"It's official," Harley said. "They killed the Berliner two nights ago. You're the last." Then after a pause: "I'm sorry."
Yesterday evening this was. We were in the upstairs library of his Earl's Court house, him standing at a tense tilt between stone hearth and oxblood couch, me in the window seat with a tumbler of forty-five-year-old Macallan and a Camel Filter, staring out at dark London's fast-falling snow. The room smelled of tangerines and leather and the fire's pine logs. Forty-eight hours on I was still sluggish from the Curse. Wolf drains from the wrists and shoulders last. In spite of what I'd just heard I thought: Madeline can give me a massage later, warm jasmine oil and the long-nailed magnolia hands I don't love and never will.
"What are you going to do?" Harley said.
I sipped, swallowed, glimpsed the peat bog plashing white legs of the kilted clan Macallan as the whisky kindled in my chest. It's official. You're the last. I'm sorry. I'd known what he was going to tell me. Now that he had, what? Vague ontological vertigo. Kubrik's astronaut with the severed umbilicus - spinning away all alone into infinity... At a certain point one's imagination refused. The phrase was:
It doesn't bear thinking about. Manifestly it didn't.
"This room's dead to you," I said. "But there are bibliophiles the world over it would reduce to tears of joy." No exaggeration. Harley's collection's worth a million-six, books he doesn't go to anymore because he's entered the phase of having given up reading. If he lives another ten years he'll enter the next phase - of having gone back to it. Giving up reading seems the height of maturity at first. Like all such heights a false summit. It's a human thing. I've seen it countless times. Two hundred years, you see everything countless times.
"I can't imagine what this is like for you," he said.
"Neither can I."
"We need to plan."
I didn't reply. Instead let the silence fill with the alternative to planning. Harley lit a Gauloise and topped us up with an unsteady hand, lilac-veined and liver-spotted these days. At seventy he maintains longish thinning grey hair and a plump nicotined moustache that looks waxed but isn't. There was a time when his young men called him Buffalo Bill. Now his young men know Buffalo Bill only as the serial killer from The Silence of the Lambs. During periods of psychic weakness he leans on a bone-handled cane, though he's been told by his doctor it's ruining his spine.
"The Berliner," I said. "Grainer killed him?"
"Not Grainer. His Californian protégé, Ellis."
"Grainer's saving himself for the main event. He'll come after me alone."
Harley sat down on the couch and stared at the floor. I know what scares him: If I die first there'll be no salving surreality between him and his conscience. Jake Marlowe is a monster, fact. Kills and devours people, fact. Which makes him, Harley, an accessory after the fact, fact. With me alive, walking and talking and doing the lunar shuffle once a month he can live in it as in a decadent dream. Did I mention my best friend's a werewolf, by the way? Dead, I'll force a brutal awakening. I helped Marlowe get away with murder. He'll probably kill himself or go once and for all mad. One of his upper left incisors is full gold, a dental anachronism that suggests semicraziness anyway.
"Next full moon," he said. "The rest of the Hunt's been ordered to stand down. It's Grainer's party. You know what he's like."
Indeed. Eric Grainer is the Hunt's Big Dick. All upper-echelon members of WOCOP (World Organisation for the Control of Occult Phenomena) are loaded or bankrolled by the loaded for their expertise. Grainer's expertise is tracking and killing my kind. My kind. Of which, thanks to WOCOP's assassins and a century of no new howling kids on the block, it turns out I'm the last. I thought of the Berliner, whose name (God being dead, irony still rollickingly alive) was Wolfgang, pictured his last moments: the frost reeling under him, his moonlit muzzle and sweating pelt, the split-second in which his eyes merged dis-belief and fear and horror and sadness and relief - then the white and final light of silver.
A Man Called Intrepid author dies aged 89(Dec 03 2013) William Stevenson, a journalist and author who drew on his close ties with intelligence sources to write two best-selling books in the 1970s, A Man Called...