at the hospital this morning. Casey is in stable condition and heíll be out in about a month, sir. Broken ribs and some internal damage, but heíll mend. Sergeant Flanaganís funeral is tomorrow in the Church of the Assumption with burial in Mount Jerome at two oíclock. Morrissey is being buried Wednesday, in Listowel. Thank you, sir, both families will appreciate the gesture."

Molloy then listened for several minutes and then spoke again. "Yes, sir, I understand the Cabinetís concern, and I want to say right now that any responsibility for the mishandling of this case rests with myself alone. Every garda involved in this investigation has given of themselves to the utmost, and I have no criticism of any of them. If youíll bear with me, sir, Iíll try to explain to you what happened, but I warn you in advance that this is the most GUBU thing youíre ever going to receive by way of an official report from the Garda Siochana." Molloy stopped, thought quickly, and then resumed speaking, choosing his words very carefully. "First, Minister, Iíll tell you what happened, and then Iíll tell you why it happened. We set a trap for this serial killer in the North Circular Road home of Miss Mary Halloran. Miss Halloran was at all times a willing participant in this arrangement and at no time did we coerce or pressurize her in anyway to cooperate. She was fully aware of the danger, she had been repeatedly victimized by this criminal, and she believed that he had to be stopped from hurting more people. We failed her, and I will carry my grief and shame at that failure to my grave. I assigned a force to the stakeout that would have been entirely adequate to apprehend any normal assailant. There were six gardai and one Ban Gharda, two of them armed with handguns. There were also armed mobile units for back-up. But this is not a normal criminal. He walked into our trap as we had planned, then he fought his way out with his bare hands and sheer ferocity. During this initial contact, Garda Morrisey and Mary Halloran were murdered, Garda Phelim Casey and my daughter Ban Gharda Molloy were severely injured, and four other gardai sustained minor injuries. The suspect was shot several times, and Margaret actually shot off one of his fingers, but he nonetheless escaped while wounded. Sergeant Tom Flanagan pursued him on foot, and was subsequently murdered in an attempt to apprehend him. The suspect escaped and weíve not got a clue as to where he is right now or what he is doing. I will not attempt to disguise the fact that this has been the worst Garda cock-up since the OíGrady kidnapping in 1987. I must assume full responsibility for throwing away the lives of two fine officers, as well as the woman we were supposed to protect. You see, I had evidence before me that this suspect we are pursuing is not a normal sex offender or criminal of the type we are accustomed to dealing with. I ignored this evidence because of its fantastic nature. I simply could not bring myself to draw the correct conclusions because those conclusions so wildly contradict everything we think of as normality.

"You see, sir, this individual we are after is not a human being. By that I mean that he is not a member of the human race, the species homo sapiens. I mean that in the biological, physiological sense he is not human. I have a strictly unofficial opinion from the State Pathologist that we are dealing with a being from another planet. Based on my observations and the evidence we found at North Circular Road, I concur in that opinion." Molloy listened to expostulations from the other end of the line for a few moments. "Yes, sir, I am aware of how insane that sounds and I donít blame you for questioning my mental balance. That is nonetheless my official report, sir. You have the prerogative of dismissing me from command of the task force if you wish, but I must warn you that whoever you put in my place will give you the same report, because thatís what the evidence indicates."

Molloy listened some more, wiping his brow with a handkerchief. "I refer to the evidence of the severed finger found at the North Circular Road crime scene. The tissue of that finger displays properties and characteristics that are inconsistent with a terrestrial evolution. I refer to the green blood that belongs to no known organism that has evolved on this planet. I refer to several eyewitnesses including myself who saw that this thing has a kind of forked tongue like some kind of damnable walking reptile, apparently what he uses to inflict these peculiar wounds on his victims. I refer to a whole file of funnies and GUBUs about this case which simply are not explicable by any theory postulating even the most abnormal human sex criminal. Before we go any further, sir, may I ask if you intend to allow me to remain in command of the task force? If not, it would be more efficient if I continued this briefing not only with yourself, but with my successor."

For almost a minute Molloy listened, while the men of the think tank held their breath. Molloy put his hand over the receiver and said quietly to the tense circle, "I think the whole Cabinet is there. I hear the Taoiseachís voice, and I do believe I hear Tomas OíMalley. Sounds like heís plugging away to keep me." He listened as the Minister for Justice resumed speaking. "Thank you very much, sir. I appreciate this. I want this devil, this man from Mars, whatever it is caught." There was an exhaling of breath and general relaxation among the observers. No one wanted to start over from square one with a new boss. "Now for such good news as I can offer, sir. This killer has quite an edge over us, but he is not infallible. His modus operandi is susceptible to analysis and we can track his movements through regular police procedure, as we have proven. We found his former hideout on Sarsfield Quay. We have learned that he entered this country last October 5th from Brussels on a stolen and altered Belgian passport, using the name Stephen Raymond. We were sufficiently ahead of him to trap him once, however disastrous the result, and we can do it again. We do have other stakeouts, yes sir. Four more. I have already anticipated that order, sir. Two of them had victims still in residence but as of yesterday theyíve all been moved out, and no Ban Ghardai are allowed on the premises after dark. Yes, sir. I can only add that I intend to hunt this creature until I get it, or it gets me. Thank you again, sir. Good-bye." Molloy hung up. "Brave words, gents," he said with a weary sigh. "I hope we can back them up. Now letís start thinking as weíve never thought before!"

"Hopefully this Russian chappie can help us," said Treacy.

"Can he tell us how a man from Mars learned English thatís 150 years out of date and gets hold of a fake passport in Brussels?" demanded Scott in exasperation. "Itís mad, Super, utter lunacy!"

"If heís some kind of alien being, that would explain a lot of the funny file," said Walsh. "Maybe the inhabitants of his planet can make themselves invisible. Maybe they can walk through walls. Maybe they are invulnerable to bullets. Maybe his kind last visited the earth in 1850 and thatís why his English is out of date."

"Mick, have there been any recent UFO reports?" asked Dr. Manion, bemused.

"He didnít come here on a UFO, he came to Dublin on Sabena Flight 602 last October, and he was killing women in Moscow in 1976," Molloy reminded him.

"Unless that was a different alien," said Manion. "Jaysus, the implications and possibilities are endless!"

"Where the devil is that Rooski?" asked Molloy irritably. As if on cue, his intercom buzzed, and Molloy sent Mick Og down to the lobby to collect Rozanov.

He stepped into the office, a compact little man in a worn coat and a Russian sable fur hat, beard neatly trimmed, grey eyes clear, and the trained eyes of the police officers instinctively recognized him as a dangerous man, one of the hard and quiet kind. He was carrying a battered leather briefcase. His handshake was firm. "I am Major Nikolai Yefremevitch Rozanov," he said. "Chief Superintendent Molloy, I understand that your daughter was one of the militia injured by the Verdelac on Sunday morning. Please accept my sympathies and my condolences on the death of the other two officers." His accent was slight but detectable.

"Thank you, Major," said Molloy. "Please take a seat. I hope that you can give us some information on this manís background that can help us nail him. Mick, can you give us a shout for some tea? I believe the Russians like it in a glass, black, with lemon? Is that all right, sir? Good. Have them send up a trolley with sandwiches as well; we may be here for a while. Iíll come right to the point, Major. This business on North Circular road was a complete shambles. People were killed and injured, we shot up the street like it was Dodge City, and our suspect got away clean. But certain evidence came from that episode which now puts a whole new complexion on things, evidence with startling implications. Can you shed any light on these implications?"

"You mean the fact that this being is from another planet?" asked Rozanov with a grim smile. "Yes. The old Soviet government has known of the existence of these creatures for a long time. The ruling hierarchy of the Catholic Church at the Vatican has known for even longer, many centuries. I suspect the Americans and others know as well."

There was dead silence in the room. After a time Molloy spoke. "Ah, could you elucidate on that, sir?"

"Prove quality of pudding? Certainly. The newspapers report that you have severed finger and green blood, so I get no points for knowing that," replied Rozanov. "The reason for unusual colour of Verdelacís blood is that Verdelac metabolism is based on different biochemical blueprint than human. Their remote ancestors spawn in different oceans than those of Earth. Verdelac hemoglobin is based on copper, whereas our red human blood is based on iron. You will note that tissue of finger you have capture is far more dense than that of human digit, and by now you will have observed that you cannot obtain human type of fingerprint from it, again due to density of tissue. This is because Verdelac species evolved on planet with far higher gravity than that of Earth. The basic building block of Verdelac physiology is silicon, whereas ours is lighter and more versatile carbon atom." The Russianís voice was calm and rational. The gardai stared at him. Manion was the first to respond.

"If I may interrupt, Major, you affirm that this person who has been killing and sexually abusing women in Dublin comes from another planet? What planet, and how did he get here? And how on earth do you know all these things?"

"Oh, no, doctor, not this specific individual. His ancestors came from another planet, many millennia ago, so long ago that even these people themselves have forgotten name of their home world. This particular individual, this murderer, was born here on earth, about year 1810, in city of Pressburg, which is now part of Poland but which was then within Austro-Hungarian empire."

"Our graphology computer says that he received his formal education circa

1840 to 1850," blurted out Sergeant Scott. "He would have been in his thirties then!"

"Yes," agreed Rozanov, "But just as Verdelacs live longer than human beings, so they take longer to reach maturity. A thirty year-old Verdelac is still a child."

"Hold hard!" gasped Molloy. "Are you telling us that you know this man? That you know who he is?"

"Yes, Superintendent, I do," said Rozanov calmly. "His name is Stepan Radek. He is one of species of extraterrestrial aliens who call themselves Verdelacs. They claim to be descendants of interstellar expedition that came here many thousands of years ago, but their spacecraft was wrecked and only handful survived. Since then they have existed precariously, living in shadows among men and women they must feed off in order to live. They are the vampires of legend. Ah, thank you, young lady. You have lemon? Good."

"Stepan Radek," said Conn slowly, after the tea girl had gone. "Stephen Raymond. Itís close enough."

"I think youíd better start at the beginning, Major Rozanov," said Molloy, stirring his tea slowly. "I understood that there was a similar series of murders in Russia in 1976. It would appear your people got along with their investigation a hell of a lot further than we have. How in Godís name do you know all this?"

"We knew it was Radek from beginning," said Rozanov in a level voice. "He went on his rampage after he escaped from state custody. From laboratory, where Soviet scientists were studying him and several others of his kind. We captured them alive in Prague when Soviet army entered the city in 1968, through fortuitous circumstance. All very top secret, of course. The only reason I know about it is because one of women Radek kill was one of Russiaís most promising young violinists and pianists, Zinaida Pavelovna Semyonovskaya, aged twenty-one. Her father was Spetznatz group commander and later KGB general. He hear rumours and he had sufficient influence to obtain these documents in spite of their security classifications." Rozanov opened his briefcase and pulled out the bulk folders. "I am willing to place this information at your disposal, Chief Superintendent, although I am afraid itís all in Russian. However, there is caveat. Officially, none of this material exists. If you refer to it in public then the Russian government will deny everything and accuse you of being insane or deceived, which in view of present state of our government would be pot calling kettle black, but there it is."

"I donít give a damn about that, I just want this bastard caught," said Molloy, leafing through the files. "Youíre right, I canít read a word of this, but...." He stopped. A face stared out at him from an eight by ten black and white photograph. A devil. The face he had seen on the rooftop at North Circular Road. "Thatís him!" Molly whispered, his voice and his hand shaking in rage. "Thatís the murdering monster who butchered my little girl and killed my friend! Rozanov, we have to publish this photo! Weíll make up whatever cover story you want, but the people of Ireland have to know this manís face!"

"By all means, do so," agreed Rozanov. "Just say it comes from Russian police files. I would like to ask that you point out to public, though, that Radek is not a Russian. Call him a Pole, since he was born in what is now Poland. That would be better than admitting what he really is. That photo was taken in 1968, by the way, just after Radek was captured."

"Mother of God!" whispered Conn, staring over Molloyís shoulder at the photograph of the glaring vampire as they all crowded round the back of his desk. "Thatís over thirty years ago! I didnít see him all that well in the dim light on North Circular Road, prancing around on the bloody roof like he was, but it doesnít look to me as if heís aged a day!"

"How did you catch him?" demanded Manion.

"As I said, it was in May of 1968 when our army entered Prague in order to rectify political situation in Czechoslovakia. Our intelligence operatives had been in city for some weeks before, of course, and they noticed some odd activity centering around large house on obscure back street in one of older sections. People going in who did not come out, a number of occupants who were never seen except fleetingly at night, indications of weapons and supplies being stockpiled. The KGB field commander assumed it was some kind of underground political headquarters for dissidents, and within few hours after we had occupied city he raided the house with large force. The commander was sufficiently thorough to send a squad over rooftops to block any escape that way, which was fortunate, else we would have captured no live specimens. What KGB found was not political conspiratorsí lair, but Verdelac Nest. When the main raiding party broke in street door they were confronted by number of heavily armed men and women who fought ferociously from floor to floor, several of wounded ones killing themselves rather than be captured alive. The KGB men were astonished to observe that some of these people bled very bright green colour. Meanwhile, rooftop squad had broken in upstairs, and they found room full of prone figures lying on pallets. A man was standing over these prone figures, shooting them one by one. This, we learned later, was a Brother, a human ally of the Verdelac, and his task was to ensure that none of the wounded or hibernating vampires were taken alive. The KGB shot him first, so several weeks later Stepan Radek and three other Verdelacs awoke to find themselves guests of Soviet Motherland."

"They hibernate?" asked Manion, stupefied.

"Yes. Preliminary interrogation revealed that they were violent and dangerous. They kill first KGB interviewer. But it was quickly learned that only mild electric shock paralyze them totally, and they could be subdued simply by opening a window and letting sun shine in. They were shipped under close guard to special isolator outside Moscow, along with deep-frozen corpses of the dead creatures which our scientists dissected and from which we learned many fascinating things about their physiology. You understand I am simply giving you brief précis of what is in those files."

"Go on, please," urged Molloy. "Like Alice, it looks as if we must learn to believe six impossible things before breakfast."

"Pardon? Who is Alice?" asked Rozanov politely.

"She went down a rabbit hole one day. Never mind, please, continue. You say these things live for hundreds of years?"

"Actually, Radek was youngest of the four specimens we captured."

"Then how old was the oldest?" demanded Manion incredulously.

"Radovan Cordula. He claimed in his youth to have witnessed fall of Constantinople to Turks. That was in 1453. Their average life span seems to be about six hundred years, but as with human beings some exceed that age and some fall short of it. Until recently, though, most of them died violently at hand of man. Other two were brothers and almost totally uncommunicative. They were killed in an escape attempt several years later, same one in which Radek escaped. I have been unable to determine what happened to old Cordula; perhaps he is still prisoner somewhere in Russia, perhaps he has escaped or died, perhaps the Organizatsiya has sold him to Iranians."

"This creature weíre hunting seems to have some very strange, almost supernatural powers," said Molloy. "Can you give us any information on that? Itís almost like he has a cloak of invisibility. They canít really turn themselves into bats, can they?"

"No, Chief Superintendent, but they do indeed have some remarkable abilities, which have enabled them to survive down the millennia," Rozanov told him. "The Verdelac are telepathic, although the range and the power of their telepathy varies. They can actually reach into your mind and interrupt or unplug the nerve synapses between the human optic apparatus and the receptory area of the brain, so that you see everything but the Verdelac himself. They can do this for possibly sixty seconds, and only up to a distance of perhaps a hundred feet, but it serves. Temporary invisibility."

"How does he get in and out of womenís houses and flats through locked doors?" demanded Treacy.

"Telekinesis, Inspector. The Verdelac can manipulate material objects without touching them, although again this is only on limited scale and for short distance of few feet. He unlocks door or window from outside, enters, and then re-locks it to add to his air of mystery. Is standard Verdelac trick down through ages."

"That explains how he got into North Circular Road without Alpha Two or Alpha Three seeing him!" said Treacy excitedly. "You can do a lot if you can pick locks with your mind and youíve got a full minute on invisibility to do it in!"

"Like get out of Jacinta Kellyís bedroom right under the noses of three gardai?" suggested Conn Walsh. "Can these craturs fly at all, at all, Major?"

"Not fly, no, but they are capable of near-levitation for about thirty seconds at a time," Rozanov told him. "Our scientists never did get a glimmer as to how they do that. They do not become actually weightless, but for that short period of time they become significantly lighter, up to ninety per cent weight loss measurable on a scale. The only thing our people could figure out was that either the Verdelac can temporarily reduce or interdict the gravitational pull of the earth, or else they are able temporarily to reduce the molecular density of the very atoms in their body, the implications of either of which are breathtaking. It would appear the Verdelac themselves donít know how they do it. It is simply an ability they have, rather like some people can wiggle their ears or touch their nose with their tongue."

"That would explain that impossible rooftop run we saw him make Sunday," said Molloy. "And speaking of tongues, what about that thing we saw like a snakeís tongue?"

"That is a tractile appendage which is normally rolled up beneath the normal tongue they use for speech," replied Rozanov. "Actually, it is closer to that of the proboscis of the mosquito. The twin prongs secrete a very powerful organic acid that burns through the outer epidermal surface and arterial wall of the victim. The Verdelac then injects a narcotic venom which tranquilizes the victim and acts as an anti-coagulant. He draws blood through this appendage directly into a sponge-like organ in the chest cavity, which is capable of absorbing immense amounts. According to one notation I read in those files, Radek once consumed over three gallons at a sitting."

"That explains the wounds, the drugged effect, and where all the missing blood from the victims went," said Conn with satisfaction. "Our funny file is getting lighter by the minute."

"How did you Soviets feed these vampire prisoners?" asked Manion suspiciously.

"Generally out of a blood bank, from glass jars," said Rozanov. "When they became uncooperative we simply withheld their rations and starved them into submission. Later on for demonstrations of live feeding the officers and scientists in charge used female prisoners from various detention centers."

"Volunteers?" demanded Manion suspiciously.

"I presume they volunteered, yes, in the sense that it was preferable to the womenís GULAG in Karaganda or the gold mines in Kolyma," said Rozanov with a shrug. "Russia is an authoritarian society, Doctor Manion. It always has been and it always will be. People do what they are told, and it is because we have lost that habit over the past ten years that my country is in the terrible shape it is in and the damned Georgian and Chechen gangsters are now running things. One day we will remember our heritage and our pride, and we will shoot them all. These women had to be well fed to feed the test subjects, nor did they need to haul dirt at thirty below zero, and I doubt they felt they were getting a bad bargain."

"Sounds like youíre a bit of an authoritarian yourself, Major. It must be great crack altogether being a copper in your country, eh?" said Mick Og.

"Heís not a copper," said Treacy with a sudden scowl. "It just hit me! I did a stint in Special Branch for four years, and among other things we got situation reports on foreign intelligence services. I remember your name, now, Major Rozanov. Youíre not a policeman at all, at least not our bloody kind of policeman! Youíre GRU, Russian military intelligence! What interest would Rooski cloak and dagger types have in this case? Not here to re-capture your prize laboratory specimen alive, by any chance? I seem to recall youíve got a bit of a reputation. Donít carry a gun, you throw knives at people like a circus performer! Donít they call you Nick the Knife? A regular James Bond character, you are!"

Over Treacyís head was a wall poster from the Garda Crime Prevention office, showing a furtive little man climbing into a window, looking about him, bearing the slogan "Donít Give Housebreakers A Foothold! Five Simple Precautions Can Protect Your Home From Burglary." None of them saw the knife slip down from the Russianís sleeve holster. Rozanovís wrist flicked lightly, so fast it was a blur, there was a thud, and nine inches of dull grey steel thudded into the wall, right between the eyes of the burglar in the picture, buried dead to the hilt and spot on. The men looked up, stunned. "I have found that guns tend to cause more problems than they solve, Inspector," said Rozanov, rising and recovering his blade with a practiced pull from the wall. "But James Bond is a fictional character. I am real, and I am still alive, while others are not. Yes, I am GRU, and yes, I am called Kolya Nozh by some. And no, I am not here to take Radek alive, but to ensure that he is brought to justice. My secondary purpose is to ensure that as little embarrassment as possible results to Russia from this episode, that is true, but it is only secondary. I want Radek as badly as you do, gentlemen, for personal reasons as well as political ones. I suggest that you will require my assistance sufficiently to get over any squeamishness regarding me or the government I represent. Karasho?"

"I guess that means game ball in Russian," said Molloy in a wry voice. "Youíre right, Major. We need you, youíre helping us, and we wonít look too closely at any of the details. At least you didnít spike me picture of Dev, for which I thank you."

"I have deep respect for Eamon De Valera, Chief Superintendent. He was a great revolutionary leader."

"What can you tell us from these files about Radek personally?" asked Molloy. "His habits, his motivations, why he is doing this?"

"There I find it a bit difficult to interpret, Chief Superintendent. You understand that I was not part of the project, it was before my time, and all I can tell you are the comments I read there. You must also bear in mind that it took us almost eight years to learn even the little we found out . Several of Radekís interrogators noticed that there was a kind of coolness between Radek and the other Verdelac. They have a language of their own, similar to Magyar and Serbo-Croatian but comprehensible to speakers of neither, which they used among themselves, but he seemed to have little to say to his fellow prisoners and what little was said between them sometimes appeared hostile. Towards the end Radek became a bit more cooperative, tantalizing us with apparently friendliness and tidbits of information, and that seemed to anger the others. We did manage to get some of their history from him. Apparently when they first arrived on this planet, the Verdelac looked a good deal less human than they do now. Men were still very primitive, and the Verdelac seem to have herded them and hunted them for food or sport. Over the centuries things changed, men became more numerous and more advanced and began to turn on the hunters. The Verdelac had lost all direct contact with their planet of origin and had to adapt. Somehow they were able to evolve or alter themselves so that outwardly they resemble human beings. As I said, they seem to have some degree of conscious control over their physiology and their genetic makeup, which is another endless vista for amazing speculation. The resemblance is only superficial, but it serves as camouflage so they can walk among men undetected, usually. I think perhaps many of the stories and myths which we have, the legends of fauns and satyrs and wood sprites, the trolls of Germany and Russia, perhaps the leprechauns here in Ireland, may be ancestral memories of the Verdelac. Later on, during the Dark Ages following the fall of Rome, we begin to get the vampire legend in its more traditional form. This was because the situation had changed, and the hunters were now the hunted.You see, for all their extraordinary powers, the Verdelac have always been extremely vulnerable to man. They cannot exist in full sunlight, because ultraviolet is deadly to them. They do not sleep as we do, every day, but every three or four years they go into a coma which they call the Short Sleep, which lasts on the average from eight to ten weeks, and about once every century they go down for what is known as the Long Sleep, a hibernation of about thirty yearsí duration. During these hibernations they are helpless and must be carefully hidden and protected."

"How? Hidden and protected by whom?" asked Molloy.

"By human allies, without whom the Verdelac would perish," said Rozanov. "Many of the traditional vampire legends arise from medieval manís observations of Verdelac behaviour. For instance, where better to hide a hibernating Verdelac than in a grave? Sometimes these somnolent Verdelacs were discovered and destroyed, hence the legend of the living dead. Verdelacs can communicate telepathically with some species of animals, on a very primitive level, hence the legendary associations with wolves or rats that come at their bidding. Some of the early Verdelac nests appear to have been in caves, hence the association with bats. And of course, their nocturnalism, their invisibility, and their feasting on human blood are genuine attributes."

"You say they build nests?" asked Molloy, picturing a huge birdís nest full of newly hatched vampires. "Do they lay eggs?"

"No, no, the term Nest is a translation of a Verdelac word. It means a hideout, a refuge, a safe base of operations."

"And these human allies?" pressed Molloy. "How would we locate them? Is it possible that this madman has someone helping him stay hidden, some of these women he victimizes?"

"Quite probably he does," agreed Rozanov. "During the Dark Ages the Verdelac race developed a social system of their own, a kind of symbiotic extended family involving both their own kind and humans. They are divided into forty-nine clans or families, each claiming descent from one of the forty-nine male survivors of the space wreck. These clans became a kind of political unit, each one presided over by an elder or Grand Duke. Each clan is assigned a specific territory which they inhabit, and wherein they recruit a number of human beings as live feeding stock, helpers, and allies. These are referred to by the Verdelac as Brothers and Sisters. The titular head of the entire race is a king called a Voivode, and all the Grand Dukes constitute a special Council or Forty-Nine which meets every few decades to adjudicate disputes, make new laws, apportion new territories, and make policy for the survival of the entire species."

"How could any human being voluntarily ally themselves with these monstrous things?" asked Scott, astounded. "What on earth do they get out of it?"

"Actually, Sergeant, from a certain point of view they get a great deal," said Rozanov. "The basis for the symbiosis is a ritual called the Three Promises. Each clan has its own procedures for recruiting and initiating these human allies as Brothers and Sisters. The actual ceremony is rather like a mass wedding. But the Three Promises are always the same. The new human initiate promises, on his or her part, to provide blood for the sustenance of the Verdelacs at need. They also promise to obey all orders of the Grand Duke of their clan and to provide such services as daytime security, and finally they swear a mighty oath to maintain complete secrecy to their dying day about the existence of the Verdelac race and their own involvement with it."

"And what do the Verdelac give in return?" asked Molloy.

"Three Promises on their part as well," explained Rozanov. "First, they swear that never under any circumstances will any Brother or Sister be drained of blood until they are dead or incapacitated, not even if the clan is starving. Secondly, their material well being will be looked after for life, including guaranteed good health and extended, although not eternal, youth. The Verdelac have a variety of medical knowledge and techniques we do not, and apparently they can use their telepathic powers to stimulate or modify that portion of the human brain which controls the aging process, cell reproduction, so forth and so on. A Brother or a Sister who does not die in the service of their Verdelac partners can expect ninety to a hundred or more years of life, and for all but the last couple of years they will be youthful, fully vigorous, and free of disease or the ailments of old age. Nowhere nearly as long as the Verdelac live, of course, but ninety or ninety-five years of strength and health is an attractive offer for we mortals, gentlemen. Finally there is the third promise, which is couched in various veiled symbolic explanations and ritual, but which involves an incredibly fulfilling and promiscuous sexual life."

"Our man Radek definitely keeps promise number three before he slaughters his mots," growled Molloy.

"Sex is the key to the Verdelacís survival, Chief Superintendent," said Rozanov. "They only reproduce among themselves once every century or so, and a female Verdelac can produce only four children at a maximum. That and their high rate of violent death in the past is why their numbers have remained so small. But they can use human sex as a lure. With their telepathy they can stimulate the sexually receptive areas of the brain directly as well as manually, so to speak. They make love with their minds, not with their bodies. To use an American expression, every Verdelac man is super stud and every Verdelac woman is a ten. They can fulfill the fantasies of a human partner in a way that no mortal man or woman could. There are approximately six to eight Brothers and Sisters for each Verdelac adult, and I gather that the social life of the Nest when they are off duty, so to speak, consists largely of a sort of ongoing orgy between all concerned. It all works out to a strongly bonded extended family with a common sense of identity and purpose, adventure and danger to add spice to life, and a resultant deep loyalty and devotion. The system works because it is based on the one element absolutely essential to the survival of the Verdelac species: secrecy."

"So what about Radek?" asked Molloy.

"Like all peoples, the Verdelac occasionally produce violent, unscrupulous, uncontrollable and mentally unbalanced individuals. These are renegades, outlaw Verdelac who leave the Nest and who wander the earth like rogue wolves, hunting humans as prey and living by their wits. They inevitably stir up human fear and anger and are almost always destroyed in the end. The Verdelac Nests hate and fear them as well, because they bring attention and danger to the Nest and put at risk the terrible secret of their existence. Stepan Radek is such a renegade, and I suspect that the Irish clan of the Verdelac, a family called the Gorkas, are even now hunting for Radek as diligently as the Irish police."

"Wait, wait!" snapped Paddy Treacy. "Are you telling us that thereís a whole goddamned family of these creatures here in Ireland? If that were true, donít you think Garda Siochana would have discovered some evidence of it long ago? I mean, look at the trouble just one of them has caused!"

"Again I say to you, Inspector, that Radek is atypical, an outcast, a pariah among his own kind precisely because he leaves such visible signs of his passing," said the Russian. "If he were part of the Gorka clan and attached to one of their Nests, you would have no idea that he existed, because he would be feeding off his Sisters and not out hunting women on the streets of Dublin. In fact, it is likely that the Gorkas will catch up with Radek before you do, for they can track him down telepathically. When they do they will send him out of the country, or if he is totally out of control they will kill him and destroy the body secretly in order to preserve their own anonymity."

"And leave this bloody case open forever, like Jack the Ripper a hundred years ago!" exclaimed Molloy, furiously thumping his fist on the desk. "The gardai will be slagged for the next hundred years for letting him slip through our fingers! Major Rozanov, these Gorkas are the best lead yet! How do we find them?"

"I have no idea how big a clan they are," said Rozanov. "Because Ireland is a small country, they are most likely one of the smaller groups. Say between ten and fifty Verdelacs, with an average of five or six Brothers and Sisters each, so you are looking for between sixty and three hundred people. They will not be all in one place. They will have five or six Nests scattered about the country, probably in isolated areas like old farmhouses or castles, or else right in the middle of the most populous cities, an equally effective camouflage if one knows how to use it. Possibly a large private home or block of flats. In fact, I would be willing to wager there is a Gorka Nest within a mile or two of where we now sit. But finding them will be another matter. You would have to proclaim to the public the object of your search, to enlist the people as your eyes and ears. After Radekís escapades you might be able to make yourself believed, but you would cause a widespread hysteria while alerting your quarry. I doubt you would catch a single Gorka. No, gentlemen. You must make the Gorkas come to you!"

"I beg your pardon?" asked Molloy, in something of a daze as it all began to sink in. His beloved city full of concealed vampires? "And how do we go about that, sir?"

"I was thinking of this on the plane coming here. I believe I have a way to catch yourselves a vampire, gentlemen. Advertise for him."

"What?" shouted Scott, incredulous.

"íWould the 180 year-old gentleman with the green blood and the missing finger please contact the nearest garda station, where he will hear something to his advantage?í" suggested Conn with polite skepticism.

"I believe I know how to frame the advertisement so as to guarantee a response," said Rozanov. "Not from Radek. He would never be so stupid as to fall for such a trick. He would likely suspect it is the Gorkas trying to trap him. But I believe you could catch the attention of the Gorkas by using certain words and phrases that come from their history and their culture, things I found in those files that our scientists learned over the years. It would be clear to them that someone knows entirely too much for comfort about Verdelacs. They will recognize it as a threat to their existence. They cannot afford to ignore it. They will send someone to investigate, almost certainly a human Brother or Sister. We must capture this emissary, alive, and keep them secure so they do not commit suicide, as they will attempt. This will in turn increase the pressure on the Gorkas, force them to take measures to rescue him or her. It is their tradition, and a very sound one for their survival. They never abandon one of their own who falls into the hands of men, not only out of the genuine love and loyalty which they certainly feel for one another, but because they cannot take the risk that the Brother or Sister will be forced to talk. Every clan has stories and traditions of heroic rescues and exploits by both Verdelac and human clan members, wherein both species went through great danger and sacrifice to help one another. Any Verdelac clan who abandoned a Brother or Sister would be disgraced forever. It is possible that they will come armed and try to use force, which we must be prepared to repel, but I think it is possible that we might be able to do a trade. Their human comrade for Radek." The Russian sat back, studying the Irishmen.

"How do we kill Radek when we catch him?" asked Molloy.

"Electric cattle prods will paralyze him. Bullets can kill him as well, and they need not be silver. Just shoot him in his heart, which is about where the navel of a human being would be. But as to that, you need not worry. I want a favor in return for my assistance, gentlemen. I want to kill Stepan Radek myself."

"Youíll bloody well have to stand in line, Comrade!" snapped Conn. "Maggie Molloy and I..." He didnít finish the sentence.

"And Zinaida Semyonovskaya was my wife," replied Rozanov bleakly. "We were married for all of eight months. I came home to our apartment in Moscow after two weeks on assignment at the Finnish border and I found what was left of her. She wasnít just drained of her blood. She died a death of horror unspeakable." The mental picture of Phyllis Sheridanís dangling corpse flashed through the minds of the Irishmen. "For many years afterward I sought death myself. I was lucky. I met and married another woman, a strong and loving friend who has given me peace of mind and much joy. But the bleeding wound in my soul never healed, and for her father, a brave soldier and a true comrade of many yearsí standing, it became an obsession that has almost driven him mad. I have to do this, gentlemen."

"We will need you as part of our team, thatís for sure," said Molloy. "Look, Major, I canít promise anything. If youíve ever been in a fight, and I suspect you have, you know it doesnít always go according to plan. I promise you that you will be in at the kill, but when it comes down, weíll see how it plays. Thatís all I can promise you. The main thing is to put a stop to this man. You have brought us the best news possible today, Major. You have told us that this monster can die. And by the living God that made us all, die he shall. That youíve my word on. Now, about this advertisement you have suggested....?"

X. Friday, September 26th

For the next three days there was no progress. The creature now known to be Stepan Radek was not sighted, nor were there any more attacks. Molloy released a carefully worded statement through the Garda Press Office that went into the events in North Circular Road in a very basic way, and also described how Radek had entered the country as Stephen Raymond on a false Belgian passport. He officially denied and decried the wild and irresponsible rumour that the Dublin Vampire Killer had green blood or that fragments of his person were currently under examination in secret government laboratories. He denounced speculation that the killer was an extraterrestrial. The old Russian photograph of Stepan Radek was plastered all over every newspaper, television station, telephone poll, kiosk, and shop window in Ireland within the next 24 hours; the posters simply said "Wanted By Gardai For Questioning In Multiple Homicides, Dublin Area. Stepan Radek, Polish National. Russian Police File Photo Undated. Consider Armed and Dangerous."

All of this did no good whatever. By Friday the unofficial account going the rounds of the Dublin pubs and cafés that Radek had escaped from the North Circular Road ambush when a glowing UFO had descended from Alpha Centauri and beamed him aboard like Captain Kirk. "Why bother to deny it?" said Molloy to Conn, completely bemused. "The truth is even more bizarre than the rumour."

The fear in Dublinís streets was now a tangible, sickening miasma. Hundreds of women had fled from the city into the countryside or overseas, and hundreds more crowded daily into mass in every church. Thousands of gallons of holy water were given out by the priests and thousands of crucifixes and other religious emblems were sold. Garlic became unobtainable in Moore Street and in the cityís supermarkets. A band of enterprising street traders clubbed together and chartered a cargo plane to bring a whole load of the stinking bulbs in from Spain; they sold the whole lot in a single day from the Moore Street stalls or door-to-door in the bedsitter neighborhoods, realizing a 400% profit. Another equally entrepreneurial Dublin publisher brought out a hasty paperback reprint of Bram Stokerís original novel Dracula, and sold out the entire press run of five thousand copies in two days. Locksmiths and hardware stores were sold out of new locks and dead bolts, the RSPCA couldnít keep up with the demand for dogs of any breed or condition, and the installers of electronic security alarm systems did a land office business.

The vampire was now an international scoop, and Dublin was overrun with media people who descended on the stricken city like blowflies. They haunted the Harcourt Square garda complex and any garda station they could get into. They harassed the Garda Press Office until Sergeant Pat Connolly took to slipping in and out in disguise, pestered psychiatrists and criminal psychologists for interviews, and wandered around the bedsitter areas of the south side and near north side interviewing women who lived there and completing the task which the vampire had begun of frightening Dublinís female population out of their wits.

Newspaper reporters, correspondents from Time and Newsweek, television crews from all over the world, a film documentary crew from Japan, they were all in Dublin. The journalistic hordes mobbed the pubs off Grafton Street and crowded three deep at the hotel bars at Greshamís, Juryís, and the Shelburne. Battle-scarred wire service correspondents exchanged reminiscences of Saigon, Beirut, and the Persian Gulf over their hot whiskeys while local stringers and free-lancers listened goggle-eyed and stood them drinks. Elegant network superstars like Dan Rather, Geraldo Rivera, and Ted Koppel commandeered whole floors at the Westbury or Berkeley Court hotels, and free-lancers of every description ran hither, thither and yon, each with his own little scheme or angle by which to cop a Pulitzer. Several name true-crime authors were already in Dublin, holed up in furnished corporate flats pounding maniacally on laptops in the race to get the first paperback book about the killings to the presses. One London paperback giant had already paid out a hundred thousand-pound advance and was setting the type as each chapter came in.

The vigilantes, the cranks and political gangsters were becoming a serious nuisance. Every housing estate or flat block in the city had some kind of neighborhood watch or patrol organized, and since most of these were worried family men trying to protect their womenfolk the gardai tactfully looked the other way and even gave limited assistance in some cases. But Special Branch confirmed that Sinn Fein had infiltrated many of these groups and in some cases taken them over outright. Catholic workingmen suddenly found themselves presented with Marxist leaflets that they were ordered to put into letterboxes at night on their patrols, or else. Some couldnít understand what such activities had to do with protecting women from a roaming murderer and left in disgust; others who protested were silenced by gangs of men in ski masks armed with hurley sticks and iron bars. The treasurer of one neighborhood watch in Tallaght collected about a hundred pounds for torches, police whistles, and thermos flasks for the night patrols. When he refused to hand this small kitty over to the local Sinn Fein cumann for "safe keeping" he was shot in the knee cap by two young men in ski masks who knocked at his door, when then escaped on a motor bike. In addition to the Provo problem, some of the community patrols tended to start their rounds at pub closing time and constituted a drunken menace. Two individuals were arrested for carrying shotguns and others held for a variety of drink-related aggro.

The cranks were having a field day, aided and abetted by the news media who were starved of information and felt snubbed by Molloy and the Garda Press Office. They needed something, anything, to fill up columns of newsprint and sixty-second sound bites, and so they gave international publicity to spiritualist mediums who claimed that the vampire was the ghost of a fifteenth-century Kilmainham monk. Trotskyite nuts assured the world that the vampire was a CIA experiment being field-tested on the innocent working class maidens of Dublin, environmental fanatics swore that the vampire was a mutant monster who had clambered dripping blood and kelp from the Irish Sea after having been created by toxic waste, all had their fifteen minutes of fame. The case was now a full-blown three-ring circus, complete with a cage full of baboons.

Task Force Gossamer received a pine tree profile of County Dublin on Friday morning, the combined effort of the Board of Works, the Corporation parks department, and the National Surveyorís Office. The areas with any significant number of pine trees were shaded in light green on the Dublin map. Although the manpower simply didnít exist to go chasing pine trees, Molloy was keeping soil sample B with microscopic pine needle fragments from Phyllis Sheridanís flat in mind. In addition to the red pins where known contact had occurred, there were now six blue pins in the map, where witnesses claimed to have seen a man resembling Stepan Radek on the street or along the canals. These reports were carefully vetted and a blue pin was inserted only when Molloy or Treacy considered the witness a hundred percent reliable and the probability high that the sighting was authentic. All of these had been during the hours of darkness. In one case a garda pursued a suspect with a bandaged hand along the canal near Leeson Street, a foolhardy thing to do in view of what had happened to Tom Flanagan. Molloy gave orders that under no circumstances was any police officer to approach the suspect alone or unarmed; they were to keep him in sight as best they could and scream for massive back-up.

At the Friday think tank meeting Molloy had some news. "After some nattering the Cabinet has approved Major Rozanovís advert idea," he told them. "It appeared in the afternoon papers today and will be in every national daily from now on, until we get some reaction, or until it becomes apparent that we wonít."

"How much does the Cabinet know about the Majorís, er, contribution?" asked Conn Walsh. Rozanov was now accepted as a full-fledged member of the think tank, and attended all its meetings as the closest thing they had to a resident expert.

"They know all about it," said Molloy. "Except, of course, that we donít plan on Mr. Radek surviving our next encounter. I think they know that as well, sub rosa, but they didnít ask and I didnít volunteer anything. Conn, have the reptiles found any more of our stakeouts?"

"No, just the one," said Walsh. "Thank God the young Madigan one wasnít there, else sheíd have opened her door and found a camera and a microphone shoved into her face. We sent her home to Westport, but itís only a matter of time before they track her down there as well. Bastards."

"They already have. I spoke to the station inspector in Westport about an hour ago, and the Madigan home is under siege, RTE and BBC and the rest. Geraldo Rivera is supposed to be on his way in a helicopter. As soon as he hung up the inspector was going to take some of his lads out there to run them off, but that doesnít help Susan Madigan. Her secret is out now."

"I spoke with her Sunday, before she went home," said Treacy. "She struck me as a strong and able girl, even though she was sickened and ashamed of what she had done. She said that if anyone in Westport ever found out sheíd have to leave forever, but sheíd go to her sister in London rather than try to kill herself like the Duffy one. I think sheíll make it through."

"Good luck to her, then," said Molloy. "But the exposure of the stakeout on Synge Street worries me. Radek will read the evening papers and learn all about how weíve got still more of his mots staked out, damn their journalistic eyes. Heíll know for certain that Mary Halloran isnít the only one of his harem who have grassed on him. There is more than one bad apple in his barrel. He canít trust any of them now. How is he going to react to this news?"

"A vital question, Comrade Chief Superintendent," agreed Rozanov. "Radek is a sociopath among his own kind, and will not necessarily react with logic. Logically, this city should long ago have become far too hot to hold him. He should have left Dublin when the publicity broke, and slipped off to some other country, to resume his hunting and rebuild his circle of food stock and sexual slaves. Yet he has not done so. He has committed a series of highly visible crimes, each more spectacular than the last, all of which could have been avoided with a minimum of foresight and caution, which he chose not to exercise. Like a human serial killer, he seems to have become drunk on his own power and his sickness. Perhaps like many human psychopaths he has a secret longing to be caught, a death wish. Perhaps he has become so insane that he simply doesnít care any more."

"The most dangerous kind of killer," sighed Molloy. "Damn! I fear you may be right, Major. Thereís always been an air of madness about this."

"He now knows that any of his women may have denounced him," continued Rozanov. "At any one of his regular feeding stops, he may run into another police ambush. He also knows that whatever drivel the media put out, he is not invincible, and he may not survive the next confrontation. Candidly, sir, my guess is that your stakeouts will be useless from now on. Radek no longer dares risk visiting any of his women. He will probably revert to the ancient type, hunting at random. That means he will strike more often, and more randomly chosen female targets will suffer and die."

"I have to ask you this, Major," said Molloy grimly. "Do you think there is any chance he may try to go after Margaret again at the hospital, out of revenge or hate?"

"The creature is mad, Comrade Chief Superintendent. There is no predicting what he will do. Guard her well, and let us hope we can capture his interest before he thinks of that."

"Aye. If he checks the classifieds heíll also see this advert in nice bold type. Russian writing ought to catch his eye. Could you go over this again for our benefit, Major?" He handed Rozanov an early edition of the Evening Herald.

"Certainly," said Rozanov. "Yes, this is correct. ĎOutlaw Lord, Son of the Seven Suns, ye of the House of the Black Flame, there is one who earnestly desires speech with you. The wingéd axe seeks you out, thirsting for your blood, and may come upon you at any moment. Come to my house between midnight and dawn. Fear not; a way out is offered.í Then the address of the house you selected in Ship Lane, Howth. The advert is written in Russian and printed in the Cyrillic alphabet. Someone in the Gorka Nest will most certainly read Russian; they must know many languages in order to survive, and they will be on the alert for any slightest hint of danger. I am guessing they know that this killer of women is Radek, who escaped from Soviet custody in 1976. The Black Flame is a reference to the Radek clanís ensign or tribal symbol; the Gorka insignia is a winged battle-axe of gold, by the by, rather like medieval coats of arms. Each Verdelac clan has such an emblem. The Gorkas will assume that someone from Russia is trying to lure Radek back with the promise of protection, or otherwise recapture him. I very much hope they will not deduce that it is in fact a trap laid for themselves."

"Why didnít you just give a phone number?" asked Manion.

"We want our local bloodsucking lads to investigate in the undead flesh, not by phone," said Molloy. "The house is a tourist rental, owned and managed by an estate agency which is in turn owned by some bloody holding company in Liechtenstein. Weíve used it for sting operations before, drugs and Provo guns and the like. I assume these craturs will have ways of finding out who the house belongs to, but theyíll draw a blank, and that will pique their curiosity even more. Hopefully theyíll decide itís some academic egghead type who thinks heís Professor Van Helsing, someone they can buy off or do in, a soft target."

"The Gorkas will be worried that Radek will voluntarily surrender himself back into Russian custody in order to escape the growing pursuit in Ireland," said Rozanov. "They have to put paid to his activities now, and permanently. They will have to choice but to risk sending someone to this house to see what is going on."

"What if Radek sees the advert?" asked Mick Og. "Wonít it spook him?"

"He probably will see it," said Molloy. "We know from Sarsfield Quay that heís almost a big a newspaper junkie as I am."

"If he sees that he will know that Kolya Nozh is on his trail," said Rozanov grimly. "That was why I decided to compose the advert in Russian. Perhaps he will run, but I doubt it. He is a Hunter, and he has contempt and hatred for men who hunt him. Even if the Gorkas do not rise to the bait, perhaps Radek will view this as a challenge, which of course it is. Perhaps he will be enraged and stupid enough to come after me himself, if he thinks I am here from Russia all alone."

"Conn, are you ready to cover the Major tonight?" asked Molloy.

"Game ball, sir. Meself and four Special Branch lads, and this time we wonít miss him if he does rock up. Uzis and cattle prods all around, and heíll get a full nine millimetre clip in his belly button if the Major here isnít bloody quick indeed with his blade."

"I will be," said Rozanov with a smile. "But I repeat, what is most likely is that there will be one or more Gorkas, human or Verdelac. If it is anyone but Radek they must be taken alive in order to trade them for Radek. The Gorkas can find him, if they havenít already."

"Scotty, remember to get the Major wired up," said Molloy. "I want audio recordings of any conversations that take place. If no one shows tonight, Iíll take the detail tomorrow and Paddy will take it on Sunday night."

"Iíll get him plugged in before we go out tonight," said Scott.

"What about their bloody Vulcan mind meld or whatever it is?" asked Conn. "Wonít they twig that we are around?"

"Radek didnít tumble to our people at North Circular Road," Mick Og reminded them.

"Radek is not a long range telepath," said Rozanov. "According to the Soviet material, his practical range to read and manipulate the human mind is about a hundred feet, and the same applies to most of his kind. He has non-human powers, but not super-human ones. The Verdelac do have a small number of highly skilled and practiced long range telepaths, psychics who through years of mental training can single in on an individual mind and read thoughts over long distances, sometimes many miles. I am not certain how far their range is, but it is a risk we must take. Hopefully the Gorkas will only have normal Verdelac telepathic ranges and so must get in close to function. This is why I suspect the first contact will be one or more Brothers or Sisters. Perhaps they will knock on the door pretending to be Jehovahís Witnesses or something of the sort."

"After midnight?" asked Manion.

"Major, I donít have to be told that you can take care of yourself, but in view of what happened to Mary Halloran I have to warn you yet again of the risk," said Molloy. "From what you tell me, these Irish vampires are quite capable of being just as violent and dangerous as Radek if the secret of their presence here is threatened. You tell me they carry guns. You understand they may just come in blasting everything in sight like Rambo, and kill you before our lads can come to your aid?"

"I grant you, the dangerís not small," agreed Rozanov calmly. "But before they do that they must find out who I am, what I want with Radek, and above all else they must learn who else I have told. They will almost certainly attempt to capture me alive and drag me before a Verdelac who can learn these things from reading my mind. As for protecting against their thought casting, remember that technique of idiot repetition? Apparently that can effectively block Verdelac telepathy for a time. He gets only static, so to speak."
"I know what you mean," chuckled Molloy. "Conn, you remember that TV ad a few years ago, that bloody bacon song? That smart-aleck kid singing ĎMy name is Rashers, see! I got these flashes, see! About the good old taste of bacon like it used to be!í Remember that shite? RTE was broadcasting it seven or eight times in an evening."

"Oh, begob, Super, didja have to bring that up?" moaned Treacy. "I got to where I was hearing that damned jingle in me sleep! I couldnít get it out of me head!"

"With me itís knick-knack, paddy-whack, give your dog a bone," said Conn. "Thatís been plaguing me since I was three years old. I daydream for a minute even today, and sometimes it will pop up in me head and I literally have to force it out of me mind."

"The alphabet song from kindergarten with me," laughed Mick Og.

"Exactly," laughed Rozanov. "Controlled daydreaming. Set some childish nursery rhyme or song in your head and see if you can play it in an endless loop. Myself, I plan to think myself the 1812 Overture."

"How very Russian," said Manion dryly.

"Looking ahead a bit, Super, after we nail Radek, what in heavenís name are we going to do about these Gorka yokes?" asked Treacy.

"Iím blessed if I know, Paddy," said Molloy thoughtfully. "The devil of it all is, I canít see that theyíre breaking any laws. Itís not a crime to live to be six hundred years old. Itís not a crime to have green blood or belong to a minority race. It probably isnít a crime to drink blood if itís voluntarily offered; people donate blood to the Red Cross every day, why canít they donate it to feed hungry vampires? Up until a couple of years ago certain of their sexual practices were illegal, but the EU scotched that."

"Taxes," suggested Walsh. "Get the Inland Revenue on them. Besides, didnít the Major say they sometimes steal?"

"The ways in which the Verdelac finance their way of life are many and ingenious, Comrade Sergeant, and being able to become invisible for short periods of time enables them to pull off occasional robberies when a Verdelac need immediate cash for something, but apparently they also have the ability to transmute elements, one of the few skills they do remember from their interplanetary past," said Rozanov. "Gold and jewels are always translatable into ready money."

Molloy looked out the window. The sun was setting gold and red in the clear, cool autumn air; the rooftops of Dublin gleamed under a perfect blue sky. "Dear God," he whispered to himself. "Who will die tonight?"

Late that night, Radu Gorka opened the door of the Regency town house on the leafy Georgian square. In the light from the hallway and the street lamps outside stood three people, One was a strikingly beautiful young blond woman wearing dark shades, even in the night. The other were two strong-looking young men in expensive, tasteful casual wear, carrying suitcases. Radu and a Brother took the luggage and showed the visitors up into the library with the high scrollwork ceiling, where Grand Duke Casimir arose and kissed the young womanís hand with old-world gallantry. "Welcome to my house, Princess Janina!" he exclaimed. "We are honoured to have the granddaughter of our Voivode among us!"

"I assure you that the honour is mine, Grand Duke," replied Janina demurely, giving him a deep curtsey. "Your wisdom and your prudence are famed throughout the People. For over two hundred years, you have kept your Clan safe and prosperous. Not on Lord or Lady, not one Brother or Sister has perished at the hands of the Eaters during all that time. No other Clan, not even my own royal one, can make that claim. I very much hope I can be of assistance to you."

"Please seat yourself, Your Highness. I had not dared to hope that you would be the one sent to us by His Majesty. You are reputed to be the greatest long-range telepath living among the People today."

"This is a crisis, my lord," said Janina. "We dared not send less than the best available. May I introduce two of our Australian Brothers? This is Andrew Davis, and this is Jonathan McLaren." The two young men stepped forward deferentially and bowed to the old nobleman. "Andrew is a former Australian army commando officer and Jonathan is a former policeman with a number of martial arts skills. Both are members of the Royal Guard, and they have come as my escort and also to help us deal with the outlaw Lord when we find him. There seems to be little doubt that it is Stepan Radek we seek."

"You are welcome to this Nest, my Brothers," said Casimir. "You will find refreshment there on the sideboard." The young men over and poured themselves drinks at a groaning Georgian antique sideboard laden down with a full buffet and every beverage from six fruit juices to Chivas Regal to Guinness. Then they returned and sat down on either side of Janina, slightly behind her, relaxed yet watchful. The door opened, and Radu and Milovan Gorka. They were introduced and made their obeisances to the Princess, then Radu poked up the fire and added more coal and turf from the scuttle. "Do my eyes deceive me, Highness, or do you actually look sun-tanned?" he asked.

"A special lotion invented by our royal alchemist, Teslac," explained Janina. "You see, in a country like Australia where everyone is at least somewhat tanned by the sun, our natural pale colouring stands out, even at night, and makes us conspicuous. The Lord Teslac therefore came up with this fluid, which is largely based on human melanin. It has additional properties other than camouflage, and it actually protects us to some degree from the rays of the sun, for a short time at least. The royal laboratory is now working on a combination of ideas involving an improved version of this lotion and special protective clothing, so we might actually be able to go out of doors during the daytime, although on a very restricted basis. I myself tried out this concoction with a specially made outfit using metal fibres interwoven with a synthetic, and I was able to take a dawn stroll along the beach at Townsville. Almost a full hour, my lord, I stood in the golden light of this worldís early morning! It was a wonderful experience. I was violently ill afterwards, but it was worth it! I have brought a supply of that lotion with me. It will probably work better here in Ireland than in Australia."

"Incredible!" muttered Milovan. "A Verdelac surviving an hour in the sun!"

"I apologize for taking so long to get here, my lord. Itís a very long flight and we had to refuel several times. We used our own aircraft with a crew of Brothers and Sisters, and they are now standing by at Dublin Airport. If necessary we can get at least this Nest back to Australia. If things go wrong. Please, bring me up to date."

"The situation has deteriorated almost beyond recovery," said Casimir bleakly.
"I believe you were informed before you left Australia, Highness, that the madman Radek fought a pitched battle with the Irish police right through the middle of Dublin during the early hours of last Sunday morning. He murdered one of his concubines, he killed two Irish policemen, and what is infinitely worse, he managed to get one of his fingers shot off and splatter the whole scene with Verdelac hyma in the process, which has all been scooped up by the Eaters. He also threw a policewoman out of a window, maiming her for life. This woman just happened to be the daughter of the Garda Chief Superintendent who is leading the task force charged with apprehending Radek. Now the whole of Dublin is stirred up like a hornetís nest. Paranoia is running rampant; the whole city is in the grip of a vampire hunt the like of which has not been seen since the Middle Ages. The news media daily broadcast speculation that the killer is from another planet and there may be others like him. People are seeing extraterrestrial vampires under their beds. The police are out for green blood to avenge their dead, a powerful man in charge of a small army of Eaters has been outraged and will now hound Radek to the gates of hell in order to avenge his mangled daughter, and somewhere Eater scientists in lab coats are studying Verdelac blood and tissue and learning more about us every day. Why in the name of the Seven Suns did not Radek simply hire an aircraft and write our secret in the sky over Dublin?" the old man concluded bitterly.

"And youíve no mind casters capable of locating him?" asked Janina.

"Our two long-range readers were both allowed to Short Sleep simultaneously, which was a stupid thing to do, but there it is. Two hundred years of peace has made us all inexcusably careless, including myself. They wonít be awake in time. Iíve tried to pinpoint his location myself, but Iím so old and out of practice he simply laughs and throws me off into the bay. Once he tossed me all the way up to Drogheda. Heís bloody good, Iíll give the bastard that. His mind is the strongest I have ever felt, man or Verdelac."

"Yes, thatís Stepan," agreed Janina with a sigh. "Do you want me to thought-cast for him now, my lord?"

"Not quite yet. There has been another development, Highness, the most sinister one yet. The Russians have gotten in on the act. I want to show you something." He took from the table a copy of that dayís Evening Herald, folded down to the classifieds section, and he pointed out a highlighted ad. "You can read Russian, Highness?"

"Kanyeshna, moi boyar," said Janina. "Ya gavarit y chitat Ruskamu yaziku.Good heavens! What on earth can this mean?"

"It means the Russians have decided they want Radek back, badly enough to smuggle him out of the country if he gives himself up to them," said Gorka grimly. "I donít think Radek would voluntarily return to captivity. He likes Hunting too much. But he may be desperate or ready for the Long Sleep and he may try to make some kind of deal, which would grant him temporary protection in return for him giving information or doing something for the Russians that the People will not be able to live with. The country is no longer ruled by Communists, they were bad enough, but now it is ruled by gangsters, the organizatsiya, the mafias. Radek may give our Peopleís secrets to outright criminals! Even more than his murdering of women, Highness, we must prevent any further collusion between Radek and the Russians, or any humans!"

"Are you sure, my lord?" asked Janina, stunned at the implications. "Could not some other Verdelac from another Clan have come to Dublin to try and catch Radek on his own? I know itís unlikely, and itís against the Law to enter another Clanís domain without permission, but it does happen sometimes."

"I thought-cast again, Your Highness, and I could find no trace of any other Verdelac other than the one renegade, and unfortunately we know all too well what he is doing here. My powers arenít so inadequate they would miss another intruder entirely. And in any case, why would any other Verdelac trespass into Ireland and do such an idiotic thing? It makes no sense. And why the Russian language? Your Highness, that advert is the work of Eaters, Eaters who know far more than they should about our race."

"The Holy Office?" asked Janina, at a loss.

"I have no doubt theyíre prowling around somewhere, but why would they use Russian?" asked Casimir. "And would they know the Radek Clanís Standard? Or our own? I doubt it. Theyíve never let any of us live long enough to exchange a few words, never mind instruct themselves in our culture and traditions."

"The gardai?" guessed Radu.

"Until this lunatic started his indiscriminate munching all over Dublin the gardai had no idea we even exist," snapped Casimir impatiently. "And why would they be posting advertisements in Russian? No, itís the Soviet régime, or whatís left of it. If we donít stop this weíll end up with an evil Verdelac conspiring with evil men against all the world!"

"Your Highness, what is the matter with Lord Stepan?" spoke up Milovan Gorka. "You speak as if you know him personally. Why is he doing this to us, to himself? Surely over the years he must have had many opportunities to rejoin the People, to go back to his own Radek Clan, either the Swiss or the Canadian septs?"

"Yes," replied Janina sadly. "He had his last chance in Moscow in 1976. I was one of the Verdelac who, at great peril, entered the Soviet Union to look for him. What we found was the same madness we see here in Dublin. Dead bodies all over the place, Stepan challenging the Eaters, fighting with them, shooting at them, daring the police and the soldiers to take him alive or dead, playing this ghastly game against the human race with the lives of young girls as a kind of prize. Fortunately for us all he played his game in a Communist dictatorship where there was strict press censorship, and even the people of Moscow and Leningrad were not completely aware of what was happening except by rumor. The Soviet government did not wish to give public recognition to the fact that there was a serial killer in Mother Russia. We found Stepan and spoke with him, and it quickly became obvious that he was completely lost to the People and to the Law, forever. He beat me up rather badly and then he escaped before the others in our party could come to my aid."

"He assaulted a Princess of the Royal House?" exclaimed Radu and Milovan together, aghast at the magnitude of Radekís crime in this case even more than at his murders.

"Hence the presence of Brother Jonathan and myself, my lords," spoke up Andrew Davis, his voice steely. "There will be no repetition, I promise you."

"Well, to be fair, we were intending to kill Stepan if he refused to come with us," Janina gently reminded them. "He hates us, he hates all the People. He was betrothed in his youth, but he broke off his engagement to wed the Lady Althea Nadasdy, a true love match. In the year 1960, when his Lady came into her first season and then to the childbed it was a problem birth, and the decision had to be made. You all know the inexorable law of our survival. A Verdelac woman has four children, no more. If she has a difficult birth and either she or her child can survive, but not both, the sex of the infant determines who lives and who died. If the baby is male, the mother is saved. If female, then the daughter lives and the mother dies. Lady Altheaís baby was female, the Law was invoked, and then it was carried out. But Stepan never forgave his Grand Duke, and then his little girl was killed in the same safe house in Prague where he was captured. That severed his last ties to the People, and now he has gone mad with hatred for the People and for the Law which governs our every act of existence. I think he is trying to prove that we should all be Hunters like in ancient times."

"Impossible!" rapped out Casimir. "The man is raving mad!"

"I know, my lord," said Janina sadly. "Stepan has survived this long through an incredible combination of craft, ruthlessness, and luck. But he is starting to make stupid mistakes. I believe he is becoming tired, exhausted, almost ready for the Long Sleep. Heís never had one, you know. I suppose for the past few years heís been fighting it off through sheer willpower. How he hopes to survive when it comes, I donít understand."

"Right now he endangers us all," said Casimir. "We must get to him before the Eaters do."

"What do you wish me to do, my lord?" asked Janina.

"Before we can take on the job of finding Radek, weíve got to find out what this advert means, who placed it, and what they intend to do," said Casimir. "Radu, bring the map. Highness, this is Dublin. The address given in the advertisement is here, to the north, in a little seaside suburb town called Howth. This is about the time stipulated in the advertisement. What is waiting at that address? Can you find out for us?"

"Certainly, my lord." She studied the map for a minute or two, then leaned back in her chair. She closed her eyes and relaxed. "My I have complete silence please, my lords and brothers? Thank you. I will try to tell you what I find as I go along." She leaned back and stretched, and was silent for several minutes. "I soar above this city," she began to whisper. "Below me I see the lights of Dublin, stretching out just as in the map my lord Casimir showed me. I know where I am, and my mind moves towards the north. I see a great promontory jutting out into the black waters of the bay. I am swooping down, down, and I cast my net." There was a long silence. "I see the house, now. A small bungalow in a quiet back street. There is a light in the window. I am in a room, a lounge or study. Books and tropical fish in a tank. There is a man sitting in a chair. Ach! Heís a Russian all right, my lord, and heís jamming my probe! Bloody Tchaikovsky, no less! 1812 Overture with all the cannons going off, I can hardly hear him think. Ah, heís relaxing a bit....his mind wanders....his thoughts are bitter and murderous....a cold dark room in Moscow, many years ago. He opens a door. He seeks his beloved but....oh no! Oh no!" Tears started into the Verdelac girlís eyes. "She is dead! Dead and mutilated and drained of hyma....Stepan did this! His wife, the only light in this manís dark and violent world....this Russian, there is such pain in his heart still after all these years, I must leave him, I cannot bear it!....there is someone else in the Irishman. He is jamming me as well, or trying to. Something about Rashers who has flashes, some stupid nursery rhyme I suppose it is....someone has taught these Eaters how do interfere with the mindcast....but the pain is there as well, just as bad....he sees his own loved woman falling, falling in a shower of glass....he sees Radek dancing above him, mocking him!....pain and hatred and anger....and another, another Irishman....heís not jamming me, but he seems to be thinking himself in a bar or tavern, and he is drinking a large glass of something blackóby the blue moon, what a filthy taste! Itís rotten, decayed, my lord, do your Eaters actually drink this foul concoction! Wait a minute. The Irishmen are policemen....machine guns and cattle prods....they are hiding, waiting waiting for Gorkas!....they mean to kill, to kill Radek....they are waiting for Gorkas to contact them, to fall into the Russianís trap with the advertisement, so they can kill Gorkas, torture us, force us to tell them where Radek is....hate....I am sick with their hate...."

The girl snapped herself fully awake, her face now gaunt and strained with the effort. She stared at Casimir bleakly. "It has come, my lord," she whispered desolately. "What we have feared for centuries. They know now. Somehow, they know it all, as no men have ever known before. The vengeance of mankind is on our trail."

Casimirís face was haggard also. "You said the Russianís wife was murdered by Radek? He must have searched for answers all these years, and found them. So now he has come to the aid of the Irish, and he has given them everything the Soviets found out about us, either officially or without his governmentís permission, it doesnít matter. Now the gardai know who and what we are. They know our name. They are coming after us. Radek! Murdering traitor, madman, curséd of all Suns! He has killed us all, maybe killed all the People!"

Milovan buried his face in his hands. Casimir seemed to shudder and shrink, his face sinking. "How many of them know!" demanded Radu fiercely. "Ten? A dozen? Twenty? Nothing has been in the newspapers or on the television yet! We can still nip this in the bud! Find them for us, Highness, find everyone who has been told the secret of the People, and we will track them down and kill them all before they tell anyone else!"

"Your great-grandfather Vasiliís spirit lives on in you, Radu," said Casimir with a proud, weary smile. "Unfortunately so does your fatherís intelligence and your motherís compassion. If you will exercise both of those qualities, you will see that what you suggest is quite impossible. For example, I would be almost certain that the Taoiseach knows. If he knows then probably a number of other high government officials know. Are we going to assassinate the entire Cabinet? Plot a massacre of a number of senior police officers? It would cause talk, I promise you. Hardly the way to remain inconspicuous. Besides, it has always been a point of pride and honour with the boyar Verdelaca that however much we are hated by the Eaters, never shall we use our strength and powers to oppress them, only to survive ourselves."

"They are ready to fight, my lord Radu. Those cattle prods would lay us flat on our backs, and the guns would cut down our beloved Brothers and Sisters, all to no end," said Janina sadly. "We have fought to the death before, Radu, but only when they have come for us. And we have always lost, in the end. We will lose now."

"Bribery?" suggested Radu. "We have used our bottomless well of gold in the past to good effect."

"With individuals in the past, aye," agreed Casimir. "With a whole bureaucratic government? Possibly they would take our money, and we will certainly try if we can get close enough to offer the bribe. But our secret wouldnít last. Too many people are already involved and aware. Eventually it would come out. We might buy our escape from Ireland, but thatís all, and once the secret of our existence is known to the world, where would we run to?"

"There has to be something we can do!" cried Radu in anger.

"After six centuries of fighting this battle, I have no intention of giving it up now," said Casimir with a bitter smile. "I will think. For tonight, however, we have prepared chambers for your use, Your Highness. Imminent disaster is no excuse for poor hospitality. Andrew and Jonathan, we have three Verdelac Ladies in this Nest who would be proud and happy to render you service of the body, and I hope you will be so kind as to allow all our human Sisters the same privilege, if you are here long enough. Radek will be out hunting tonight, Highness, and will be on the move. We should wait until after sunrise tomorrow for you to do your thought casting, and once you have located his Nest then we may have something we can somehow

trade to the Eaters in exchange for our lives, if not our future."

The Gorka Brother had earlier deposited the luggage in the trioís bedroom. It was a sumptuously furnished chamber, richly carpeted and with a fire of seasoned logs laid in the hearth. "Ah, you can tell we are in Europe, my Brothers," said Janina with a smile. "Townsville Royal Nest is lovely, of course, but itís all so modern and the heat is so oppressive, with the air conditioning rumbling all the time."

"Youíve been here before, Highness?" asked Andrew, carefully unpacking and folding away their clothing. He and Jonathan took off their shoulder holster rigs, each of them holding a Glock 9-millimetre automatic pistol with an extra clip.

"Once, when I was very young, before the turn of the century. Grand Duke Casimir hasnít changed much, although Radu was a child back then. I remember we had a snowball fight out on that little square, on Christmas Eve of 1899. I was actually presented to the Viceroy of Ireland as a debutante at my coming out, as it was called then. I was passing as the daughter of a Hungarian count. That fat old lecher the Prince of Wales offered me ten thousand guineas and the Order of the Garter to my father for the privilege of deflowering me." "And did you take His Majestyís generous offer?" asked Andrew with a smile.

"I played Cinderella. Gave the old swine one single night that drove him mad, then disappeared from Dublin," giggled Janina. "I am told that after he became King he had the whole British Secret Service trying to find me all over Europe, until the day he died."

"íStrewth, it must be something to remember them days, Highness," said Andrew, shaking his head in oft-expressed wonder.

"For the People itís all much the same. Endless night. Although I admit, we hide in much greater comfort nowadays," said Janina. "You may envy us our long years, Andrew, but we envy you the ability to walk in the daylight through the streets and the fields and forests of this world, places and things we can see only in pictures or by the light of the moon. I believe I owe you some time tonight, Andy, since you fed me on the plane. Jonny, Lady Lamia is the senior Lady of Clan Gorka and it would be good protocol to call upon her first for service of the body. Youíll like her; sheís well over four hundred but sheís a dead ringer for Joan Collins. Iíll see you tomorrow morning."
"Certainly, Highness," replied Jonathan. "Iíll ask the night watch Brother to direct me to her." He went into the bathroom, freshened his shave with an electric razor, and then quickly changed his shirt and tie. "Right, Iím off then."

After he had left Andrew began undressing. "Whatís the plan, then, Highness?"

"Our part will be to find Stepan. I hope that Lord Casimir will be able to find some way off this hook Radek has thrust us all on, but I am not optimistic. I fear we may be taking the Gorkas with us when we return to Australia."

"Big country, Oz," said Andrew philosophically. "Plenty of room."

"Theyíll find us there, Andy," said Janina sadly.

"And I will die protecting you," he said, stroking her face. "You know that, Highness."

"I know, and the thought of losing you and Joan and all the others who have given everything for the People hurts me even more than my own death," she said. "But you may have to fight sooner than that. Lord Casimir may decide that the best thing to do is to kill Stepan, destroy his body, and then hope for the best."

"Iím going to feel bloody funny trying to kill a Lord," said Andrew thoughtfully. "One of the People I have taken an oath to protect at all costs, both as a Brother and a Guardsman."

"Itís a bad situation for me as well," Janina told him. "Grand Duke Casimir was too polite to mention it, but Iím sure he knows that I was the one who was originally betrothed to Stepan Radek. Lady Althea was one of my closest friends, and when I heard that they loved one another I voluntarily stepped aside. I was very happy for them both. Still, for him to turn down a royal princess was a bit of a shock and a scandal. The man we are hunting tonight might have become Voivode of all the People."

"In view of what he has revealed about himself through his acts, Highness, I think itís probably fortunate for us all that he did not," said Andrew soberly.

Janina switched off the light, leaving only the glow of the wood fire. She took an hourglass of brightly coloured sand from the mantel and set it by the bed. She took off her light Australian summer skirt and jacket, kicked off her shoes, and slid out of her undergarments. Her body was the female form in sculpted perfection, lithe and smooth and glowing. Andrewís heart fluttered and his voice caught in his throat, as it always did. Tonight he would have what a king had sought the world over, in vain. "I fulfil the Third Promise," she said by rote, turning over the glass and starting the sands flowing. "While these sands run this body that you have sustained with your blood of life is thine to command, Son of One Sun."

"Daughter of Seven Suns, by the Third Promise I do command thee," returned Andrew in the ancient language of a world far across the black void of space. The ancient ritual completed, he picked her up in his arms and dropped her onto the canopied bed, the dropped down beside her.

XI. Saturday, September 27th

Mick Molloy snapped awake at seven oíclock. He knew with absolute certainty that the telephone was about to ring and that the news would be bad. Two minutes later the phone rang and he picked it up off the nightstand. "Molloy here. Another one?"

"Iím afraid so," said Conn Walshís voice, calmly accustomed to his chiefís prescience.

"As bad as Phyllis Sheridan?" asked Molloy, dreading the answer.

"Not so bad, no, if there are any good ways to be murdered," offered Conn. "The body of a woman was pulled out of the canal near Mespil Road, across from the Department of Labour offices. Two holes in the throat, not a drop of blood in her. The body was fully clothed and showed no signs of sexual interference. Offhand it looks like our Mr. Radek was a bit pressed for time, had to eat and run."

"Right, Conn, Iím on my way." Molloy hung up and got out of bed, and started pulling on his clothes.

"Are you taking Mick Junior?" asked Maureen quietly from the other side of the bed.

"No, let him have a lie in. Nothing he can do on this one." Molloy understood his wifeís quiet terror, after what happened to Margaret, that her son or her husband might be next. She had not so much as whispered a word of it to him, and he loved and admired her more than ever for her courage.

Molloy arrived at Mespil Road to find a deceptively normal looking crime scene of the sort he had become used to over the last thirty years. The only difference between this and any other corpse routinely pulled from the canal was the large number of journalists and television crews being held back by the garda barricades and several large gardai who appeared about ready to use their truncheons to keep the media back, so urgently were some of them trying to get through. An ambulance stood by, its blue light twirling idly in silence, and a medical examiner from St. Jamesí Hospital was just covering up a silent form on the grassy canal bank. Manion was apparently off duty this morning, and Molloy wished him the luck of his well deserved rest. Molloy lifted the plastic sheet and saw the dead body of a prematurely middle-aged woman dressed in a green jumper, a leather skirt, and knee-high plastic imitation-leather boots. Her black hair hung in rat-tails from her skull, and the vampireís stigmata were pink and jagged against the fish-belly white of her throat. "Have we got an ID on her yet?" he asked Walsh.

"Yes, sir. Frederika Gaffney, aged forty-two. Known prostitute with convictions. She was Dutch, came over here twenty years ago and married a gouger from the Liberties. He scarpered and left her with three chiselers and she ended up going on the game."

"Did she have a minder?"

"Heís doing six months in Mountjoy for assault, hence he wasnít on call last night, as if he could have done her any good. She was last seen by a garda patrol about twelve thirty this morning on her usual stand in Leeson Street."

"I told her to get off the streets," spoke up a uniformed sergeant bleakly. "Freddie and I were old acquaintances. I nicked her four times over the years. I should have pulled her in again last night, vagrancy or loitering or Section 30."

"Why didnít you?" asked Molloy.

"She begged me not to. Sheíd go to the ĎJoy for sure if she were arrested again, her rent was due, her little girls needed school books, and she had an eighty-pound ESB bill due. The usual sob story, but in Freddieís case I knew it were true. So I let her go. God, I shouldnít have let her go!" The sergeant was about to weep.

"We all make a few bad calls in our careers, Ed," Molloy told him. "Whores have bills to pay like everyone else. Iíve let a few off the hook meself in my time. Has anyone gone to see to her kids?"

"I sent a car with a Ban Gharda to their flat," said Walsh. "Weíll get Social Welfare onto it today. They can stay with neighbours tonight, but I reckon theyíll have to be taken into care." Sergeant Scott pulled up in a garda car with a technician from the Technical Bureau, and they pulled their murder bags out of the back.

"Good morning, Graham. Itís Radek again, no question," said Molloy. "Give the body and the scene the works, but in this case I donít think thereís much mystery what happened. Conn thinks that this was a rush job and Iím inclined to agree with him. Radek somehow convinced Freddy here he was a randy punter; maybe he used his bloody vampire mind meld, or maybe he just flashed a roll of twenty-pound notes, whatever. Youíd think Freddie of all people would be streetwise enough to be on the lookout for a maniac whoís been murdering women, but either she was so desperate for money she took a chance, or Radekís hoodoo lulled and confused her. He lured her down somewhere nice and dark along the canal here and killed her, drained her dry, and dropped her in the drink along with the cider bottle, the milk cartons, and other used beverage containers. The actual murder site is probably more up towards Leeson Street, somewhere along this side of the bank where her patch was. See if you can find it after youíre through with the body."

"We might get some fibres," said Scott optimistically.

"Doctor, can you give us any idea of the time of death?" asked Molloy.

"Ah, Ďtis hard to say," muttered the medico, obviously shaken. "Sheís suffered a total loss of blood and that would play hob with body cooling and rigor mortis, plus the fact that she was in the water for some hours. If I had to guess Iíd say six or seven hours ago, say around one oíclock this morning. My God, this bastard really is a vampire! That woman was drained of her blood! I never really believed it until now. Thought it was just codswallop from the media." The doctor lit a cigarette, his hands trembling. "I wouldnít want you to think Iím a mollycoddle, Superintendent. Iíve been doing police work for fifteen years. But this damned thing is soóso horrible. It scares me shitless!"

"You and me both, Doctor. Andy Manion from the Meath has been handling all the medical work for the task force. Why not pass this along to him? Conn, I donít think thereís much else we can do here. It; seems pretty straightforward, if horrible like the doctor says. You look like you could use some breakfast and some sleep in that order, you being on stakeout all night. What say we got for an Egg McMuffin and we interface, as the yuppies say? Then you can toddle off home." Molloy knew perfectly well that his sergeant would toddle off to the hospital to be with Margaret, catch a few winks in a chair by her bedside, and only go home to shower and shave and put on a clean shirt, but he said nothing.

"Game ball," agreed Conn. In the car on the way into town he said, "Nothing happened on the stakeout last night, Super, but I think we may have been probed by these vampire telepaths. Rozanov agrees."

"Eh?" asked Molloy. He parked on St. Stephenís Green and they walked down Grafton Street to the McDonaldís, Molloy having finally come to terms some time past with his shameful love of American junk food. Walsh waited until they were seated at a plastic table with plastic trays of plastic edibles in front of them, and then said,

"About two in the morning we all of us at once got this really odd feeling. I canít really describe it. It was like little feet pitter-pattering around inside my skull, but not like that at all, not really. Can ye understand?"

"I cannot. What on earth are you gibbering about, lad?" demanded Molloy, his mouth full of pressed egg.

"It was like someone opened a window into my mind, for a little bit, and I saw this really smashing looking bird rummaging around inside. I wonít try to describe it, but Rozanov and Dempsey felt it as well. Super, I think theyíve twigged to us. I really do."

"Oh, lovely," sighed Molloy with disgust. "And of course until we know then we have to keep it up, night after night, now probably for feck all. And Freddie Gaffney and Mary Halloran and Tom Flanagan and all the others are still dead. Conn, I think I may go mad yet on this case," he said reflectively, sipping coffee. "I been thinking. I wonder just what our well-regarded Father Ignatius Hogan thinks of all this? Or what he knows about it. I was nattering about the Rooshian file with the Major, and he says there are a couple of references in there to the Vatican allegedly knowing about these Verdelac yokes for centuries. I wonder if that dog-collared gombeen was holding out on us when he came to us with that story about the women in the confessional? I wonder if he knew all along what we were facing."

"I would imagine Holy Mother Church isnít particularly keen to address the issue of intelligent life on other planets, of any kind," replied Walsh thoughtfully. "Theologically speaking, that is. What if they were forced to admit that mankind is not Godís only creation. Do green-blooded vampires have souls? If so, what kind?" There was a buzz as Connís cell phone rang. Molloy for some reason had developed an abiding loathing for the things and stuck to the good old fashioned radio by preference. "Walsh here." Conn listened. "Bloody hell! Ta, Paddy. Weíre on our way." He snapped the phone shut. "That was Paddy Treacy. Weíve found our leak within the force."

"No we havenít," said Molloy, his voice suddenly edged with steel. "Because as of this very minute, he or she is off the force. Give me the name and weíll toddle off to where I will personally rip the badge and the epaulettes off the guilty party! The name, Conn!"

"Iím afraid youíll not be doing much ripping today, Mick. The leak is our own trusty and illustrious Garda Commissioner."

"Jaysus!" exploded Molloy in rage and humiliation, his face turning purple. "How the hell did Treacy get onto that great slovenly hippo?"

"He didnít. Major Rozanov did."

"I have been posing as reporter for Tass at Shelburne Hotel," said Rozanov as they conferred gloomily in Molloyís Harcourt Square office. "I know real Tass man, I explain I am on official business, I give him a thousand pounds and he is off in much delight to Donegal to buy many garments he can sell in Moscow. When I am not with you comrades of garda I am in pub and hotel bars listening to reporters babble. Reporters generally know very little, but sometimes they know things they do not know they know, if you follow. They can be a source of information if handled carefully. I tell them latest Moscow gossip, some of it true, they buy me drinks, which is good because drink is very costly here. How can you Irish people afford to stay drunk when is so much cost? No matter. I hear disturbing rumor that Russian secret policeman is in Dublin assisting in hunt for vampire. My reporter friends ask me if I know this secret policeman. I tell them real Tass man is rumored to be KGB, but this will only throw them off for a while. This business I mislike, and I trace to source. Is come from large man with red face in Juryís bar who I am told is Garda Commissar."

"Commissioner, although in his case Iíll let it stand," muttered Molloy.

"It seems he has been cultivating an Anglo-Irish process with Hot Lips from RTEís News In Action, and sheís been sharing it all out among her fellow reptiles," said Treacy. "I donít know which of the two disgust me worse."

"Anglo-Irish process?" asked Rozanov politely. "Hot Lips?"

"Itís a kind of a slang term," explained Walsh. "It means a secret screwing, either sexually or financially or any other way. It comes from one of our many buggered-up peace attempts in the North, some years back. Hot Lips is the nickname of that particular female television journalist. It comes from her allegedly superb and skillful oral technique. Of interviewing, I mean, of course."

"Oh, yes, I know." said Rozanov. "She was young lady I observe under table in Juryís. I was most surprised when she came up for air and I finally saw her face. I recognize her from television newscast."

"A kind of Irish Monica Lewinsky?" asked Manion, amused.

"I walked a beat with that gom in Ringsend when we were both first out of depot at Templemore," said Molloy in disgust. "He was on the make even then. He told me he was going to be Garda Commissioner some day. God knows where he thinks heís going now. Perhaps heís bucking for Godís job. I hate to say this, but I halfway had a suspicion that he might not be secure. Thatís why I have not advised him of much in the way of specifics regarding what we now know about the Verdelacs, nor have I told him of the presence of this Gorka vampire family in Ireland. God, heíd do his nut if he knew about them!"

"What does he know about Major Rozanov?" asked Walsh.

"Hmmmm.....not much" replied Molloy. "I have duly reported that we believed Radek to be the Moscow killer of 1976, and he knows about our getting co-operation from the Russian police, what with the photograph we put in the papers and all, and I told him that a Russian officer was on his way from Moscow to advise, before I knew just how important the Majorís contribution would be. I mean jayz, the man is my boss, I have to tell him something about what weíre doing now and again."

"In Russia when we have unreliable superior or associate, we deliberately feed him incorrect information so he acquires a bad reputation with whoever he is reporting to," suggested Rozanov. "Is always problem there. In Russia everyone spies on everyone else, so one acquires the habit of telling as little truth as possible, to anyone. By same token, we always assume that everyone else is lying, about everything."

"And how on earth can your society function like that?" demanded Manion.

"It doesnít. We just everyone pretend it does, and Bob is uncle," replied Rozanov with a shrug. "Works fine so long as everyone is in on secret that society is totally corrupt. One honest man or official can gum up works in unholy manner. When everyone does is corrupt in all things, and everyone knows, then is no longer corruption, is normal. Every couple generations or so in Russia, along comes a Lenin or a Stalin, takes over with iron hand, shoots many people and makes trains run on time, then we start sliding back into corruption again. Problem in West is you are totally corrupt as well, but you are so rich that you can afford to pretend you are not, so you become self righteous and everybody hates you. All is from Marx."

"I donít recall reading that Karl Marx ever said any such thing!" spluttered Manion.

"No, no, not Karl Marx. Groucho," said Rozanov, unsmiling.

"Youíre having us on!" said Molloy, cocking an eye at him.

"Am I? What are you going to do about Garda Commissar exchanging secret investigation information for fellatio?"

"Thereís more reptile-related problems," said Treacy grimly. "I arrested a reporter from the Daily Mirror this morning on a charge of bribery and obstructing the course of justice. He tried to bribe a Ban Gharda to give him a copy of the Task Force Gossamer update file. Offered her two thousand pounds."

"The daily update?" exclaimed Mick Molloy, aghast. "He didnít get a look at it, did he?"

"No, fortunately Irish society isnít totally corrupt yet, only most of it. Marie Hill is a good honest country girl and she told him sheíd think about it, then she came to me. I caught him red-handed giving her the envelope with the two grand in cash. But this means that the reptiles have found out that the daily task force update exists, something they shouldnít know at all, at all, and the checkbooks are drawn and loaded. The next time they might approach a garda with a mortgage or a gambling problem. I now keep the master copy locked up in my office, and the one in the incident room is now chained to a pillar in the middle of the room. As you know, all incoming shifts have to familiarize themselves with what happened since they went off duty, and it creates something of a crunch in the incident room with them all lined up and crowded around the one copy. But we canít let that information fall into the wrong hands."

"What exactly did you put in the report about Major Rozanov?" asked Molloy.

"Only that heís a colleague from Moscow who was assisting us with our inquiries. I didnít know what else to say. They all see the Major coming in and out every day so Iím sure theyíve tumbled to the fact that heís a bit more involved than that. Nor have I put anything in there about the alien finger tissue and green blood from North Circular Road, although everybody seems to know about it. I donít like having to lie to our own people, Mick."

"Neither do I," agreed Molloy. "But on the other hand, if over one hundred gardai on this task force knew that we were searching for a member of an alien race and that others were living here in Ireland secretly among us, it would end up with the media sure as God made little green apples. A secret this big canít be kept. Then we would have a panic on our hands that would make everything else thatís gone before look tranquil. and Radek would probably slip away out of the country in the confusion. Scotty, anything yet on the Gaffney killing?"

Later that night there was another conference in the library of the Gorka Clanís Dublin fortress. "Iím certain," said Princess Janina pointing to the map. "Heís here."

"Did he detect your probe, Highness?" asked Casimir anxiously.

"I donít think so, my lord. I was able to sense a few things about him. Stepan is tired. Heís dead on his feet. Itís definitely the Long Sleep coming on. Heís consuming more and more hyma yet it doesnít satisfy him, and thatís another sure sign."

"We can take him on our own, then," said Radu urgently. "With respect, grandfather, there is no need for you to embark upon this dangerous course you are planning. We donít need Eaters to clean our own house!"

"Brother McLaren and I are willing to go after him, my lord," spoke up Andrew Davis. "Give us one of your best Brothers as a driver. Weíll go to Lord Stepanís house in the daylight so he canít escape, and take him out. Heíll be trapped inside the house facing two trained Guardsmen who know how to kill a Verdelac. We will remove his body and destroy it, and no one will be the wiser."

"And what about the scientists studying Verdelac physiology now, courtesy of Radekís inexcusable stupidity?" asked Casimir. "What about this Russian and his friends in the Irish police? I have spoken to the Voivode about this by telephone. Like you, he has grave doubts about my course of action. But sooner or later the People must attempt something like this. Within twenty to thirty years the Eaters will have advanced in their technology to the point where they will be forever beyond us, and we will be at their mercy. The great secret of our Peopleís existence simply cannot be preserved much longer. For the first time in our history, we must go to them and ask for terms. So be it."

XII. Monday, September 29th

"It arrived through the letterbox of the house in Howth," said Treacy. "There was no stamp. Somehow they managed to hand deliver it without being seen."

"Right under the noses of two dozey Branch men who were supposed to be staying alert outside and watching for suspicious persons," said Molloy in disgust. "Scotty?"

"The lab confirms that the green fluid on the piece of gauze is the substance we now believe to be Verdelac blood," said Scott. "I suppose one of them pricked his finger with a scalpel or something. It confirms the authenticity of the letter very neatly."

"You will note they refer to you by name, Comrade Chief Superintendent," pointed out Rozanov.

"These damned creatures always seem to be writing me crazy messages," muttered Molloy complainingly. He picked up a single sheet of paper in a plastic document protector, on which were typewritten several lines. "We will come to your house at midnight tonight. We will be armed and if any attempt is made to assault or detain us, we shall obey our proud tradition and fight until we win free or die in the attempt. Otherwise, you have our word that we will do no harm to you. We wish to speak with you and Chief Detective Superintendentóthatís Detective Chief Superintendent, yez silly undead thing!óanyway they want to discuss matters of mutual interest, so they tell me. The letter is signed ĎGorkaí. Get anything off it, Graham?"

"Plain A-4 bond, standard Bowater, some kind of word processor, 12 point type, Gothic, appropriately enough. Thousands of fonts like it in the country. Find me the printer and I can probably match it. No fingerprints, just those blank smudges. Graphology computer says very intelligent and forceful signature."

"I suppose yeíll tell me next that he was best mates with Brian Boru?"

"Not enough of a sample to give an age estimate," replied Scott.

"What will you do, Super?" asked Conn Walsh.

"What can I do? Meet with them, of course. Youíre game, Major?"

"I would not dream of missing such an appointment," replied Rozanov.

"Will you need me?" asked Conn eagerly.

"Yes, but no more than three of us. Any more of us might spook them, and if itís some kind of trap theyíre laying for us, thereís no point in all of us walking into it."

"Do you want to go wired?" asked Scott.

"No, these things can read our minds, remember?" said Molloy. "No tricks. I think they can probably give us Radek, and Iím willing to listen to what they have to say."

"You figure theyíll trade Radek for their own skins?"

"Something like that," said Molloy. "I suspect they want the gardai to pack in the vampire hunting in the worst way, before we accidentally turn up for their own hideouts while searching for him."

"What about the Hippo?" asked Treacy. "If Himself finds out that youíre having a sitdown with our local undead heíll go through the roof. He wonít be satisfied until we break whatever agreement we make and hunt them down, too, just so he can grab a headline or two. And if he knows, Hot Lips will know in the time it takes to say blow job, or in her case to do one, and then the rest of the news media will pick up on it."

"The Commissioner mustnít find out!" said Molloy decisively. "He must never know, lads! Not ever! I wonít even tell Mick Og about this until itís over. Lads, Iíve got to have your word that this never leaks!"

"You can count on me, Super," said Conn instantly.

"And me, of course," said Treacy. "I want this butcher put out of action. It wonít be the first time the gardai have been forced to work around our own so-called leaders."

Graham Scott and Manion both chimed in their agreement as well. "Major Rozanov, how likely is it that the information you have given us will ever come out of Russia? I mean officially, endorsed by the Russian government?" asked Molloy.

"Probably never," said Rozanov with a shrug. "Soviet government was unable to find any way to turn Verdelacs into weapons or money, and so they have lost interest. There are all kinds of strange projects left lying around half-finished from Soviet era. Some of them may destroy world some day, but this one has been pretty much forgotten about."

"What a cheerful thought. Right, then, weíll see what the evening brings," said Molloy. "Maybe weíll all end up happy with the result except for Radek. Now, what about this demonstration tonight?"

"Nothing out of the ordinary, Super," said Treacy. "It concerns us marginally as the first organized mass reaction to the killings, nut otherwise itís just going to be the usual lefty waddle. Itís being organized by the Dublin Womenís Consciousness Movement, the Dublin Women Writerís Collective, U.C.D. Feminist and Lesbian Alliance, the usual bag of politically correct dolly birds. Their leaflet says they are protesting against the failure of us nasty male chauvinist coppers to catch the killer. Obviously these psychotic murders are all a horrible male conspiracy to force the women of Ireland to wear bras, stay home and bake things, and weíre in cahoots with Radek for that purpose. You will be interested to learn that our Mr. Radek is not a green-blooded vampire from outer space after all. Instead, he is, and I quote here, a Ďprojection of male phallic dominance fantasy and an instrument of male suppression of She-Consciousnessí, whatever the hell that may be. They march from Parnell Square to Stephenís Green and hear speeches by the usual clique who run the Dublin feminist scene. The march assembles as seven p.m. They absolutely insist on it being after dark to they can Ďtake back the nightí, as they put it."

"Sinn Fein involvement?"

"Sinn Fein female members taking part as individuals," said Treacy. "There was an unholy row at the organizing committee election meeting over whether or not men would be allowed to participate, horrible wee craturs that we are. The feminist element was against it, Sinn Fein was for it, since they donít feel comfortable without their muscle men about. The fems said if SF or the Militant Tendency or Democratic Left were allowed to participate on an official basis, the purpose of the march would be lost and it would turn into a replica of the last twenty-three of these events, same old faces, so forth and so on. Basically, women are so terrified of the killer that the fems are hoping to cash in on that fear and get a few more into sisterhood and carpet-munching in the collective and all, but if theyíre to pick up any new recruits the left rabble have to be kept in the background and the agenda kept hidden, or it will frighten away the new blood, pardon the expression. These groups take in just barely enough members to keep on spinning their wheels, and turnover is high, as you know. The only time they get any surge in membership on even a temporary basis is some time of crisis like H-Block, and the feminists hope this serial killer could be their H-Block. The dykes are fairly slavering like Radek himself at the thought of all that frightened female flesh waiting to be comforted."

"And how did the others react to the feminists wanting to hog all the limelight?" asked Walsh.

"They took strong exception to it," replied Treacy with a chuckle. "Sinn Fein and Militant seemed inclined to argue the point and the debate got hot. A certain lady from Derry eventually carried the day, so tonight itís the fair sex only. Special Branch says this isnít the first time Big Nell has crowded Sinn Fein and the Dublin Commandant has threatened to put some manners on her with a bullet in the kneecap. The Official I.R.A, the ones who donít exist any more, have been forced to remind the Provo Commandant that the lady is under Official protection, seeing as how her uncle is head of the Official Army Council, which of course doesnít exist either. Things may deteriorate and we may end up carrying some more of the bold lads of the heather and the glen out of Dublin pubs in body bags."

"Just so long as they donít hit any innocent bystanders," said Molloy. "Last time they shot the barman and a customer by mistake."

"I would like to point out that Soviet Union stopped supporting these crazy people about 1970 or so," said Rozanov. "At least with weapons and money. One of the first things we are taught in GRU is when on assignment in Western country, never try to work with local left wing. They are almost all spoiled bourgeois children playing at being Che Guevara, they are incompetent and unreliable, and most of them would not know real Bolshevik from anus of goat. When we need extra help we always hire local criminals on purely money basis; is better relationship all around and they are more efficient."

"Iíll bear that in mind, should you ever come to our fair city under less friendly circumstances, Major," said Molloy dryly. "Right, lads, everybody back here tonight at ten oíclock for final briefing before I go out for my interview with the vampire."

It was a busy afternoon. A free-lance journalist named Nigel Moore had somehow acquired a garda uniform, strolled into the busy incident room at around four fifteen, casually leafed through the task force update file as if he had every right in the world to do so, then deftly slipped the file out of its binder and calmly strolled out the door again without anyone noticing what he had done. Through a stroke of good luck, just as the thief was walking out of the Harcourt Square complex, Mick Og Molloy was coming in. The first thing Mick Junior noticed was that the erstwhile garda had his cap badge on upside down, and the second thing was that he recognized the update file. Mick Og roared out a warning to Treacy, who was in the lobby, and hurtled down Harcourt Street after the fleeing reporter, baying like a hound of hell. Mick Og brought Moore down with a flying tackle, while Treacy displayed that amazingly deceptive speed which so many heavy men possess; he caught them up and grabbed the file a second after it hit the ground. Other journalists nearby thought they saw two gardai fighting and came running, and were treated to a blistering tirade by Treacy who threatened to extract a tooth from each if they didnít mind their own business. Uncertain what he might have learned from his brief perusal of the update, a garda legal team was now arguing for a gag order against Moore at a special sitting of the High Court. The prisoner, somewhat the worse for wear, was being shuttled from garda station to garda station one step ahead of his solicitor. "He wonít tell us what he saw in the file," Treacy said. "I am afraid, though, that he may have seen the Ship Lane address in Howth and mention of a stakeout."

"Bloody hell, Paddy, what was sensitive information like that doing in there at all?" demanded Molloy in exasperation.

"Dammit, Mick, we had armed gardai up there from the Branch. Suppose one of our paranoid public had phoned in a complaint about suspicious characters hanging about, as well they might have when people are calling us to report bats? If our own people didnít know what was going on they might have figured gougers or Provos and sent an armed mobile response team, and we might have ended up with gardai shooting at one another! Sometimes the left hand has to know what the right hand is doing!"

"Point taken, Paddy. But now what the hell are we going to do with this Nigel Moore bloke? Heís a top garda-basher, Iíve read some of his tripe, and I doubt heíll play ball with us. And gag order or no, the moment heís released heíll head for the nearest pub and spill his guts to his journalist mates over a pint. We must keep the Ship Lane site secure, at least for tonight of all nights!"

"Then we canít let him go, and weíve got to keep him incommunicado" said Walsh. "We canít risk any chance heíll leak the address. All weíd need right now is a camera crew from RTE to rock up right in the middle of our negotiations with the lads whose blood is forty shades of green."

"Whatís he charged with so far?" asked Molloy.

"Impersonating a garda, assaulting a garda, resisting arrest, theft of state property, interfering with a garda investigation, and espionage. Heís English, so I threw that last in to make it look like a possible national security matter and get a higher bail," replied Treacy.

"That will do to be getting on with," agreed Molloy. "Donít let him see his solicitor until tomorrow morning. The beak will see through the espionage business and throw that out, but it gives us an angle. Heíll probably make bail. The second he does, lift him again under Section 30, right there is the courtroom. Tell the beak weíre holding him pending investigation of him being MI6 or CIA, whatever. After all, we canít have foreign intelligence agents roaming around Dublin, can we?" he added, with an arch look at Rozanov. "Weíll keep him out of circulation as long as we can that way, and hopefully if this thing tonight goes well it will all be over shortly.

"What about his brief?" asked Conn. "What if our friend gives him a message to pass on to his newshound cronies so it wonít go cold while heís in the nick?"

"Whoís his solicitor, Paddy?" asked Molloy.

"Liam Lewis, Westmoreland Street."

"Ah, then we have a handle on him," said Molloy. He scrawled something on a piece of notepaper and handed it to Treacy. "Remind him of this as he leaves the courtroom."

"July the first, 1994," Treacy read aloud. "Hawthorne Villas, Bray. A skeleton in Mr. Lewisís closet?"

"Just show him that and look wise, along with a hint that heíd best not be acting the messenger boy for his client. It will suddenly call to mind his civic duty and his grave responsibility as an officer of the court."

"Pardon me for asking," asked Rozanov curiously, "But is this the way police operations are usually carried out in this country? False charges, playing games with due process, blackmailing legal counsel, misuse of emergency security legislation to detain people the police find inconvenient?"

"With all due respect, youíre a Russian, and youíre lecturing us on civil liberties?"
asked Molloy in surprise.

"No, no, not at all. I am actually most impressed," Rozanov replied. "There may be hope for you yet." A guard knocked on the door and beckoned to Inspector Treacy, who went outside to speak with him. "I walked through the remnants of that demonstration of women on the way here. There must have been quite a crowd."

"Over ten thousand marchers," said Molloy. "It was a lot bigger than we thought it would be, but the streets should be fairly clear by now. At our request the marchers allowed one of our senior Ban Ghardai to get up at the end of the rally and advise the marchers to be careful going back to their homes and their flats. We were actually a bit worried about this event. Radek may have complete abandoned his string of harem girls, since he doesnít know which ones might be staked out. If thatís the case then heís going to start snatching up anything thatís available, and indeed that appears to be the case in the Gaffney murder. All those women out there after dark must have been tempting targets. I hope these people, or creatures, or whatever they are whom weíre meeting tonight have something for us. Itís all very well for feminists to gibber about taking back the night, but they donít know what theyíre up against."

"A forlorn hope, Comrade Chief Superintendent," said Rozanov, shaking his head. "The night will always belong to Radek and his kind of monster, so long as there is evil."

"Tonight certainly belonged to him!" said Paddy Treacy in a distracted voice as he re-entered the room. His face was white and sweating. "Two dead women have been found along the route of tonightís march. One was in an alley behind Bachelorís Walk, and the other was dumped in a rubbish tip off Grafton Street. Puncture marks in the throats, no blood in the bodies. For all we know there may be more we havenít found yet. Looks like the bloody bastard was stalking the demonstration and picking off stragglers."

"Oh, my God!" shouted Molloy in dismay. "Scotty, get your crew together! Andy, go with him! Make sure neither scene is disturbed until we can go over it in the daylight. I canít come myself, Conn and I have to be in Howth by eleven to make sure weíre in place."

"Thereís more," said Paddy grimly. "We may have trouble keeping the murder scenes clear. The word has gone flying all over town, through the wine bars and pubs to which the ladies of the evening adjourned after the speeches in Stephenís Green. This is it, Mick, weíve got a riot on our hands. Hundreds of enraged women are running all over the south side, maybe a thousand in all, and theyíre going berserk. Theyíre attacking male pedestrians, clawing them and trying to kick them in the groin or otherwise injure their private parts. They say they are declaring a "Peopleís Curfew" and from now on all men have to be off the streets after sundown. God knows what half-pissed dyke dreamed that one up on the spur of the moment. Theyíre invading the pubs and ordering all the male customers out, with predictable results, since the lads donít appreciate having time called on them by lunatic mots. They go running into a pub knocking over drinks and throwing the furniture around, and what with the price of the pint these days the customers of both sexes get angry and start chasing the feminists about with pool cues and bottles and whatnot. The emergency rooms are starting to fill up with people with cracked heads and broken bones. The women are rampaging down Grafton Street smashing windows, pulling out female mannikins from the shop displays at Switzersí and the other big stores, and burning them in heaps in the street. Itís pandemonium."

"Theyíre afraid, Paddy," said Molloy in despair. "Theyíre bloody terrified. This is what I have been afraid would happen. Theyíre being driven half insane with terror already thanks to the media and also because, letís face it, theyíve good reason to be afraid. Then something like this happens, and the powder keg finally explodes. It was only a matter of time. Whoís handling crowd control."

"Chief Superintendent Reilly, sir," replied Treacy.

"Ah, well, they want equality, they shall have it. Paudge Reilly is an equal opportunity headknocker, willing to club down anyone regardless of race, creed, sex, or national origin. Paddy, before you head for the murder scenes, could you find Paudge, give him my compliments, and ask him as diplomatically as possible to go as easy as he can on these women tonight? Consistent with restoring order, of course? It probably wonít work, but weíve butcherís work enough to deal with from Radek without Paudge and his bruiseboys staging a feminist massacre."

Downstairs there was a tinkling of shattered glass and a rising crescendo of hysterical screams, curses, thumps and crashes as stones hit the walls of the garda complex. Gardai shouted as they struggled with a gang of wild-eyed harpies who invaded the lobby, kicking and clawing at the policemenís genitalia. Molloy looked down over the staircase at the madhouse below. "Hell and damnation!" he swore. "Conn, Rozanov, weíd better get out the back way before the place is surrounded and Big Nell pulls up outside in a chariot like Queen Maeve!"

Mick Og met them in the corridor on their way out. "If you donít need me, can I go on riot duty, Da?" he asked eagerly. "Sure I never was in a riot before."

"Donít see why not. Go down to Operations and get kitted out properly first. And donít hit any women except in self-defense!" he called after his son. "Yer ma and me raised yez up to be a gentleman!"

In the study of the house in Howth there stood a tall grandfather clock of mellowed mahogany, very old and very loud. It ticked with a deep cluck, and all three men stirred as it began to boom out midnight. All of the lights in the house were out, except for the study. One entire room of the wall consisted of the largest aquarium Molloy had ever seen, lit indirectly from within and full of sunken castles, model shipwrecks, and slowly waving aquatic plants as well as shoals of bright tropical fish. There were schools of brilliant neon tetras, and exotic fan-tailed specimens Molloy couldnít begin to identify, for the relaxing contemplation of the multi-national corporate executives who usually rented the house for their stays in Dublin. Tall bookshelves lined the other walls, and the wide French windows opened out into an enclosed garden.

The three men sat in separate armchairs. Molloy and Walsh were fidgety and frequently got up to watch the fish at close hand, or fiddle with the books, taking them from the shelves, glancing through them, and then returning them to their places. Rozanov sat calmly in his armchair reading the collected works of St. Thomas Aquinas in English, which Molloy thought a bizarre choice under the circumstances. "Midnight," said Molloy unnecessarily as the last clock chimes died away. "No sign of them yet. They may be afraid of an ambush."

"They will check this place out thoroughly with their telepathy, Comrade Chief Superintendent," said Rozanov. A car went by on the street outside and stopped several doors down from the house. Car doors were heard softly closing. "Yes, thatís probably them," said Rozanov, laying aside his book. "Verdelacs donít fly around as bats; automobiles serve their purposes quite well." Footsteps were heard approaching down the sidewalk.

"Right, let me do as much of the talking as possible," Molloy reminded them. "Remember, our one goal is to find Radek and stop him from killing again. We do not go anywhere with them, on any pretext. Other than that, I guess we just play it by ear."

The front door had been left unlocked, and they heard it opening, followed by steps in the vestibule. Molloy wasnít really certain what he expected to come through the door, possibly Bela Lugosi in slicked-back hair and opera cape announcing that he did not drinkówine. Instead, two tanned and lean young men in casual suits entered the study and without a word quickly and efficiently went over the room. They found and removed the cattle prod that Rozanov had been issued, carrying it outside. Then they positioned themselves on either side of the door. One of them said, "Now letís keep things nice and friendly, eh, sports? We donít want a ruckus, just a quiet little chat between you lot, and the Grand Duke, and our Lady." He opened his jacket and Molloy saw a pistol nestling in a shoulder holster. "You gents please be kind enough to keep your hands where my mate and me can see them at all time. Letís just get this done, then weíll be on our way, got it?"

"Do I detect an Australian accent?" asked Molloy calmly. A thug with a gun was something he could understand and deal with. "I suppose youíre one of the human allies of these creatures. Tell me, how does one go about joining up with this little secret society of yours? Do you put ads in the newspapers under Help Wanted?"

"Iíll send you an application form, sport," replied Andrew with a wintery smile. "Iím not the one youíre here to converse with, Superintendent" He leaned into the hallway and said a few words in what sounded like some Eastern European-sounding language, and a young woman entered. Janinaís long golden hair was neatly pulled back, and she was neatly dressed in an elegant Irish tweed. She wore close-fitting shades, so dark as to be opaque to human eyes. Molloy and Walsh sucked in their breath, the thought hitting them simultaneously that this was the most beautiful and desirable woman they had ever seen. It was nothing specific or definable, but her aura of sexual enticement and alluring beauty gnawed at them even though they both sensed it was in their own minds, and that what they were experiencing was something similar to certain predatory fish who use lures for food. Fleetingly, the guilty thought crossed their minds that they, too, might accept the bargain of the vampire if it were ever offered. They knew that they were looking at a female Verdelac.

Behind her came a tall old man, his dark conservative suit oddly incongruous with his hatchet-like face. The shoulder length grey hair and iron-grey moustache gave him a wild, barbaric aspect, as if some Scythian nomad chieftain had been captured and dressed in a Louis Copeland executive ensemble. He took off his shades and put them in his pocket, and his eyes were the most peculiar glinting blue that Molloy had ever seen. He carried a heavy gold-topped cane of Edwardian vintage, but he did not seem to need it to walk. He entered the room and calmly seated himself on the settee, not proffering his hand to Molloy, all business. "I am Casimir Gorka," he said without preamble. "That you for agreeing to speak with me tonight, Detective Chief Superintendent."

"It is necessary," replied Molloy. "This is my Sergeant, Conn Walsh, and this is Major Nikolai Rozanov of the Russian army."

"Are you here on behalf of the Russian government, Major?" asked Casimir.

"I am here on behalf of justice, sir," replied Rozanov evenly. "This man Radek murdered eight women in my country, possibly more. One especially concerns myself and a very old friend of mine. Like these men, I just want Radek."

"I am Janina Bathory, Chief Superintendent," said the girl softly. Her voice was light and musical. "Sergeant Walsh, Major Rozanov, I apologize for my intrusion into your minds the other night, but you must admit that the caution on our part was justified. An encounter with your escort of that evening would have been most unpleasant for all concerned." Janina seated herself on the settee beside the old man, and one of the Australians moved in silently behind her.

"This is something of a historic occasion," said Casimir gravely, his voice surprisingly deep and strong despite his evident age. "I believe that this is the first time, Superintendent, that someone in authority from my race has sat down with someone in authority from yours to work out a negotiated solution to a mutual problem."

"That problem being Stepan Radek," replied Molloy.

"It goes a bit beyond Radek now, as Iím sure you realize. The first thing I wish to say, Superintendent, is that for whatever you may think it worth, you have our deepest and most truly felt apology. We are sorry for what this Verdelac has done, for the lives he has destroyed and the suffering he has caused in Ireland, and especially the pain he has brought into your own life, the terrible thing he did to your daughter. Every race on earth, and off of it, produces occasional misfits, criminals, and madmen. Radek is one of ours, and his acts pain us and shame us more than you can imagine, because they violate every principle of ethics and righteousness that we believe in. As difficult as it may be for you, I ask that you do not judge all of us because of the heartless and evil acts of a single individual. Whatever you may think of us and of our way of life, Superintendent, we are not all Stepan Radeks."

"I know that, in view of the fact that you have evidently lived in Ireland for a long time and this is the first trouble weíve had out of yez," replied Molloy carefully. "I accept your apology and I accept that what you say is true, but you have to understand, sir, that most people wonít. Youíre not just an everyday racial or religious minority, you are vampires and extraterrestrials, two kinds of being at once whom humanity has been conditioned to believe to be mythical, but to hate and to fear. Tonight there is rioting and bloodshed in the streets of Dublin because of what Stepan Radek has done. If those mobs downtown could find your people they would tear you to pieces, no matter how strongly you defended yourselves."

"That scenario is a familiar one to us," replied Casimir bleakly.

"I donít know what will happen in the future," continued Molloy, "But I do know that Radek must be stopped, now, before he kills again. That must be our first order of business. I am going to ask you straight out: do you know where Stepan Radek is hiding?"

"Yes, we do," replied Casimir levelly. "We also know that you intend to kill him when you find him. We accept this. Radek deserves death for his crimes against both your race and ours."

"Will you give us Radek? What are your conditions?"

"Continued safety and secrecy for our People here in Ireland," said Casimir. "Let me begin by saying that I know you are not acting alone and that you cannot on your own offer any guarantees. You must take this offer to your higher ups. Once you have Radek, they may believe that there is no longer any reason to keep our secret. They would be wrong. The Verdelac could be very useful to the government of Ireland. As an earnest of our good faith, we give you this." Gorka held out his hand, and one of the Australians took from his pocket a small leather pouch, while from her purse Janina drew a large packet wrapped in brown paper. These Gorka placed on the coffee table in front of Molloy. "Open them. I ask that you convey the contents to your Cabinet, and tell them that if we are allowed to remain in Ireland secretly and undisturbed, there will be regular installments of greater value."

Molloy emptied the pouch first. Forty or fifty clear crystalline diamonds rattled onto the table. The Superintendent had a good working knowledge of gems, both jewel quality and industrial. "Thatís a lot of ice," he said, impressed. "Iíd want an appraisal to be sure, but Iíd say youíve six or seven million poundsí worth there." He picked up the heavy packet, saying "I can guess whatís in here from the weight." He opened it up and took out ten small gold bars, about the size and shape of Cadburyís Crunch bars, gleaming dully in the shaded lamp light.

"Each weighs one pound," Janina told him.

"We could get you a hundred more immediately, and we could have an alchemist assigned to Ireland from another Clan who would produce all the gold the Irish Republic requires," asserted the Grand Duke. "How many millions of pounds does Ireland owe to foreign banks, to the International Monetary Fund, to the EU? We offer you the dream of countless Popes, princes, and emperors. We offer you the Philosopherís Stone, a bottomless well of gold from which you can draw enough to pay off your debts and sate the desires of the most greedy trades unions, enough to create a modern highway system, enough to build thousands of homes for the poor and unemployed, enough to reduce taxes to a bare minimum and bring on a prosperity absolutely unprecedented in this island, enough to bring peace in the North forever through permanent prosperity, enough to have an Irish space program if you want. All we ask in return is that the secret of our existence be kept inviolate, and that we be given the right to live in peace."

"Mr. Gorka," said Molloy slowly. "One of the first things every police officer must decide, usually soon after he goes on the beat, is whether or not he will accept bribes. Not what kind or to what degree he will accept bribes, but if he will. There is no moral difference between a free sandwich to overlook an expired business license, and an envelope full of cash to tip off a drug dealer or falsify evidence. I long ago decided that I would not partake, so thatís the first reason I canít accept these riches. The second reason is, Iím afraid, that I couldnít deliver what you ask. No one can. Too many people know about Radek now. Too many people have seen the finger he lost in North Circular Road and have examined its alien tissue structure. There have been too many leaks to the media. Too many people in the Irish government and police have been told at least part of your story. I can offer you only a few crumbs of hope, sir. One is that you have my word that the secret of your existence will never go beyond the immediate members of my own task force. I can vouch for each and every one of them. I can also point out that we live in a bizarre tabloid media age where every new sensational story is more strange and unbelievable than the last, and there is a good chance that your secret will get mixed in with all the current media hype about UFOs, guardian angels, moving statues of the Virgin, the Clinton scandals, the latest sensational celebrity murder trial, and general conspiracy theories about how the governments of the world are in contact with aliens. Well, I suppose we are, here tonightóbut many wonít believe it. And I repeat that nothing which happens here tonight will ever go beyond this room."

"Major Rozanov?" asked Casimir. The Russian shrugged.

"The Russian government has known about you for over twenty years, sir. There has been no great revelation forthcoming yet and I doubt if there will be. We have our own problems, many of them. Grand Duke Gorka, I request that you refrain from offering these very generous emoluments to anyone in my country. I make jokes with my Irish colleagues about the total corruption of Russian society, but I know that it is not a joke. In times past, our national curse was heartless tyranny. Today it is heartless corruption and pervasion of lies and deceit throughout whole of social fabric. I much fear what would happen if, in your understandable desire for safety, you were to try to strike bargain with current power structure in Russia. The thought of the Organizatsiya with unlimited wealth at their disposal is not a good one for the world. Please, I beg you, have care. To support that end, I will certainly keep silent and assist you to remain here in Ireland. But Radek must be terminated."

"The genie is out of the bottle, Mr. Gorka," said Molloy. "It may not be quite so damaging as you believe, but eventually mankind is going to learn that you are here among us. You wonít be able to hide forever, but when the time comes when you must finally step forward, you will come to us with clean hands, because you will have purged yourself of Radek and his crimes. In the meantime, I will do what I can to keep the heat off your people."

"We will tell you where Radek is, and we will render you certain assistance which will be necessary to destroy him. I refer to his not inconsiderable telepathic powers. Princess Janina will go into details on this in a moment. But Radekís body? Will you allow us to destroy it after he is dead?" demanded Casimir.

"Ah, I was afraid you might ask that," sighed Molloy. "Sir, in the first place it would be destroying evidence, which as a garda I cannot do. Secondly, the gardai and all Dublin need to see Radek dead, not just hear rumors. Mr. Gorka, Iíll go this far. We have a very influential Cabinet minister in our corner, a man whose loved one was also murdered by Radek. I will, with your permission, reveal all of this information to him and see what he can do. I think that in exchange for justice for Phyllis Sheridan, he will help as best he can to sanitize this business afterwards. Thatís the best I can offer you. Where is Stepan Radek?"

Casimir sighed. "May the Seven Suns grant this is not the death warrant of the People." He looked at Janina and nodded. Janina held up her hand, and Andrew stepped forward and handed her a folded map from his jacket pocket.

"I pinpointed Stepanís Nest telepathically on this map," she said. "Early this morning I sent Andy and Jon around to check it out. We did not know whether or not it would be possible to reach an accommodation with you tonight, and if not we planned to deal with him ourselves. But this way is better. It puts us in the position of being good citizens, an ironic one for our People. He is in a house off Balfour Court, just off Mount Pleasant Avenue, in the suburb I am told you call Rathmines."

"I know it!" said Molloy excitedly. "Now it makes sense! None of his victims ever mentioned a car, so he almost certainly had some place within walking distance of his victims."

"Mrs. Kenny in Blanchardstown?" asked Conn. "Mrs. Cullinane in Dun Laoghaire?"

"The Verdelac have greater stamina and range on foot than humans do," spoke up Rozanov. "At least, that is true in the hours of darkness. Itís feasible."

"I guess he occasionally took long walks for exercise just like people do," ruminated Molloy. "A car would attract attention and eventually someone would get a license plate number. But his latest kills have only been within a short stroll of Rathmines, the Gaffney woman and then the two tonight in Bachelorís Walk and Grafton Street. Iím surprised we didnít figure it out sooner."

"Two?" asked Casimir in surprise. "Radek has killed two more tonight, did you say?"

"Yes," confirmed Molloy. "He attacked a feminist demonstration and picked off two women that we know of, maybe more have been found by now. He drained them dry and left one of them on a rubbish tip and another in an alley. Thatís what sparked the rioting in the city centre."

"May the Seven Suns have pity on them!" murmured Janina, distraught.

"We must move quickly, Superintendent!" urged Casimir. "If he has taken two at once then he is storing up hyma for some purpose, and what could that be save to escape from Ireland? He now realizes that we are after him as well as you, and he has decided that the game has become too risky and it is time for him to move on. He must be stopped before he gets away!"

"Amen to that. You, Crocodile Dundee, you say youíve seen this house where heís gone to ground?" asked Molloy of Andrew. "Whatís the layout like?"

"Biggish place, three storeys, detached, a large garden," Andrew told him. "Almost invisible from the street because itís surrounded by a wall. Thereís a line of yew trees between the house and the nearest neighbour, plus the north side of the building is masked from observation by a stand of pine trees. Good temporary Nest, actually."

"The pine needles in our soil samples!" exclaimed Molloy in triumph. "That clinches it!" He turned to Janina. "Miss, can you tell us if anyone is with Radek?"

"I canít tell. He may have one or more of his ersatz sisters with him, but Verdelac thoughts are strong, and Stepanís stronger than most, so their presence would be subsumed and I could not detect them. But that points up another problem, Superintendent. You and your men are going to have to get close enough to Stepan to get the first shot. If you attack the house during the daytime youíll get him eventually, because even on a cloudy day the ultraviolet rays of your single sun would fell him in a few minutes if he tried to run. But he is certainly armed with firearms, and unless you take him by surprise you will end up with another pitched battle where many people will be hurt, like something out of an American gangster movie. He will be on the alert and he will sense you coming."

"So what do you suggest?" asked Molloy.

"I must go ahead of you into the house," said Janina. "He will be there by sunrise. I will block his telepathy from registering your approach, so you can be on top of him before he knows it."

"I thought you people couldnít go out during the daytime?" asked Conn.

"We canít. At the Gorka Nest I have some special protective equipment and clothing. I will be able to stand a limited exposure to the sun, very limited. My Brothers and I will confront Stepan, which he will be expecting. He is no fool and from past experience he will know that I would not come to him unescorted. He will be concentrating on we three, and he will not expect you coming in behind us. We met under somewhat similar circumstances some years ago in your country, Major, and I doubt that he will be in much of a mood for small talk. You must enter the house behind us quickly and get it over with. The very minute you get him in your sights, you must fire."

"Pardon, madame, but will not Radek know that you are blocking his mind and suspect something?" asked Rozanov.

"Heíll think I am blocking him to prevent him from reading Andrew and Jonathanís minds," replied Janina. "He will assume, correctly, that they have instructions to use force against him if necessary. His concentration will be on them, trying to learn their orders from their minds through my screen. The idea that we will ally ourselves with human law enforcement will never occur to him. It would never occur to any of us," she concluded sadly.

Andrew had been looking increasingly displeased and skeptical, and now he burst forth in a torrent of expostulation in Verdelac. Casimir raised a hand. "Please, my Brother, as a courtesy to our hosts we should speak English."

Andrew threw the gardai and Rozanov a glance. "As you wish, my lord. Your Highness, you know that under our Law there are certain occasions when despite your rank you must comply with our decisions in the Guard where they affect security matters. This is such an occasion. This plan is ill advised and incredibly dangerous, and Jonathan and I cannot possibly allow it. Lord Stepan has already attacked you once before, and this time heíll be packing a gat. Heís mentally unbalanced, but heís not bloody stupid. It wonít take him two ticks to figure out why weíve come, and he wonít stop to have a natter, heíll simply start blasting. Jonny and me between us can take him out, but Highness, we canít be worrying about your safety when weíre in a firefight. If you donít want us to send us, then thatís your prerogative, but then let these coppers do it. Itís their country and their job. You said it yourself, Lord Stepan canít get away once the sun is up."

"And suppose something goes wrong?" asked Janina. "I mean no disrespect, Superintendent, but you have failed to take Stepan once before. Andrew, surely you must understand that what happens here in the next twenty-four hours in Dublin will affect the whole future of the People, if we have any. It may well mean life or death for us all. This madness must end now. I must be present because failure simply is not an option here. But there is a moral dimension here as well. Someday this Superintendent here, and others like him all over the world, will hold our fate in their hands. We need to give them some reason to deal justly and fairly with us. Suppose I donít go this morning and some more of his men die because I am not there to help, as almost certainly would happen? True. we told him where Radek is, but any cheap informer would do that for a few pounds, with any criminal. Are we to be mere informers who hand our own people over to our ancient enemies and then leave them to take the risks? No. I can save the lives of some of these Irish. I must do it. I must show them that the boyar Verdelaca are capable of honour. You are a Brother, and you know it. They do not, and they must be shown. It is very easy for them to think of us as monsters. We must show them that we have human decency even if our blood is green."

"You know you can get us to do anything you want," sighed Andrew. "All right. But Jonny and I stick by you like glue. You paddy coppers better be quick behind us, because the minute we even suspect there is any danger to our Lady, we open fire."
"Letís hit the place just after sunup," suggested Conn enthusiastically.

"We will go now," said Casimir. "Her Highness and these two Brothers will meet you at the corner of Balfour Court and Mount Pleasant Avenue thirty minutes after dawn. Superintendent, we have refrained from reading your minds at this meeting. It is considered rude to do so without permission, except in cases of extreme necessity. We trust in your honour that you will not attempt to detain these three people after their mission has been accomplished and Radek is no more, and that you will refrain from attempting to follow them or to locate us afterwards." He rose from his seat and bowed formally. "What will be, will be." The two Australians opened the door and they passed out into the night. The car started and pulled away.

"Jaysus," muttered Conn. "Iíve had some bizarre experiences in the gardai, but they donít come any more GUBU than that!" Rozanov poured stiff whiskeys for them all from the sideboard and handed them out. "Whatís the operational plan, Mick?"

"Iíll call Paddy now and see whatís been happening. Weíd best have the whole team in on this, us two and Paddy, plus Mick Og, Scott, and Andy Manion. Thatís six, and Major Rozanov here will make seven. At least one more garda. How about Andrew Cunningham? Iím sure heíd like to be in at the finish after missing Radek at Jacinta Kellyís flat."

"Game ball, Super," agreed Conn.

Molloy refilled all their glasses. "This is it! This morning we take him!" He lifted his glass by way of a toast. "To the final demise of the Dublin Vampire!"

XIII. Tuesday, September 30th

They snatched a few hours of sleep on cots in the infirmary at Harcourt Square, and at five in the morning the final assault force began to assemble. While Conn drew weapons from the armoury and issued them to the gardai, Molloy went over a report on the night of rioting in his office, as well as the preliminary reports on the two latest victims whom he heartily hoped would prove to be Stepanís last. There had been forty-seven arrests, ten of them under Section 30 of the Offences Against The State Act and the rest for riot-related crimes. Twenty-four people had been treated in Dublin hospital emergency rooms and six admitted. As riots went, it hadnít been too bad, a mere scuffle, really. Radekís latest victims had been identified as Alice Riordan, aged 36, a self-employed architectural draftsperson and lesbian rights activist, and also Penny Creedon, aged 19, a student at U. C. D. Both had been seized from behind, both throttled into unconsciousness, and drained of blood.

As dawn broke over a still and silent Rathmines, the gardai sat in unmarked cars on the corner of Balfour Court and Mount Pleasant Avenue. It was a misty morning, but the sun was slicing through here and there and the ground fog would soon burn off. Leaves drifted quietly down from the tree branches along the street. "What are we waiting for?" asked Mick Og, cradling his Uzi submachine gun.

"Itís who weíre waiting on, not what," said his father. "You and Cunningham havenít been briefed on this, which is why I brought you in this vehicle. I wanted a word before we went in. Now listen up, the both of yez. You know that this is a very strange case, and fact is, Iíve had to make a very strange deal in order to get this information and some necessary assistance. This is the goods, Radeks is in there, all right. Weíre waiting on three people. One is a smashing-looking dolly bird and two Australian hard men who will be carrying pistols. Weíre going to overlook that fact."

"Australian police, sir?" asked Cunningham, puzzled. "In addition to our Russian copper? Quite the multi-national operation this is becoming."

"No, but Australian cops is as good an answer as any if anyone asks. No one should ask. If they do, then refer them to me. When these three come, no one talks to them except Conn or myself, and after itís over no one talks about them, to anyone, not to your own sainted mother, not to the Taoiseach himself, these three do not exist. They were never here. Got that?"

"Game ball," replied Mick Og smugly, knowing he would eventually get an explanation over the dinner table or in the local pub in Castleknock.

"Rathmines Garda Station tells us that this house is owned by two spinster sisters, named OíConlon, Aine and Sorocha," said Molloy. "They are supposed to be on holiday in Spain or Tunisia or somewhere, but no one has seen them around for a while. I think we know why now. I ought to warn you, we may find something nasty in there. God alone knows what heís done with them. Ironically, their neighbours got worried and one of them called this in to the task force a couple of days ago, but weíre just so bloody short-handed we hadnít got around to investigating yet."

Rozanov got out the car he occupied with Paddy Treacy and knocked on Molloyís window. "Here is the princess," he said.

"Princess?" asked Cunningham. A beige Mercedes with heavily curtained windows pulled up beside them. Molloy didnít even bother to note down the license number, so certain he was that it would lead nowhere. Janina rolled down her window. "Good morning, Chief Superintendent," she said. She spoke with the two Brothers briefly, then she and Andrew got out of the car. She was wearing a shimmering jacket and what looked like a sequined pants suit. Her head was tightly wrapped in a scarf of the same material. Her face was heavily tanned with lotion and she wore black shades. Jonathan backed the car around into Balfour Court and parked it. He got out and joined Andrew at the Princessís side.

"He knows Iím here now," said Janina as the gardai got out of their cars and took weapons out of the boots. "He canít see us from here, but he will be expecting me. Give us about one minute after we go through the front gate, and then follow us in. Iím blocking his thought probes, and he doesnít know you are here. He will be very puzzled by the timing of my arrival, since the sun is coming up, and he will want to know more about this special gear Iím wearing. Iím counting on keeping him talking long enough for you to come in behind us. He knows Jonathan and Andrew wonít drop their guns, and so he will be concentrating his attention on them. May the Seven Suns forgive me for what I must do this day." She turned and walked down the street, the two Australians with her.

Molloy and Conn Walsh were armed with Smith and Wesson police specials, Paddy Treacy and Mick Og carried Uzis, and Graham Scott and Garda Cunningham carried Remington Model 59 12-gauge pump shotguns. Molloy had placed roadblocks on Rathmines Road and Mount Pleasant Avenue to divert traffic; other task force units were on the alert and ready to move in for backup. Everyone knew something was going down, but no one knew what. "Conn, you and Mick and myself, Andy Manion, and Major Rozanov will go in the front. Paddy, you and Graham and Cunningham go through the service alley at the back and see if you can get in that way. If the back door is locked, come around the front, but stay low and watch the windows along the side. Donít let him catch sight of you. Her minute is up. Letís go."

The gardai moved out, and the frontal assault party slipped swiftly through the front gate up the sidewalk to the door. The house was a large one, grey stone with flat black shingles, the grounds seedy and the visible woodwork in need of repair. Molloy quietly mounted the front portico and tried the door. It was unlocked, and swung open. They tiptoed into a front hall with peeling wallpaper and a damp carpet. There was a dry, sharp yet musty smell, extremely unpleasant, almost reptilian. Molloy had never smelled the inside of a crocodileís den, but surely it must be something like this. There was a door to their right, and Molloy opened it with his gun hand. He had to bite his hand to keep from screaming out loud at what he saw within; in the thin light from the shuttered windows, amid dust and covered furniture, he saw naked female bodies hanging like meat from a row of hooks in the ceiling. Most were dead and some decomposed badly, the smell almost making him collapse. At least one was still moving, jerking convulsively and her head rolling back and forth. Molloy closed the door; there was work to hand and he could do nothing for them now. He motioned the others on, and in a room down the corridor they heard voices. The gardai moved along the wall on tiptoe, hugging their weapons to their chest. Molloy saw that Rozanov had one of his long, slim throwing knives in his right hand and a second blade clasped between his teeth; his face was grim and murderous. A door to the left opened into a large Georgian drawing room or conservatory full of potted plants and ferns, almost an indoor greenhouse, with high scrollwork ceilings and skylights. From within came the voices of Janina Bathory and Stepan Radek, speaking in English. "Come with me, Janina!" Radek urged her. "Donít you see? Together we can found a new Clan, outside the insipid Law, the cowardly tradition we grew up with! We can live as boyar Verdelaca were meant to live, predators walking by night, once more making the Eaters tremble in their wretched hovels after the sun sets! Not running and hiding all the time, like the Forty-Nine do! Weíll need a few Brothers and Sisters, of course, and these two with you are welcome to be the first among our new Clan of the Hunter! It will be glorious!"

"If exhaustion had not driven you mad, Stepan, you would understand how insane that idea is," Janina reproved him sternly. "The Eaters arenít peasants living in hovels any more. They are more intelligent and advanced than we are. They walk on the moon, closer to the world of the Seven Suns than any Verdelac has ever been. Soon we must go to them as supplicants, begging them to allow us to live. Lunatics like you destroy any chance the People may have of surviving in the world which changes around us every day. This is your last chance, Stepan. Submit to the Law, return to the People. The Gorka Clan will smuggle you out of Ireland..."

Molloy and his men burst into the room. Simultaneously Paddy Treacy and his group poured into the room from the rear door. Radek was standing by the fireplace, a large hearth with a mirror over it. Molloy noted fleetingly that the old superstition about vampires and mirrors was untrue, that both Radek and Janina cast reflections and were visible. The killer was casually dressed in blue jeans and a dark turtleneck, and in his arms he cradled an AK-47 with a heavy red plastic banana clip of ammunition, presumably the loot from some I.R.A. arms cache. The conversation had apparently been proceeding as a Mexican standoff; the rifle barrel was pointing at Janinaís stomach, while Andrew and Jonathan were covering Radek with their pistols in two-handed firing stances, their faces white with rage.

Radek stared at the gardai incredulously. "Eaters?" he said in astonishment. "A Royal Bathory has brought Eaters down upon a Radek, a boyar Verdelac? Allied yourself with them?"

"You gave us no choice!" shouted Janina, upset and angry.

"I see," said Radek with a lazy smile. He turned to Molloy, who knew he should shoot, but could not, utterly fascinated. The whole room was poised, the tension unbearable, about to detonate. "Thus dies the last of the Great Race," he said in a conversational tone of voice. "Perhaps, Molloy, you will be so kind as to procure a clean cage for Her Highness in the Dublin zoo, right between the orangutans and the hyenas?"

Andrew and Jonathan roared wordless in uncontrollable rage and fired. The room exploded. It was like a firing squad, with the exception of the fact that the condemned man was shooting back. In a period of possibly ten seconds, if that, over one hundred rounds of heavy calibre ammunition was fired in the enclosed space of the conservatory. Unlike the make believe of Hollywood screenplays, in the real world when a bullet leaves the barrel of a gun, it has to go somewhere. Most of these bullets went into the body of Stepan Radek, but there were plenty left over. Radek jerked and danced and capered like a demented marionette under the impact. As he died he convulsively squeezed the trigger of the AK-47 again and again, and in so confined a field of fire he inevitably made some hits. The muzzle flashes blinded everybody in the room, the concussion deafened them, and left them all with a ringing in their ears that stayed with them for days afterwards. The cordite fumes choked them, the bullets plowed into the walls and sprayed them all with fine white powdered plaster. Then the shooting stopped as everyone ran out of ammunition and hammers clicked on empty chambers.

There was a stunned silenced, and then the wounded began cursing and groaning. The floor was covered with leafy greenery from the bullet-shredded plants and the walls were splattered with blood, both red and green. An acrid blue-white smoke filled the room, and far away in the distance a garda siren began to wail.

Through some miracle, there was only one outright death. All that remained of Stepan Radek was a quivering mass of oozing green jelly, but from what remained of his stomach and from one of his eyes, two steel blades protruded. My God, how could that Rooshian hit him in all that? was Molloyís first stunned thought. Garda Cunningham had been shot in the right leg and the right foot and knelt on the floor, leaning on his shotgun, cursing with pain. Inspector Paddy Treacy say against the wall with a bullets in his kettle belly, staring at a spidery web of blood drooling down his shirt front and soaking his trousers. Conn Walsh had blood streaming down his face and his left ear was missing. Molloy felt a dull ache in his shoulder and looked down to see a red stain soaking down his left sleeve from a round in his bicep. Mick Og was holding his head; the concussion had burst one of his ear drums. Rozanov, Manion, Graham Scott, and the two Australians were still standing, shaking and stunned but unhurt.

Princess Janina lay on the floor. She had been shot twice, once dead center in the chest and once in the right hip. Jonathan and Andrew bent over her frantically. "The chest wound isnít fatal, but the leg wound might be if we donít stop the bleeding!" shouted Jonathan. "One of her arteries has been hit! Salt, we need salt! Is there a kitchen in here anywhere?"

"Back in the back," said Scott, gesturing. McLaren charged back into the house. Dr. Manion was running from garda to garda, checking their wounds.

"Paddyís hit bad, Mick," he reported. "He has to get to hospital right away. Conn, find that ear and it can be sewn back on! Graham, get a tourniquet on Cunninghamís leg! I have to help Paddy!"

"Da, are you all right?" demanded Mick Og, pointing to his fatherí shoulder.

"Iím right as rain, son, just a Dick Tracy special," said his father. "Help Graham with Cunningham! Jayz, what about her?" he asked, pointing to Janina on the floor. They all stared, and Molloy realized that he and Conn and Rozanov were the only ones who knew who and what the girl was.

"My God," whispered Manion. "Sheí of them! Hell, Mick, I couldnít even take her temperature. I donít know what her temperature should be."

Jonathan McLaren reappeared holding a large plastic container of Homestead salt. He ripped the cap off. "Hold her," he ordered Andrew. He reached down, unbuckled the belt of Janinaís pants suit, and pulled the trousers down to expose the bullet wound that gushed green. He poured a big heap of salt into his cupped hand, sat on her legs, and while Andrew held the wounded girlís shoulders down he slapped the salt over the wound. Janina screamed in pain. "Salt coagulates Verdelac blood," he explained to the watchers.

"Get me back to the Nest," she gasped out. "Lady Isotta is a Healer. She can help me!" McLaren lifted his hand and exposed a green patch or crust that had formed; the bleeding was a mere trickle now.

"Weíve got to get her out of here, Jonny," said Andrew. McLaren picked Janina up in his arms. Andrew pulled out his Glock, dropped the magazine and slammed in another full clip. "Molloy, weíre leaving now. Donít try to stop us. Thereís been enough shooting for one day."

"You held up your end of the bargain, Iíll hold up mine," Molloy told him. "Iíll radio the roadblocks to let you through." He followed them out to their car; Jonathan eased Janina into the back of the Mercedes and Andrew jumped into the driverís seat. Molloy waved them through the roadblock at the end of the street, and the car sped off down Mount Pleasant Avenue. Ambulances screamed up in front of the death house, and Molloy walked back slowly. His arm was beginning to hurt like the very devil. Ambulance attendants were loading Paddy Treacy and Cunningham into the back of the vehicles on stretchers. Conn was helped out, leaning on an attendant. He waved a plastic evidence bag at Molloy, containing a bloody, ragged fragment.

"Found me ear!" he said. "Maybe Iíll not have to go through the rest of me loife leaning to the right!" Molloy smiled wanly. Damn! Heís a good man and a fine copper! he thought. Why the hell doesnít Maggie marry him?

That night Conn Walsh sat by Margaret Molloyís bedside. Now his face as well as hers was swathed in bandages. The operation to reattach his severed ear had been successful. "But my ear will probably look like a puppyís, kind of floppy like," he said. "Iím glad, Mags. Now weíll both be after carryiní his marks on our faces."

"Mine will be worse, Conn," she whispered. "Youíve got to understand. No one knows what my face will be like when these dressings come off."

"Iíve spoken to your doctor, and I think heís being pretty straight with me," said Walsh. "Youíve been bloody lucky. Youíll have nothing on your body that plastic surgery canít put ninety per cent right. Youíll probably walk with a cane for a long time, maybe the rest of your life. But thatís good, Mags, really good, in view of what he did to others. Youíre alive Maggie, and thatís what counts."

"But how about children?" she asked desolately.

"Weíll find that out when the time comes," said Conn gently.

"And heís dead?" quavered Margaret, ashamed of her weakness but unable to restrain it. "Tell me again that heís dead, Conn. Iíve got to know!"

"Deader than Radek they donít get," Conn assured her. "They had to scoop what was left off the floor with shovels and carry him out in plastic garbage bags for the science boffins to study. Donít know as theyíll get much. Apparently these yokes donít have real bones like people do, and when they die they sort of fall to pieces. Literally."

"Oh, poor Mary," whispered Margaret. "Failing her is the worst part of it for me, you know. I canít forgive myself for her death."

"Thatís the copperís blue serge in yer blood, Mags," said Conn.

"I wonder if her soul is resting easier, now."

"Maybe," said Conn. "God doesnít let us in on these things. But I know a lot of the living are resting easier tonight, Mags. Including me."

XIV. Wednesday, October 1st

Against the violent protests of Maureen Molloy, Margaret Molloy, and the entire staff of the Mater Hospital, Molloy and Mick Og and Conn Walsh were back at Harcourt Square the next afternoon. Task Force Gossamer members were in the process of breaking down the incident room and disconnecting the telephones when the three of them, accompanied by Major Rozanov, entered the room. At the sight of their bandaged fellow officers the gardai broke out in thunderous applause, standing on the chair, whooping and cheering. The morning papers had howled the news: DUBLIN DEMON DIES IN RATHMINES SHOOTOUT!; GARDAI SLAY SUSPECTED SERIAL KILLER; MYSTERY SEX KILLERíS SPREE ENDS IN HAIL OF POLICE BULLETS. The kind of headlines that bring thrills to every policemanís heart.

"Wonder when theyíll notice we never actually produced a body," asked Conn in Molloyís office, as Molloy broke out the Jameson and the styrofoam cups.

"There will be GUBU ramifications for a long time, and make no mistake," said Molloy. "But we deal with GUBU ramifications every day of the week about everything, donít we? By the by, I received a phone call from one of those young Aussie blokes we met. He tells me the girl is going to live, which is good news. A fine mot like that, I think in a way I envy those two. So youíll be returning to Russia?" he asked Rozanov.

"Yes, tomorrow, after I find best Aran sweater in Dublin," said the Russian.

"Try Cleryís"

"Before I go, may I inquire, what exactly is GUBU?" asked Rozanov. "Is word in English I have never heard before."

"Grotesque, Unbelievable, Bizarre, and Unprecedented," said Molloy. "But surely you have heard of Irelandís national battle cry? Eireann GUBU?"

At that moment the clock struck six in the evening, and for the dayís Angelus all across Dublin the bells of every church and cathedral, Protestant and Catholic alike, began to ring out in a long series of peals, a joyous service of thanksgiving that the ancient city was free again from terror. The darkness had been lifted.

Jacinta Kelly stood at her window overlooking the grey rooftops and steeples of Longford town. Below she could hear the shutters on the shop rolling down as her da closed up for the night. She stood in the dark, looking up at the stars, and for some reason a single constellation caught her eye. She tried to remember what it was from many years of watching "The Sky At Night" on telly. Finally it came to her. The Pleiades. The Seven Sisters, they are called, she thought.

There was a low sound behind her, as of someone clearing his throat. Paralyzed by the sudden thought of the terror which had never left her since the night of the attack in Grove Park, she whirled around and saw standing before her a blond, handsome young man, outlined in dim form in the light from the window. "Who...who...." she choked out, unable to speak, her throat dry with fear.

"My name is Radu," said the intruder.

"What do you want?" she whispered. "Why are you here?"

"You know what I am. You know why I have come." And Jacinta did know. "After all, Jacinta, you called me."

"Me!" she protested. "No! No! I never did!" But she knew she had, from somewhere within her soul.

"Come with me, my Sister," said Radu, holding out his hand.

Some time later, Mrs. Kelly called her daughter to come down for her dinner of boiled bacon, cabbage, and potatoes. When she got no response and finally climbed the stairs to Jacintaís bedroom, she found it empty, with the window open and the white net curtains billowing in the cool night wind.